In light of some recent stories, there seems to be a spreading fear that kayakers are an at-risk population when it comes to alligator attacks.
So we thought we’d address the elephant in the room to make sure there aren’t too many rumors and misconceptions floating around out there about this scary question: do alligators attack kayaks?
This fear is much like the fear of shark attacks for surfers and bodyboarders.
The possibility is greater than zero, but you’re much more likely to get in a car accident on the way to the beach than you are to be attacked by a shark while you’re out in the water.
Statistics tell a similar story when we talk about kayakers being attacked by alligators.
And just like how the fear of shark attacks doesn’t stop surfers from paddling on several times a week, the fear of gators shouldn’t hinder your discovery of the sport of kayaking.
But we know you shouldn’t just take our word for it. So, we’re going to dive deeper into this topic in today’s guide to gator safety for kayakers.
- Do Alligators Attack Kayaks?
- What Is Typical Alligator Behavior?
- Tips To Stay Safe
- Top 5 Gator-Friendly Kayak Locations
- Top 5 Gator-Free Kayak Locations
- Final Gator-Thoughts
- Enjoyed Do Alligators Attack Kayaks? Tips To Stay Safe? Share it with your friends so they too can follow the KayakHelp journey.
Do Alligators Attack Kayaks?
Yes, it does happen! Alligators attacking kayaks is certainly not something we can say for sure has never occurred, no matter how much we wish it were so.
While the odds of a gator attacking a kayaker are extremely low, paddling in places where alligators are native does come with an increased risk.
But, seriously, most alligators tend to keep to themselves unless they really have a reason to come closer to you.
To be clear, it’s important that you know the difference between crocodiles and alligators. The former are much more aggressive and have been known to attack kayakers more frequently than gators.
But crocodiles are pretty rare in North America. They can be found in parts of Southern Florida and the Everglades, but they are much more common in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa.
If you still don’t believe us, check out this surprising video below!
But let’s be honest: that story only made the news because of its shock factor. The odds of you being attacked by an alligator while kayaking are much, much lower than the odds of you having a fun, gator-free paddling experience.
What Is Typical Alligator Behavior?
If you’re paddling on a wider river, it might be quite common for you to see several alligators basking in the sun on the shore. The hotter the day (and the closer you are to the hottest part of the day), the more likely this will be.
On narrower streams, it’s quite common to see alligators slip into the water and disappear when they recognize a kayak approaching.
This isn’t to be mistaken as a sign of aggression, although we know how it could be unsettling for you at first.
Most alligators that slip into the water ahead of the arrival of a kayak are taking refuge on the river or lake bottom until the ‘hazard’ passes.
Yes, they are perceiving your kayak as an unknown, potential hazard and they’re going to a different location where they feel safer.
In more remote locations, it’s common for alligators to react more quickly than those in areas that are frequented by kayakers.
This faster motion may be alarming to you, but the behavior is most likely similar to the evasive action we just described above.
In the rare case that an alligator approaches your kayak, the best course of action is to paddle away steadily and quickly. Steady is key, because herky-jerky actions may cause the alligator to become more alarmed than it already is.
Tips To Stay Safe
1. Avoid Gator Territory Completely
This one is as simple as they come. If you want to completely eliminate the risk of an alligator attacking your kayak, just choose paddling locations where you know gators don’t live (check out this map of gator-territory in the U.S.).
Once you check out that map, you’ll realize that the good news is that most of the U.S. isn’t inhabited by alligators. So you’ll still have plenty of beautiful kayaking destinations to choose from.
In fact, we recommend checking out this list of the 10 best places to kayak for beginners in the U.S.
For real guys, 80% of the destinations on that list come with no concern for gator encounters while you’re paddling.
2. Never Feed Alligators
This comes back to the sixth rule from the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace Ethics (which you should be familiar with if you’re going to practice responsible outdoor recreation in our generation).
Simply, the sixth principle guides us to ‘respect wildlife’, and restraining ourselves from feeding them is a big part of that.
The big problem with us feeding wildlife is that they become used to trusting and relying on us as a food source instead of relying on their natural ability to hunt, scavenge, forage, or otherwise collect food for themselves (and their offspring).
Some reports of the times when alligators have attacked kayakers have been the result of that kayaker trying to feed a gator.
Other kayakers have reported seeing odd-behaving alligators approaching their kayak as if expecting a hand-out.
If we want to keep ourselves safe and maintain the natural balance of the ecosystems we love to paddle in, refraining from feeding wildlife is one of the best practices for safe and responsible kayaking.
