Is Kayaking Dangerous? [Dangers & How to Avoid Them]

Kayaking is an excellent way to travel to distant locations with groups or alone while having fun and staying in shape. Kayaking is not different from other water activities in that it has its risks and difficulties. However, is kayaking dangerous? You will have a much safer and better time kayaking if you can learn how to navigate through the dangers  involved.

It can be dangerous and even fatal if you don’t know how to handle a kayak properly and don’t follow basic safety precautions when paddling. It’s crucial only to try kayaking in areas where you have the necessary experience.

However, some risks can occur even when kayaking in calm waters. If you want to enjoy kayaking safely, it’s essential to be organized and informed. In this write-up, we will explore the most important question many people ask “Is kayaking dangerous?”

Man falling out of his kayak

Risk Perception of Kayaking

Before looking at the danger of kayaking, we need to look at the perception of people kayaking. There is a difference between the actual and perceived risk of kayaking. Briefly, a perceived risk deals with how dangerous someone thinks a situation might be, whereas actual risk focuses on how dangerous the situation is.

For instance, you probably believe it is safe to paddle near shore on a small flat-water pool or canal. It is probably safe, barring severe weather. No matter how skilled you are, kayaking into class IV whitewater rapids is dangerous.

If you follow essential safety guidelines, the perceived risk for many extreme or adventure sports, especially kayaking, is frequently higher than the actual risk. High perceived risk can make you more likely to plan for the worst-case scenario and play things safe as opposed to taking unwarranted chances. The drawback is that you might feel uneasy about getting in the water if the risk is significant. This article should assist you in striking a balance.

15 Dangers of Kayaking and is Kayaking Dangerous

Now you understand the risk perception of kayaking, it is vital to look at its dangers. It’s never enough to know about these dangers; we will also share important tips to avoid them, especially if you are a beginner.


Most novice paddlers are concerned about capsizing, especially when using a sit-in boat with a spray board. But how risky is it?

Being wet won’t hurt you unless you’re paddling in freezing water. Similarly, capsizing in flat water a few kilometers from land isn’t a problem. Even if you’re not a great swimmer, you can rush to shore or grip onto the kayak. But capsizing becomes a hazard when you’re far from land, paddling in deep water, or on a river with rapids and pebbles.

Even seasoned kayakers are susceptible to capsizing. You might quickly end up upside down due to a strong wave, an incorrect paddle stroke, or simple exhaustion. You must, therefore, always wear a personal floatation device (PFD).

Capsizing dangers can be significantly decreased using a properly fitted flotation device and a helmet while whitewater paddling. A capsize should not be life-threatening if you practice capsizing recovery techniques.

Wrong personal floatation device fitting

Only if you use it consistently and adequately can personal flotation devices save your life. Although keeping the zipper and hooks open or storing it at your feet might be more comfortable. However, it won’t keep you floating if you capsize. Approximately 70 out of 95 kayakers who reportedly drowned in 2020 were not carrying life jackets.

Make sure the PFD you purchase can be adjusted to fit you. You shouldn’t be able to pull it over your head before opening or loosening it, and it should feel compact instead of tight. Additionally, ensure it can support your weight. PFD manufacturers, including the size, should always disclose the weight capacity.

Sun Exposure

Long-term effects of exposure to sun rays include heatstroke, fatigue, and dehydration. Moreover, the long-term effect of repeated exposure to intense UV radiation can aggravate existing skin and eye issues. According to the American Cancer Society, most skin malignancies are brought on by excessive sun exposure.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much shade when you are kayaking, especially during midday. As UV rays reflect from the water surface, it even gets worse. The negative impacts of sun exposure can, however, be avoided. Always pack lots of water, wear UV-resistant clothes, and use eco-friendly sunscreen.

By kayaking in the morning or evening during the summer, you can further reduce unnecessary dangers. Instead of kayaking in the hot sun, you can take a break under the shade.

Inappropriate equipment

If your PFD is adequately fitted, congrats! The next stage is learning how to pick a kayak that is appropriate for you and the sea you kayak on. A touring kayak should never be used to navigate a section of rapids.

