Most people will tell you that kayaking is a sport for everyone, regardless of age, size, and fitness level. But how about those who can’t swim?
Kayaking doesn’t necessarily require swimming skills. All you have to do is sit in or on your kayak and paddle–something even a non-swimmer can do. However, kayaking is a watersport, and there’s a high chance that you’ll end up in the drink sooner or later.
So a better question would be, “is kayaking safe for non-swimmers?” The short answer is yes. But while non-swimmers can still enjoy kayaking, there are factors you have to consider to ensure that you’re safe.
If you can’t swim but still want to kayak, here is everything you need to know about having fun while staying safe on a kayak.
Can You Kayak If You Can’t Swim?
Yes, you can kayak even without knowing how to swim. But being a strong swimmer is a huge plus.
You’ll be spending a lot of time around the water so you have to be careful not to get into big trouble. Your biggest worry as a non-swimmer is drowning. But this is a situation that can be easily avoided by wearing a life jacket, paddling in shallow water, and adhering to all the safety precautions.
RELATED: The 11 Most Common Kayaking Hazards and How to Avoid Them
Is Kayaking Dangerous for Non-Swimmers?
Kayaking can be dangerous for non-swimmers, depending on where you’ll be kayaking.
For instance, kayaking on a calm lake, close to shore, surrounded by other people isn’t dangerous. If you fall into the water you can get back up without an issue because it’s not deep and you’ll have someone to help you in case of anything.
Kayaking in the open sea or a fast-moving river, on the other hand, would be dangerous for a non-swimmer. Situations like that can be unpredictable and the chances of falling in are higher, depending on the conditions.
Besides, there are techniques that you have to learn, like the Eskimo roll, which require you to be comfortable in the water.
Can You Fall Off a Kayak?
This is probably what you’re most afraid of if you can’t swim.
Yes, you can fall off a kayak if you lose your balance. But the probability largely depends on the water conditions and the type of kayak you’ll be using.
You’re less likely to fall off when paddling a stable kayak on calm water. With an unstable kayak on rough waters, your chances of falling are much higher. You might get knocked off your kayak by a strong wind or wave.
You can minimize your chances of falling off a kayak by getting the right one for your skill level and where you’ll be paddling.
That said, you should know that the possibility of falling will always be there. Even pro kayakers take an unexpected swim every now and then.
What to Do If You Fall Off
Falling off a kayak is one thing, getting back on your kayak is another. This is where you might have a big problem if you don’t know how to swim.
The obvious thing is to get back on your kayak. But how do you do that?
Well, that depends on the type of kayak. It’s easier to get back onto a sit-on-top kayak compared to a sit-in kayak.
If you fall off your sit-on-top kayak, the first step is to flip it upright. Reach over the hull with one hand and grab the opposite side of your kayak. Pull it towards you to flip it. Sit-on-top kayaks usually have scupper holes to drain water so you won’t have to manually drain it.
Once the kayak is upright, grab the opposite side with one hand and the side closest to you with the other hand. Kick your legs to float them behind you and with one big kick push your upper body onto the kayak.
Carefully twist your torso and sit on your kayak seat then bring your legs onto the kayak.
Check out this video to get an idea of what I’m talking about:
Getting back into a sit-inside kayak is a little harder because they’re higher and have an enclosed cockpit. They also take in water that you may have to manually drain using a pump.
The best way to get back into a sit-in kayak as a non-swimmer is with the help of a more experienced friend as shown in the video below.
Unless you’re kayaking in very shallow water, you’ll be in trouble if you fall off your kayak and can’t swim. This is one reason why you shouldn’t go kayaking alone. You have to practice how to get back on and learn to be comfortable in and around the water.
Safety Tips for Kayaking If You Don’t Know How to Swim?
You can’t swim but you still want to experience the joys of kayaking. How do you do that safely?
Wear a Proper PFD
Life jackets are a must-have for beginner kayakers as well as pro kayakers.
A personal flotation device or PFD is a safety accessory that paddlers wear to prevent drowning.
According to the 2021 Recreational Boating Statistics, there were 122 kayak deaths caused by drowning. This was the highest cause of death for kayakers. In about 82% of the total drowning cases, the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
I’m not sharing this to scare you, just to show how important it is to wear your PFD. It could save your life, especially if you don’t know how to swim.
A life jacket keeps your head above the water until you can get back onto your kayak or get help. Find a good U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket and ensure that it’s the right fit. Wear it before you get into the water.
Avoid doing too much too soon because both the weather and the water can be unpredictable.
For instance, it would be a bad idea to head out far into the ocean for your initial paddling sessions. You also don’t want to be in challenging rapids if you can’t swim. Anything may happen and without the proper paddling skills and swimming ability, getting back to safety will be tough.
I recommend starting with shallow glassy water where you don’t have to worry about the wind and waves. Also, avoid paddling too far out and stay close to the shore. This is a safe environment for new kayakers to learn and gain confidence.
Even a swimming pool would be ideal.
You’ll be able to stay calm if you fall in because your feet can touch the bottom. You also won’t have a hard time getting back on your kayak.
You can move on to more challenging conditions gradually.
Go with a Buddy
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you can’t swim, always go kayaking with someone else, preferably an experienced kayaker.
