Do Kayaks Flip Over Easily? A Guide To Staying Dry

Do kayaks flip over easily?  We hear this question from folks interested in kayaking but aren’t quite sure how safe it is.  In this article, we will take a look at several factors when it comes to flipping a kayak.  Then we will outline some tips on how to keep you from going overboard. 

Factors that can lead to a kayaking tipping over are the type of kayak you are using and the water conditions.

Do kayaks tip over easily?

Kayaks are generally safe to use. For the average person paddling across a calm lake, you have little to worry about.  You would actually have to try pretty hard to flip a kayak.

The typical recreational kayak is designed to be stable and doesn’t just tip over without other play factors. But, there are times when tipping over can become a reality.

Conditions make a difference

Both water and weather conditions can impact your ability to keep a kayak upright.  If you are paddling on calm water, like a lake, slow-moving river, or a protected bay, chances are you will have to try pretty hard to flip your boat. 

But, the minute you head down a rough river, or hit ocean waves, the chances of flipping your kayak over increase. Water conditions make a big difference in your kayaking experience.

Weather can also play a role in a kayak tipping over, mainly wind.  In certain areas, strong winds can pick up with little to no warning. A big gust of wind at the wrong time or angle can definitely flip you over.  Wind can also make for choppy water conditions, which can lead to navigating bigger waves. 

As you can see, both weather and water conditions play a factor in how easily a kayak can flip.

How to prevent a kayak from flipping over

Find your balance

Before you head out on the water, make sure the weight is distributed evenly on your kayak.  Have your gear well-balanced front to back and side to side. This will make the boat more efficient to paddle and help you keep your balance on the water.

Don’t put all your heavy gear in the back of the kayak. This makes the boat harder to paddle and more prone to tipping. Set yourself up for success by carrying an even load on your kayak.

Low brace

There are some paddling techniques you can use if you are in danger of tipping over.  The low brace method is one way to help stay afloat. This is a great technique to work on, so you will be prepared if you need to use it. 

If you have to think about a bracing technique when you are going down, it’s too late.  Practice this maneuver, so when you need to use the low brace, it’s automatic.

With the low brace method, use the paddle to help keep you upright and your kayak from flipping over.  This method can be used when you are hit with a wave on the side of your kayak. Read more about paddles here.

Here is how you implement the low brace. Hold the paddle shaft with both hands in front of you, across the cockpit coaming.  Keep the back of your paddle facing down.  Keep your elbows up and your knuckles pointing down. As your kayak is falling sideways, you want to use the paddle’s back face toward the side that is tipping. 

Catch yourself by slapping the back face of the paddle flat against the water, and twist your lower body back underneath you.  You will effectively snap your hips into the side of the kayak that was going down into the water.  You are bracing yourself against the water with the paddle and using your hips to get the boat back underneath you.

High brace

The high brace is very similar to the low brace, with the difference being the paddle and arm position.  With the low brace you have the paddle down low, with your elbows up, like in a pushup position.  The high brace is the opposite; your elbows are down, with the paddle up.  Think of the high brace as a chin-up position. 

With the high brace technique, you will use the paddle’s face to slap the water to brace yourself as you’re tipping over.  You will also need to drop your head toward the water in the direction you are flipping. Try watching the paddle as you are tipping over, to make sure you keep your head down.

Slapping the paddle on the water gives you the support you need to snap your hips and get the kayak back under you. The high brace follows the same rules as the low brace. Even though it’s called a high brace, you still want to keep your paddle down low.

High brace vs. low brace

The goal with these techniques is to keep your kayak from flipping over.  It’s important to note that slapping the water with your paddle only gives you momentary support.  The hip snap motion is what will bring your kayak back underneath you.

Low brace and high brace are very similar, and you want to keep the paddle low when using both techniques.  The high brace is a more powerful move but can put your shoulders at some risk.  The high brace uses the paddle’s face, whereas low brace uses the back of the paddle.

Watch the weight limit

Kayak weight limit is more important than you might think.  You can read my article here for more information.  In a nutshell, your kayak will perform most effectively if you adhere to the weight limit.  If you overload the kayak, it will not handle as well, and you are more prone to flipping the kayak.

Watch for obstacles

Obstacles like tree branches, stumps, rocks can wreak havoc on your kayak.  Not only could you end up with a puncture in your boat, but you could also end up flipping your kayak.  A low hanging tree branch could snag your kayak, and in your attempt to break free, you could end up tipping over.

Beware of obstacles above and below the water; these can cause more trouble than you think.

Be prepared

When you are on the water, make sure you have a life jacket (PFD) that fits you. Another good thing to do is to check the local weather forecast to see if any bad weather is approaching.  As we discussed earlier, weather conditions can play a factor in flipping your kayak.

What to do if your kayak flips over

If you happen to end up going overboard, you need to be prepared so you can get back in your kayak. A self-rescue isn’t the prettiest thing to watch, but this video is an excellent resource for re-entering a flipped over kayak.  This clip shows how to re-enter a sit-inside kayak.


Do Kayaks Tip Over Easily - A Kayaker Practicing Anti Tip TechniquesPin

Do kayaks flip over easily?  Typically no, but you need to be prepared if your kayak does flip.  Following the guidelines in this article, you can be prepared next time you are on the water. 

Hopefully, you won’t be in a position where your kayak is tipping over, but it’s better to be prepared if you are.

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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.