Is Kayaking Dangerous? 15 Risks & How To Avoid Them
Kayaking is a great outdoor activity for fitness and adventure, but many often worry, ‘is kayaking dangerous’? Like any sports activity, there are risks involved. The good news is – you can easily mitigate these with adequate planning.
Read on to uncover 15 risks of kayaking (and how to avoid them) so that you can enjoy a day on the water!
1. Bad Weather Conditions.
Poor weather is something unfortunately out of our control.
Rain and wind pose significant challenges for even the most experienced kayakers. Storms can mainly take those undertaking outdoor activities by surprise, so be sure to check ahead of embarking.
You should check the following:
- Potential rainfall.
- Wind speed and direction.
Remember, you can change or adjust plans to get the most out of your kayaking day. For a guide on how to read the weather report, check here.
2. Falling Into The Water.
The most common concern for new kayakers is the fear of falling into the water. For experienced kayakers – we’ve all been there! Capsizing is expected and happens to many of us from time to time.
The situation becomes more dangerous if:
- The water current is strong.
- Your swimming skills are not strong.
- You are without a life jacket.
Our tips to avoid capsizing are to:
- Kayak in calm, gentle waters.
- Be sure you are aware of the terrain (Ie. no surprise underwater boulders to throw you off course).
- Wear a life jacket – in some states, not wearing one can lead to legal penalties (how to choose the best life jacket?)
- Brush up on your swimming skills. If you don’t know how to swim, consider staying close to shore or kayaking in shallow waters.
(Related: 10 Benefits Of Swimming For Kids).
Sunburn… one of the most common summer concerns in the United States!
Spending so much time on the water means you will have a lot of exposure to UV rays with little shade. Sunburn isn’t just uncomfortable and painful; we know the associated skin cancer risks.
With any outdoor activity, please ensure that you:
- Use a waterproof sunscreen – 30 SPF minimum, but ideally 50 SPF.
- Wear a hat or cap to protect your face.
- Opt for long-sleeved shirts or a rash shirt to protect your arms.
On the other end of the spectrum, hypothermia is an added risk for those extreme kayakers who enjoy icy conditions.
Hypothermia is characterised by your body temperature dropping dangerously low, which can happen if you fall into freezing water.
It’s best to avoid kayaking in icy waters. If you do:
- Wear a dry suit with water-resistant fabric to prevent hypothermia.
- Layer quick-dry clothing and fleece beneath the dry suit for more warmth and protection.
- Kayak with someone so that they can support you in the event of an accident.
(Related: How Old Do Kids Have To Be To Kayak Alone?)
The opposite of hypothermia is hyperthermia. It occurs when your body can’t regulate itself and overheats, which can quickly happen in hot and dry climates.
A lack of drinking water often exacerbates hyperthermia.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are also genuine dangers when kayaking in summer. To prevent this:
- Wear breathable cotton clothing to keep you cool.
- Wear a wide-brim hat.
- Drink plenty of water, plus bring drinks in a cooler.
- Take regular breaks.
- Seek shade to rest if you begin to feel hot.
(Related: How To Prevent Your Child From Drowning).
You can suffer from dehydration regardless of the weather.
Drinking water is critical – ensure you have multiple bottles for a day trip, or opt for a CamelBak.
Expert Tip: Avoid coffee and energy drinks before your trip. Why? These drinks are diuretics meaning they remove water from the bloodstream and can lead to dehydration faster.
6. Going Above Your Limit.
Inexperience can be a real danger in adventure sports. Many kayakers venture into waters above their skill levels and end up in challenging or dangerous situations.
Rivers around the world have classifications under the International Scale of River Difficulty.
- Class I Rapids have small waves, limited obstructions, and require little training.
- Class II Rapids are novice-level channels with some relatively easy-to-maneuver obstructions.
- Class III or Intermediate rapids have more irregular waves and obstructions requiring maneuverability.
- Class IV or Advanced rapids require skill and experience to maneuver unpredictable waters with obstructions.
- Class V rapids are for experts and typically involve violent, erratic water movement with many obstructions.
- Class VI extreme rapids are extremely rare because they are dangerous and require exceptional skill, experience, and scouting.
We suggest you start with the most manageable rivers or streams and only venture into more difficult rapids when ready.
Expert Tip: Have an action plan for getting stuck in a rapid. Watch further tips here.
7. Getting Separated From Your Buddies.
If you’re kayaking in a group of several boats, getting separated from the other kayakers in your group can be alarming.
To prevent this:
- Have a whistle to alert your group when you are close by.
- In the event that you can’t use your mobile phone (no service), consider walkie-talkies.
- Be sure to check the mobile coverage in areas you visit prior, so you know how to prepare for the worst.
8. Getting Lost.
Speaking of, it’s easy to become lost on a group or solo kayaking adventure, which is more common when exploring new locations.
For most situations, it all comes down to planning. Before your expedition:
- Maps: Obtain a physical map of the rivers and keep it in a waterproof plastic bag or case.
- Apps: Download a navigational app for kayaking or camping.
- Compass: Your phone might have a compass, but it’s worth buying a physical one if it stops working or the battery dies.
