Is Sea Kayaking Dangerous? Safety Tips & Tricks For Beginners

Is Sea Kayaking Dangerous? Safety Tips & Tricks For Beginners

Kayaking on the ocean comes with its own set of challenges and benefits. On the positive side, sea kayaking gives you amazing chances to view different marine wildlife in their natural habitat.

Many marine coastlines and coastal waterways are best viewed from the comfort of one of the best sea kayaks available. But there are also important skills and techniques to master before you head out into open waters.

Even if you’ve done a bit of kayaking on calm lakes or slow-moving rivers, you might be asking yourself, “Is Sea Kayaking Dangerous?” We’re here to give you the answer you’re looking for!

In this article, we’re also going to discuss sea kayaking safety tips and tricks for beginners to help you get started as safely as possible. We’ll also provide a brief definition of sea kayaking and what sets it apart from other types of kayaking.

What Makes Sea Kayaking Unique?

Sea kayaking is a somewhat broad term that is often used to refer to any form of kayaking that occurs on salty bodies of water. That can include coastal waterways, inland bays, and, of course, the open ocean.

Compared to many other methods of kayaking, sea kayaking is unique in several ways.

One of the most important ways in which sea kayaking differs from other forms is in the degree to which you must be aware of, and prepared for, changes in the weather.

Tides and ocean currents are simply factors that other recreational kayakers don’t typically need to worry about. Swell patterns, consistency, and size are just a few other examples of environmental factors that can affect sea kayakers.

While seasonal rainfall and river flow rates have a major impact on whitewater kayakers, they often don’t have to worry about drastic weather changes while they’re on the water.

This is a generalization, of course, but when compared to sea kayaking, other types of kayak recreation don’t come with the same level of potential consequences if you’re unprepared for dramatic changes in weather.

And then there’s the fact that sea kayaks themselves offer a different design than other recreational or whitewater kayakers.

Because they tend to be longer and narrower, they require specialized techniques to right and re-enter if you do happen to capsize in deep water.

All of this is mentioned to let you know that sea kayaking generally requires a little more skill and experience before you set out for your own adventures.

But as you gain that experience and learn how to prepare properly, these safety tips and beginner tricks should come in handy!

Sea Kayaking Safety Tips

A vast majority of sea kayaking incidents can be prevented with proper preparation and safety protocols. So let’s start by outlining several sea kayaking safety tips to help you ensure a better, safer experience on the ocean.

Find A Paddle Partner

The “buddy system” is one of the oldest safety tips that many of us learn at a young age. And despite the fact that we certainly have earned a greater degree of independence by adulthood, finding a paddle partner is one of the smartest things you can do to stay safe when sea kayaking.

Throughout your time on the water, new variables will come up that require you to change your plan and execute new strategies.

Having someone that brings different skills and experience to the table can be incredibly valuable when you need to adapt.

But, most importantly, you have to have great chemistry with your paddle partner.

In our experience, the chemistry that you have with your paddle partner will play a vital role in your ability to adapt and overcome anything that doesn’t go as planned when sea kayaking.

Get The Right Safety Equipment

Having the right safety equipment on your kayak is incredibly important to be prepared if things really go sideways. The photo above gives you a minimum of 16 essential items that you should always keep on your sea kayak.

Safety equipment is something that you might keep on your kayak for years without ever having to use (if you plan and prepare correctly!).

But, sure enough, you might end up needing it more than ever on that one quick paddle when you decided to leave it behind.

So we encourage you to dial in your arsenal of safety equipment and keep it in your kayak at all times. Because of the variable nature of sea kayaking, it’s always good to be overprepared rather than underprepared.

Practice Self-Rescue (And Two-Person Rescue) Techniques

But all that safety equipment that you pack into your kayak before every paddle is only as good as your ability to use it effectively. Getting to the point where you can effectively self-rescue and assist on multi-person rescues requires instruction and practice.

Many locations offer courses on sea kayaking rescue techniques, including how to self-rescue and how to aid in two-person rescues.

The HI-rescue, T-rescue, and X-rescue are just a few examples of multi-person kayaking rescue techniques that you should be familiar with as a sea kayaker.

If you can, find other kayakers in your area that you can practice with. Maybe you can rent time at your local pool facility or find a shallow area at a nearby lake where you can meet and practice rescue scenarios on a regular basis.

There is a very good reason why kayaking guides must re-certify on their rescue skills every couple of years. When we don’t use these skills and techniques on a regular basis, they aren’t as polished as if we were practicing them routinely.

