Do Sharks Attack Kayaks? – The Truth About Sharks and Kayaks

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Kayaking can hardly be described as dangerous (as long as it’s not one of the more extreme disciplines, like whitewater kayaking). If you follow the usual precautions you have little to worry about.

But it doesn’t come without risk, just like any other activity. And when kayaking in the ocean, the risk of running into a dreaded sea animal will always be there. 

Watching sharks on National Geographic is fun–they are majestic and captivating. But actually bumping into an aggressive shark in real life while kayaking is the stuff of nightmares! 

But are you likely to encounter a shark while kayaking? More importantly, do sharks attack kayaks? Well, the short answer is yes, sharks can attack kayaks. But it’s extremely rare, and the truth is far less scary than the stories you’ve heard. 

Here’s everything you need to know about sharks and kayaks. 

Key Takeaways

  • Shark attacks on kayaks are very rare and most of them are not fatal.
  • Sharks are not interested in you and they usually bite kayaks out of curiosity or mistake. They may also be attracted by fish or bait used by anglers.
  • Avoid sharks by staying close to shore, checking local reports, being alert, avoiding splashing, and respecting their space.
  • You can fight off sharks by using a paddle or any other object to hit them. It’s important to stay calm and not fall into the water.
  • Not all sharks are dangerous and you can safely kayak with some of them.

Was It a Shark Attack or Shark Encounter?

You’ve seen the headlines and heard the stories about shark attacks on kayaks. They’re enough to inspire fear and discourage kayakers from going out into the ocean. 

However, most of them are best described as shark encounters and not attacks. What’s the difference?

Sharks don’t eat humans, so it’s unlikely that one would go out of its way to hunt a human. And if it did, it probably wouldn’t miss.

In a shark encounter, the shark might get close and even bump the kayak to see if it’s food. It might also try to bite the kayak. This is less of an attack as it’s just the shark trying to figure out whether or not the kayak is edible.

Once the shark realizes its mistake, it will swim away. That doesn’t make it any less scary though, when you think about it! 

Do Sharks Ever Attack Kayaks?

Although most of what you may have seen are shark encounters, real shark attacks happen. 

Take a look at the numbers.  

Kayak Shark Attack Statistics

According to the Global Shark Attack File, there have been about 25 shark incidents involving kayaks worldwide in the last 10 years. 

Among those, two were fatal. In the first case that happened in December 2013 in Maui, a shark attacked a kayak fisherman, biting his foot off. 

The other one happened on Réunion Island. A man went kayaking alone and never made it back home. Human remains and a bracelet were later found in a shark’s gut. Relatives say it belonged to the kayaker. Whether or not the shark bit him before or after he died is still unclear. 

From the remaining 23 incidents, only three victims ended up with injuries. Two of those were minor injuries. One was serious, but it was a provoked attack. It happened in California in 2015 when a shark bit a kayaker’s foot while he was shark fishing. 

The rest of the incidents did not result in any injuries but the shark bit the kayak in most of them.  

When you look at these numbers, you’ll realize that sharks are not that big of a threat to kayakers. As long as you’re careful and respectful of the ocean and marine life, you should be fine. 

Why a Shark Would Attack a Kayak

Sharks attacking kayaks isn’t an everyday thing. But since it can happen, it helps to know why. 

Two of the above incidents were provoked shark attacks while the rest were unprovoked attacks. 

An unprovoked shark attack is one that happens without a kayaker provoking the shark. Provoked attacks are those that happen when kayakers initiate contact. For instance, in the California 2015 attack, the victim was fishing for sharks. He hooked a hammerhead and it bit his foot. 

Provoked shark attacks happen for obvious reasons. If you hook a shark, try to touch it, or jump on it (yes, this has happened), it will likely attack to defend itself. 

An unprovoked shark attack can happen by accident, where the shark bumps into your kayak unintentionally. This is more of an encounter. 

It can also happen when the shark mistakes the kayak for common prey like sea lions or seals. In this case, it may try to bite the kayak, as has happened a number of times. Once it realizes that it’s not food it will let go. 

Other times, a shark may just be curious and an “innocent” bite to investigate may be mistaken for an attack. 

When you look at the statistics, you’ll realize that most of the confirmed unprovoked shark attacks involved kayak anglers. 

But why is this? Some people like to use live bait when kayak fishing. And sometimes, you end up attracting something a little bigger and scarier than you intended. 

The other more likely reason is that the shark will be after the fish you just hooked. It will be desperately struggling to unhook itself and this is very attractive to a shark. The vibrations from the movement of the fish can easily catch the attention of a large predator nearby.  


