How To Launch And Land A Kayak?

How To Launch And Land A Kayak?

After weeks of planning and shopping for essentials, you may finally be ready to embark on your maiden kayaking adventure.

But to do so successfully, you need to learn some basic kayaking skills like how to launch and land a kayak.

Knowing how to properly put your kayak in the water, enter it smoothly, and retrieve it without issues when you’re done is both an art and a science. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

To help you learn the ropes faster, we’ve assembled a guide for everything you should know about launching and landing a kayak in different locations and water conditions.

We’re also going to cover the do’s and don’ts to abide by to promote maximum safety.

Choose a location for your launch point

Your launch and exit method will depend on your kayaking destination and where you plan to launch your boat. Paddling in the open sea is a different experience from paddling in a lake.

Also, launching from the shore and a dock requires different maneuvers for putting the kayak in the water and boarding the vessel.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when considering a location for your launch:


Photo by Skyler Ewing

If you’re thinking about kayaking in the sea, you need to know that it’s the most challenging and dangerous waterbody that you can launch in.

The depth and vastness of the open sea coupled with uncertain waves make it difficult to keep your balance or maintain control of your kayak.

Unless you have considerable experience with paddling in the ocean, it’s safer for you to stick to calmer bodies of water until your paddling skills have sharpened a bit.

Regardless of your skill level, you’ll fare better in the ocean sea with a sit-on-top kayak, rather than a sit-in model.

Water can easily get inside the cockpit of a sit-in kayak as you slice through the waves, making it less buoyant and you more uncomfortable.


Lakes are as safe as it gets.

You won’t have to deal with crashing waves but you can still enjoy a great float, and you’ll have a much easier time launching your kayak than you would in the ocean.


Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

If you want an option that’s halfway between the open sea and a lake, consider heading to a river to launch your kayak and kick off a fun paddling adventure.

Depending on the class of the river you want to launch into, you may be up against tranquil, smooth-flowing waters or harsh currents that will rough and toss your kayak.

How to launch a kayak from a shoreline by yourself?

Follow these easy steps to safely and quickly launch your kayak from the shoreline or beach when you don’t have someone to help you hold down the kayak while you climb into it:

1. Carry or push your kayak to the mouth of the water and set it down perpendicular to the shoreline when you’re about ankle-length deep in the water.

Your kayak is perpendicular when the stern is close to shore and completely afloat and the bow is facing away from the shore.

If you have a narrower kayak or you’re using a river, position your kayak parallel to the shoreline or riverbank instead.

The bottom end of your kayak should be sitting on the sloping shoreline while the bow stretches into the water far enough that the cockpit section starts to float.

Photo by Beachbumology

2. If your kayak has a closed cockpit (sit inside), place one foot on either side, towards the front of the cockpit area. Stick one end of your kayak paddle blade through the deck lines on the kayak to secure it.

You can hold your paddle in one hand or use your legs to grip them so they don’t float away from your reach.

3. While straddling the cockpit, place each hand on either side and slowly lower your body until your butt is resting comfortably on the kayak seat.

4. Adjust your seating position by raising your legs and pulling your feet into the cockpit until it comes to rest on the footpegs.

5. Once you’re settled in, you can attach your spray skirt if you have one. Then grab your paddle and begin moving your kayak forward till you’re as far away from the shore as you want to be.

How to launch a kayak from a shoreline with your partner?

You’ll have an easier time launching your kayak into the water if you bring a friend along to help.

The process is still largely the same as launching on your own. You still have to bring your kayak to the edge of the water.

Photo by Ngoc Vuong

However, instead of keeping the kayak steady by yourself, your friend can keep it stable while you climb inside, help you attach your spray skirt, and then push you out into the water.

How to land a kayak from a shoreline?

Once you reach your kayak camping spot or you’re ready to call it a day after a few hours of paddling fun, you can proceed to land and exit your kayak on the shore like so:

1. Paddle into the shore till your bow is about to get beached and then stop. At this point, the water should be shallow enough for you to stand in easily.

You can test this by feeling for the ground with your hands. If you can comfortably reach the floor, you’re in shallow waters.

