Can Your Kayak Sink? What You Need To Know

Can Your Kayak Sink? What You Need To Know

One of the most common fears of new kayakers is a sinking kayak. But can a kayak really sink, or are kayaks designed to float in any condition?

The truth is that while kayaks can, theoretically, sink, the risk is low. Kayaks are designed to float, and as long as you take some basic precautions, your kayak is very unlikely to sink.

Can Your Kayak Sink? What You Need to Know

Can Your Kayak Sink? What You Need to Know

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Yes, kayaks can sink. Will your kayak sink, though? Probably not – kayaks are buoyant and have multiple features that make them float and prevent sinking.

First, I’ll discuss the things preventing your kayak from sinking. Later in the article, I will talk about various things that can increase the risk of your kayak sinking and how to avoid them.

What’s Preventing Your Kayak From Sinking?

What’s Preventing Your Kayak From Sinking?

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Kayaks are designed to be buoyant. For example, kayaks typically have bulkheads, which are airtight and watertight compartments that trap air and increase buoyancy.

Many bulkheads are made of foam, and if your kayak doesn’t have bulkheads, you can even install your own. Some kayaks, like sit-on-top kayaks, have other features that prevent sinking.

Sit-on-top kayaks have scupper holes to drain water, making them self-bailing and not allowing any water to accumulate.

For your kayak to sink, there would have to be a large enough force of gravity pulling your kayak down to counter the strength of its buoyancy.

Generally, that can happen if your kayak is overweight, either because you increased the load or because water got into your kayak and your kayak filled up with water.

The Risk of Sinking – It Depends on Your Kayak Type

The Risk of Sinking - It Depends on Your Kayak Type

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Some kayaks are more at risk of sinking than others. The kayak with the least risk of sinking is typically the sit-on-top kayak.

Due to the design of the sit-on-top kayak, water can’t really accumulate anywhere in any significant amount.

There is no cockpit that can fill with water. Furthermore, sit-on-top kayaks typically have scupper holes.

Scupper holes are holes strategically built into the kayak to allow for drainage in case any water gets in.

The holes are usually blocked with plugs, but you can open them when you need to drain water.

Because water can splash onto sit-on-top kayaks easily, they come with scupper holes; sit-in kayaks don’t typically have scupper holes.

Inflatable kayaks are also pretty hard to sink – as long as they are not punctured and have intact air chambers keeping them afloat.

The best inflatable kayaks have at least three air chambers. Some have four. The more air chambers, the better.

If an inflatable kayak had only one air chamber, it would be at an increased risk of sinking – it would only take one punctured air chamber to ruin the kayak and cause it to sink.

That’s why you would be hard-pressed to find an inflatable kayak with just one air chamber.

Always buy one with three or four air chambers – that way, if one chamber gets punctured, the rest will still keep you afloat.

Sit-in kayaks are more at risk of sinking than sit-on-top kayaks, but the risk is still low. With that said, let’s get into the factors that may cause your kayak to sink.

Things That Can Increase the Risk of Your Kayak Sinking

So, what things can cause your kayak to sink? Watch out for the following risk factors for sinking kayaks.

Too Much Load

Too Much Load

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One of the most dangerous things you can do while kayaking is overloading your kayak.

Different kayaks have different weight limits, but it’s essential to stick to the weight limit in the manufacturer’s manual that comes with the kayak.

If you’re buying a kayak online, it will usually state the kayak’s weight limit on the product page. For example, if your kayak has a weight limit of 300 pounds, don’t go over that limit.

In fact, it’s typically best to err on the safe side and stay below the limit. So, if the weight limit is 400 pounds, you might not want to exceed 300 pounds of load.

Both people and cargo count towards that load. Let’s go back to our example of a kayak with a weight limit of 300 pounds.

If you have two people on the kayak, both weighing 150 pounds, you won’t have any room left for tents, fishing equipment, etc.

On the other hand, if the weight limit is 400 pounds, you will be able to add an extra 100 pounds of camping equipment, safety gear, a dog, or other things.

Low-Quality Materials

Something that could cause a kayak to sink is if it’s made of low-quality materials that get damaged easily.

For example, a low-quality inflatable kayak would be at increased risk of sinking, as it could get torn or punctured with ease.