First, it makes things much safer in the event that you fall off your kayak. As a non-swimmer, this is the last thing you want. If you’re in deep water you’ll have someone to perform an assisted rescue if you fall in.
Experienced kayaking friends will also teach you how to handle the environment you’re in, and show you a few essential skills. They could show you safe paddling spots and areas to avoid. Besides, kayaking as a group is much more fun than doing it alone.
Paddle in Calm, Sheltered Water
The key to staying safe while doing water sports is to learn to respect the water. Always be cautious and honest with your skills.
If you’re a non-swimmer, I strongly suggest avoiding the open sea, fast rivers, and huge lakes. Restrict your kayaking adventures to waters that are calm and only a few inches deep. This is especially important if you are practicing your skills alone.
It’s easy to lose control and fall off your kayak if you’re paddling in rough conditions. As a non-swimmer, you definitely want to avoid ending up in the water as much as possible, but if you do fall in, it helps to be in your comfort zone so you won’t panic.
That way, you can learn to be comfortable in the water as you enjoy kayaking.
Get a Wide and Stable Kayak
A stable kayak translates to a much lower chance of ending up in the water. And this is what you want if you don’t know how to swim.
Both sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks can be stable, it depends on the width and hull type. Generally, wider kayaks are more stable.
Most recreational kayaks are wide and stable enough for beginners as they are over 30 inches wide. Fishing kayaks are the most stable, some of them being as wide as 40 inches. You can even stand without falling over.
You should consider the hull type too as that will affect stability. If you’re a non-swimmer, you’ll mostly be paddling cal water so a flat hull is more suited. Flat hulls have the best stability and they’re easy to control too.
Consider Taking Kayaking Lessons
Besides taking swimming lessons at some point (which is definitely recommended), you should also think about kayaking lessons. There’s so much you can learn in a kayak lesson that you won’t be able to learn while paddling alone.
An instructor will equip you with all the basic knowledge you need to start your kayaking journey. You’ll have more confidence in the water when you know what you’re doing.
Besides, having an expert with you provides you with a safe environment to make mistakes. You can learn how to fall and get back on your kayak without panicking.
Be sure to inform your instructor that you are a non-swimmer. You might also get a few swimming lessons while at it to help you become more comfortable in the water.
Check the Water and Weather Conditions Before Going Out
Always check the water and weather forecast before going on your kayaking adventures. Just because it’s calm and sunny in the morning doesn’t mean that it will be a good day to kayak.
Check the wind strength and direction, currents, tides, and water temperatures. If you find yourself paddling rough conditions as a non-swimmer the situation can get scary really fast.
Knowing what to expect helps you plan according to your skills. Only go out when you’re sure you can handle the conditions.
While kayaking, stay alert and look out for changes in the water and weather. If it starts getting a little too windy or the water becomes a little too rough, it’s time to paddle back.
Relax and Have Fun
I know this can be hard to do when you can’t swim. You’ll be around the water and there are all kinds of risks. But as long as you follow the above safety precautions you’ll be fine.
Relax and focus on learning and enjoying the process. Have fun with other paddlers and learn as much as you can from them.
Staying calm is very important when it comes to water activities and it could help you stay safe. You’ll be able to take action when necessary and make smart decisions. So instead of being nervous and thinking about everything that could go wrong, focus on having fun.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking for Non-Swimmers
Do You Need to Know Swimming to Kayak?
No, you don’t need to know how to swim to kayak, but it is advisable if you want to try and limit the dangers. Being a strong swimmer obviously has its advantages because kayaking is a water sport.
Is It Easy to Tip Over a Kayak?
No, it’s not easy to tip over a kayak.
Kayaks may be small but they are quite stable as long as you use the right kayak for the right water condition. For example, recreational kayaks are designed for flat water paddling. So it will be hard to tip one when paddling a calm lake.
Is Kayaking Safe for Non-Swimmers?
Yes, kayaking is safe for non-swimmers, provided they adhere to safety precautions. If you don’t know how to swim you have to be extra careful in the water. Avoid choppy water and other rough conditions. Instead, stick to shallow, glassy water where you’ll likely be safe even if you fall in.
Is Tandem Kayaking Safe If You Can’t Swim?
Yes, a tandem kayak is safe as long as the other person is an experienced kayaker and a strong swimmer.
Can You Kayak with a Child That Can’t Swim?
Yes, you can but only if you can swim. When you bring your child you’ll be responsible for more than just yourself. So you should make sure that you’re a good swimmer and are confident in your kayaking skills.
Are Swimmers Good at Kayaking?
Being a good swimmer doesn’t automatically make you good at kayaking. But it goes a long way. You’ll have an easier time learning all the essential kayaking techniques because you’re already comfortable in and around the water.
So, is kayaking safe for non-swimmers? Yes, kayaking is a safe sport for people who can’t swim.
However, it is a water sport so you have to be extra careful. Always wear a properly fitting PFD to keep you afloat when you fall. You might want to take some kayaking lessons to give you a confidence boost.
Start small and only stick to calm shallow water until you’ve mastered all the basic skills. I strongly suggest going kayaking with other people who can help when you get into trouble.
Don’t forget to check the water and weather forecast so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises. Lastly, remember to have fun and make the most of every kayaking adventure!