3. Don’t Make Gators Feel Cornered
If you’re paddling with multiple kayakers in your group, you need to be aware of how your party might look through the eyes of the alligators lying on the banks of the lake or river you’re paddling on.
It shouldn’t take too much imagination to realize that your group could easily resemble a hunting party when seen through the lens of the other.
But, fortunately, there are some things you can do to make it apparent that your party “comes in peace.”
For starters, it’s good to space yourself out so there’s at least 15-20 feet between each of your kayaks. If you keep that distance apart and travel in a straight line, you’re more likely to look like a parade than a group of hunters.
If you do see a solitary gator or a group basking on the shore, it’s okay to put your paddles down to capture a picture or two.
But you should avoid having multiple kayaks pointing at or approaching a group of gators from multiple angles at the same time.
This could make the alligators feel as if they are being cornered because they might not understand that you have a camera in your hands and not something that could harm them.
A gator that feels cornered can quickly become a hostile and aggressive alligator.
We all get a little territorial when we feel that our homes and our families are being threatened.
You can rest assured that alligators are no different and the results of their aggression might not work out too well for your kayak group.
4. Maintain a Healthy Distance
This one should also be pretty obvious, but you don’t want to paddle your kayak right up next to an alligator if you see one.
As a general rule, do your best to keep your vessel a minimum of 20 yards away from the nearest gator you can see.
Again, this comes back to respecting the gator’s territory and allowing plenty of space between your kayak and their resting place. This will reduce the risk of any gators near you feeling threatened by your presence.
The closer you get, the more you tempt fate.
Typically, alligators aren’t going to remain on or near the banks of a river or lake, which means you’ll be able to keep a healthy distance by paddling a little farther offshore.
5. Leave Your Dog At Home
We know that bringing your dog along on your kayaking adventures is fun and gives you that extra companionship you often crave. That’s why we penned this complete guide to the top-rated dog-friendly kayaks.
But when you’re paddling in locations that you know are habitat for alligators, we recommend leaving your furry companion at home.
There are a few good reasons why we’re going to stand firmly behind this recommendation.
For starters, some of the reports of alligator attacks on kayaks have been directly linked to the presence of a canine.
And, from personal experience, I’ve spoken to a Sheriff on the Nacogdoches River in East Texas who had stories of gators picking dogs off kayaks and small fishing boats.
Your canine has a better sense of smell than you, sure, but it also emits a different odor than humans. It seems that the odor of canines is more attractive to alligators than the odor of humans.
Additionally, sometimes it makes sense to consider the worst-case scenario when you’re about to paddle in a gator-friendly environment.
Think about what might happen if a gator simply bumps your kayak and causes both you and your pup to fall in the water.
You swimming in gator-friendly waters is probably a scary enough proposition.
But you don’t want to have to think about getting yourself and your furry companion back into your kayak in record time if you do find yourself in a worst-case scenario.
It’s better to take this opportunity to enjoy a day of paddling without your pup. Hey, maybe you can bring a camera or some other extra gear to enjoy a different passion when you’re paddling in gator territory.
6. Leave ‘Em Be During Mating Season
If you’ve ever studied any type of wildlife, you already know that many animals are more aggressive and protective of their territory during mating season.
The same is true for alligators, so your best bet is to avoid their habitats during this time of the year.
For American alligators, courtship usually begins in April and mating occurs in May or June.
If you’re trying to avoid alligators in places other than the Americas, we recommend studying the mating season for the particular species in your region.
After June in the Americas, females are busy preparing their nests for their eggs and males are much less likely to become aggressive due to the increased levels of hormones coursing through their bodies.
The good news about this timeline is that you’ll be able to enjoy paddling in gator territory during some of the warmer months. You can definitely enjoy some fall colors in these locations as well.
7. Beware of the ‘Hiss’
On occasion, alligators will emit a warning sound if they feel threatened. This is most commonly used by females that are protecting a nest and the sound is most accurately described as a hiss.
If you’d like to see (and hear) exactly what this sounds like, check out the video below!
If you aren’t doing so well adhering to our other advice of maintaining a healthy distance between your kayak and an alligator, this hissing sound might be your last warning to ‘back off’ before things escalate even further.
This hissing sound should be treated much like we’re supposed to treat a rattlesnake’s rattle. When we hear it, we should immediately know that it’s time to back up and give our alligator the space he or she desires.
8. Carry an Air Horn
If you’ve read through the rest of these tips and you’re still wondering, “but what do I do if an alligator does approach my kayak?”, then here’s your answer.
It’s recommended to carry an air horn to be able to blast a loud noise to scare away an alligator that’s getting a little too close to your kayak.
