Dangers Of Kayaking And How To Avoid Them

Kayaking is a popular outdoor activity, but some people have safety concerns.  You can have a fun and safe kayak adventure if you are well-prepared.

Is kayaking dangerous?  Kayaking can be (and should be) a relaxing outdoor activity. But you need to take certain precautions. Read on to find out about the dangers of kayaking, including things to be aware of, watch out for, and situations to avoid altogether.

Dangers of Kayaking


Dehydration can leave you feeling tired and lethargic. Paddling away in the sun can make you sweat and lose water quickly. You can easily get dehydrated and may not realize how much energy paddling takes. It’s essential to have enough fluid.

Even if the temperature is moderate, you can still get dehydrated without enough water. It’s important to have enough fluid to stay hydrated and alert so you can have a good day of kayaking.

Sun Exposure (Overexposure)

It’s no surprise that you are exposed to the sun when kayaking.  People often underestimate how brutal the sun can be, even when it’s not hot. 

Sun exposure plays into dehydration, but you can also get sunburn or heat exhaustion, depending on the conditions. I live in a warm-weather climate, so a day on the water in the summer can be brutal.

It’s not just the heat that can get you; the glare from the water can keep you from seeing potential hazards or obstacles.  The best way to protect yourself is to wear appropriate clothing, sunblock, and sunglasses.

Underwater Obstacles

Whether you are kayaking on a calm lake or a slow-moving river doesn’t matter. There may be obstacles lurking underwater that you need to avoid.  Pay attention to things like rocks, tree stumps, or branches.  Depending on water levels, you may or may not be able to see some of these things.  A sharp rock below the surface could leave you in a bad spot, especially if you paddle an inflatable kayak.

I have been kayaking on a slow-moving river, and suddenly I am in six inches of water due to a sandbar or rock outcrop.  You can often get a sense of obstacles by watching how the water is flowing in certain areas.  If you notice rapids, even small rapids, this can be a clue that rocks or other objects are submerged, and you may want to avoid that area.

Pay attention to your surroundings, including the shoreline. You may notice a fallen tree, resulting in branches that jut into the water.  These similar underwater obstacles, also known as strainers, can cause your kayak or paddle to get stuck. You could end up overboard without even realizing it.

Above Water Obstacles

Even objects that you can see above the water can be hazardous.  Large rocks or low-hanging tree branches can wreck your otherwise calm day on the water.

You might find a tree on the shore with low-hanging branches, known as sweepers, and not give it a second thought. If you try to kayak around or under the branch, get too close, and the branch could sweep you into the water.

Rocks are always something to watch out for.  It doesn’t matter if you have an inflatable or hardshell kayak. Rocks can be bad news.  Just because you can see a potential obstacle, it can still be dangerous if you are not careful. Water currents or choppy water can take you closer to an obstacle without realizing it.

Improper Life Jacket Use

Wear an appropriate personal flotation device (PFD) when on the water.  There are many life jackets to choose from; you can read more here

Just having a life jacket with you isn’t quite good enough. You need to wear it and make sure it fits properly. The life jacket needs to fit according to your height and weight.  The PFD should fit snugly but not too tight.  You also don’t want the life jacket to be too big. The PFD manufacturer should have a sizing chart so that you can get the right fit.

Make sure you factor in the clothes you will be wearing.  A PFD with adjustable straps is an excellent way to go so that no matter the weather or season, you will have a jacket that fits you properly.

Another thing to keep in mind is if the life jacket requires manual inflation, make sure you know how to operate it.  You may not plan on going overboard, but you want to be prepared to keep your head above water if you do.


If you are kayaking in cold conditions, you must be prepared for the worst, including going overboard in cold water.  Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce.

You should take hypothermia seriously, and if you are kayaking in cold weather or cold water conditions, be sure you are prepared with a wet or dry suit.

Now that we have discussed the dangers of kayaking, let’s focus on avoiding these situations.

How to Avoid the Dangers of Kayaking

Always Wear a Lifejacket

It’s essential to wear your life jacket when you are kayaking.  It will be too late to put it on when you need a PFD. Keeping your head above water will help you return to your kayak or get to shore.

Use Your Kayak as Intended

Different kayaks are used for different purposes. The point I want to get across is this; use your kayak as intended.  Recreational and touring kayaks are meant for calm water, like a lake or slow-moving river.

There are other kayaks meant for whitewater.  Using a long, sleek touring kayak on a fast-moving river that requires a more nimble vessel is not a good idea. Using your kayak as it was intended will help you avoid trouble.

Kayaks come in all shapes and sizes for different purposes.  Make sure you have a kayak that is the right fit for you and your activities.

Be Aware, Be Smart

Pay attention to your surroundings.  As I mentioned, keep an eye out for changes in water flow.  If you see an area where rapids are forming, there may be rocks, tree branches, or other obstacles.  The water may also be shallow, which can ground your kayak.  

A tree that has fallen into the water may have branches you can’t see and potentially snag your kayak or paddle.  I have been on lakes with numerous tree stumps just below the water’s surface. You have to be careful with things like this so you don’t run over them and potentially damage your boat.

Be alert on the water, and keep your eyes open for obstacles.

Check the Weather

Make sure you are prepared for the weather that day.  You will need to dress and pack accordingly. If a big storm is approaching, you may want to plan your trip for another day.  Sometimes you can’t completely avoid changes in the weather, as storms can come up quickly.

Plenty of kayaking apps can help you determine water flow and weather conditions.

Just do your best and make sure it’s a good day to be kayaking; if you can avoid bad weather, that is a good idea.

Plan Ahead and Navigate

Sometimes people get into trouble kayaking when they are unfamiliar with the area.  This is understandable. It’s best to scout the area and know what you are getting into.  You can also carry a GPS to help you along the way.

If you are unfamiliar with the area you plan on kayaking, you may even want to make a trip to check it out first without your boat.  My wife and I wanted to kayak a lake in my area.  We took an afternoon drive to check it out. Good thing we did because there was nowhere to launch our kayaks from. The access points to the water were much too rocky and steep, even with a kayak cart

Watch Out for Boats

If you are kayaking on a large lake, there will be boats.  Lots of boats make for choppy water.  I have first-hand experience with this.  My wife and I found an area to take a break from kayaking and jump in the lake. 

Three large motorboats sped by just when we decided to get back in our boats.  With waves crashing all around us, we were left on the rocky shore, trying to keep our balance and keep our kayaks from getting completely full of water.  Watch out for other boats. They may not see you in your kayak.

Should You Kayak Alone?

If you are prepared and someone knows you are out on your own, there is no reason you can’t go kayaking by yourself. If you take the proper precautions, you should be just fine. 

Kayaking is a peaceful way to enjoy nature and get away from it all, so by all means, get out whether you are alone or with someone else.


As we wrap things up here, there are a few takeaways.  Taking proper precautions goes a long way to having a safe day on the water.  Is kayaking dangerous?

If you steer clear of obstacles, you can see and pay attention to things lurking under the water. You can have a fun adventure. Make sure you are prepared and aware of your surroundings for a great kayak trip.

+ posts

Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.

Photo of author
About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.