That’s why it’s essential to invest in a high-quality kayak made of strong PVC (in the case of an inflatable kayak), fiberglass, rotomolded plastic, etc.

Read reviews and make sure the kayak is strong and durable – it’s not worth being cheap when buying your kayak if you’ll be sacrificing your own safety.

Poor Storage and Maintenance

Poor Storage and Maintenance

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It’s essential to properly care for and maintain your kayak. Depending on the type of kayak you have, it could get damaged by too much cold, heat, and sun exposure.

For example, a kayak made from polyethylene can warp and get degraded by UV rays. That’s why it’s crucial to have a sun cover with UV protection that will keep your kayak protected from the sun’s rays.

Even better, store your kayak indoors – if you don’t have a storage shed, your garage might work.

Freezing cold temperatures could also damage your kayak, so store your kayak indoors during the winter, even if you normally store it outside.

By maintaining and storing your kayak correctly, you will ensure the materials remain strong and durable and won’t get punctured or cracked.

As your kayak gets older, small cracks and holes can appear in the hull, and you may not notice them at first.

They can cause water to seep into your kayak while kayaking. If you notice water in your hull or cockpit while kayaking, get out of the water immediately, as it’s a warning sign you shouldn’t ignore.

Check your kayak and repair it or get a new one if necessary.

In the case of an inflatable kayak, the valves may become loose or damaged and let some air escape. In such cases, your kayak can sink even without a puncture.

Finally, in the case of a foldable kayak, damage to the folding lines can cause water to seep through. This normally happens with old folding kayaks – most folding kayaks can last for 20,000 or more folding cycles.



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Inexperience can also cause your kayak to fill with water and sink. If you don’t know how to manage raging waters, stay out of them.

It’s essential to start with easier waterways, as categorized by the International Scale of River Difficulty.

Challenging rapids with strong currents and waves can cause water to get into your kayak if you don’t know how to navigate them.

Kayaking is a journey. Over time, your skills will improve, and you will get better; don’t try to bite off more than you can chew, for your own safety.

Sealed Hatches Becoming Unsealed

Kayak hatches are waterproof storage areas in your kayak that allow you to store equipment without them getting wet.

We have an article talking about replacing your hatches, installing new hatches, and ensuring they are waterproof – I suggest you check it out.

If the seal is not waterproof, water can get into the hatches and fill them up, increasing the overall weight and causing your kayak to sink.

In our article linked above, we talk about ways to ensure your kayak hatches are adequately sealed; if you’re installing your hatches yourself, it’s vital to ensure the seal is firm.

What to Do if Your Kayak Starts Sinking or Filling With Water?

While the risk of a kayak sinking isn’t high, it’s essential to know what to do if your kayak does start filling with water or sinking.

Bail Out the Water

Bail Out the Water

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If water gets into your kayak, try to bail it out. A cup or bucket can be very effective, but they require a lot of manual work.

A better alternative is a bilge pump. A bilge pump is a small pump that’s designed to get water out of your boat.

There are two types of bilge pumps – manual and automatic – and both have pros and cons, which we talk about in our guide to the best bilge pumps.

Manual bilge pumps require you to pump the water out with your hands; they don’t use a motor. It’s still a lot more efficient than using a cup or bucket, though.

They are also lightweight, affordable, and easy to carry around. Automatic bilge pumps, on the other hand, are more expensive and heavier.

On the flip side, the main benefit of having one is that it will do all the work for you, freeing up your hands to paddle and get to shore safely.

Turn Over the Kayak to Empty It

Turn Over the Kayak to Empty It

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If there’s too much water in your boat, causing it to sink quickly, and you don’t have any pump to get the water out, it might be best to flip over your kayak on purpose.

Learning how to do a deliberate kayak flip and then a roll to get it upright again is an excellent skill to have. In such situations, it can be very advantageous.

Get Back to Shore

Get Back to Shore

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If your kayak keeps filling up with water, do not continue with your trip. It might be a bummer to cut your trip short and head back to shore, but safety always comes first.

Start paddling back to shore, or stick to shallow waters near the shoreline.

Safety Tips to Avoid Sinking

Following are some additional safety tips to help you stay safe on the waters and avoid the risks of sinking.