So please don’t overestimate the importance of practicing your rescue skills, but this point also pertains to your navigation skills and ability to use the various safety equipment that you keep on your kayak.

If you stocked your sea kayak with a new bilge pump and flare gun when you first got it three years ago, for example, have you regularly checked those items to make sure they’re still functioning properly?

Check The Weather Early and Often

Weather is an all-encompassing term when it comes to sea kayaking. Not only does this include what’s happening in the skies above you, but it also accounts for what’s happening in the waters underneath your kayak.

These multitudinous changes are what make sea kayaking somewhat more challenging than other forms of kayaking.

You’ll need to have a more intimate knowledge of tides, swells, ocean currents, wind patterns, and a host of other environmental factors in order to prepare for a safer sea kayaking experience.

Fortunately, there are many tools and applications out there that can help you stay abreast of the latest weather information leading up to your paddle trip.

And some of those tools will even allow you to check for updates once you’re already out on the water.

A high-functioning kayak GPS is one item that we highly recommend for sea kayakers.

These higher-end GPS models can not only help you navigate, but they can also give you up-to-date weather information and, in the worst case, help you signal for assistance from the authorities.

But if you don’t want to go in for a GPS unit, there are also several apps that you can download directly to your smartphone. One weather app that we highly recommend for checking wind direction, speed, and gusts is the Ventusky app.

It should be noted that weather forecasts change with unreliable frequency. This is the whole idea behind why behind a meteorologist is one of the few jobs where you can get your predictions “wrong” and still remain employed.

But, all jokes aside (sorry to your friendly local weather forecasters), the point is that you need to be checking the weather early and often to be prepared for the conditions you’ll experience on the water.

As a rule-of-thumb, we don’t recommend relying on any weather forecast information that’s offered more than 7 days in advance of the day you’ll actually be paddling.

Even the wind information that you look up the night before your paddle can change significantly by the time you wake up in the morning.

So it’s essential that you have the most up-to-date information on wind, temperature, tides, currents, swells, and other factors while you’re sea kayaking.

This information will allow you to make the safest possible decisions regarding your route choice, how long you want to be out, and other on-water variables.

Know Your Local Boating Regulations

Local boating regulations are super important to be familiar with as a sea kayaker. This is especially true in areas that are close to ports or shipping channels where you might encounter large vessels while you’re paddling.

In some cases, you may be required to have certain signaling equipment on your kayak so that you’re visible to other boaters. This can be especially important if you ever go out for a sunset, sunrise, or moonlight paddle.

Visibility is especially low during these times of the day, so the ability to make yourself visible to other boaters becomes even more important, and doing so will help you avoid an instance like this one.

While we always recommend wearing a proper PFD while sea kayaking, you should know whether the local boating rules in your area require one.

Failing to comply with such regulations can sometimes result in having to pay a hefty fine if you’re caught without a PFD on or (at the very least) secured to your kayak.

Sea Kayaking Tricks For Beginners

Even if you already have some experience with recreational kayaking, there’s a lot to learn when making the transition to sea kayaking. But the transition will be a lot easier if you use these sea kayaking tricks for beginners.

Invest In Training

We arguably have more knowledge at our fingertips via the Internet now than ever before. But the skills you need to be a safe and successful sea kayaker can only be learned remotely to a certain degree.

At a certain point, you need hands-on instruction from someone who can help you correct small mistakes in your technique. There’s really no substitute for investing in a training course if you’re new to sea kayaking.

A good Sea Kayaking 101-type course will teach you basic paddle strokes and rescue techniques you can use to get yourself back into a sea kayak if you capsize.

Putting a good foundation in place is just as important with sea kayaking as it is when building a home.

Fortunately, the American Canoe Association offers kayaking courses all over the United States and there are plenty of other entities that offer similar courses in other parts of the world.

We highly recommend investing in training as a beginner because you’ll put a correct foundation in place that you can then build upon.

The risk of not doing so is that you begin by building unhealthy (and unsafe!) habits that are going to be tougher to correct once you’re further down the road.

Go On A Guided Tour

Once you’ve taken some basic kayak training, you can test your skills on a guided tour in your area. This is a good way to build more comfort in a sea kayak while having the safety of a trained guide who can help you if you need it.

Kayak guides are also a great resource for helping to refine your paddling technique.

You can ask them about what works for them and, because many of them have years of kayaking experience, you’ll often observe techniques and adaptations that might not have been covered in your initial training.

It can also be useful to go on a guided tour in your area rather than traveling a great distance to find one. By going on a tour in your area, you can learn more about the tidal patterns and current trends in the area where you’ll probably do most of your paddling.

