Is Kayaking Dangerous?

Last Updated:

If you are here you clearly Googled “is kayaking dangerous”.. I see you!

If you’re looking for a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors, the solution can be as simple as grabbing your kayak and hitting the water. However, kayaking can be dangerous, especially if you don’t know how to go about it.

Danger can be found at any location and on any kayak trip, and I state this from my 20 years paddling experience. 

So, is there a way to be prepared? 

Yes. It all depends on how you go about kayaking and the steps you take to stay safe. 

In this blog post, we’re going to discuss the list of dangers associated with kayaking. If you can avoid those dangers, then kayaking can be safe and fun. 

What Is Perceived Risk vs. Actual Risk?

Before we look at the dangers of kayaking, first things first; what’s perceived risk vs. actual risk? We’ve got the answers here. 

Perceived Risk

Perceived risk is a person’s personal feelings and opinions about the danger associated with something. 

One example of perceived risk in the context of kayaking is the perceived risk of your kayak capsizing. In this case, the perceived risk is that as soon as you fall out of your kayak you are a goner. When in actuality if you practice proper rescue techniques and know how to flip a capsized kayak that perceived risk becomes inherently lower. 

Actual Risk

It’s the real chance that something dangerous will happen or occur at some point. In kayaking, actual risks include real threats, such as drowning and hypothermia in cold water conditions.

The perceived risk of kayaking is high because the actual chances of something happening are low in nondangerous conditions. However, people who like to kayak and know what they’re doing should mitigate any perceived risk through knowledge and experience.

The more you do it, the less scary it will feel. This applies to mosy things in life actually. 

In short, perceived risk is what you think and worry about before an event. The actual risk is the chance that something terrible will happen to you during or after an event.

Dangers of Kayaking and How to Combat Them

What is a leading cause of death for paddlers in small crafts such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts? Well, the answer is perhaps our tendency to not take the dangers of kayaking seriously. Here are the risks of kayaking and how to combat them. 

Kayaking Alone as an Inexperienced Paddler

Are you the type of kayaker who likes to paddle alone? 

inflatable kayak being paddled

Yes, you may have chosen kayaking because it seemed like the more safe option than skiing or snowboarding, but kayaks can be just as dangerous when paddling without experience. That risk is amplified in tough weather conditions like wind, waves, and white water.  

Have you not heard of many kayak deaths as a result of inexperienced solo paddling?

If you’re an inexperienced paddler, kayaking alone is not a great choice. Here’s why: 

  • You don’t know a lot about external conditions and how to read them
  • There’s no one to help you in case something happens

For safety, it’s recommended to kayak with a partner or in groups of three kayakers at the minimum if you’re inexperienced in the art. 

This way, your friends can help get you back on the water instead of waiting for someone else to come and save the day.


Drowning is more common while kayaking than you might think. According to a study done by the U.S. Coast Guard, kayaking is the second most common cause of drowning in America. The number of people who drown while kayaking is alarming. 

That’s because kayakers have a much higher percentage survival rate than other water sports enthusiasts like swimmers and snorkelers.

Cases of kayakers drowning are often due to kayakers capsizing or the kayaker being caught in a storm and getting swept out into open water.

It’s also essential for kayakers to stay with their kayak if they capsize or lose it because this will increase their chances of survival by up to 60 percent. In addition, staying close increases your chances of survival because experts design kayaks to float on the surface of the water and not sink.

For kayakers to stay safe, they should:

  • Wear a life jacket at all times
  • Obey local speed limits if there’s no artificial structure you can see
  • Never drink alcohol before kayaking

One thing you should note is that even the most experienced kayakers can drown. So, there’s no such thing as kayaking being completely safe.

It’s advisable to avoid kayaking at night since that’s when the water is coldest, and there’s a higher chance of falling in. That may happen when paddling more vigorously. Paddling too hard can put you at risk of drowning if you fall overboard or flip over from the kayak.

Additionally, you could avoid drowning by kayaking near shorelines and close to the bank. Kayakers should also avoid wide-open water because it’s more difficult for kayaks to stay afloat in deep or open water than near the shore. 

