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Is Kayaking Dangerous ? 17 Dangers and How to Avoid Them

Have you ever thought to yourself: is kayaking dangerous ? 

Well, the answer is yes and no. Many people have misconceptions about the dangers of kayaking. And the misconceptions range from either not thinking about any of the risks or creating imaginary safety hazards when it comes to kayaking. 

I’m here to lay out the cold hard facts about kayaking. Kayaking can be a fun activity, but it’s important to know how to handle yourself, your kayak, and the risk factors surrounding the activity. 

Now let’s get you all set to understand what you’re dealing with before you get into hours of fun kayaking. Remember, safety first! 


Perceived Dangers Vs. Actual Dangers

Here Are The Actual Dangers To Consider When You Ask Yourself: Is Kayaking Dangerous?  

1. Adverse Weather Conditions 

2. Capsizing

3. Dehydration

4. Drinking And Paddling

5. Drowning 

6. Getting Lost 

7. Hypothermia And Cold Shock

8. Incorrect Equipment And Improper Use

9. Inexperience

10. Not Keeping Your Neck Free

11. Ships And Other Watercrafts

12. Strainers And Sweepers

13. Sun Exposure

14. Undercut Rocks

15. Water Conditions

16. Weirs And Dams 

17. Wildlife

How To Make Kayaking Less Dangerous

What To Do If You Get Injured

What Are The Risks of Kayaking


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Perceived Dangers Vs. Actual Dangers

is kayaking dangerous whitewater

Some people may think they already know all the dangers of kayaking.  However, some of the “dangerous kayaking” notions might not be all true. These are what we refer to as perceived dangers. 

Simply put, perceived dangers are those that are associated with a particular activity but with no actual information on what the dangers are. It just seems dangerous. 

For example, people usually see bungee jumping is as a dangerous activity, but it’s relatively harmless. 

Sometimes, people place a danger based on how easy or hard they perceive the activity is. Is kayaking hard? Then it’s dangerous. If it’s easy, then it’s not. This perception holds no basis.

Now, the actual risk is a real risk behind an activity. Sometimes, it is something that we perceive as less dangerous. 

Driving a car, for one, is an activity with relativity high risks, but it’s perceived to be safe as it’s an everyday activity. 

It is important to understand how dangerous is kayaking, the real risks with each action and location, and how to manage them. Knowing actual risks will help you in being safe while kayaking. 

So, Is Kayaking Dangerous?  

1. Adverse Weather Conditions 

A kayak can be swamped easily with large waves. Hence, kayaking and bad weather is often a deadly combination. Checking the weather forecast is important before you set out to kayak so you can avoid any adverse weather conditions. 

While a light rain will do you no harm, a sudden weather change can be damning, so you must also be prepared for unexpected weather changes. 

Kayaks and large waves lead to dangerous conditions. So if you see the weather turning for the worse, you should turn around and stop your activity.

Storms and lighting are also dangerous while on the water as you risk electrocution. Again, leave immediately if a storm brews while you are on the water. 

Other conditions like fog will also come into play. While a light fog seems harmless or maybe the area more Instagrammable, fogs reduce your visibility and put you in danger. 

Not only are you not able to see well when there’s fog, but other watercraft also will not be able to see you very well either. 

2. Capsizing

is kayaking dangerous capsizing

Many kayaking dangers are associated with kayak capsizing. Your kayak can flip over and, even worse, trap you under it. Capsizing happens very commonly that it’s a matter of “when” it happens, especially for people who kayak often. 

The important thing when you capsize is to maintain your composure. If you are already wearing your Personal Floating Device (PFD) and you know how to self-rescue, you should be fine in most cases. 

Remain calm as you go through your rescue procedures. Panicking is likely to overwhelm you and make you forget the basic things you know.

3. Dehydration

Dehydration is one of the things that makes kayaking dangerous if you do not prepare to avoid it. However, drinking water is something many people don’t consider as they set out on their kayaking journey. 

Basically, dehydration is when more water leaves our body than it has entered. The sun exposure to your body and paddling causes your body to lose water as you sweat. 

It’s essential that you consider how long you will be paddling in the water and bring along enough drinking water so that you can stay hydrated throughout. 

