Can You Kayak in the Ocean?

Kayaking in the ocean can be fun, but there are a few things you need to pay attention to when you’re on a sea kayak, like sea conditions and rough waters. 

Is it Safe to Kayak in the Ocean?

Yes and no. Going kayaking is never completely safe because there’s always a risk of drowning, but you can safely sea kayak if you follow safety precautions. 

When sea kayaking, you should also be aware of your skill level, physical fitness, and water conditions. Sea kayaking can be a fun way to enjoy your vacation, but you should take the sea seriously. 

Preparing for Sea Kayaking

Sea kayakers need to be aware of several factors before heading off on their trip. Planning and understanding the unique dangers of sea kayaking will significantly decrease the chance of an emergency. 

Check the Weather Forecast and Wave Conditions

On the ocean, the weather can be unpredictable, and, as opposed to river kayaking, you’re going to be farther from land. Always check weather patterns before going kayaking. 

Kayaking in a storm is never a good idea, but other factors can make ocean kayaking more dangerous. 

For example, cold weather can cause hypothermia if you can’t make it to land quickly. Wear a wetsuit so that if you capsize, you can retain your body heat. 

Wetsuits use body heat to warm the water closest to you to prevent your body temperature from dropping to dangerously low levels. 

Rough wind and wind direction can also pose issues. Strong offshore winds will make it difficult to return to the land and make the waves higher. 

If the waves are more than two to three feet, then it’s best not to go. Even at the shore, a breaking wave can lead to severe injuries. 

Skill Level and Physical Fitness

Ocean kayaking is not the same as river kayaking. You are farther from shore in the ocean and, thus, in more danger if something goes wrong. 

Beginners should stick with river kayaking in calm waters. Large lakes and coastal bays are also a good starting point to get into kayaking. 

It takes time and practice to get used to kayaking and to perfect your paddling skills, so you should know the basic stroke techniques before attempting ocean paddling. Once you feel ready to try the ocean, remain within a swimmable distance of the shore. 

Physical fitness is also essential when sea kayaking. In the river, especially when whitewater kayaking, the water propels river kayaks forward, so there’s more focus on steering than power. 

The sea, conversely, is mainly stationary, and you may even have to fight against currents. Therefore, ocean kayakers require more strength and stamina to navigate the open ocean. 


When sea kayaking, it’s best if you wear a life jacket. The coast guard requires that you have a personal flotation device in your sea vessel, but keeping it on at all times will ensure you stay safe in any large waves. 

When renting touring kayaks, they should have a life jacket. If not, ask for one when going touring kayaking. 

You should also bring a waterproof bag for your supplies to ensure they don’t get wet if the kayak flips. Just check the bag for holes before you set off. 

You should also bring a radio to signal for help if you need to and food if you need to wait for help or get sluggish. Make sure that you have a good paddle and a spare if something happens to your first one so you can return to shore. 

Water is also essential. It is easy to underestimate the power of the ocean, and staying hydrated will ensure you are at your peak ability. 

Furthermore, moderate dehydration can cause lethargy, weakness in your muscles, headaches, and dizziness. Severe dehydration can lead to delirium and even unconsciousness, so ensure you have plenty of water for your trip and some extra in case you need to wait while you call for help. 

You can use a hydration pack to carry water easily when kayaking. 

It would help if you also considered bringing other safety gear, for example,

  • a first aid kit in case of emergency;
  • a whistle to help signal for help or to alert others of your presence;
  • a map and compass so you don’t get lost;
  • a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin if it’s a sunny day or the UV index is high; 
  • a helmet in case you capsize to protect your head from hitting the bottom of the ocean; and 
  • a paddle leash to keep the paddle attached to the kayak so you don’t lose it. 

Type of Kayak

Overall, the right kayak for the ocean is a sea kayak. Sea kayaks have two airtight hatches to keep them afloat when capsizing and are at least 14-feet long. 

