How To Get In A Kayak From A Dock?

How To Get In A Kayak From A Dock?

Launching your kayak from a dock is one of the best ways to avoid getting wet before you even start your paddle. But if you don’t know how to do it correctly, you can end up getting even wetter than if you just launched your kayak from shore.

Whether you drive to a launching point with a dock or you have a private dock at your family’s summer vacation home, knowing how to get in a kayak from a dock is a useful skill that every kayaker should master at some point.

The good news is that there are various tips and techniques to help you get in a kayak safely from a dock. In fact, there’s a precise step-by-step process that you can follow regardless of the design of the dock you’re entering at.

The good news for you is that we’re going to walk you through that process below! And we will also provide some helpful hints on what to avoid to make sure your kayak dock entry experience is safe and successful even if it’s your first attempt!

How To Get In A Kayak From A Dock?

One of the challenges of launching a kayak from a dock is that not all docks are created equal. Depending on the design of the dock you’re using to launch your kayak, you might find one or two of these techniques more useful than the others.

That being said, successfully launching your kayak from a dock is all about having as many tools in your kit as possible. That allows you to employ the best launching strategy depending on the immediate circumstances you encounter when you arrive at a dock.

Pick The Lowest Point Possible

As the distance between the top of the water and the edge of the dock increases, it’s always going to make it more difficult to get in a kayak from a dock.

So, when you’re just arriving at a dock, the first thing you’ll need to do is identify the lowest point possible for easy kayak entry.

Now, hopefully, most docks are fairly level relative to the water’s surface. But if the dock is slanted or sloped in any way, you’ll always want to choose an entry point that requires you to lower your body as little as possible to get into your kayak.

Additionally, you might survey the dock for a pole or small ladder on either side. Entering within reach of one of these features can give you an additional handhold when lowering yourself into your kayak.

Set Up Kayak Parallel To Dock

Your kayak should always be lined up parallel to the dock before you attempt to enter it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to scoot your entire body weight to the point where your kayak is going to be most balanced.

While this is certainly possible and it’s actually a useful technique when you’re learning how to self-rescue in a kayak, scooting your body weight over at least half of the length of your kayak is going to greatly increase your odds of going for a swim before you even get started paddling.

So, the best way to set yourself up to stay dry when launching a kayak from a dock is to align your kayak parallel to the dock.

Ideally, you should also point the bow of your kayak in the direction you intend to paddle once you’re comfortably situated in your kayak.

Set Paddle Within Reach

Before you align your body to enter your kayak, you should make sure that you have your paddle within reach. There’s nothing quite worse than getting situated into your kayak and realizing that you set your paddle on the dock just out of reach.

In fact, it can be useful to utilize your paddle to help you enter your kayak and doing so will automatically set it in a location that makes it easy to reach once you enter your kayak. Here’s a quick photo of what setting up for this technique looks like:

As you can see, this kayaker set his paddle so that it’s about halfway on the dock and the other half stretches across his kayak just behind the cockpit. Of course, this technique is going to be easier if the top of your kayak is almost level with the height of the dock.

If the drop from the dock to your kayak is much steeper than in the example photo above, it may be easier for your to hold onto the edge of the dock as you move further through the steps of getting into your kayak. But it’s still important to keep your paddle within reach!

Sit On Edge Of Dock Facing The Bow Of Your Kayak

From here, you’ll want to sit your bottom on the edge of the dock with your chest facing towards the bow of your kayak. Make sure that your hips are aligned slightly with your kayak seat so that you don’t have to move your kayak backward or forwards to get situated.

With your paddle behind you, you can place your hands on the paddle shaft to keep it in place. This will set you up for your next move and it will also ensure that your kayak won’t move around or float away as you’re entering the cockpit.

If you don’t feel comfortable with holding onto a paddle behind you because of the elevation difference between the dock and the top of your kayak, simply set the paddle behind you and keep your hands on the dock at your hips.

Place Feet Into Kayak Cockpit

Next, you’ll want to rotate your hips so that you can set both of your feet into the cockpit of your kayak. It’s important to note that your goal is to keep your upper body pointing towards the bow of your kayak as you’re setting up for the next maneuver.

This means that you’ll need to twist at the hips instead of rotating your entire body so that it winds up perpendicular to your kayak. If your body is perpendicular to your kayak, you’ll find yourself having to rotate once the majority of your weight is in your kayak.