This is because of the bigger waves and unpredictable conditions they encounter 

Incorrect Use or Lack of Kayaking Equipment

How safe is kayaking without the correct use of the kayaking equipment? Is a kayak dangerous? What if there’s a lack of equipment? Incorrect use of kayaking equipment is one of the significant causes of kayaking accidents and deaths.

Additionally, if you do not outfit yourself with the proper equipment, you can get into kayak accidents such as capsizing and have difficulty escaping from flipped kayaks.

Without the right equipment, you might not stay afloat and could drown due to improper movement in the water. 

How Avoid The problem:

Some of the must-have kayaking equipment include:

  • Kayaking life vest 
  • Paddles
  • Safety equipment 
    • Whistles
    • Bilge Pumps
    • Rescue Line (For longer trips)
  • Food and water 

You must also wear a life jacket to stay afloat in emergencies. When I say this, don’t just bring it with you and have it flopped over on the deck. That’s no use whatsoever

To avoid dangers associated with improper use of kayaking equipment, you need to learn how to use the equipment. One way to do that’s to take kayaking courses and practice in a kayak that’s the proper size for you. 

You can also minimize the chances of accidents by carrying tools like knives, flares, first-aid kits, water bottles. When shopping for kayaking equipment, you should choose the appropriate size for you and your skill level. That means measuring your chest size for PFD’s, knowing your waist size for wet suits/ drysuits. 

One important thing to consider when purchasing a kayak is your skill level. As a kayaker, you don’t just need any boat, but the right kind of boat. The wrong kayak can be dangerous as it may not suit your needs and abilities adequately.

For example, if you’re new to water sports in general or paddling. Specifically small recreational vessels would be best for getting used to things before moving onto bigger things like the big ocean-ready kayaks.

Kayaking in Non-Ideal Conditions

You might be wondering, how safe is kayaking in non-normal conditions? 

Winter/ Cold Water: Brrrr

As beautiful as it can look outside in the winter with all that snow, it’s best to keep the kayak at home. Only truly experienced paddlers who have proper equipment and training should venture out on that cold lake in the winter. 

A friend of mine’s dad almost died doing this in the Okanagan, he started close to the shoreline but got swept out by the rip current, he capsized, and his body started to stiffen the longer he was in the water. Luckily someone was there to rescue him and pull him back to shore just in the nick of time!

While he was lucky to live and tell me the tale, he was adamant on not wearing the proper equipment like a drysuit before going out.

Authors note

How to Avoid the Problem

The rule of thumb when it comes to kayaking is that you should stay away from the water during winter. Especially if you are a beginner and do not have the right gear!

Conditions are dangerous and unpredictable, resulting in hypothermia or even winter shock, particularly hazardous if alone.

According to ABC Health & Wellbeing, hypothermia occurs when you get cold, and your body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius.

Hypothermia is a considerable risk, especially in winter and kayaking, as it increases your risk of encountering winter conditions. 

These may include cold water, snow, cold rain, icy water. So if you flip over you have a very limited amount of time for your body to react before it freezes up like what happened to my friend’s father. 

Currents Tides and Waves Ohh My!

Unideal conditions include unpredictable tides and waves. As the tides and waves move, currents can change direction. That means you could be moving in a particular direction one minute and a very different direction the next minute.

When that happens, it becomes a HUGE RISK as the currents may also push you away from the shore, further into the water.

These currents can move swimmers quickly out to sea, where they become unable to return because of rough waters and large waves. That means it will take longer for someone to rescue you

In addition, currents can increase your risk of drowning or hypothermia, depending on how long the current keeps pushing you around.

How to Avoid the Problem

Lookout at the water, if you see the water moving in different directions in a certain area stay away!! Before going out also check the water conditions. Big bodies of water are usually updated on these. 

Lightning and Storms: Don’t become a Rider in the Storm

Lightning is another danger. This occurrence usually accompanies a storm. Lighting is dangerous to kayakers because it can strike you. In sporadic cases, lightning might even get you electrocuted depending on how low your boat is (if lightning strikes the water). 