2. Secure your paddle with the paddle holder or place one of the blades under the kayak’s deck lines. You can let the other blade stick out to the side like an outrigger.

3. Detach your spray skirt if you have one and grab both sides of the cockpit next to your thighs with your hands.

4. Raise your knees towards your chest so you can bring your feet closer to your butt, then place one foot down in the water.

5. While balancing on the foot you’ve planted in the water, pull yourself up slowly and step out of the kayak with your other foot.

How to launch a kayak from the dock?

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

Launching from a dock, pontoon, or high river bank doesn’t require any technical expertise, and paddlers of all levels can pull it off as long as they stick to the basics.

1. The first thing you need to do is carry your kayak to the river bank or dock and put it in the water so it’s parallel to the dock/bank.

2. Sit on the dock with your feet facing your kayak and swing one foot into the cockpit to keep your kayak from drifting away. Place your kayak paddle on the dock next to you so it’ll be within reach once you climb into the vessel.

3. Place both hands on the dock and bring your other foot inside the cockpit, then raise your butt off the deck and start lowering yourself into the kayak seat gently.

Try to shift your body weight to your backside and keep moving your feet forward until your whole body is in the boat.

Alternatively, you can place one hand on the deck, rather than both, and use the other hand to grip the cockpit coaming for added balance before you begin lowering your butt into the kayak.

4. Once you’re settled in, you can adjust the position of your footpegs and seat to maximize comfort.

5. Attach a spray skirt if you have one then grab your paddle from the deck and start pushing away while steering clear of other kayakers that may be trying to launch around you.

How to land a kayak at a dock?

Photo by Ali Kazal

There are two methods you can use when landing and exiting your kayak at a dock depending on whether you’re working with a high deck or a low deck. Here’s how both options work:

High deck

1. Paddle till you get to the dock and stop once your kayak is parallel to the dock.

2. Lay down your paddle on the dock and rotate your torso so you’re facing the dock.

3. Place your hands on the dock and bring your knees towards your chest so that your feet are near your butt. Pushing with both your hands and legs, slowly pull your body out of the kayak.

4. As soon as one of your legs is evenly aligned with the dock, place your knee on the dock’s edge while keeping your weight low.

5. It’s time to raise the other leg out of the kayak and rotate your body so you can sit on the deck. Look out for your boat so it doesn’t drift away from the dock.

You can pick it up out of the water and walk away whenever you’re ready.

Photo by Richard Low Hong

Low deck

1. Paddle and park your kayak so it and the dock are side by side, then position your paddle so one blade sits behind the cockpit while the other blade rests on the dock.

2. Grab the rear edge of the cockpit and the throat of the paddle blade at the same time with the hand that is farthest away from the dock.

3. Place your second hand on the paddle shaft that’s resting on the dock.

4. Working with both hands, push the shaft firmly upward while raising your butt from the seat until you’re seated on the dock.

5. From this position, pull up your feet from the cockpit and place them on the deck then anchor your kayak so it doesn’t float away.

How to launch a kayak in the surf?

If you plan to go kayaking in a surf zone, here’s how to safely get in your kayak in mild surf conditions:

Photo by Brett Sayles

1. The first thing to do is scan the shore and pick the perfect site for the launch. Look for a gradually sloping beach with little pockets that experience smaller waves, regular waves with longer pauses between them, or don’t have as much exposure to the shorebreak.

This will enable you to walk into the water and put in your kayak without being knocked over by an unforgiving wave.

2. Once your kayak is in water that is deep enough to make it float but not so deep that you still can’t touch the bottom with your feet, straddle your kayak with the bow pointed square at incoming waves.

3. Wait for the break between waves while using your lower legs to keep your kayak steady and square to the shorebreak.

Once the break comes, sit inside your kayak, pull your feet into the cockpit, and attach the spray skirt.

4. Once the next wave comes and floats your kayak, start paddling out using short, powerful strokes. Keep your bow square to oncoming waves and and cut through the waves as hard as you can until you break through.

5. If an incoming wave spins your kayak to one side, causing it to be parallel to the shorebreak, exit the boat on the seaward side, then right your kayak position and try again.

How to land a kayak in the surf?

