How to Stay Safe Kayaking in the Rain

If there’s one thing that you’ll learn about spending time outdoors, it’s that the weather can change quickly. While feeling a few raindrops hit your skin or seeing a sky full of gray clouds might make you want to put away your paddle, the good news is that you can still kayak in the rain.

When you think about it, you were probably going to get wet anyway, so why let a little extra water ruin all of your fun? Kayaking on a rainy day does come with a few additional risk factors, but a good kayaker should always be prepared for anything that nature throws their way.

Knowing how to kayak in the rain opens up more possibilities for enjoying your favorite watersport, and these tips will help you feel confident about following through with your plans.

Is Kayaking in the Rain Dangerous?

Paddling through a light rainstorm is rarely much of a risk, but there are a few hazardous situations that you need to watch out for on the water. Lightning is one of your most significant dangers. If you see lightning or hear thunder, it is best to get off the water and take shelter on dry land.

If this is impossible, then you’ll want to stay at least 20 feet from any other kayakers and try to make yourself as small as possible. Remember to avoid touching your paddle or any other metal objects in your boat.

Kayakers also need to be aware that strong storms can generate swift currents and rapidly rising water levels. Hypothermia is another concern, but proper preparation minimizes these risks.

Tips for Kayaking in the Rain

New kayakers will often hear experienced paddlers warning them to always be prepared for rapid weather changes. Doing a little pre-trip prep work and paying attention to the weather once you start paddling helps make your adventure as safe as possible.

Hone Your Skills

Most beginner kayakers wouldn’t immediately start paddling in rough seas, and a major storm can quickly transform even a calm lake into one with high waves and dangerously strong currents.

Be honest with yourself about your abilities. If you doubt your ability to paddle back to shore in rough waters, then you might want to take a rain check on your planned trip.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can never kayak in the rain. Instead, you can focus on refining your skills. Practicing your paddling technique and doing some strength training workouts can have you ready to try out your new skills on the next rainy day.

Kayaking in the rain - Rain falling on Canyon LakePin

Know Your Route

Rainy weather can lead to confusion on the water. During hard downpours, you might not be able to see very far ahead of you. This can lead to dangerous collisions with objects in your path, such as rocks and trees. It is also easier to get lost since rising water can obscure familiar landmarks.

Make sure to check out your route before you go kayaking. This gives you a chance to make changes before you head out based on the current forecast. Once you start paddling, continue to scan the water for obstacles and changing conditions so that you can adjust your plans accordingly.

Share Your Float Plan with Others

This is one of those tips that you should always follow, even on perfectly sunny days. However, it becomes increasingly important during rainy weather, which makes it worth repeating.

Figure out where you plan to go kayaking and how long you expect your trip to take. Then, let someone that you trust know when and how you’ll be checking in. This person should also know who to call if you don’t come back on time, along with details that could help an emergency responder, such as the color and style of your boat.

Check the Weather and Water Conditions

The air and water temperature make a big difference in how safe you can stay during a rainy kayaking adventure. Find out the current temperature, and check to see if it is expected to drop if rain is moving in.

This helps you to plan how to dress to prevent hypothermia. You can also check to make sure that lightning, hail, or high winds aren’t predicted for the times that you plan to be on the open water.

Monitor the Water Level

A few days of rain could turn your favorite lazy river into a raging one that is filled with roaring rapids. Or, you might not realize just how strong the currents get during a storm in an otherwise gentle lake.

Use an app to check the water level and general conditions before you go. If you’re on a long-distance trip during a storm, it is also worth checking periodically to see if anything changes.

Increase Your Visibility

Just like other vehicles, your boat becomes harder to see in inclement weather. Make sure to use your flashlight or boat lights to warn other boaters of your location. Some kayakers also prefer to wear bright colors and use reflective materials to increase their visibility.

Stay Safe With the Right Gear

Rain in the forecast means that you likely need to update your gear. Choosing your clothing carefully and bringing along a few extra supplies can greatly increase your safety and comfort.

Wear a life jacket

A proper fitting life jacket is critical to a safe day on the water, especially when you are kayaking in the rain.

Use a Waterproof GPS

Remember how rain can increase your chances of getting lost? A waterproof GPS helps you to stay on track with your route. Depending upon your system, you might also be able to share your waypoints and other information with your friends back at home or emergency responders.

Dress In Layers

Temperatures often drop fast during storms, and you might find yourself suddenly feeling a chill once the sun goes behind the clouds. Or, you might discover that clearing rain and sunshine generates a hot and humid situation. Wearing layers allows you to add and remove clothing to accommodate changing temperatures.

Wear Comfortable Gloves

Frigid fingers can stiffen up and make it hard to grip your paddle. Add on the slipperiness of extra water, and you could find yourself struggling to maneuver your boat. Choose warm kayaking gloves that have enough grip to help you maintain the proper paddling technique without getting blisters.

Choose Appropriate Footwear

The right footwear keeps your feet warm and can help you avoid slipping on wet ground and maneuver better if your kayak has foot controls. Waterproof booties or socks are ideal for staying warm during cold and rainy days.

Try to avoid wearing anything with openings that leave your feet exposed during a storm. Rainy weather can stir up debris in the water that you don’t want getting stuck between your feet and the soles.

Put On a Wet or Dry Suit

Kayakers tend to develop their own preferences about whether a wet or dry suit is preferable. The most important difference between the two is that a dry suit does exactly what it sounds like.

Drysuits keep water from hitting your skin, which is often the ideal choice when you are worried about hypothermia.

Wet suits also keep you warm, but they allow for a layer of water to exist between your skin and the suit. When you aren’t as worried about being wet, this type of suit can allow for greater freedom of movement.

In either case, you’ll want to pick out your clothing based upon the water temperature and not the air in case you do get splashed or capsize.

Use a Spray Skirt

There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll get wet while kayaking in the rain, but a spray skirt helps to keep you from getting completely soaked. Spray skirts come in a variety of different materials, such as nylon and neoprene. Choose one that fits your need for waterproofing and insulation.

Bring a Bilge Pump or Sponge

Sitting in a cockpit full of water is downright uncomfortable, and a rapidly filling boat quickly gets weighed down in ways that make it hard to maneuver. Whether you need a hand bilge pump or an electric one is up to you, but you need to have some way to remove extra water from your boat.

Many kayakers also bring along a sponge. You can use it to soak up water that accumulates on your seat, and sponges work great for keeping sit-on-top kayaks dry.

How Do You Keep Your Gear Dry?

When you pick out your gear for rainy day kayaking, waterproof materials should be on the top of your list of features. Even with that precaution, you’ll still have gear that needs to be kept out of the rain.

Dry bags are far more effective than simply stashing items in your kayak’s hatches. They come in sizes that are perfect for everything from storing your food supplies to an extra set of dry clothes for when you get back to shore.


Kayak in the rain - Storm rolling over a lakePin

Kayaking on rainy days gets easier with practice. Consider planning a trip specifically for a day when you know that the weather forecast predicts light rain. This allows you to test out your gear and refine your skills before getting caught in a severe storm.

Stay safe and be sure to have fun while you are at it. Paddle on!

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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.