How to Avoid the Problem

While lightning is dangerous, it’s easy to avoid. Just don’t go out in the water!

Sun Exposure Can You Beat the Heat?

What about sun exposure? This occurrence is yet another danger of kayaking. Typically, the sun is at its worst during the summer. 

While it can’t kill you, kayaking is unbearable during times of high sun. That’s because the waves can reflect off the water surface and into your eyes. On top of that, you could get a sunburn, which can be dangerous if it’s too severe.

It is reccomended by the CDC that you hydrate yourself every 15-20 minutes in hot outdoor conditions!

How to Avoid the Problem

Sun can also make you feel dehydrated and lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick. Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from the sun. For example, you can buy sunscreen or just use a regular skin lotion with SPF in it. A wide-brimmed hat also helps keep the sun out of your eyes. 

You can also just wear a hat to shield yourself from rays in case you can’t avoid them altogether. Alternatively, stay out of the sun until the right time. Typically, the early morning or late afternoon can be cooler and less sunny. So, that’s perhaps the best time to grab your kayak.

External Hazards

External hazards such as sweepers and strainers are apparent when you see them, but what about the ones that are hard to see? It’s essential to know your dangers while kayaking so you can prepare yourself if things go wrong. Since sweepers and strainers are easily avoidable. It’s better to discuss other hazards. So, we’ll look at a few more dangers of kayaking. 

Sharp Objects Like Rocks and Logs

As a kayaker, you need to always be on guard for sharp objects that could puncture or cut the hull of an inflatable kayak. Some everyday sharp things you’ll likely encounter on your kayaking adventure include rocks and sticks. 

How to Avoid the Problem

Paddle in water that is at least 2 feet deep that is away from any sharp objects. When launching an inflatable kayak make sure it has enough clearance away from these things. 


Another external hazard may come from wildlife. For example, you may come across alligators, sea lions, whales, and sharks during your paddling trip. In the vast majority of the cases, they don’t want anything to do with you.

Also don’t paddle at night, as you might not see these dangerous animals.

Me Paddling with a Sea Lion :0

Story Time: 

I recently had an encounter like this on my paddleboard. In the summer of 2021. I was paddling with my friend and we saw a male juvenile sea lion. He was quite magnificent but very curious. We filmed him swimming around for a short bit but then he started approaching.. Closer and closer.. Up to 10 feet close to me

Ok time to put the phone down and react to the situation. 

As he got closer we calmly started to paddle in the opposite direction. He followed us for a bit but then went under (those were a scary couple of minutes). He moved on and we didn’t see him again. 

The reality of the situation is that most of the time these creatures are not blood-thirsty monsters who want a piece of you. They are just curious. So treat them with respect and react CALMLY (remember that?). In this instance, it served me quite well and I have an awesome story from it! 

How to Avoid the Problem

It’s essential to avoid getting too close and personal with these creatures because that would just be asking for trouble. If they approach you, calmly paddle the opposite directions. Animals are very good at sensing your energy so being calm in these situations only helps you. 

Losing Your Bearings

Just imagine being in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden the weather is getting cold, and you have a big river to cross but no map or compass. You better hope someone finds you before you freeze to death. 

This type of thing is not just possible in a movie; you can find yourself in such a situation during kayaking.

Losing your bearings in water is as easy as it’s in the air- all you need to do is lose your direction. While on moving water, the direction the water flows will be in the direction of the sea. This route can be dangerous and prevent you from reaching land.

The causes of loss of direction during kayaking include the following:

  • A sudden turn, which can quickly flip you over – By the time you regain your composure, you’ll have already lost your bearing.
  • Windy conditions – The direction the wind is blowing (it blows in straight lines, and it’s easy to confuse the movement of water flow with the direction of the wind).
  • Water conditions – Currents are powerful and swift, so if you come across them, do not cross them.
  • A faulty paddle – You may also lose your kayak direction due to using a paddle that has the wrong direction. That means that it’s not symmetric and changes direction when you tilt it, i.e., it does not have the correct flex profile, perhaps due to being stressed or exhausted.
  • Night paddling – Kayaking at night can also cause you to lose direction since you can’t see anything.
  • Distraction – You may also lose direction due to not paying attention, e.g., looking at the scenery or just trying to enjoy being in nature for a moment.

