How To Launch A Kayak

Kayaking is one of the most fun and interesting sports you can participate in, and whether you’re a beginner or a veteran, the joy of exploring vast waterways and negotiating challenging currents and conditions is as thrilling as it is difficult.

However, before you get out on the water itself, you have to actually get into the kayak and launch it successfully, which is more difficult than it sounds.

A quick peruse of youtube will show you just how difficult this can be, and there is no shortage of clips where people underestimate or misjudge launching a kayak and find that the only thing getting launched is the would-be kayaker into the water!

How to Launch a Kayak

This is something that can catch out even the most experienced kayakers, and it can be made more difficult by unfamiliar water or equipment, overconfidence, and even a lack of technique in some cases.

Whether you’re totally new to kayaking or highly confident on the water, a refresher is a great way to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself the next time you’re about to head out.

In this guide we’re going to focus on how to launch a kayak safely and successfully, focusing on a few key techniques that differ slightly depending on the facilities available, ensuring that you’re able to confidently board your kayak wherever you are in the world and whatever the terrain and conditions are.

Pre-Launch Checks

Before you board your kayak it’s really important to make sure everything is good to go beforehand, as getting out of your kayak once you’re in makes life more difficult for yourself and increases the likelihood of you ending up in the water!

These checks should be done in a safe space and should look at all the key safety gear you need.

Check your PFD is fitted properly, all attachments are fastened securely, your paddle and all required equipment are accounted for and ready, and that everyone else is ready also.

Once this is done, you should check your kayak and ensure that it’s working properly, particularly if your kayak has footpegs or a rudder. Make sure these work out of the water ideally, to be absolutely sure they are functioning properly.

After all this is done, you can board, so let’s take a look at the first launching technique.

Launching From A Dock

Launching from a dock is an ideal situation to be in as this will often provide you with great leverage over your kayak and a much easier way to get into the kayak.

The first thing to do is check out how low down the kayak is from the edge of the dock, as this can mean you need to make some adjustments to how you enter the kayak.

It’s fine to adjust yourself according to what’s more comfortable and suitable for you, but we’re going to look at some textbook examples of how to do this.

  1. Place your kayak in the water parallel to the dock edge.
  2. Set the paddle down on the dock edge parallel to the boat for easy grabbing once you’re in the kayak.
  3. Sit on the edge of the dock and place one of your legs into the kayak to pull it as close as possible to the dock edge.
  4. From here you can either leave both hands on the deck and place your other food and bottom into the kayak simultaneously, using your planted foot to keep the kayak close and steady, OR you can keep one hand on the dock and use the other hand to hold the boat with a gentle pressure behind the cockpit to balance out the pressure of your planted foot.
  5. Lower your butt into the seat and tuck your legs inside, releasing the dock if you were holding on to it.
  6. Last but not least, attach your spray skirt or slash deck, grab your paddle, and start kayaking!

Launching From The Shore

Launching from the shore is slightly different and offers a different set of challenges, however, some actually find this much easier than dock launching, particularly if the water is shallow and you don’t mind getting your feet wet.

This can’t be relied upon, however, and in these cases, shore launching can be much more challenging.

  1. Carry your kayak to your launch point and put it in the shallowest water you can find. The boat should be set up so it’s pointing out into the water, perpendicular to the shoreline. In rivers or for longer kayaks it’s ok to do a parallel launch as this can be easier in those scenarios. When launching perpendicular to the shore, point the front of the boat away from the shore but keep it close to the edge.
  2. Put your paddle under your bungee cords across your deck if you have them, or tucked into the cockpit if you have no alternative.
  3. Stand over the kayak and straddle the cockpit area to prepare to lower yourself into it. If your kayak is too wide for this you can instead stand on one side of the kayak and lower your butt into the cockpit.
  4. From here, either lower yourself into the cockpit and bring your legs inside if you were straddling it or simply swing your legs into it if you sat down into it first.
  5. Slide back in the seat so you can make yourself and your legs more comfortable.
  6. Grab your paddle and get yourself out into some slightly deeper water away from the shore and the breakers.
  7. Attach your splash deck and prepare to kayak!