- Batteries: Carry 1-2 power banks to recharge your phone when necessary.
All these tips allow you to contact someone if you are lost. If you cannot, find the nearest road to seek assistance. Read more life-saving tips here.
9. Strainers And Sweepers.
Have you heard of strainers and sweepers? These are two standard encounters you may come up against on waterways.
- Sweeper: This is a bunch of low-hanging branches from a tree that will sweep you out of the boat.
- Strainer: This an obstacle in the river, such as fallen branches, a tree growing underwater, or a metal grate that allows water to pass through but not objects.
It is challenging to spot strainers and sweepers ahead of time. You and your kayaking partner should always be on the lookout – particularly at river bends.
If you see one:
- Paddle around it.
- Consider stalling the kayak in the water before paddling backward to avoid it
- Paddle to shore and carry your kayak past the filter to prevent it.
An incredible benefit of kayaking is the connection to nature and the calm that comes with being in the wilderness.
You will likely encounter various forms of wildlife when on a kayaking trip, especially if you are hiking or camping. While most are harmless, it’s essential to respect their environment.
You should prepare for dangerous animals such as bears, snakes, and even sharks (if you are kayaking in the ocean).
- Carry bear spray with you if camping.
- Avoid leaving food around your campsite.
- Don’t kayak in deep waters where sharks are common
- Stay on well-trodden trails to avoid snakes.
- Be aware of your surroundings and know how to identify venomous snakes.
In the event of an emergency, consider packing flares and having emergency SOS features enabled on your phone. Discuss the plan for this with your kayaking partner before you embark.
Most boats can withstand all sorts of water conditions. Kayaks are built with sturdy materials to encounter unforeseen issues.
The problem arises with a lower-quality kayak that can break or puncture if you are kayaking in rocky waters.
We recommend that you:
- Buy a high-quality boat that is ideal for the water conditions you will regularly be in.
- Consider inflatable whitewater kayaks. Opt for one with several air chambers, ensuring you stay afloat if one gets punctured.
- Ensure your paddle is sturdy and built from rigid plastic and steel.
Exhaustion is common in many adventure sports, particularly those that factor in outdoor conditions!
Exhaustion is common when:
- You kayak for extended periods (all day).
- The weather is hot and humid.
- You are dehydrated or sustain sunburn.
To combat this, ensure you:
- Sleep: Prioritise a good night’s sleep before going on a kayak trip.
- Nutrition: Eat a high-carb, high-fibre meal the night before embarking. Consider packing snacks high in natural sources of fat (like dates) or energy bars and sugar gels for longer trips. For tips on sports nutrition (from dietitians), read here.
- Water: Stick to drinking water or isotonic drinks to keep hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks and caffeine, which can cause dramatic drops in your blood sugar.
13. Muscle Strains And Pains.
If you’re not used to kayaking, feeling muscle aches, strains, and other pains is normal after a long day on the water.
Don’t be concerned if your whole body is sore after your trip! It’s normal. You likely haven’t used many of those muscles so rigorously in years (or ever). To ease this:
- Use a muscle cream: Consider Magnesium sprays or Deep Heat as part of your pack to rub onto achy muscles whilst out for the day.
- Opt for Magnesium supplements: These speed muscle repair and can be found at all significant chemists and retailers. Be sure to choose one with a high therapeutic dose of Magnesium.
We suggest planning shorter trips at first to get your body used to kayaking and increase the length of your travels in small increments.
You can also add weight training in the gym (upper body) to prepare your body for complex conditions. You can find an excellent guide here.
14. Other Boats.
Other boats (huge ones) can pose a risk to single kayakers.
Be aware that you have to share the waterways with others. You should:
- Plan – In advance, check the waterways and prepare for the type of other boats.
- Adapt – When kayaking, be on the watch for other boats and try to steer clear of them.
You never know how experienced the other boaters you see are, so always leave plenty of space between you and them and watch out at bends to avoid collisions.
15. Waves, Currents, And Eddies.
Getting stuck in a current or caught in a wave is the most concerning of all risks. It can come from nowhere and throw off even the most experienced kayakers.
Eddies also pose a significant danger. These occur when there is an obstruction causing the water to flow in the opposite direction of the current.
It’s easy to flip when crossing the eddyline, so learn how to navigate them. The good news is that when approached currently, eddies can provide a spot for resting mid-kayak.
Be sure to angle your boat at a 45-degree angle to the eddyline when entering.
Our best tips to avoid waves, currents and eddies:
- Stick to waterways suitable for your skill level.
- Take a kayaking buddy to assist you in the event of an accident
- Monitor the weather conditions and currents.
- Speak to locals (and those who have kayaked before) for tips on the specific location.
(Related: Can You Go Boating While Pregnant?)
Final Word On Dangers Of Kayaking.
Kayaking can be incredibly rewarding, physically challenging and fun to undertake either solo or with friends and family.
By adequately preparing, being aware of risks and taking proper safety measures, you can ensure you will enjoy your day on the water.
Always wear a life jacket, check the conditions, pack sunscreen and water, and stick to safe waters. Have fun!