(Last update July, 2016)
Most unintentional spills that we have experienced ourselves and seen have been while getting in and out of a kayak. This makes sense, when you think about it, since this is the time when you are the least stable. Once seated, if you are matched well with your kayak and your center of gravity is low, the only forces actively working against you are wind, wave and current. But transferring yourself from a standing position to a seated one and vice-versa can be tricky, particularly for a newbie kayaker or with a new boat.
We’ll post some pics here to help you visualize all these techniques as soon as we can get out on the water to do this.
First off, for some reason many people do not like to get their feet wet entering and exiting the kayak. We’ve never really understood this attitude – after all, kayaking is a WATER sport! But we admit there are times when staying feet-dry is a good idea, for example, in relatively cold weather. But we usually just plan on getting our feet wet and wear appropriate shoes or boots. If we then manage to stay feet-dry it’s a nice plus. Getting into a kayak from ankle- to knee-deep water keeps the center of gravity lower, is easiest for people with hip and knee problems, and prevents the hull from being scratched up by sand, rocks and concrete boat ramps.
If you are lucky, as we frequently are here in Florida, you can launch from a nice sandy or grassy beach area with shallow water. One thing you want to avoid in this launch scenario is having one end of the kayak still resting on land while the other end is out in the water. For all but the flattest-bottomed boats this ends up being a very unstable situation as the beach end of the boat rocks back and forth on its keel. Even if you manage to get safely seated, the extra weight in the boat then means you have to skooch the boat off the sand with you in an unstable situation and can also add a lot of scratches to the boat hull.
The easiest way to launch is to push the kayak out into ankle- to calf-deep water with the kayak parallel to the dock or shore. Facing forward, straddle the kayak and quickly lower yourself into the seat. Then all you have to do is pull your feet in, grab your paddle and you’re ready to go. If your kayak is too wide to straddle, you can plop into the seat sideways. Just remember to keep your body weight forward, over your knees, so you don’t lean back too far and fall into the water backwards. Once settled sideways in the seat, rotate slowly to face forward and pull in your feet, one at a time.
LOW DOCK LAUNCHES
(Including rocky shores and even boat ramps with steep drop-offs)
These seem to frighten a lot of people, but can sometimes really be easier than beach launches. By a LOW dock launch I mean where the dock (or ledge or rock) is within a few inches of the top of your kayak cockpit coaming. Turn the boat so it is parallel to the dock or shore. Sit down on the dock or rocks so you are facing sideways to the boat. Place your paddle behind you so that one blade is on the dock or rocks and the center of the paddle shaft is behind the cockpit coaming and the far blade hovers just above the water. With your outside hand grab the paddle shaft and cockpit coaming on the far side of the seat. Place your other hand on the dock. Then quickly shift your weight out over and into the seat. Once settled pull in your legs, grab your paddle and move out. It helps if you have a friend or two who can hold the boat steady so it doesn’t drift out on you. Or if you have a friend already on the water they can position their boat on the outside of yours to stop the drift way from the dock. Above all you must move smoothly and relatively quickly.
HIGH DOCK LAUNCHES
These can be some of the hardest launch areas to deal with. First, find the lowest point of the dock or ledge or rocks. Turn the boat so it is parallel to the dock or shore. Sit down on the dock facing the kayak and place your feet into the cockpit of the boat. When you feel secure, twist your body to face forward, re-position your feet facing forward, place both hands firmly on the dock and quickly lower your bum into the seat. The trick is staying centered over the boat and moving quickly. Again, it really helps if you have a friend or two on shore or on the water who can hold the boat steady so it doesn’t drift out on you. And again, the secret is to move quickly and smoothly.