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How To Launch A Kayak? (The Correct Way)

If you’re interested in taking up kayaking, you probably have a lot of questions.

One of the first and most important things to be aware of is how to launch recreational kayaks safely and easily.

There are a few methods available when it comes to launching your kayak into the water.

The one you choose will depend on whether you are launching from dry land or from a dock.

If you’re launching your kayak from a dock, start by placing one leg inside the boat to hold the kayak in place, and then slide your backside and other leg in. If you’re launching your kayak from the shore, start by setting your kayak into a few inches of water. Then lower your backside into the seat, followed by one leg at a time.

What Is The Right Way To Launch A Kayak?

Getting in and out of a kayak can be both graceless and challenging for many paddlers.

You will probably find that the most effective technique really only comes with practice.

It’s important to be careful about your approach so you don’t end up slipping into the water, especially when you’re doing a dock launch!

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

A Dock Launch

Step One: Position your kayak parallel to the dock, as close to the edge as you can.

Place your paddle down on the dock, making sure the paddle shaft is within reach of the kayak.

You may also 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 prevent it from drifting away.

Step Three: Place both hands behind you on the dock for support, and put most of your weight on your hands, as you slowly lower your other 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 into the open water!

Of course, if your kayak is a sit-on-top model, the same principles apply — your legs and feet will just be on top of the bow instead of inside the cockpit.

A Shore Launch

Two kayaks in shallow water near the shore

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

The water should not be too shallow – aim for knee-deep water for launching from shore.

You don’t want your kayak to scrape on any rocks or gravel underneath. 

Step Two: Slide your paddle so that one paddle blade rests under the deck line of the kayak.

This ensures that it doesn’t get dropped while you’re getting in. 

Having a paddle that can float is highly convenient for this purpose.

You just need 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. Next, 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’re using a spray skirt, be sure to put it on before getting into the kayak.

Step Five: Slide back firmly 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 your 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!

3 Tips Before You Launch

You don’t want to have to get in and out of your kayak dozens of times.

So, before you launch, there are a few important steps you need to take:

1) Safety Checks

Dog riding a kayak wearing a life jacket or PFD looking back at the camera

Above all other things, safety checks are the most important step before every kayaking excursion.

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 also need to check that you have all necessary safety gear (including a whistle, flashlight, and first aid kit).

Also double check that you haven’t forgotten any other gear you plan to bring (such as your food, water, and dry clothing).

Additionally, you need to make sure you have left enough room for your feet in the cockpit! Lastly, don’t launch without inspecting your boat and paddle for any damage or leaks.

2) Choose A Launch Spot

Before you can launch, you need to decide where you’ll be launching from.

It’s also a good idea to choose an exit spot ahead of time as well. 

These areas 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 upon your arrival, so take a little time to assess the shore and make a decision about both locations ahead of time.

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’s more difficult to launch them from a high dock. 

You should also take into account any surf, such as waves that may be impacting the area if you plan to launch in a surf zone.

If the incoming waves are creating choppy water, you may want to consider entering the water in a more protected area, like a cove or bay. 

3) Check The Weather Conditions

Finally, make sure you’ve taken a look at the weather forecast and water conditions.

If the day is very windy or there’s a storm coming, you’ll need to make a judgment about whether it’s a good head to head out in your kayak. 

Before heading out on any kayak trip, make sure you feel comfortable and safe.

Don’t launch just because you have made the effort to drive to the launching spot.

Should you put the gear in the kayak before getting in?

Kayak on the water with supplies on board

Yes, your kayak should be fully stocked before you get in.

Once you’re in the kayak, you will find it difficult to reach anything on the shore/dock.

Anything that needs to go with you should be inside your kayak before launching — especially your paddle!

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

To exit your kayak at a dock, start by placing your hands on the dock.

Next, 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 you get out of a kayak on the shore?

If you’re landing on the shore, pull your kayak up to the shore and gently beach it.

Then, put one foot out of the kayak first.

Then remove your other foot from the kayak on the same side, and stand up.


You’ll 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 evenly distributed, and move slowly in order to avoid slipping or capsizing.

Once you’ve mastered these movements, you’ll find that entering and exiting your kayak will become an easier process.

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