If you don’t have an air horn (or you can’t find one), you can also slap the water with your paddle and use your vocal cords to make loud noises.
Much like how we’re supposed to get big and loud to scare away bears, the same technique is the recommended method for scaring off a gator that’s approaching your kayak too closely.
But the paddle slap is a key feature of the scare tactic for alligators.
Not only does it make an audible sound that you and I can hear, but it also produces vibrations in the water that alligators are particularly sensitive to.
Top 5 Gator-Friendly Kayak Locations
In the interest of helping you avoid (or at least be more aware of) paddling locations where you might encounter an alligator, here’s a brief list of five popular kayaking destinations in alligator habitat.
This 1.5-million acre wetland preserve is home to both American alligators and the rare and endangered American crocodile.
While it’s worth a visit because it’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, it’s definitely a gator-friendly spot if you plan to get out on the water in your kayak.
One of the United States’ lesser-known national parks, this gem in South Carolina is still firmly in American Alligator territory.
But if you don’t mind the gator company, the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail winds 15 miles through the park before it meets up with the Congaree River.
East Texas may seem an unlikely spot for both American alligators and kayaking. But this is still firmly within the gator’s territory and there are several hidden gems when it comes to paddling trails in the piney woods of Texas.
Atchafalaya Basin Swamp
This New Orleans area attracts tons of visitors every year for a lot of reasons other than kayaking and, meanwhile, American alligators are hanging out in their natural swampy habitats.
But the 17th addition to the National Water Trails System became the Cajun Coast Paddling Trail in January of 2015.
Located near Gainesville, this paddling trail provides a circumnavigation option and a more technical paddle of Prairie Creek. It’s a beautiful area, but you’ll probably want to avoid it if you have a fear of alligators.
Top 5 Gator-Free Kayak Locations
If you plan to minimize your risk of an alligator attacking your kayak by simply avoiding places where alligators live altogether, check out these awesome gator-free kayaking destinations.
This gator-free kayaking destination is a personal favorite of mine because I grew up just 20 minutes from its shore.
It’s the second-deepest lake in the United States and also has some of the cleanest and clearest water on the planet.
Paddling here is best from June through September. But, depending on the timing and severity of the onset of the winter season, late-season expeditions are sometimes possible into October and November.
The only lake that’s deeper than Lake Tahoe in the United States is Crater Lake. And this picture doesn’t even do justice to how breathtaking this destination is for the new visitor.
While it’s certainly cool to hike the trails along the rim of the crater, we think the coolest experience is to actually be on the water here. You can even explore the magic and mystery of Wizard Island with a well-packed kayak.
It doesn’t get much better than the Colorado River for a multi-day (gator-free) kayaking expedition.
While this river is well-known for its epic (and sometimes quite dangerous whitewater), there are actually several sections that are great for recreational or touring kayaks.
If you’ve never gotten a chance to visit the Colorado River, it should definitely go on your list. Just make sure it’s a summer endeavor because winters on the river (no matter) where you go, can get quite chilly!
Head on up to Idaho (or Wyoming or Oregon or Washington) if you want to enjoy another gator-free kayaking destination.
This river is well-known for its exceptional fishing, epic whitewater, and also plenty of slow-moving spots for recreational kayaking.
For beginners, the Jackson Lake Dam to Pacific Creek run is a great place to get familiar with the Snake River and its elements.
This is another colder location, though, so make sure to pack extra layers and head up in the spring, summer, or fall.
Acadia National Park
One of the northernmost national parks in the contiguous United States is Acadia National Park.
This park boasts 47,000 acres of Atlantic Coast recreation area and provides plenty of opportunities for sea kayaking.
It’s also home to Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest point on the east coast of the United States.
The park is home to plenty of moose, bear, whales, and seabirds, but you can head up there with the comfort of knowing you won’t be attacked by an alligator while kayaking in this northeast kayaking destination.
Wildlife viewing is one of the best parts of the sport of kayaking. Paddling your vessel into places that you otherwise can’t access on foot or by powerboat gives you the chance to see animals behaving in their natural habitat.
We must remember that we too are animals and when a new animal enters into another animal’s established territory, the rules of the animal kingdom apply.
If a dominant, territorial animal feels threatened by your behavior, things simply may not work out well for you.
But if you enter new habitats with respect and awareness of the animals that call that habitat home, you may just be witness to behaviors and interactions that others won’t believe when you try to describe them later.
If you follow the rules and tips for paddling in places with alligators that we’ve outlined above, you may come to learn that these reptiles aren’t as ferocious and fearsome as the modern media sometimes makes them out to be!