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Kayak Launch: 10 Tips to Get You Started

Kayak Launch: 10 Tips To Get You Started

Looking to head out for a  relaxing day paddling on the river or lake but you’re not sure how get from kayak loaded onto the car to bum sitting in kayak on the water? If the move from dry land to water sounds challenging, read these ten tips for a smooth kayak launch.

1. Find A Great Spot To Put In For Your Kayak Launch

The place from which to launch, your ‘put in’ spot, is arguably the most important part of launching your kayak. On occasion, you will find man-made kayak launches. Other times you may have access to a sloped bank going down to the river that you can slide your kayak down. You can also enter your kayak from a dock (this can require some practice!) If none of these options are available, you may just have to wing it and push your kayak into the water any way you can and get in.

2. Do A Pre-Kayak-Launch Safety Check

Inspect your boat for any damage that may cause you issues on the water. Make sure your rudder and skeg are up. Double check all items are secure, including your marine safety kit.

3. Set and Latch Your Footrests

Footrests help give you leverage when paddling. If your kayak comes equipped with adjustable footrests (most recreational kayaks do), adjust them on land prior to launching. Adjusting your footrests once already on the water is much more difficult and may cause you to capsize your boat. Not the ideal way to start your paddle. So on land, sit in your kayak and adjust the footrests so that your feet are comfortably pressed against them. This is easiest if you have a slight bend in your knee. However, your knees should not be bent so much that they get in your way when you are paddling.

4. Stow or Secure Your Paddle

This tip will save you a lot of grief, particularly if you’re launching your kayak by yourself. Stow your paddle inside the kayak or secure it to the outside of your kayak before putting in.  You will then be able to easily reach it when you’re on the water in your kayak. If you leave your paddle on shore while you get into your kayak, you could tip your boat trying to grab the paddle. Or worse, the current could start to move you away from shore without your paddle.

5. Secure Your Gear

To prevent losing all of your gear if you capsize, it is important to stow it in a storage compartment or secure it to your kayak. Items that need to stay dry should be placed in a dry bag (waterproof bag) — phone, car keys, food, sunscreen, and any other gear you need.  Close the dry bag according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then secure it to your boat. If your kayak has a dry storage compartment, you can stow it there. If not, secure it to the outside of the boat by using rope or carabiners. Most kayaks have hooks and tie-down points.

6. Always Wear A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Or A Life Jacket

Kayakers of all skill levels must wear a flotation device. Put it on before getting into your kayak. It’s both easier and safer this way.  Accidents happen. Even the calmest of waters can hide hidden obstacles and weather can turn bad quickly. It’s always best to be prepared. Learn more about choosing the right flotation device for you, How To Choose A Life Jackets.

7. Kayak Launch With A Partner When You Can

The help of a partner is always welcome. You can step into your kayak from land, sit down, and have your partner push or pull you into the water. You can, in turn, help them by securing their kayak against yours.

8. When Launching From Land…

When launching from the land, look for a sloped bank for ease of entry. Move your kayak so that the nose is in the water. With the compartment still on land step into the kayak and sit down. You can then wiggle yourself forward slowly. You may need to use your paddle to help push you down the bank and into the water. If the water is shallow, see tip #10.

9. When Launching From A Dock Or Kayak Launch…

With practice, launching from a dock or a kayak launch can be much easier than launching from land. It’s all about balance. You will have to make small adjustments depending on whether the kayak is even to the dock or lower.

Put your kayak in the water alongside (parallel to) the dock or kayak launch. Place your hands on either side of the kayak and carefully step into the boat. This requires balance. Keep your center of gravity low. You can hold on to the dock for support as required.

You can also use your paddle to secure your boat next to the dock. With your paddle perpendicular to your boat and straddling both your boat and the dock, carefully step in.

Small adjustments can be achieved with hand placement. You can try keeping both hands on the dock and lower your bum onto the seat and sliding your feet forward in the compartment. Or, you can keep one hand on the dock and one hand centered just behind the coaming of the boat (center back of compartment). Lower your bum and slide your feet forward.

Entering your kayak is on occasion anything but elegant. If you happen to look silly or even fall in the water, laugh it off. It’s all part of the experience.

10. When Launching From Shallow Water…

Place your kayak in the water. Walk in until the water is one or two feet deep. Place one hand on each side of the kayak’s compartment. Step in one foot at a time, then slowly sit down. Use caution not to lean too far in either direction or you’ll end up soaked before you’ve even started. You can also sit bum first while holding the opposite side of the compartment from where you are entering. Once seated, you can swing your legs into your kayak. Bum first is typically the easiest when you’re just starting out. Some people prefer to straddle the kayak and lower their bum to the seat before swinging their legs into the compartment. The point is, find what works best for you.

Bonus Tips – Exiting Your Kayak

It would be really mean to push you off into the open water without telling you how to get out of your kayak first.

Shore Landing

  • Paddle straight into shore, but don’t breach the bow.
  • Grab each side of the compartment next to your hips.
  • Bring your knees in toward your chest and pull your feet close to your bum.
  • Take one foot out of the boat and plant it firmly on the ground.
  • Balancing on your planted foot, slowly stand and take your other foot out of the boat.

Dock Landing

High dock:
  • Paddle up parallel to the dock.
  • If there is current or strong winds, you will likely want to tie your boat to the dock so that it doesn’t drift away when you step out. Alternatively, you can secure one paddle blade to the kayak and rest the other paddle blade on the dock.
  • Turn your torso to face the dock. Place both hands on the dock.
  • Pull your knees to your chest and your feet close to your bum.
  • Use your legs and your arms to slowly rise up.
  • Set one knee on the edge of the dock, keeping your center of gravity low.
  • Pivot your body to sit on the dock.

Low dock: 

  • You will be using your paddle for leverage. Place your paddle shaft so that one paddle blade rests just behind the compartment and the opposite paddle blade rests on the dock. For added peace of mind, you can tie your boat to the dock so it doesn’t float away when you step out.
  • Use your hand farthest from the dock and grasp the paddle throat (part of the paddle where the blade meets the shaft) and the rear edge of the compartment at the same time.
  • Place your other hand on the paddle shaft that is leaning against the dock.
  • Using both arms, press up and lift your bum out of the kayak seat and onto the dock.

Kayak On!

Hopefully your launch goes well. But don’t be discouraged if you end up soaking wet. You will get the hang of it with practice.

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launching your kayak


I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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