How to Avoid the Problem

To avoid losing direction during kayaking, you should have a direction indicator, such as the direction that your kayak points while paddling. Do not just rely on the path of waves when paddling. You can use a solid and distinguishable object on your path to distinguish where you’re at. 

Be wary about solid waves that can push your direction off course and make you vulnerable to danger, such as whirlpools near a river outlet or shoreline with big rocks sticking out of the water around.

Try to avoid going out at night without proper lighting (a headlamp will do). However, the best time to kayak, as mentioned earlier, is during the daytime. Going out when the sun is out ensures that you have a clear vision of where you’re coming from and going.

For day trips and multi-day trips it’s a good idea to have a compass with you!

Drinking While Paddling

Make no mistake of going in water kayaking while drunk. Kayak and booze is a deadly mix that’s often fatal to kayakers. When kayaks get mixed up with alcohol, the results can be catastrophic.

Kayaking and drinking have been implicated in several kayaking deaths over the years; it’s more common than you think. It’s worse even when you attempt to carry a bottle of alcohol with you in the water. It doesn’t matter how good you’re at kayaking. Paddling while drinking can send you down the wrong path. 

How to Avoid the Problem

Just don’t do it!!

The best way to avoid danger is to be in the water while you’re sober. Unfortunately, even kayakers who people consider experienced may have a kayak accident after downing even two drinks.

Stay away from alcohol if you’re planning to paddle. That way, you’ll be in control of your mental faculties at all times. Your decision-making will also be at its best, and you’ll be able to pull a miracle even in an otherwise dangerous situation. 

If you must drink, then postpone your adventure; there’s always next time. A point to remember is that kayaking danger is not selective. Even sober paddlers drown.


Talking of capsizing, this is the most dangerous activity to handle in any water adventure. This tragedy happens when you roll over while kayaking. Water becomes a significant threat to your life, and it might lead to drowning or hypothermia

You also risk damaging equipment that may cost hundreds of dollars more than anything else. So, what can cause capsizing during a paddling adventure? 


If you’re not appropriately seated in the kayak, that can result in capsizing. To prevent the disaster in this sense, adjust your body for a straight and upright position before starting paddling. 

Keep balance while moving by leaning forward slightly and keeping your feet close to the middle of the kayak.


Another cause of the capsizing is overloading. The weight of your kayak is proportional to its width. Typically, this means that a wider kayak will carry more stuff, limiting its maneuverability and increasing the risks of getting stuck in different places.

What to Do if Your Kayak Capsizes 

Just in case your kayak capsizes, you’ll need to try and get back into the boat. Here’s how: 

  • First, turn onto your back and try to get back inside the boat. 
  • If you can’t do it straight away, roll over and grab hold of one of the kayak’s fittings (e.g., footpeg if it has any). 
  • Using this as leverage, pull yourself back into the kayak. You’ll need to conquer your fears in this kind of situation. Fear can make you freeze up and not be able to think clearly.
  • Don’t worry if the kayak is moving away from you because it’ll float back towards you as long as you keep your head straight. 
  • When it does get near enough for you to grab hold of it, reach out with both hands and use them as leverage to get back into the boat.

What if you can’t swim? The first thing you want to do is keep calm. Tension and panic can only exacerbate the situation. But calmness will only work if you have a life jacket. Hope you brought it!

With the gear, you’ll float on the water as you wait for someone to rescue you. Having a whistle is also handy because you can flag people down. 

The pfd is necessary even to those kayakers who know how to swim. A swimmer with a life jacket will have significantly more energy than if they were to try swimming for long without any help from water propulsion.

By Conditions

Now, one thing to note is that kayaking can be safe depending on the type. Let’s examine four conditions.

How Safe is Lake Kayaking?

