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Getting Into and Out of a Kayak

Alan Bergman – Perhaps surprising, but some paddlers find entering and exiting a kayak the most difficult parts of kayaking especially if it is their first time using kayak rentals. I have seen fellow kayakers successfully navigate their way six or seven miles through somewhat turbulent, choppy water, only to tumble out as they’re pulling up on land.

Kayakers most often enter their boats either on a sandy beach or alongside a dock. Both sometimes require the grace of a ballerina and the balance of a tightrope walker. The most important rule, which applies both to shoreline and dock entries, is to get your butt down as quickly as possible. Once your center-of-gravity is low, your chances of getting wet diminish significantly.


The biggest advantage of launching from, or exiting at, a dock? Dry feet! Life gets even better if it is a low dock, which doesn’t require a major drop down onto your seat.

To start, slide your boat parallel to the dock, with your paddle within easy reach. Some kayakers prefer positioning their paddle perpendicular across the dock and the deck of their boat, which may provide a tad more stability while getting in.

Sitting on the dock, place your feet inside the boat towards its center for maximum stability. Twist your body towards the bow (front) of the boat, while also keeping it low. While lowering yourself, you should be holding on to the dock with both hands, or holding on with one hand while bearing down on the center of the boat, in front or behind the seat, with the other. Again, you need to drop your butt down as quickly as possible, but in a smooth rather than a jerky motion. Slide your feet into position and prepare for launch!

Exiting at the dock is essentially the opposite process of getting in. The key take-aways are to keep yourself low, grip the dock for stability and support and twist yourself out of the boat in a smooth, fluid motion.


When entering a kayak at the beach, point the kayak facing out, perpendicular to the shoreline. The good news about these entries is that you are getting into the kayak in shallow water, and the stern (back) of the kayak can actually sit in the sand, helping stabilize the boat. By the way, you don’t want your kayak dragging on the sand if it’s a wood or composite/fiberglass boat. If you do have a non-plastic boat, it should be floating freely when entering it.

Once the boat is positioned perpendicular to the shore, there are two popular types of entry.

One method is to straddle the kayak, standing just behind the cockpit. Swing your legs into the cockpit one at a time, and then scoot your butt down right into the seat. If you are paddling a sit-on-top boat, straddle and just swing your legs into the kayak.

The other method is to place your paddle shaft directly behind your seat (some boats are made with a groove to hold the paddle), stand next to the kayak, lower yourself while grabbing both the paddle and the front coaming (lip) of the cockpit. Place your weight on the paddle as you get into the seat and then swing your legs around into the boat. Depending on how deep the water is, use either your hands or the paddle to shove off.

The beach exit also can be done two different ways, again largely determined by the material used to produce your boat. First and foremost, always remember to raise your skeg or rudder prior to entering very shallow water.

When paddling a plastic kayak, turn perpendicular to the shoreline and paddle forward with gusto. This will place the bow of the boat on the sand, a few feet up from the waterline. You should exit one leg at a time, using your paddle on one side to provide support, if necessary. Some paddlers may opt to grab the cockpit coaming as they simultaneously pull themselves up from the seat.

If paddling a composite or wooden boat, the rule-of-thumb is to turn your kayak parallel to the shoreline,in roughly one foot of water. From there, you can either place your paddle behind you, and initially use it for balance as you step out and straddle the boat, or stand the paddle up on one side and use it for support as you step out one leg at a time.


Rocks and boulders are the enemy if you are in a composite/fiberglass or wood kayak. Stay clear unless you’re in a plastic boat!

Position the kayak parallel to the shore, but close enough if possible to extend the paddle between the shore or rocks and your boat. The paddle is typically placed behind the seat to become an outrigger. Grasp the paddle with your hands behind you, squat low next to the kayak and then slide your legs into the boat.

Throughout this entire maneuver, be sure to lean on to the outrigger side (shore side) of the kayak to avoid flipping over in the opposite direction.

And, once again, exiting the kayak requires the same moves, only in reverse.