Rotating once you’re already 90% of the way into your kayak is going to be much more difficult than sitting in with your torso already facing the bow. And it’s 100% going to increase your odds of tipping as you’re trying to get re-situated.

So, keep your torso pointed towards the bow of your kayak as you set your feet in. Your hands should remain firmly behind you either gripping the shaft of your kayak paddle or providing balance points on the dock itself.

Remember, this is your last chance to make sure that your kayak paddle is going to be within reach once you get into your kayak. From here, we’re going to set ourselves into our kayaks, so make sure your paddle is nearby before you move on!

Lower Hips Into Kayak Decisively

As you lower your weight into your kayak, it’s important to do so decisively. The longer that your weight remains above the kayak, the less you’re going to feel balanced and the more likely you are to capsize.

Kayaks are actually at their least stable when they are stationary, so it’s really important that you move swiftly and decisively to lower your weight into your kayak and settle into the cockpit. Then, you can grab your paddle and be on your way.

That being said, we want to stress why we used the word ”˜decisively’ in describing how you should lower your hips into your kayak. We don’t mean to say that you should lower yourself into your kayak as quickly as possible.

But we have seen many inexperienced kayakers get stuck in a less-than-favorable halfway point between having their hips on the dock and actually getting their hips into the cockpit of their kayak.

This can have epically terrible results and can really tax your arm and shoulder muscles as you try to keep your kayak from drifting away from the dock. So, the more decisively you can move, the better.

Additionally, you can focus on keeping your weight as aligned with the midline of your kayak as possible as you lower yourself. If you drew a perfect line running down the center of your kayak from bow to stern, that would be that midline.

When all of the weight inside a kayak (paddler plus kayaking essentials) is as close to aligned with the midline as possible, the kayak is at its most balanced and stable.

This is why many kayaking instructors tell their students to focus on keeping their noses aligned with their belly buttons as they learn how to paddle a kayak.

So, as you’re lowering your hips decisively into your kayak, keeping your weight as close to your kayak’s midline as possible will make the process feel much more stable.

Conversely, getting your weight too far over one gunwale or the other will make you much more likely to capsize.

Settle Weight Before Losing Hold Of Dock

Once your hips are set into your kayak, take a second to situate yourself before you push off the dock. The dock can be a nice handhold as you get your feet in the right position, adjust your life vest, or make changes to anything that doesn’t quite feel comfortable.

Once again, it’s also your final chance to make sure you have your paddle before you let go of your safety net. But once you’re situated, it’s time to let go of your dock and start enjoying your time on the water.

What To Avoid When Entering A Kayak From A Dock

If you follow the steps above closely, you’ll be on the water and paddling to your destination before you know it. But in the interest of helping you avoid capsizing, here are a few things to avoid when entering a kayak from a dock.

Stepping Into Your Kayak With High Hips

You can probably guess our reasoning behind this one, but stepping into your kayak with high hips is a great way to go for a swim earlier than you expected. Unless you have excellent balance or some sort of bar that’s going to help you keep your kayak stable as you sit into it, keeping your hips as low as possible is going to be the safest way to get in a kayak from a dock.

Forgetting Your Paddle

I know we might sound like a bit of a broken record on this one, but we’ve seen it happen too many times to inexperienced kayakers. Whether you’re using the paddle assist entry method or just placing your hands on the dock to lower yourself into your kayak, make sure you don’t push away from that dock without your paddle!

Sitting On A Splintered Dock

Unfortunately, not all docks are kept in tip-top condition throughout their lifetimes. We’ve seen far too many kayakers sit on splinters or, even worse, rusty nails before they even had the chance to get out on the water.

If you can choose a newer dock with minimal risk of splinters, that is always going to be the best-case scenario.

But if you have to enter a kayak from a splintered dock, set a towel or protective layer on the dock before you sit down so that you can avoid splinters and other hazards.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve practiced this process a few times, it’ll become an easy habit. But when you’re just starting out, be patient with yourself and maybe wear something you’re not too worried about getting wet if you do happen to go for a swim.

As an added tip, you might consider having a more experienced kayaker enter the water in their vessel and then help to stabilize your kayak as you climb in. This can provide the additional support you need to maintain balance as you enter your kayak from a dock.

All told, we hope you find this process relatively simple and easy to replicate the next time you find yourself putting your kayak in at a dock. And, as always, we wish you nothing but the best on all your upcoming kayak adventures!

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Peter Salisbury

Pete 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.