4. Drinking And Paddling

Who hasn’t seen a movie where people go kayaking and they start to crack open a few cold ones as they’re out in the water? No, this is not me painting a fun picture – because drinking and paddling is a big no-no. 

Becoming intoxicated increases the dangers of kayaking. Alcohol affects your judgment, coordination, and balance. 

While tripping into calm water with your PFD on might be a cause for a good laugh, tipping over the kayak and getting stuck or falling and hitting your head on a rock will not be as funny.  

Also, high heat and alcohol are not a great combination. Alcohol causes an increase in the need to urinate, which puts you at risk of becoming dehydrated. 

5. Drowning 

Many people who can’t swim but want to paddle will wonder, is kayaking safe for non-swimmers? Well, kayaking is a safe activity if you can’t swim, but drowning is a risk that doesn’t differentiate between swimmers and non-swimmers.

As it is with capsizing, it is important to know how to stay calm if you’re thrown overboard and how to regain control of the situation. Wearing your PFD, knowing how to self-rescue, and practicing capsize drills will help you if you are at risk of drowning.

6. Getting Lost 

We hear that not all those who wander are lost, but when it comes to kayaking, wandering (paddling) around without knowing where you are headed will definitely make you lost and is a recipe for disaster. 

While paddling, you will often not realize how long you’ve been paddling, and if you suddenly notice that you don’t know where you are, your sense of direction will be gone. 

As long as you are in a large body of water, it is important that you stay aware of where you are and know where you’re headed. 

7. Hypothermia and Cold Shock

Hypothermia and cold shock both happen due to cold water temperatures when you kayak. Regardless of the surrounding temperature, or even if you do not feel cold as you paddle, the actual water temperature makes a difference.

Cold shock happens when your body hits a cold temperature (from a warmer one) for the first time. The sudden and extreme change causes your blood vessels in the skin to close, increasing the resistance of blood flow. Your heart rate will also increase, which causes your blood pressure to go up. 

Hypothermia happens when you expose your body to cold temperatures for a long time. While this usually happens when a body is submerged underwater, it can also happen due to long-term exposure to cold weather in insufficient or incorrect clothing articles.

8. Incorrect Equipment and Improper Use

is kayaking dangerous improper equipment

One of the most important equipment to use while kayaking is the PFD. And just as necessary, you must wear your PFD correctly. Using an ill-fitted PFD is as bad as not wearing one.  

The PFD is meant to keep you afloat, but it is your responsibility to get a good PFD and make sure that it is the correct size and it fits you correctly. 

is kayaking dangerous good pfd

The type of kayak you choose for your activity matter as well. There are many different types of kayaks, suited for different purposes, experience levels, and water conditions. 

Do your research on the different types of kayaks and ensure you are going kayaking with the right one. 

9. Inexperience

Kayaking is not a sport you want to pick to show off skills you don’t have. Your skill level is important when considering the location and company you have when you go kayaking. 

If you are a beginner, please ensure you pick areas protected from waves and winds. There should be plenty of spots where you can get ashore and easy landing and launching spots. 

Going far away from the shore will make kayaking dangerous for you if you are a beginner. 

Choose a place with hardly any other watercraft to avoid collisions and keep you centered. Quiet lakes, bays, and rivers with no currents are great for beginners. 

Other than that, you will need to have a moderate amount of experience to navigate the waters. 

Let the people you are with know that you are not an experienced kayaker so that they can consider that when considering the length of time to paddle and places you go to, as well as your energy levels, to keep paddling. 

10. Not Keeping Your Neck Free

Wearing items around your neck, such as necklaces, glasses holders, and lanyards, can lead to accidents or worsen a situation. Basically, a loop around your neck is an added risk for being caught on something should you capsize. 

You can tether things to your kayak, use your pockets, or, best of all, a dry bag to keep your items. While it’s best to not wear glasses at all – if you do not have any other choice, choose a holder that doesn’t loop around your neck.

is kayaking dangerous dry bag

11. Ships and Other Watercrafts

Kayaks are small and generally hard to see. This is fine if you kayak in a small river, but the dangers of kayaking increase if you’re on a big lake or open ocean and other watercraft can’t see you. 