This type of insider knowledge is incredibly valuable for beginners that aspire to one day plan execute their own self-supported kayaking trips.

There’s no better way to learn about the ocean in your area than to actually go out there with someone who’s much more familiar with the area than you are.

And if you go on multiple guided tours before buying your own sea kayak, you’ll be able to test out different kayaks and gear to see what suits you best.

This can ultimately help you choose a more compatible kayak and more appropriate gear for your long-term paddling endeavors.

Master The Basics

From sweep strokes to draw strokes and beyond, there are a lot of basics that you need to master before you move on to planning and executing your own sea kayaking expeditions.

It’s really important that you take the time to practice and master the basics before you bite off more than you can chew. But it doesn’t have to feel like a hard practice that takes all the initial fun out of discovering kayak as a new form of recreation.

If you can find a protected inland waterway or bay in your area, you can organize shorter paddle trips with your friends in these locations before venturing further out into the open ocean.

These trips will give you opportunities to practice all the kayaking strokes and techniques you learned during your initial training.

And if you organize a group that’s truly interested in building their kayaking prowess, you can also set aside some time during these trips to practice your self-rescue and multi-person rescue techniques.

It’s hard to say that there’s a definite “level” of skill you must demonstrate before tackling longer trips, but we definitely recommend obtaining a useful mastery of the basics of paddling before attempting an all-day sea kayaking trip.

Choose Beginner-Friendly Routes

When you first begin planning your own sea kayaking trips, it’s really important to pick beginner-friendly routes. Your early routes should give you plenty of opportunities for beaches or protected coves to stop throughout the length of the paddle.

If you’re going on a longer trip, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to have a place to stop at least once every hour or so. This will give you regular opportunities to stretch your legs and relieve your bladder (provided you’re staying well-hydrated, as you should!).

As a beginner sea kayaker, your early routes should always follow a coastline that has multiple beaches to stop at if you need them. This also makes the route much safer if you need to get to land for any reason.

The trick, however, is to identify beaches that are going to be safe to land at. If you know that the beach experiences heavy surf during the time of year you’re planning your paddle, for example, it’s safe to say that you won’t be able to rely on the beach as a landing point if you need it.

Another way to choose beginner-friendly routes when sea kayaking is to be super aware of the wind, tides, and ocean currents along your route.

This knowledge can help you plan a route that puts the wind at your back and the tides in your favor as you turn around and head back to your starting location.

This is critical as you’re trying to build up your stamina to go on longer paddle trips. It’s always good to plan on having the wind and tides in your favor on the way home because you’ll have less energy than you did when you first started out in the morning.

Always Have Multiple Navigation Tools

In this day and age, we use our smartphones for almost everything. And that’s not to say they are unreliable pieces of technology because it’s actually quite amazing how useful they can be when it comes to navigating on the water (and calling for help if the need arises!).

That being said, one of the most important tricks we can pass along to beginner sea kayakers is to always have multiple navigation tools at your disposal.

While we recognize that a map and compass are only effective if you’ve taken the time to learn how to use them properly (which we recommend), we also know that technology can’t always be relied upon.

A quality kayak GPS and smartphone with GPS applications are often the two devices that are easiest for beginner kayakers to navigate with.

They also allow you to pre-program routes and waypoints to help you keep your bearings on longer trips.

But we always carry a compass and a waterproof map as a backup in case batteries run out or service becomes unreliable. This just gives us a sense of comfort that we can always navigate home no matter what comes our way.

Final Recommendation

As you get more comfortable with sea kayaking (and doing it safely), you’ll be able to start planning longer trips to explore new places.

And that will come with the need to learn a whole new set of skills, such as how to pack a sea kayak for camping and how to measure distance and direction when navigating.

But as you seek new sea kayaking skills and expand your comfort level with longer trips, we want you to remember to keep practicing the basic planning and preparation techniques that we outlined earlier in this article.

Even the most experienced paddlers must be careful to plan ahead and pack appropriately for each and every trip. It’s when steps get skipped and we get a little too confident in our experience that accidents can happen.

So we encourage sea kayakers of all skill and experience levels to hold each other accountable to healthy planning and preparation habits.

And beyond that, it can be helpful to get together with your fellow paddlers on a regular basis to practice your rescue techniques.

We all know that knives that aren’t regularly sharpened will never be as effective as those that are. The same is true with your paddling and rescue skills, so please don’t overlook the need to continuously refine your sea kayaking skills!

Picture of 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.