Lake kayaking is relatively safe because most paddling takes place in calmer water. If you are starting out its best to start off with bays and lagoons.

The waves roll in and out. However, they tend to be smaller than those on oceans and rivers.

Here, accidents such as capsizing are less likely to happen than on moving rivers or coasts where waves can catch kayakers off guard. 

Having said that, the adobe accident I talked about with my friend’s dad did happen on a lake in winter. 

If there are any storms coming in immediately seek shelter onshore. 

How Safe is Ocean Kayaking?

Ocean kayaking is significantly more dangerous than lake kayaking. That’s because the ocean’s conditions change often, and ocean waves are not always predictable

The unpredictability makes ocean kayaking vulnerable to environmental hazards such as stormy weather, rip currents, and sudden ocean drop-offs.

Most ocean kayaking fatalities occur as a result of ocean waves tipping the kayak over ocean storms. Not even an experienced kayaker can successfully avoid falling out of a kayak when a storm becomes wild. Thus, compared to lake kayaking, lakes are a safer option. 

Before going out on the ocean keep a close eye on the weather conditions and the water conditions. 

How Safe is White Water Kayaking?

White water kayaking is known for being a perilous and real threat to kayak safety. That is because it involves a lot of white water rapids, which are hazardous. In addition, the ability to maneuver a white water kayak in white waters requires you to acquire white water skills.

However, white water kayaking can be safe if the white waters are considered but not when paddling strong white waters.

To successfully navigate white water you need to take some white water kayaking courses

How Safe is Kayak Fishing?

In kayak fishing, you use a kayak as a platform to fish from. Therefore, it’s advisable that you kayak-fish in areas where the dangers of kayaking are known, and you can conquer them.  

With kayak fishing, you need to wear life vests at all times and have a paddle on hand in case an emergency arises.

If you are new to kayak fishing start off with calmer bodies of water like lakes. This gives you time to get used to the kayak before going into more wavey conditions. 

Overall, kayak fishing is a safe activity. Just make sure you carry a VHF marine radio if ocean fishing. That’s because you may need to get very far away from the shore for a catch.


Here are the most common questions about inflatable kayaking.

Do Inflatable Kayaks Tip Over Easily?

No, they do not. Many inflatable kayaks are extremely stable and it would take a well-intentioned lean to flip it over. How do you get back on after it flips? We got a Guide on that!

How Do People Die From Kayaking?

People die from kayaking mostly when they fall out from their kayaks due to many factors, including many of the above reasons

Is It Safe to Kayak After a Storm?

Kayaking after a storm can be safe. However, it would be best if you remembered that it’s been raining, and the water levels are likely to be higher than average.

Make sure to always check the weather!

Can You Get Trapped in an Inflatable Kayak?

Getting trapped in an inflatable kayak is entirely impossible but pretty unlikley.

Most inflatable kayaks are pretty light so you can move them with your arm, even when you are in the water. 

 However, it’s advisable to be as confident as possible when using this type of kayak to ensure all the outcomes are favorable.

What We’ve Learned

Kayaking may be dangerous for those who are not prepared. However, the adventure can be exhilarating if you have a good sense of balance and knowledge about the water currents and weather before jumping in. 

One of the most important things you must remember for your kayak safety is wearing a life jacket. It’ll save you a great deal in case of an accident, or if you don’t know how to swim.

Additionally, where you kayak matters a lot. As we have seen in this post, lake kayaking is the safest. On the other hand, ocean kayaking can be dangerous, and so is white water kayaking. Nevertheless, any type of kayaking can be dangerous depending on the prevailing conditions.

Ready to live out your paddling adventures? Follow the tips in this post before you go kayaking. When choosing a paddle, make sure it’s the correct length for someone of your height and weight. That ensures strokes are easier on joints. Remember to keep both hands on the inside edge of your blade while rotating.

Photo of author
Hey, there! My name is Derek and I have been around kayaks and canoes all my life. The last 5 years I recently turned my attention to inflatable kayaks and my world has been a lot more portable since! When I'm not kayaking I like to watch motorsports, play hockey and work on this site!

Leave a Comment