Can You Use A River Kayak in the Ocean?

Are you fond of kayaking? Do you love to spend vacations at the riverside? But this time, you are planning to take it to the ocean? And are now thinking to yourself if can you kayak in the ocean? When people think of kayaking in the ocean, they get confused as the river and ocean water are different, and there is a need for practice.

Yes you can, but it’s not easy to do in comparison to rivers. There are a handful of different factors which you must consider. These are all discussed here.

Ocean kayaking is challenging as you have to face rapid water flows and the speed of rushing water waves. Kayaking on the river is far easier as there are fewer rapid waves and filling. Moreover, the long stretches on the river are quiet and calm. Thus. You can feel relaxed and enjoy the activity.

Before we discuss the safety of kayaking in large water bodies and dig deeper into the question, can you kayak in the ocean? Let us first discuss ocean kayaking.

Group kayaking in the ocean

About Kayaks

The kayak comes in a wide range of sizes and shapes to meet the requirement of this game. During the first experience of kayaking, you need some tricks and tips to balance. So, beginners should do river kayaking and avoid moving to oceans until they have enough practice. Once they get some experience, they can kayak in the ocean. it will be fine only if you are going during mild weather and for short trips. In case of having a full experience, the rider must have a 14′ sea kayak and two air-tight hatches for complete protection in the ocean body.

But what if you don’t have an ocean kayak, but you want to use your river one in the sea body? Then there is a solution for you. For this, you have to pack the stern with flotation for buoyancy, and don’t forget to wear the helmet, so you stay safe when you surf the capsize and kaya slams upside down. Make sure the weather is not angry, and conditions are suitable for doing paddling in the ocean.

Differences Between River and Ocean Kayaking

If you want to know that you can kayak in the ocean, you should know the significant difference between these two areas? In this way, it will be easy for you to decide what is better for you and how you can enjoy kayaking properly.


You need more energy to kayak in a river. This is because downstream current on the river requires a high level of energy to move forward. You have to put more power into steering and maneuvering. In contrast, ocean water is usually stationary, and kayak moves with the motion of waves. Sometimes these currents are strong, and you may not be able to move accordingly, but sometimes they are not headed towards the direction you want to go.

When waves in the sea are strong, you have to put more energy into moving the kayak, which requires more endurance and stamina. Moreover, long-distance and long periods also require more energy. Thus, you should be energetic, fit, and in better shape to complete the ride without fatigue or cramp problems. For this endurance sport, your body should be fully prepared.


Some rivers are wide, but the small rivers with whitewater are narrow. So, distance is usually less, and one can take a break anywhere. Thus, you can stretch your legs, give yourself relaxation, and have rest on the close shore. It’s easy to stop and get out when you feel sluggish after doing the activity. In contrast, sea activity is somewhat difficult and different. Sea bodies are large, and there is no resting place there when you are somewhere far from shore. Thus, you have to be fully energetic, keep something to eat with you or a water bottle as you will get rest only when you are back to the seashore.


River kayaks are manoeuvrable and made short. Thus, you can easily turn on a dime as well as prevent yourself from obstacles and rocks. In the case of sea kayaks, they are straight and long. Thus, they are challenging to turn. One has to turn to keep safe slowly. If seawater is calm, then the answer, yes? In fact, you can take a river kayak there for easy turning.

Edging is also different for both river and ocean kayaks. It is easy to lift the upstream edge in the river, which makes the turn easy. Whereas, in a sea kayak, you have to lift the knee in the direction in that you want to take a turn. It is somewhat challenging to change the direction of the sea.

Difference In Scenes

When you think that you can kayak in the ocean with your river equipment, you should focus on both sides. On the river, there is a wide diversity of sight and sound. Moreover, the shore is near, so you can easily call for help in case of an emergency. Moreover, sight is great to enjoy a whole day on the river. You can paddle on majestic mountains, pristine waterfalls, sunny meadows. Thus, spend your time watching osprey, turtles, wildlife, and eagles.

In the case of the sea, when you are in the middle or far from shore, you will find no such views. You will find steep cliffs, beaches, and pounding surf at coastlines.

Thus, rivers are said to be a more interesting place to do paddling because of the extreme adventure sites there. Once you get experienced doing kayaking on the river, it will be easy to explore the ocean. You can take a turn through rocks and obstacles as well as be able to bear the large waves.

Dangers of doing kayak in Ocean

Shark swimming

Some of the dangers you may have to face and do safety measures before you go for this activity are discussed below.


When you are deep in the sea or far from seashores, you should always be diligent when it comes to sharks. Though it is extremely unlikely, shark attacks do happen. Avoid moving towards the dangerous point where sharks reside. Before moving, learn about the area where sharks are present; otherwise, you have to suffer severe consequences. Check out the infographic below for statistics on shark attacks, full infographic can be found here.

Shark attack statistics
Comparison of attack outcome by activity for all recorded shark attacks through May 2020. Sourced from Global Shark Attack File (GSAF).

Weather Conditions

Weather on the ocean side is unpredictable. Sometimes waves are calm, while in the next moment, they can be strong. Moreover, winds may be strong; the rain may start, or high waves.

Heavy Current

The presence of heavy currents, both tidal and rip, can be dangerous for your life. Having river padder with you can take you far, and maybe you have to lose a life. So you need a strong kayak for your activity that can prevent you and help you get back to sea shore safely.

