Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Kayak?

Oh! Those hot summer afternoons! What do you think? What is the best way of spending these afternoons? Kayaking! It is an efficient, safe, and easy way of discovering scenic shorelines and Mother Nature while staying dry. But what if you do not know how to swim?

Well, you need not worry. That’s because kayaking is not an activity for expert swimmers. It is an outdoor pastime that every individual can enjoy. Of course, knowing how to swim can give you an added advantage and will also make the experience more exciting, but it is not a major requirement.

Knowing how to swim can help you in case of tipping. You can easily get back to the shore or your kayak. So, do you need to know how to swim to kayak? The answer is you don’t need to be an expert swimmer, but yes, you should comfortable in the water.

Man trying to get back into his kayak

Kayaking Is Barely about Being a Good Swimmer – The Right Strategies Can Help

The most significant skill you must achieve if you like kayaking is getting familiar with the waters. And this has nothing to do with being a good swimmer. Kayaking is a good alternative to swimming.

If you know the right way of rolling your kayak without an exit, you do not need to know how to swim anyway. It’s just a matter of due diligence and working on some specific skills. Work on these, and you will become an expert kayaker without knowing how to swim.

Using the right tools or gear and being fully prepared can help you have a successful kayaking experience, whether you are a good swimmer or not. Let’s look at some useful strategies that can help you have an enjoyable and safe kayaking experience, even if you are not an expert swimmer or do not know swimming at all.

1. Start Slow

Take things easy when starting with the kayaking adventure. Kayaking very close to the shore is wise when you do not know how to swim. Choose waist-deep water as it will make it easier for you to quickly enter and exit the kayak whenever necessary.

Once you get comfortable, start venturing out into the shallower waters. Non-swimmers will find it scary to be on a boat surrounded on all sides by water but do not let your fear take over you. Instead, have an easy-going attitude, and you will find your fears making a silent exit.

2. Choose Slow-Moving and Calm Waters

Kayaking is not without tipping. Your kayak can tip any moment, and then you might struggle to rescue yourself as a beginner. So, when you are starting out with your kayaking expedition as a non-swimmer, it is better to choose slow-moving and calm waters that are not too deep. Stay away from whitewater paddling or ocean kayaking if you are not good at swimming.

3. Select a Good Quality PFD

A PFD is a Personal Flotation Device and a must-have accessory when you are going for a paddle without knowing how to swim. In fact, a PFD also works for the most experienced kayakers. Expert swimmers into kayaking do not miss out on the scope of making their lives easier by wearing a PFD.

A PFD is a kayak life vest that keeps the kayakers afloat if they are up for an unexpected swimming session. It minimizes the effort you need to exert to remain afloat, helping you focus on getting back into the kayak.

If you want to choose the best PFD, you must know five different varieties are available here. Choosing the Class III or Class V PFD variety for kayaking is best for kayaking if you do not know how to swim.

Understand the PFD‘s buoyancy level to ensure it perfectly supports your body weight in water. A bit of mathematics goes into understanding this, but the math is not too complicated.

Since 80% of the average human body is water, with another 15% being fat, the PFD you choose must support the remaining 5% of your body weight that is higher than the weight of water.

Take it like this: You weigh 200 pounds meaning that your body is made of 160 pounds of water and 30 pounds of fat. So, you are left with 10 pounds of muscle and bone which your chosen PFD needs to support.

The Class III PFDs available in the market offer 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, while the Class V PFDs offer buoyancy between 15.5 and 22 pounds for adults. Therefore, they are the perfect choice for a kayaker weighing 200 pounds.

4. Selecting the Right PFD is Not Enough; Also Wear It Properly

Simply getting a PFD with a perfect buoyancy rating and in the right size will not do you any good. You must ensure wearing it properly if you want the PFD to work as a non-swimmer kayaking enthusiast.

PFDs are available in different varieties featuring buckles, zippers, and a blend of both. You must start putting a PFD on by placing both your arms through the armholes and your head through the head hole.

Next, buckle up the straps and zip up the zippers before going further. Once buckling and zipping are over, tighten the straps on the side of the body until the PFD snugly fits your chest.

Lift the shoulder straps to test if the PFD offers enough snugness. If the PFD is very tight, you will not be able to pull up the shoulder straps higher than the top of your ears. You can even have a friend check the fitting of the PFD based on the design you are going for.

5. Try Getting Over Your Fear of Water

Overcoming your fear of water is very important because if you panic every time your body touches water, you might start acting irrationally. You might even struggle in the water, resulting in serious problems for you and even for your fellow kayakers.