Do Certain Color Kayaks Attract Sharks? 

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to sharks and colors. For instance, many people have always believed that sharks are highly attracted to the color yellow. 

In reality, sharks are color-blind and they can’t really tell colors apart. However, sharks see contrast pretty well. So a bright color against a dull background will be highly visible. In the ocean, these colors include red, orange, and yellow. 

These are also some of the most common kayak colors. Besides, when kayaking, it’s highly recommended that you wear bright colors so you can be visible to other water users. 

To answer the question, it’s highly unlikely that sharks are attracted to specific colors. What may attract them are colors that contrast greatly with the background. 

Are All Sharks Dangerous? 

There are hundreds of shark species in the ocean. Contrary to popular belief, most of these shark species are not dangerous. 

In the 25 kayak shark attacks and encounters over the past 10 years, 17 of them involved white sharks. Two of the rest involved hammerhead sharks, three tiger sharks, and one mako shark. The others are unknown. 

Overall, the white shark, tiger shark, and bull shark are responsible for most of the unprovoked human attacks. 

Generally, the sharks you should worry about while kayaking include great white sharks, tiger sharks, bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, and blacktip sharks. 

These sharks aren’t dangerous because they hunt humans. We have established that they prefer sea lions, seals, and other marine animals. So as long as you’re not a seal or sea lion, you’re not on the menu. 

They are dangerous mainly because of their size and the fact that, sometimes, a human on a kayak may look like their usual prey. 

Note: Although many sharks may not be considered dangerous, all of them are predators and they can pose a serious threat in certain circumstances. 

How to Avoid Sharks While Kayaking

The ocean is a shark’s home. So if you like wandering out in your kayak, the chances of encountering one will always be there. 

However, as you have seen from the facts and statistics, most of the shark stories you might have heard are a little too dramatic compared to reality.

Here’s how you can avoid these majestic predators when exploring the ocean in your kayak.  

Don’t Wander Too Far Out

Sea kayakers are adventurous and it’s easy to wander too far out. After all, that’s where there’s peace, quiet, and a high chance of spotting marine life. But for your own safety, you should try to stay as close to the shore as possible, especially if there have been shark sightings.

It’s not that sharks can’t be found close to shore. On the contrary, they can and do swim closer to shore than you might expect. 

Being close to land means that you can quickly get out of the water when you see a shark. And if there’s a shark attacking your kayak, help can get to you much faster. 

Stay Away From Shark-Infested Waters

It’s important to check local reports before launching your kayak. They contain a lot of useful information to help you stay safe, including shark sightings. 

When heading out into the ocean, you’ll want to know what to expect and whether or not you should go in the first place. These local reports let you know where and when sharks have been spotted recently. 

If there has been a rise in shark activity, it’s best not to go out at all. 

Pay Close Attention to Your Surrounding

It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of it all when kayaking in the open water. But don’t get so carried away that you forget you’re in shark territory. 

Always be alert so you can stay out of any dangerous animal’s way. Remember sharks prey on fish, sea lions, and other marine animals. So if you find yourself in the company of such animals, you should be careful. 

Another detail that’s important is time. Sharks don’t have a specific feeding time but they will usually hunt at dawn, dusk, and during nighttime. 

These are the things you need to be keen about so you don’t suddenly find yourself surrounded by hungry sharks. 

Watch Out for Sharks When Kayak Fishing

As you have seen from the numbers, most shark attacks on kayakers happened during fishing. It’s not because the predators have something against anglers. They are after the fish, just like you.

Some fishermen have reported that sharks will follow fishing boats and feed on fish scraps. So it’s not you, it’s the fish. 

Shark senses are incredible and they are very sensitive to low-frequency sounds and vibrations underwater. They can also smell blood from a distance. This would explain why a hooked and struggling fish would quickly catch their attention. 

When you catch a fish, kill it immediately. Don’t leave it lying there because the kayak hull will intensify the vibrations. This could attract a shark. Have waterproof coolers and containers to put your bait and catch in. This will prevent blood or anything like that from spilling. 

What to Do If You Encounter a Shark

Sharks are not interested in human flesh and so, if statistics are anything to go by, a kayak encounter doesn’t have to end badly. 

Don’t Panic

Large sharks are scary and it’s hard not to panic when one comes close to your kayak. However, when you panic, you may end up doing something unwise and put yourself in danger. 

Remind yourself that you’re not part of a shark’s natural diet. It’s not interested in making a meal out of you. Remain calm and you will be fine. 