Stay Below the Weight Limit

Avoid overloading your kayak. While going over the weight limit by a few pounds won’t usually cause it to sink right away, it’s best to avoid exceeding the weight limit.

In fact, we recommend sticking to 75 percent or so of your weight limit. What if you need to increase the weight limit? We talk about ways to do that in another article.

Changing the way you paddle can help you handle more weight, for example. However, if you’re not an advanced kayaker, it’s best to simply avoid overloading your kayak.

If your kayak is sinking, and you are far from the shore, you may even have to throw some items overboard.

Wear a Life Jacket

Wear a Life Jacket

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Always wear a life jacket when you are kayaking! You’re not “macho” or a “tough guy” for kayaking without a life jacket – it’s like speeding on a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.

Most of the time, you won’t end up needing it. However, when you do need it, and you don’t have it, things can go wrong very quickly.

In fact, in many parts of the United States, it is not legal to go kayaking without a life jacket. While laws vary, the fact remains that wearing a life jacket will keep you safe.

We suggest getting a USCG-approved life jacket, as they have been tested to be safe.

If you have been avoiding wearing a life jacket because it’s uncomfortable, here are the 10 most comfortable life jackets for kayakers.

Know How to Swim

Know How to Swim

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It’s also a good idea to learn how to swim. As we discuss in another article on kayaking without knowing how to swim: If you don’t know how to swim, you should take some extra precautions.

For example, you should choose more gentle waters, go kayaking with a buddy, and wear a fitting PFD at all times.

Note that even if you do know how to swim, you should wear a personal flotation device, as you never know how strong the current will be.

Kayaking for non-swimmers can be scary, so going on a group tour might be a good idea.

Buy a High-Quality Kayak

A high-quality kayak will have a lower risk of sinking. It will have solid and durable materials that are less likely to crack, puncture, or break. Furthermore, any seals (such as hatch seals) will be more robust and more long-lasting.

If you don’t yet have a kayak, rent a kayak from a reputable rental company with good reviews.

Avoid rental companies with old kayaks that have not been adequately maintained, even if the rental rates are cheaper. It’s just not worth it.

Avoid Going Over Your Skill Level

Don’t venture into waters you are not capable of handling. Kayaking is a skill that takes time to develop; as you get better, you will learn more tricks and ways to handle eddies, waves, sweepers, strong currents, and other intricate water features.

For now, focus on calm, gentle waters. That will give you time to learn how to properly handle your kayak and get smooth at maneuvering it.

Maintain, Store, and Transport Your Kayak Properly

Maintain, Store, and Transport Your Kayak Properly

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Always store your kayak correctly. Leaving it in the sun on the roof of your car might be easier than taking it down, but don’t get lazy.

It will decrease the lifespan of your kayak. If raising and lowering the kayak from the roof of your car is too much, there are several options.

One is to get a rack with lift-assist technology, which can make it easier to load the kayak on your vehicle’s rooftop.

Another option is to use a kayak trailer. You can detach the trailer from your vehicle and store it inside your garage without ever removing the kayak from the trailer itself.

However, if you do that, you will have to learn how to drive with a trailer attached to the back of your car. That can take some learning.

Get a good kayak cover and store your kayak in a cool, dry, and shaded environment.

However, avoid sheds where rodents and pests can get to your kayak, especially if it’s a wooden kayak, as they can eat through your kayak and cause holes without you realizing it.

You should also avoid transporting your kayak together with sharp objects that can puncture it. Handle your kayak correctly when not in use.

For example, don’t drag it on the ground, as that can scratch the bottom of your kayak and ruin it.

Get a Bilge Pump or Bucket

Get a Bilge Pump or Bucket

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I recommend getting a bilge pump – it’s an essential piece of safety equipment to have.

If you don’t have a bilge pump, at least keep an extra bucket with you in the kayak, so you can bail out excess water.

Wrapping It Up

Your kayak probably won’t sink unless you overload it or it is damaged. Stay safe by storing your kayak correctly, wearing a life jacket, and having a bilge pump.

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Can Your Kayak Sink What You Need To Know

Author: Peter SalisburyPete is the Owner of Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.