You don’t need to swim or kayak, but you must be familiar with the waters. Practicing in the calmer waters with the PFD on will help you avoid panic situations when your boat capsizes.

Get used to tipping down in the water, so you do not panic if the same happens while kayaking. This will also help you in rescuing yourself very easily.

6. What about Taking Kayak Training?

Honestly, it helps a lot. All kayakers, swimmers or non-swimmers, should take kayak training. Taking kayak lessons will help you learn different techniques like turning and paddling. This way, you will not end up in the water.

Kayak lessons also include re-entry and wet exit. These are invaluable lessons for non-swimmers on a kayaking expedition. You will understand how you must hold on to the kayak to get back inside as soon as possible, especially when you do not know how to swim.

Re-entry is one of the most important skills non-swimming kayakers need to master. The techniques you can use for getting onboard can vary based on the type of kayak you are paddling. Practicing in waist-deep waters can help you in honing this skill.

Getting lessons from an experienced kayak instructor can also help you handle different conditions and be prepared for the same.

7. Hang On To Your Kayak

Almost all the kayaks feature compartments called bulkheads specifically designed to prevent them from sinking. This is the reason why kayaks can float full of water along with the paddlers on them.

You must just know that you need to hang right on to your kayak if it happens to capsize suddenly. Trust that your kayak will float on water and will not sink, which will save you even if you do not know how to swim.

The kayak is a massive floatation device one can hold on to both in the larger rivers and open waters until you can move to the shore or get any help. However, by any chance, if you are not able to hold on to your kayak, just keep rolling on your back and use the PFD you are wearing to remain afloat while waiting for another paddler or guide to come to your rescue.

8. Always Kayak with a Competent Instructor or Guide

It works to stay in the company of an experienced instructor or guide while kayaking without any swimming skills. The instructor can help you by directing you to rescue yourself in times when your kayak capsizes.

Water exit and sweep roll are the two self-rescuing procedures you must know about. A sweep roll will help you in flipping your boat back to the surface of the water after it has capsized but without getting out of it.

You can use the water exit procedure for leaving your kayak safely after it has flipped over. Again, you will know how to grab the kayak so you are safe in the open waters. But remember, both these techniques will prove efficient only when you work them out with an expert guide.

Make sure your instructor or guide is capable enough to help you in getting back on your kayak if it is filled with water.

9. Pay Close Attention to the Conditions

Based on your chosen location for your kayaking adventure, weather and water conditions can rapidly change. Rain and wind can dampen your plans. Heavy downpours or changing tides can change water conditions very quickly. Additionally, wind can create rough conditions for your kayak. Therefore, you must monitor the conditions before heading out.

There are different applications to monitor the flow and level of water and check the weather of your chosen location. Also, pay attention to weather forecasts for the area and prepare yourself accordingly.

10. Use a Leash

You can use a specifically designed paddle leash to keep your paddle fastened to the kayak all the time. Then, you can use surf leashes to secure yourself to the kayak. This way, your kayak will not float away in case it capsizes or tips.

But use a leash only if you are kayaking in flat water because then there is minimal chance of your kayak pushing you to unsafe locations. Always choose a leash that you think will work best for you.

Though there are different varieties available, the best ones are those designed to Velcro around the calf or ankle of the users. You can even use leashes that can be wrapped around the waist.

11. Use Stable Kayak

Choosing the right type of kayak is crucial to remain on water and not in water if you do not have swimming skills. Go for the wider kayaks because they are more stable than the narrower varieties.

Wide kayaks have more hull in contact with water and distribute weight evenly. Therefore, they are considered more stable. The majority of the recreational kayaks are stable.

You also need to choose between a sit-on kayak and a sit-inside kayak. The sit-on kayaks provide proper stability while making it easier for the users to re-enter if they fall in the water. These kayaks feature scupper holes that help with water drainage.

The sit-inside kayaks are a better choice for kayakers looking for speed. They are more agile than the sit-on kayaks but can be more challenging to get back inside if the kayaker goes overboard.

For non-swimmers on a kayaking expedition, the sit-on kayaks are the right choice because they are more convenient to get back on in case of falls.

The Bottom Line

Only because you do not know how to swim does not mean that you cannot pursue your dream of kayaking. Just keep in mind that your confidence in your potential plays an important role in helping you remain safe. Avoid panicking because it will cause you to lose control of your kayak. Focusing on the beauty of the surroundings instead of thinking about the things that can go wrong will help you have a great kayaking experience even if you do not know how to swim.

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.

Recent Posts