You can use river kayaks in the ocean, but experts don’t recommend it. If you do use a river kayak, pack the stern with flotation for buoyancy. 

Also, remember that river kayaks will be harder to steer in the ocean. If you go ocean kayaking in a river kayak, stay close to shore and be extra vigilant of the weather conditions. 

For a kayak that can act as a touring or river kayak, try a hybrid kayak. 

Other Factors to Consider Before You Set Off

There are some other factors to consider and implement before you go out:

  • Currents. Understand current and shoreline conditions. Do some research online of the area you’re going to and talk to locals. 
  • Type of kayak. Sit-in sea kayaks won’t leave you exposed to the elements, but they’re best for more experienced paddlers. Sit-on-tops do not fill with water when they flip, so they are easier to turn back over. 
  • Weight capacity. Check equipment and the weight capacity of your river or ocean kayak before heading out. 
  • Monitor sharks. Check to see if there are sharks in the area you’re going to. Bull sharks are an especially big problem since they stay close to land. 

It’s also important to let someone on land know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. 

Keeping Yourself Safe on Sea Kayaks

Kayaking safety doesn’t end after the planning stage. Sea kayakers also need to be careful when paddling. 

Setting Off

When you set off from the beach, it’s best to get on the kayak in waist-deep water. Breaking ocean waves near land will make it more challenging to get on. 

Wait for the incoming waves to cede and quickly get on your kayak. To kayak effectively out of the surf zone, you’ll need to paddle hard towards the ocean. 

It’s also best not to set off from a crowded area of the beach. The vast majority of injuries when kayaking occur from a swimmer getting hit by a kayak. 

Before setting off from the land, ensure that you’ve shut your hatches tightly and the drain plug is screwed in securely. 

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol

It may seem fun to drink alcohol while on the water, but a kayak isn’t the place to do it. Drowning is a serious concern when in water, especially the ocean where the water is deep. 

Alcohol also makes you more susceptible to hypothermia and hinders your paddling. 

Dangers in the Ocean 

If you get caught in a rip current, be sure to paddle parallel to it instead of against it. Paddling against a rip current will tire you out and make it harder to return to land. 

Sea kayaking is already an endurance sport, so don’t make it harder on yourself. 

Other boats or strong currents can be dangerous to a paddler whether on short or long journeys. Pay special attention to big ships because they can cause larger breaking waves, and they may not see you. 

Shore break is another danger that occurs when waves break directly on land. These breaks are powerful and can cause injury. 

Rescuing Yourself

Many things can go wrong when you’re kayaking in the sea, but knowing how to perform a self-rescue can save your life. Even recreational kayaking, where you’re staying in the surf zone, can result in injury, so always remain cautious. 

The most likely problem that you’ll run into is capsizing. Before going into the ocean, you should practice getting back into your boat before facing rougher waters. 

For sit-on-top kayaks, position yourself on the ocean side of your kayak so that the incoming waves don’t knock you over. 

Stay in the middle of your kayak and pull yourself up until you’re lying across the seat. Then twist your body until you’re in the seated position again. 

For sit-inside ocean kayaks, place yourself at the rear of the kayak facing the waves and pull your body up onto the kayak by kicking your legs aggressively. Next, move into a seated position with each of your legs hanging over the sides of the kayak. 

Finally, scoot forward until you’re sitting in the correct position. 

If you find yourself stuck in the ocean and you’re not capable of paddling back, you need to radio for help. Dial into channel 16 and send a distress call to the coast guard, giving them the best estimate of where you’re at and what your situation is. 

Stay in place and wait for the rescue boat to arrive. 


The open sea is a fantastic place to experience nature, but you need to be aware of safety to have a happy kayaking experience. Everyone kayaking in the sea should use the right equipment and stay away from bad weather. 

Even experienced kayakers should stay mindful of challenging conditions, like strong winds and rip currents, to prevent injury when using a kayak in the ocean.