The same is true if you attempt to kayak a play boat along a sizable lake. As a substitute, ensure your kayak and paddle are appropriate for the type of water you’ll be paddling in. Ask an experienced kayaker if you’re unsure.

In the same way, avoid tippy touring kayaks if you’re new to kayaking until you are comfortable practicing wet exits. Start training in a recreational kayak with a spacious cockpit if you’ve never kayaked a sit-inside kayak.


Hypothermia is a physiological response to a decline in body temperature. One of the easiest ways to reduce one’s body temperature is through water; extended exposure to cold water will cause rapid declines in body temperature.

Wearing the proper clothes, including a dry suit for high temperatures, can prevent hypothermia. For recreational paddling, you might think twice about going out during freezing months; the danger might not be worth it.

In three-season circumstances, remaining close to shore, kayaking with a friend, wearing the proper attire, and ensuring you have additional dry gear can avert problems. Carrying extra dry clothes is crucial, especially during the cold paddling months!


When floating on water, dehydration is a condition you might not anticipate. Dehydration can result from prolonged sun exposure combined with intense paddling and dehydration, causing weariness and disorientation. Both of these are detrimental to your health when paddling.

Once more, it’s not difficult to prevent this risk. When you go kayaking, become familiar with symptoms of dehydration and always remember to carry extra water than you think you’ll need. 

Undercut rocks

When fast-moving water erodes the rock or mud below the surface, it leaves behind undercut rocks that act as a porch for the water to flow beneath. It can be difficult to exit a kayak because of the tendency of kayaks to be pulled under as well as other river trash.

There are many reasons to wear a helmet and a well-fitted PFD when there is whitewater, but undercuts are only one more. It can be quite challenging to escape from an undercut or save someone, even with the proper safety equipment. To avoid accidentally paddling into an undercut, walk along with the downstream and watch out for any telltale sign.

Unexpected weather situations

Kayaks don’t provide as much weather protection as you would have imagined. Kayaking during a storm is a bad idea, even though a little downpour won’t hurt you much. You obviously know that it’s a good idea to cancel a kayaking outing when thunder and lightning are expected. But you can also be at risk from strong winds, dense fog, and harsh sunlight.

Unexpected weather changes do occur occasionally. When the sky begins to cloud, you may have already begun paddling. Learn to read about the weather to avoid erring on the wrong side. When the wind blows, stay close to land, and be ready to exit the ocean if the situation worsens.

Getting lost while kayaking

On a diverging river, one is likely to make a mistake when turning, but when kayaking on open water, being lost is a danger to think about. Both the sea and big lakes fall under this. The further you are from the beach, the more difficult it is to identify familiar landmarks, especially in low visibility.

You can travel further than you might anticipate with the types of kayaks appropriate for open water paddling. This is due to how easily distance may be forgotten. Even more so if your kayak is under a strong wave or current.

You want to avoid getting lost in the ocean, and most of the time you can. First, you can avoid drifting too far from shore by always staying in sight. You can select a specific landmark, such as a pier or a lifeguard tower and use it to determine how far you are.

If you get lost, the risk can be reduced if you paddle with a crew and have a waterproof GPS device. To have a backup, you might also think about putting a compass next to the cockpit and learning how to operate it.


Discovering the wildlife you share the river with when kayaking is one of the best things about kayaking. A few sunbathing seals, starfish, and a group of angry swans are intriguing wildlife to see. However, depending on where you live, it can be more dangerous to startle local animals, such as water snakes, crocodiles, alligators, bears, or even a curious shark.

Nevertheless, attacks by wildlife on kayaks are uncommon. Wild animals typically prefer to avoid you or hide, presuming that you do the same for them. Wild animals typically don’t attack unless they feel threatened. Therefore, no matter how great you think the picture will be, don’t try to approach too close, especially during and after mating seasons!

Sweepers and Strainers

The most hazardous obstacles you’ll encounter on the water are strainers and sweepers, as amusing as they may sound. But what are they? Sweepers are barriers; typically, they are low-hanging branches that extend over the water.

Similar to strainers, but with protruding obstructions that prevent floating debris in the water. These may be small twigs, large logs, or even whole trees. Alternately, strainers include manufactured materials like grates or bars. The idea is that they sift the water yet trap anything too big to flow through, which includes your kayak.