Large Ships

Most of the time, it happens, the person doing kayaking comes in front of the ship, and it is hard for them to escape from it. Thus, a person has to lose their life. Therefore, if you see a ship approaching you, try to change your direction and move apart from its path to prevent any accident. This leads to hypothermia as the rescue team may reach you after a few minutes. Thus, it would help if you went for an ocean kayak with a complete safety kit to stay safe.

Other Dangers You May Face

River kayaks are designed for the narrow water body only. These are unable to attain much speed or cover a large distance. Thus, if you think about kayaking in the ocean, the answer can be a big no. It would help if you far moved to the ocean with a river kayak. Thus, it would help if you used kayak designed for the ocean.

In case you take a river kayak, and the weather suddenly changes, then it can be hard for you to chase the speed of the wave, and you may be in trouble. If you think you can’t control kayak, you should start swimming in such conditions. But for this, you should be brave, have no fear of water, and be a professional swimmer as if you are an expert; you will definitely don’t drown in the deep sea.

Preventing Yourself from Drowning

If you have taken a river kayak, but bad water conditions have put you in trouble, and you feel you are going to drown, it will be a frightening situation. Thus, to avoid this heart-wrenching situation before you go on a kayak, do prepare yourself to stay safe. For this, you should wear a correctly fitted life vest capsize drill and must have self-rescue training. You should know to stay calm and tactics to regain control on a kayak or this life-threatening scenario.

Why not use a river kayak in the ocean?

The one main reason for not using the river kayak in the ocean is that these lack a watertight compartment that maintains kayak float after capsizing. These are less than 14′ and tough to handle in the sea. Thus, if you are wondering can you kayak in the ocean with a river gadget, then it is not. For oceans, you need a kayak of more than 14′ that can manage the waves and current. If you take a river kayak in the ocean, you may be at the mercy of a large water body.

If you have a hybrid kayak, then you can use it for ocean activity. It is because these crossover kayaks come with features that are ideal for use in the sea and the river. In short, it is a single multipurpose boat. These are inflatables, hybrids, and sit on top type. Paddlers can take this boat in rivers, sea, and on a lake. These are stable and manoeuvrable.

Types of kayaks for oceans

Another point of consideration when deciding whether it’s a good idea to kayak in the ocean is the type of kayak you use. Taking a river kayak in the ocean can be a foolish decision, but if you pick the right boat, you will enjoy your holiday. Certain types of kayaks suitable for the ocean are discussed below.

Recreational Kayaks

Take a recreational kayak and go on an adventure with confidence. The boat is 10 to 14′ long and used in proximity of beach with calm conditions. One of the boat features is water-tight compartment in the stern that helps rescue the kayak even where you feel impossible to be safe. Although it is less efficient than other types, it is a viable option for people because of ease of use and stability. Perhaps, an enlarged cockpit is also a plus point that ensures the boat’s stability when there is some high tide.

Day Touring Kayaks

One of the most efficient, stable, and maneuverable types of kayaks that can be your companion in the ocean is the day touring kayak. The long 13 to 16 ft in length boat offers great stability during the ride. The self-rescuable boat can help you to do kayaking with confidence. Moreover, if you have proper training, this kayak can be a breeze. If you fall or the boat turns around, you can easily climb back in open water. The boat features a small cockpit that ensures a better paddling experience. The small cockpit also provides large coverage.

Touring kayaks

One more type of boat that helps you to answer the question that you can kayak in the ocean is Touring kayaks. These are performance boats with 14 ft in length and are more efficient. Due to the large length, these are far better than the other two types discussed above. Although it is of high capacity, maneuverability is low because these are extra narrow, due to which it has less room and less stable.

These are equipped with a rudder or drop skeg. The benefit of the latter one is that it keeps the boat in a straight line when gliding in wind or wave. In contrast, the rudder can maintain the pace even in harsh conditions. Moreover, these boars feature rocker that is the amount of curve from bow to stern. More the rocker higher, the bow and stern will be raised high up off the ground.

The presence of the rocker enhances the maneuverability and helps the boat to perform in rough conditions. As the boat has more rocker, it shrinks the waterline, which helps turn the boat quickly and easily. Such boats with high rockers work best in rough areas. But a lot of rockers decrease the efficiency too. The boats are self-rescuable also. So, in case you fall, you can easily climb on it.

Being the paddler, you should decide the boat according to your experience. If you are a beginner, the recreational type makes the perfect match, while experts can use any three. As they know to manage the boat in any condition.

Point to ponder

If you are thinking of going on a kayak in the ocean, then never take a lake or river kayak with you as these can be not a good option for you.

Always check the weather condition before you leave for this activity. During harsh weather, it can be dangerous for your life.

Check for the shark region, ship schedule, and rain forecast before you glide in the water body.

Final Verdict

For the kayaking enthusiast, this activity is superb as it increases stamina and gives the body extra energy. I hope this guide has answered the original question of whether a river kayak is appropriate for use in the ocean. In summary, it really depends on the factors discussed previously, your experience level, water conditions in the ocean and your specific kayak will all affect how difficult your adventure will be. There are also many different things which you should take into consideration such as the distance you will be traveling, how much energy you’re capable of producing, weather conditions and wildlife.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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