Kayaking in the Rain: The Ultimate Guide to Kayaking Safely in the Rain

kayaking in the rain featured

Kayaking may be weather-dependent but you can still go out in most weather conditions. However, some situations can make your kayaking less pleasant–and even dangerous. 

Rainy weather, for instance, is reason enough for most kayakers to stay out of the water. Others don’t let the showers stop them. If you belong to the latter group or want to, you know that gloomy weather usually means more potential risks. 

But you can still have a safe and fun experience while kayaking in the rain. You just need to plan your kayaking trip a little more keenly, bring a few extra essentials, and prepare for different scenarios. 

Here, I’ll discuss all things kayaking in the rain–how to prepare, what to wear, what to bring, and more. I will also answer the most commonly asked questions to help you enjoy kayaking even on a rainy day. 

Key Takeaways

  • Check the weather forecast and plan your route accordingly. Avoid kayaking in heavy rain, thunderstorms, flash floods, low visibility, and cold water temperatures.
  • Wear proper kayak rain gear such as a dry suit, a spray skirt, and bright colors. Layer up to stay warm and dry. Prepare for immersion in case you capsize.
  • Bring essential items like a bilge pump, a headlamp, a phone, a whistle, and a dry bag. Store your valuables and extra clothes in the dry bag.
  • Know how to self-rescue and kayak with a friend. Leave a float plan with someone so they know your whereabouts and expected return time.
  • Have fun and be safe. Kayaking in the rain can be enjoyable if done properly and with caution.  

Can You Kayak in the Rain?

Yes, you can kayak in the rain. However, there are factors you first need to take into account. For instance, is it light rain or heavy rain? Is there a thunderstorm? How rough is the water?

While it’s okay to kayak in the rain, it depends on the situation and some are safer than others. I wouldn’t advise anyone to go out in a lightning storm because the likelihood of things going south is really high. 

You also have to prepare adequately–more planning than you do for a regular trip. Understand that the weather can easily change for the worse and you have to be ready for anything. 

Can You Kayak After It Has Rained?

You can kayak after it has rained but you still have to be very careful. The water level will be higher, there may be fallen tree branches in the water, and many areas will generally be different–and not in a good way. 

I highly recommend scouting the place first, even though you know it like the back of your hand. See how the water levels have changed and any obstacles you’ll need to avoid. 

Potential Dangers of Kayaking in Rainy Weather

If you’re planning to kayak in the rain here are some risks you need to be aware of as they can make being out in the rain dangerous.  

Flash Floods

Heavy rainfall can lead to flash floods and they happen so quickly that you won’t have time to prepare if caught in one. 

In a moment, a small slow river or stream can become dangerous and pretty much impossible to navigate. Flood waters are fast and powerful–it’s not a situation you ever want to find yourself in. 

So if you’re kayaking in a creek or river and there’s a heavy downpour, this is a potential danger that you should take into account. In a situation like this, it’s best to get out of the water and call it a day. 

Lightning Strikes

Lightning storms are glorious but it’s better to observe them from a distance. Kayaking in a storm is a bad idea and most kayakers won’t go near the water in such conditions. 

But we know that the weather can be unpredictable and you may just find yourself caught in a storm. 

Kayaking in a storm puts you at risk of being struck by lightning. 

Although the odds of a lightning strike aren’t high, the probability goes higher when you’re in the water, holding a paddle that’s a good conductor of electricity. Additionally, in open water your body will be the tallest object around, hence increasing the risk. 

Accidents Due to Poor Visibility

Sometimes inclement weather comes with low visibility. It becomes harder to see where you’re going. It’s easy to hit something, like a rock or any other large obstacle–or even collision with a larger motorized vessel. 

None of these situations would end well, especially with heavy rain and generally bad weather conditions. 

High Winds and Rough Waters

When the rain is pouring down heavily you can expect to deal with strong winds and waters rougher than usual.