Photo by Rachel Claire

You’re going to need to apply skill and precision when landing in the surf zone. Otherwise, you might end up getting hurt in the process. Follow these steps to pull off your landing without incident:

1. Look for your landing spot; ideally, any part of the shoreline with smaller, tamer, and less frequent waves. You can spend some time observing the waves to see how often they roll by and how much time you have between sets so you know when to make your move.

2. Once you notice a small wave coming in, seize the opportunity by paddling closer to catch the wave and let it bring you to shore. If you’re caught in a breaking wave, lean into it and brace yourself using your paddle till it passes.

Leaning away or panicking can easily result in your kayak flipping over and you being dragged under the water.

3. Make sure your boat is square to the beach as you ride in and jump out the moment you reach the beach. Quickly grab your kayak’s carry handle and drag it up to the shore where the waves can no longer reach it.

Speed is of the essence here because if your kayak isn’t out of the water before the wave starts receding, it’ll be pulled back out to the water.

Note: Always hop out on the seaward side of your kayak when landing in surf. If you exist from the beach side, you run the risk of getting hit and injured by your kayak if it catches an incoming wave before you make it to land.

Best practices to follow when launching and landing a kayak

Photo by Myian Prieto

Although kayaking is a relatively safe activity, there are still some risks involved.

Knowing the right things to do and what mistakes to avoid when launching your kayak can help you minimize those risks and ensure that you get in and out of the water safely every time.

1. Always wear a personal floatation device (PFD)

Before you go anywhere near the water, make sure you have your PFD on and that it is properly buckled and fitted.

If you find yourself in a rough situation during your kayaking trip, a PFD can be the difference between life and death so using it is not optional.

2. Be mindful of weather conditions

Watch the weather conditions and use them to plan your launch. If the weather is windy or the currents are heavier and rougher than usual, it wouldn’t be wise to launch in such conditions.

You also don’t want to get caught in the middle of a storm unexpectedly because that is a recipe for danger. So look up the weather forecast and do your research on the specific body of water you want to explore.

If possible, check with the locals to find out if there are any tricky bends or characteristics that you should keep an eye out for when on the water.

3. Properly secure your belongings

Even if your kayak doesn’t tip over, there’s still a chance that water will get into it especially if you’re kayaking in the ocean or rivers with fast-moving currents.

Keep your gear protected from the conditions by packing them in dry bags and stowing them away in your kayak’s watertight compartments.

4. Perform checks and adjustments before heading out

Double-check your kayak, especially if you haven’t used it in a while, to confirm that there are no cracks, holes, or dents on the surface that will affect the kayak’s performance on the water.

Remember that a comfortable kayak seat will greatly improve your kayaking experience. So while you’re still on land, get in the kayak and move the seat’s backrest around until you find a position that supports your back well.

Don’t forget to adjust the position of the footpegs to suit the length of your legs and prevent them from cramping after you’ve been paddling for a while.

Photo by Ali Kazal

5. Avoid sitting on your spray skirt

When you put the skirt on during launching, do a quick check to ensure you’re not sitting on it. If the skirt is encumbered it will get in the way of your launch and slow down your speed.

It can also cause you to move around more than necessary when trying to exit the kayak, increasing your chances of capsizing.

6. Do not panic

As a beginner, your first reaction to bad weather, a wrong turn, or a wave coming at you forcefully may be to start panicking but that’s never the right move.

Panicking can override your mental faculties and make your muscles tense up, causing you to make poor decisions that put you in even greater danger.

So no matter what happens, try to keep your wits about you so you can stay in control of the situation and your surroundings.

7. Look out for your kayak’s skegs and rudders

Be sure that your kayak rudder skegs are properly secured when you launch.

Remember to bring them back up when preparing to land to avoid damaging them in the shallow water.


The most important thing to keep in mind when launching and landing a kayak is that you may not nail it perfectly the first time.

It may take you a few tries to figure out how to pull off the required maneuvers without losing your balance or tipping your kayak over.

But the more you practice, the better you will get. Before long, getting in and out of your kayak will start to feel like second nature regardless of where you’re launching from or landing.

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How To Launch And Land A Kayak?

Peter Salisbury

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.