Couple kayaking together. Beautiful young couple kayaking on lake together and smiling

Kayaking is becoming increasingly popular, and it should come as no surprise. Kayaking is easy to learn and is a great water activity for people of all ages to enjoy. While you can enjoy an intense run down a whitewater river in a kayak, you can also relax on a lake with calm water.

Regardless of your kayaking preference or your experience level, every kayaker should know how to navigate safely and know basic techniques. We’ll discuss some kayaking tips and techniques that will make you safer and more confident the next time you head out to the water.

Get the Right Kayak and Know The Basics

If you’re looking for tips on kayaking, some of the most important tips is knowing how to choose the right kayak for you and learning some of the basics before you go out on the water. Even though kayaking is one of the easier watersports, your comfort and ease of navigation greatly depend on having the right kayak. There are two basic types of kayaks:

Sit-On-Tops (SOTs)

SOTs are an ideal option for beginners because they are easy to get in and out of; many kayakers prefer this type of kayak because it makes them feel like they have more control and stability. SOTs are best on for warmer weather and for kayakers who don’t mind getting wet.


Sit-inside kayaks are more of a traditional style and probably what you’re used to seeing. If you choose this type of kayak, you’re more likely to tip, but it’s better for cold water kayaking.

Learn How To Kayak

Even though kayaking is a relatively “quick and easy” learn, you should learn the basics before you go kayaking. If you don’t have the opportunity to take a few lessons, going out on the water with an advanced kayaker or with a guide service may help make you a smarter and safer kayaker.

How To Sit and Hold Your Paddle

Almost all kayaking tips can help you become a safer and more confident kayaker. One of the tips that may seem like a “no-brainer,” but is one of the most important is how you sit in your kayak and how you hold the paddle.

The wrong technique can cause muscle strain and make the whole kayaking experience downright unpleasant.

How to hold a kayak paddle

Image via REI

Sitting The Right Way

Whenever possible, sit up straight and make sure that your lower back and buttocks create a 90- degree angle. You may be tempted to slouch or struggle to get comfortable; give yourself some time to get used to a proper seated position.

If you have foot pegs on your kayak, keep your toes pointed outwards and your heels near the center. When your posture is correct, your knees will have an upward and outward bend, and your legs should rest against the thigh braces. Again, this position may take a little time to get used to, but it will give you less pain and more control.

Holding Your Paddle

When you hold your paddle, your hands should be about shoulder width apart. You know that you’re holding it correctly when the concave part of your paddle blade is facing you.

In Case Of An Emergency

There are many kayak safety tips to consider, but some of the most important ones are knowing what to do in the case of an emergency. Most kayaking experts strongly recommend that every kayaker goes with at least one other person, regardless of how much experience one has on the water.

Whether you’re planning a short day trip or a weekend adventure, always tell someone where you’re planning on going. In the event of an emergency, it may be easier to find you.

As we already mentioned, tipping over in your kayak is often inevitable, especially if you have a sit-in kayak. If you tip over and capsize in cold water (less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit), it’s better to hang on to your kayak and using your whistle to call for help rather than attempting to swim in deep water.

Do you need to be an excellent swimmer to kayak? Not necessarily, but it’s best if you know how to tread water and some basic strokes.

Have All The Right Gear: Even For Short Kayaking Trips

The gear you bring with you on your kayaking trip will depend on where you’re going and how long of a trip you have planned. It’s easiest to travel light when kayaking, but make sure you’re not skipping out on some of the essentials. Consider these tips when packing for your outing:

A Casual Float or Short Day Trip

Even if you have strong swimming skills or you’re planning on kayaking on a calm body of water, such as a large pond or lake, you should always bring a personal flotation device (like a life jacket). Circumstances beyond your control are still a possibility, and a life jacket can be one of the most important things you bring on your kayaking adventure.

A small to medium dry sack can help keep your valuables dry, and a bilge pump can help you remove any unwanted water from the inside of your kayak. You may be familiar with a bilge pump on a larger boat, but a bilge pump for your kayak is handheld, inexpensive, lightweight, and compact.

Other gear that might be good to have on hand is a headlamp, your cell phone, and an emergency whistle. You can also learn how to make a whistle out of kelp if you’re kayaking in a body of water with kelp.

For Extended Trips

If you’re taking an overnight trip or multiple day trips, you should still plan on taking the same items you would bring for a short day trip. Even if you take your cell phone with you while you kayak, and plan to use it to access maps and other information, you should consider bringing traditional maps, a weather radio, and two-way radios (if you’re kayaking with another person).

“Must Haves”

Some kayakers are in such a hurry to get out the door and on the water that they forget to pack things like sunscreen, drinking water, and a repair kit. Make a detailed packing list and be sure to check it twice before you head out.

What To Wear

If the weather is hot, you may be tempted to throw on a swimsuit and hop in your kayak. Even if the air temperature is “sweltering,” the water might be cold. Wearing layers is always a good idea and if you can, avoid wearing cotton because it retains a lot of moisture and doesn’t dry quickly.

Instead, consider materials that wick away moisture, such as wool, and consider a wet or dry suit if the combined temperature of air and water is 100 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Remember, layers are easy to stow away in your dry sack if you get too warm.

Learning To Navigate On A River

All bodies of water create unique challenges for kayakers, but a river can be the most unpredictable and often the busiest regarding “traffic.” Here are some river kayaking tips to keep in mind:

navigating a kayak

Image via Trip Advisor

Be On The Lookout For River Hazards

Even rivers that appear to be calm and slow moving can have some strong current, which can make your kayak journey exciting but also a little scary. Taking a kayak lesson or two can help you gain a better understanding of some of the river hazards and how to navigate them a little easier (or at least be prepared).

Make Yourself Seen On The River

When kayaking on a river, it’s always a good idea to wear brightly colored clothing, such as a neon-colored life vest, and put reflective tape on your paddle. High visibility is essential when you’re one of the smallest watercraft on a busy river. Always follow the “rules” of the river and be aware of your surroundings.

Always Know Your Limits

One of the kayaking tips that you should always keep in the back of your mind is knowing your limits. Everyone has different levels of stamina and experience when it comes to kayaking. If you kayak with a group, there’s a good chance that some of you will be more experienced than others.

Rather than trying to push yourself too hard or “prove” yourself, take your time while kayaking and stop when you don’t think you can go any further. Becoming exhausted in the middle of a kayaking trip is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially if you encounter an emergency.

If you’re a novice kayaker, start out on short trips and allow yourself to become comfortable with your techniques before venturing out into more challenging waters.