How to Launch a Kayak

If you are interested in the sport of kayaking and considering taking to the water, you probably have a lot of questions. One of the first and most important things to learn is how to launch recreational kayaks safely and easily.

The method depends on whether you are launching from dry land or from a dock.

To launch from a dock, put one leg in to hold the boat still before sliding your backside and other leg in. If you are launching from the shore, set your kayak in a few inches of water, and lower your backside into the seat, followed by one leg at a time.

How Do I Launch A Kayak?

Getting in and out of a kayak is often graceless and challenging, and you will probably find that the proper technique really only comes to you with practice. It’s important to be careful about your approach so you don’t end up slipping into the water, especially with a dock launch!

The two kinds of launch require quite different approaches, so let’s explore them individually.

A Dock Launch

Step One) Place your kayak parallel beside the dock, as close to the edge as you can. Put the paddle down on the dock, making sure the paddle shaft is within reach of the kayak, or place the paddle inside the kayak.

Step Two) Sit down on the dock and quickly swing one leg down into the kayak. This will keep the kayak steady and stop it from drifting away.

Step Three) Place both hands behind you on the dock for support, and put most of your weight on them as you slowly lower your previously planted foot and backside over the rear edge of the kayak and into the cockpit. Move carefully so you don’t slip.

Step Four) Slide your backside firmly into the kayak seat and get your feet settled at the front of the cockpit. Pick up your paddle, adjust your hand placement, and start paddling out to the open water!

Of course, if you are kayaking with a sit-on-top kayak the same principles apply — your legs and feet will just be on top of the bow instead of in the cockpit!

A Shore Launch

Step One) Place your boat in at the water’s edge, either perpendicular to the shoreline (if launching into a lake) or parallel to the shoreline (if launching into a river).

The water should be around knee deep. You don’t want to be scraping the kayak on the rocks or gravel at the bottom as you launch, so don’t attempt to get in your boat in too shallow water.

Step Two) Slide your paddle so that one paddle blade rests under the deck line of the kayak so that it does not get dropped while you are getting in. Having a paddle that can float is convenient for this, as you simply have to make sure it’s tied to your kayak. 

Step Three) Stand with one foot on either side of the kayak’s cockpit, in a straddling position, and then reach down and grab the cockpit with both hands to maintain balance and hold the boat steady. 

Step Four) Sit down by lowering your backside into the cockpit seat and lift your legs in one at a time, being careful not to topple over. If you are using a spray skirt, you should put it on before you get in the kayak.

Step Five) Slide firmly back into the seat and push your feet forward so that they are in a comfortable position in front of you. Holding your paddle perpendicular to the boat can help you maintain your balance while you get settled.

Step Six) If you are using a spray skirt, now is the time to attach it to the sides of the cockpit. Then, use your hands or the paddle blade to gently push the boat forward into the water, begin paddling, and you’re on your way to a fun-filled day!

Tips Before You Launch

You don’t want to be getting in and out of your kayak a dozen times, so before you launch there are a few things that you should do.

1) Safety Checks

Above all other things, safety checks should be done any time you go kayaking. Before you leave the dock or shore, check that your PFD is snug and inflated, and that all parts of your kayak are secure.

You should also check that you have all necessary safety gear (e.g. whistle, torch, first aid kit, etc.), along with any optional gear that you are carrying (e.g. food, water, dry clothing, etc.), and that you have left enough room for your feet in the cockpit! Don’t launch without inspecting your boat and paddle for any damage, leaks, and so on.

2) Choose A Launch Spot

Before you can launch, you need to decide where you are launching from, and it’s also a good idea to choose an exit spot as well. These should be clear of vegetation (if possible) and reasonably easy to see once you are out on the river or lake.

You don’t want to land without having some idea what you will find when you land, so take a little time to assess the shore and make a decision about where you will launch and land.

This includes inspecting the dock to see if it is suitable for a kayak launch. A low dock is a good sign, because most kayaks are low to the water and it is difficult to launch them from a high dock. 

You should also consider any surf conditions, such as the waves that are impacting the area if you’re trying to launch in a surf zone. If the incoming waves are creating choppy water, you may want to try to enter the water in a protected area, like a cove or bay. 

3) Check The Conditions

Finally, make sure you have assessed the weather and water conditions. If the day is very windy or wild, you need to make a judgment about whether to actually go out there. 

Check that you are happy and feel safe, and don’t launch just because you have made the effort to drive to the spot.

FAQs

Should I put my gear in the kayak before getting in myself?

Yes, your kayak should be fully stocked before you get in. Once you are in the kayak, you will find it difficult to reach anything on the shore/dock, so anything that needs to go with you should be in the kayak before launching — especially your paddle!

How do I get out of a kayak at a dock?

To get out at a dock, put your hands on the dock, pull your knees in, and lift one knee onto the dock. Keep your weight low and lift your other leg out.

Pivot to sit on the dock, and grab your kayak so it doesn’t drift away.

How do I get out of a kayak on the shore?

Pull your kayak up to the shore and gently beach it, and then get one foot out first. Get the other foot out on the same side, and stand up.

Summary

You will find that launching your kayak gets a lot easier with practice, so don’t be worried if you struggle at first. It’s important to keep your weight even and move slowly to avoid slipping or capsizing, but once you have mastered the movement, you’ll find entering and exiting become easy processes.