Keep a Safe Distance

Anytime when interacting with wildlife, you should keep a safe distance for several reasons. First, it’s not okay to bother animals in their natural habitat. Second, you could get hurt. 

Looking at the reports on global shark attacks, you’ll be surprised by how daring people can be. There have been cases of people randomly approaching sharks and harassing them. Someone even jumped on one!

If you intrude on a shark’s space, it may get defensive, resulting in an attack. So don’t approach and definitely don’t try to touch it. 

Stay in Your Kayak

In many of the unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, the sharks were just curious. They took a bite of the kayak and once they realized it wasn’t something they’d be interested in, they left. 

This is a good reason to keep your entire body in your kayak at all times. Many kayak anglers are notorious for dangling their legs over the sides of their kayaks. If there are passing sharks and one of them gets curious, it could bite your foot off. 

Sure, it may spit it once it realizes you’re not something it wants to eat, but the damage will have been done. This is, unfortunately, what happened in one of the fatal shark attacks I’ve mentioned above. 

If there’s a shark around, make sure you stay in your kayak and don’t dangle your legs. 

Check out this video of a kayak angler who narrowly escaped a tiger shark bite.

Paddle Away Calmly

Frantic paddling and splashing will attract a shark and they may approach to try and investigate. And as you know, their investigation will most likely involve their deadly teeth. 

Excessive splashing is similar to the movement of struggling prey. 

So try your best to get away swiftly, but quietly. 

What to Do If the Shark Attacks Your Kayak

On the rare occasion that a shark tries to attack your kayak aggressively, fight it off with your paddle. The last thing you want to do is to fall off and end up in the water. 

While in your kayak, you have some kind of protection. The worst a shark could do is take a quick chomp of your kayak. If you fall into the water, however, you have no protection and an angry or hungry shark could instead take a quick chomp of you! 

Here is a video of a kayaker fighting off a shark with his paddle. 

Other Safety Measures 

In addition to the above tip, here are more safety tips to help you stay safe in the ocean. 

Don’t Go Alone

Always go kayaking with a friend if you can. 

Sharks are more likely to approach if you’re alone. So if you’re with your kayak buddy you reduce the likelihood of sharks coming close. 

Besides, sometimes you may not even notice that there’s a shark in the water. It helps to have another pair of eyes so you aren’t caught unaware. And if something goes wrong, you will have someone to lend a helping hand. 

Use the Right Kayak

I would strongly advise against using inflatable kayaks for sea kayaking. In almost all the 25 kayak shark attacks that happened over the past 10 years, a shark bit a kayak. If you are using an inflatable kayak, it will be deflated, as was the case in one of the incidents. 

Remember you don’t want to fall over into the water. With a deflated inflatable kayak you have nothing to float on. 

Use a proper sea kayak or fishing kayak.  

Bring Your First Aid Kit

Going by statistics, the chances of a shark biting you while you’re kayaking are very low. But still, a good kayaker prepares for all likely scenarios. 

Bring a first aid kit every time you go out into the ocean. I always say it’s better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it. 

Can You Kayak With Sharks?

Yes, you can kayak with sharks. There are areas where you can go and kayak alongside different marine animals, including dolphins, turtles, and, yes, sharks too. 

However, the sharks in question here are the more harmless ones. And even then, it’s best to take a guided tour with local experts just to be safe. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Sharks and Kayaks

Are Kayaks Safe in the Ocean?

Yes, kayaks are safe in the ocean. But you need to make sure you have the right kayak and follow all the precautions to avoid getting into a dangerous situation.

What Is the Most Friendly Shark?

The basking shark and leopard shark are two of the friendliest sharks. There’s not a single recorded case of any of them attacking a human. That said, you should still exercise caution and always keep a safe distance.

What Not to Do in a Shark Attack?

Don’t use your hands to hit the shark in a shark attack. Use your paddle or anything else at your disposal to defend yourself and scare it away.

Bottom Line

Do sharks attack kayaks? Yes, they do but it’s extremely rare. In the past 10 years, there have only been 25 global cases of sharks attacking kayaks. In 20 of these incidents, the kayakers were not injured, the shark only bit or nudged the kayak. 

Note that there’s a difference between an attack and an encounter. Most of the recorded cases are encounters. When a shark sees a kayak, it may get curious and take a bite to investigate. Sometimes the attack is just an accidental bump. Other times, the shark wants the fish you’re trying to reel in while kayak fishing. 

Sharks aren’t interested in human flesh, and they certainly have nothing against kayakers. You pretty much have nothing to be afraid of. 

Always remember to respect the ocean and all the animals that live in it. Just keep your distance if you spot a shark and paddle back to shore calmly. 

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