Visibility is important, and kayak lights will help in getting other boats and skis to notice you. Best avoid high traffic places, though, especially since, given the size difference, your kayak will bear the brunt of it in case of any collisions. 

is kayaking dangerous kayak lights

12. Strainers and Sweepers

Sweepers are low-hanging branches or fallen trees that are not completely separated or submerged or some other kind of obstacle that comes out across the surface of the body of water. 

Sweepers are dangerous because they create obstacles for you. You will not be able to access how intertwined sweepers are, and they can cause you to get caught in between. If you come across sweepers, avoid them and move widely around them. 

On the other hand, strainers are obstacles that are beneath the water. They permit water to pass through them but no hard object. Strainers can be something like a tree’s complex branches or man-made items like grates. 

Getting trapped against a strainer may cause you to be vulnerable to drowning due to the extreme pressure of water. 

Always understand the area you are going into to avoid strainers and also, do not kayak alone – in case of any accidents, someone will be able to help you.

13. Sun Exposure

Sun exposure is something most people don’t even consider, or perhaps they do but think it’s a low risk. In actual fact, when the sun is out, it poses several risks to you. 

I’ve spoken about dehydration and alcohol risks which are sun-related, but you also risk getting a heat stroke if it’s too hot. 

A heat stroke happens when your body overheats. It usually happens when you use up your energy under high temperatures. 

Heatstroke can cause high body temperature, flushed skin, nausea, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate. In worse cases, it can cause an altered state of mind.

Aside from that, you can also get sunburned or simply exhausted from the heat. So, keep sun exposure in mind when planning your activity. Not only are you exposed to the sun itself, but also its reflection. 

Always use good, high SPF sunscreen, appropriate clothing, and again, don’t forget your drinking water!

is kayaking dangerous high spf sunscreen

14. Undercut Rocks

Undercut rocks are the unusual formation of rocks underwater. They become traps for fallen trees and other waste or debris to get stuck. And paddlers can fall prey to these traps. 

These stationary objects become hazardous when the water is moving quickly. It is also more dangerous in situations where you can’t see underwater; hence you don’t know what lies beneath. 

15. Water Conditions

is kayaking dangerous improper conditions

Water conditions play a big part in the dangers of kayaking. The unpredictable waves, changing tides, and rip currents all can change fun and light time into a high-pressure, life-threatening situation. 

Big waves can overwhelm your kayak and cause you to capsize. Tidal and rip currents get you off course and bring you somewhere completely different from where you intended. 

Again, your type of kayak and experience level is important to put up a fight against the water. And remember to plan your route and don’t just jump into it thinking you can plan as you go. 

16. Weirs And Dams 

Weirs are a horizontal barrier, man-made dam-like features on a river. Weirs are made so that water can flow over the weir and cascade down to a lower level. They are a way of controlling and monitoring the flow of a river. 

They can be easy to get caught in as you paddle through. The undercurrent has trapped many paddlers at the bottom of a dam. Once you are trapped in the flow of a dam or weir, it can be very tough to get out of them. 

While paddling down a weir can be a thrilling activity, it is also dangerous and potentially fatal. 

My advice would be to avoid them, but if you must, navigate according to your experience, skill, and weather conditions. 

17. Wildlife

Depending on where you paddle, wildlife may pose a danger to you. 

From minor irritations like bugs or mosquitoes to something more significant like snakes and more dangerous creatures like sharks or alligators, the water and land surrounding them are full of wildlife. 

As you go on more and more kayaking trips, you’re bound to bump into one creature or the other. To ensure a harmless encounter, please just leave the wildlife as they are. Do not approach, try to take a picture or panic and draw attention. 

How To Make Kayaking Less Dangerous

is kayaking dangerous making kayaking less dangerous

Prevention is better than cure. Here are important measures you can take to lessen the dangers of kayaking: 

1. Choose the right paddle and kayak suited for the location and activity, such as whitewater kayaks or fishing kayaks, and, more importantly, for your experience level. 

2.  Bring survival and safety items such as first aid kits, lighters, knives, and packed food, even if you do not mean to stay overnight somewhere. We just want to be prepared for any possibilities. 

3. Check weather conditions before you go. Never choose to kayak in adverse weather. If you’re already paddling and you see clouds turning dark or see lightning, turn back and get to the shore as soon as possible.

4. Check water conditions. No matter which body of water you choose to go into, be sure to check the current, waves, and tides you are expecting. 

5. Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and bring spares in case of a change in weather, for example, a raincoat if it rains suddenly. When it’s sunny out/ summer, the right attire helps with the heat, and wetsuits ensure your body remains warm in cold temperatures, preventing hypothermia and cold shock.

6. Keep your PFD on. Never, never take off your PFD – even for pictures or a quick second because water is unpredictable. If you fall in without your PFD, you decrease your likelihood of surviving. 

7. Ensure you bring and drink enough drinking water. I keep stressing about drinking water so that nobody thinks of drinking the lake or river water, which poses its own dangers. Get a large bottle, fill it up, and take it with you!

8. Kayak in groups or at least with another person.  Having someone helps you stay on course, and more importantly, if something were to go wrong, you can have immediate assistance. 

9. If you absolutely must be on your own, inform someone of your plans and bring a cell phone, satellite phone, or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).

10. Learn how to self-rescue. Before you head out, practice how to roll yourself and your kayak back upwards when it’s overturned in the water without leaving the boat to do it. You must also know how to exit your kayak if you do not manage to roll it back over. 

What To Do If You Get Injured

As much as we take precautions, accidents can happen. Equip yourself with the knowledge on what to do in case of injuries so that you can stay calm and handle the situation appropriately. 

Once an accident or injury happens, ensure you stop immediately and seek the nearest medical attention. While waiting for the professionals, here’s what you can do:

1. Soft tissue injury – Rest the area, ice it, make compression and elevate the injured area 

2. Heat exhaustion – Move over to the shade, avoid further sun exposure, and rehydrate.

3. Hypothermia – Move to somewhere warm and dry. Warm the body with a thermal blanket or dry clothes and provide warm food and drinks.

What Are The Risks of Kayaking

Kayaking is a great sport, which can be relaxing, exciting, or exhilarating if you choose to. The risks and dangers also vary depending on when and where you choose to paddle. 

But first, let’s visit the expected risks. 

In most cases, when a death happens during a kayaking activity, the person would not have been wearing a PFD – so, it’s essential that you do! 

Other common risks are when the water is too cold, the kayak is not equipped to handle the waters, the paddler is inexperienced or intoxicated, and when they do not wear the correct attire. 

If you stick to the advice I’ve given throughout this article, you’ll definitely lessen the risks.

Now, let me address the question on the specific risks depending on where you choose to kayak:

1. Is sea kayaking dangerous? 

Yes, sea kayaking does get dangerous. The deeper in the water you are, the riskier it gets. The more water depth you are in, the more danger could happen. 

Waves and tides can be unpredictable and can get you lost or pushed out far away from the shore. 

2. Is ocean kayaking dangerous? 

If sea kayaking is risky, ocean kayaking is definitely risky. You face the same unpredictability in the water, and you need to be physically fit to handle the dangers in the ocean. Best leave this to the seasoned kayakers. 


3. How dangerous is kayaking in the river? 

Capsizing in the river will run high risks as we do not know what is underwater, and the water is unpredictable. If you are stuck in a stopper or pinned under the water, the risk levels also increase.


4. Is kayaking dangerous in a lake? 

Kayaking in a lake is generally safe. However, it will definitely become risky if your kayak gets incapacitated or you get stuck while capsized.  

5. How dangerous is whitewater kayaking? 

A lot of dangers with whitewater kayaking are perceived. Of course, it is still risky, but not as risky as you might think. As long as you have enough skills and experience and wear the right protective gear, you will be able to minimize the risks. 

Importantly, choose a kayak and paddle that matches your skills. As your skills increase over time, you will open up a greater range of water conditions you can paddle in.  

So Is Kayaking Dangerous?

As I’ve listed above, there are certainly some real, inherent, dangers to kayaking as I’ve listed above. But the good news is that kayaking can also be safe – if you choose to make it so. Simply put, it’s as safe or as dangerous as you make it to be. 

So just bear in mind all the safety tips before you start, and also during your kayaking activity. Do not forget what to do in case there’s an injury, and ensure you have a safety kit on board. 

Also worth saying again, don’t bite off more than you can chew when it comes to kayaking. Once you’ve covered all your safety bases, go out and have fun, and also lose some calories in the process

Let me know in the comments which danger factor surprised you and if you think there are any more factors to consider. I’d love to hear from you!