Because they are mostly or completely submerged, strainers can be challenging to notice. Don’t panic; try to maintain your bow aimed into the strainer. With these, you can navigate through it.   You can avoid sweepers and strainers by planning your route and monitoring streams after severe rain and storms.

Drinking and Kayaking

If you are drinking and asking is kayaking dangerous, you should know that it is extremely dangerous. As risky as driving while intoxicated is, it is dangerous doing that when kayaking. We are all aware that drinking affects our coordination, quick response, and common sense.

Alcohol, however, can harm your sight and sense of direction and destabilize your body, just like recreational drugs. After a few drinks, you’re likely to lose those hypothermia warning signs we described.

In addition, kayaking under the influence of alcohol is a federal violation. Penalties for this offense include fines and jail time. More importantly, paddling while intoxicated puts you and others’ lives in danger. No advice about this risk. Avoid drinking or don’t kayak.

There is always a chance that you could strain a tendon or fracture a limb, just like in any other sport. Unless you get into difficulty in whitewater, the latter is uncommon. Due to the constant movement of paddling, pains in the shoulders, neck, lower back, and forearms are much more frequent.

Is it possible to minimize this risk? After a tough day on the water, pains and strains are relatively common. For inexperienced paddlers, these are essentially guaranteed. However, progressively increasing your distances should reduce the risk of serious injury.


Let’s assume that you are energetic and fit when you begin paddling. Your energy can be depleted more quickly than you imagine by exposure to sunlight, dehydration, temperatures, and the physical effort of paddling against the tides.

You’ll be more likely to make errors if you allow yourself to get fatigued while paddling. How often have you been negligent after a bad night’s sleep—missing something obvious, going the wrong way, etc.? Tiredness could be fatal depending on the water you’re paddling on. First, if you feel fatigued, avoid the water. Once you’re out on the water, take a break immediately.


Let’s wrap off by discussing the main risk that made many people think is kayaking dangerous? Lack of experience is one reason for most kayaking fatalities in 2020. It’s one thing to push your kayaking abilities, but it’s risky to venture into waters where you lack experience.

Because they’ve spent years honing their skills and acquiring expertise, experienced paddlers can take on class IV rapids and strong waves on open water. Start by choosing a route that fits your skill level before getting on the water.

Join a kayaking class if you’re new to the sport to learn how to paddle and stay on calm waters till you control your kayak better. Before heading into deeper seas, try practicing wet exits and capsize recoveries. As you go, avoid kayaking alone and have experienced paddlers examine your routes.


Is kayaking alone dangerous?

If you have the appropriate safety gear and the strength to move, lift, and transport your kayak by yourself, paddling alone isn’t any riskier. Ensure you inform a colleague or family member where you’re going, how long you’ll be out, and when you plan to return if you’re kayaking alone. To ensure your safety, think about putting an app that you can keep in a dry bag to track your location.

How crucial are weight restrictions for kayaks for safety?

It’s highly crucial. By looking at its weight limit, you can find out how much weight a kayak can support while still floating correctly above the water. The kayak will float low in the water and may fill up if you increase the weight, which increases the chance that it could capsize.

When should kayaking be avoided?

While it’s windy, heed any warnings about high temperatures, smoke or wildfires, storms or thunderstorms, high winds, or cold weather.

Is kayaking risky for people who can’t swim?

It most certainly is. Going out on the water, even in a safe kayak, can be risky if you cannot swim because you can’t save yourself if you capsize. It is strongly advised that non-swimmers acquire swimming skills before taking up kayaking.

Conclusion – Is kayaking Dangerous?

Although kayaks alone are not harmful, kayaking as a sport has potential risks that should be considered. Knowing the risks and taking the necessary action to either avoid or overcome them will keep you safe.

Knowing how to kayak correctly and using caution are necessary to improve one’s chances of surviving should a particular circumstance arise. We hope that this list has given you a better understanding of the risks, enabling you to try to prevent any emergency while quickly becoming an expert kayaker. 

Therefore, is kayaking dangerous? Kayaking can be dangerous for those who are unprepared and untrained. It is pretty risky for the reckless. However, kayaking ought to be enjoyable for everyone else.

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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