This makes the kayak harder to control, especially if you also have to paddle against the wind. You may end up getting too tired to kayak back to shore–something that’s too scary to even think about. 

Cold Shock and Hypothermia

When kayaking in ice-cold water and weather temperatures, this is another serious risk. Falling into the water will result in cold shock if you’re not dressed appropriately. 

Your breathing becomes fast and you’ll be gasping for air, and most likely taking in water as well. You’ll find it hard to swim or right your kayak. In a situation like this, the chances of drowning are quite high–even higher if you fail to wear your life jacket. 

How to Stay Safe While Kayaking in the Rain

I have talked about how things can go wrong when kayaking in the rain. Now let’s talk about how you can stay safe and still have fun when you go kayaking in rainy weather. Or when you get caught up in the rain while kayaking. 

Check the Weather Forecast 

The key to being safe while kayaking is preparation, and you can’t prepare for what you don’t know. 

Checking the weather forecast gives you an idea of what to expect so you can be ready. When you know what the weather will be like you are less likely to run into an unpleasant surprise. 

Weather forecasts may not be completely accurate all the time but never underestimate the importance of just having a clue. For instance, if there’s a probability of strong offshore winds and heavy rainfall, you can plan your adventure such that you’ll be hugging the shore most of the time. This way, you can get out easily and quickly if the conditions get too tough for you. 

The weather forecast also lets you know when to avoid kayaking completely. If a serious thunderstorm is expected, you’ll know to stay away and wait for another day. 

Plan Your Route 

Once you know what the weather and water will be like, use that information to plan your route. Avoid challenging locations and keep it simple in case the weather decides to change. 

Have multiple exit points along your route so you won’t have a problem quickly getting out of the water. If you hear thunder, it starts raining heavily, or the situation begins getting too rough, it’s time to exit. 

It’s also important to make the trip shorter in bad weather because you don’t want to be in the water for too long.    

Dress for the Weather and Water Conditions

If it’s raining you’ll most probably be dealing with cold weather and water temperature. Remember one of the potential dangers of kayaking in the rain is hypothermia. 

You need proper kayak rain gear to keep yourself warm and dry. It’s always a good idea to prepare for immersion too. If you fall into the water without proper thermal clothing, your body temperature will drop suddenly, resulting in cold shock.

Layer up nicely so you stay warm whether you’re in the kayak or taking an unplanned swim. 

Speaking of what to wear, should you go for a dry suit or a wetsuit? 

Wetsuit Vs. Drysuit for Rainy Weather Kayaking

Wet suits and dry suits are both designed to keep you warm in cold temperatures and they’re popular among water sports enthusiasts. 

A wet suit is skin-tight and it keeps you warm when you get wet. A dry suit, on the other hand, is totally waterproof and will ensure that you stay dry even when it’s raining. 

Typically, surfers and people who participate in in-water sports prefer wet suits while kayakers and paddle boarders prefer dry suits. 

Make Sure You’re Visible

Reduced visibility is typical in inclement weather, so it’s important to make sure that other people can see you. Wear bright colors to help you remain visible. 

Collision with other vessels is one of the most common accident types, so making yourself visible is key to your safety. As a kayaker, you’re in a much smaller vessel and the accident may end very badly. 

You can even use kayak lights to be on the safer side. 

Don’t Forget Your Spray Skirt

spray skirt

Spray skirts keep water out of your kayak. They create a dry environment and help keep your legs and feet warm. 

When kayaking in the rain without a spray skirt, your kayak will soon fill with water and you’ll have another problem on your hands. 

This is also a great opportunity to add that a sit-in kayak is better than a sit-on-top for rainy weather kayaking adventures. You’ll have a warm and dry cockpit for your lower body and any gear you’ll be storing in the cockpit. 

Master Self-Rescue

I wouldn’t recommend any beginners go kayaking in rough weather. You need to be skilled–knowing how to read the water and weather as well as navigating different (sometimes difficult) conditions. 

More importantly, you should know how to self-rescue in case you capsize. Take some time to polish your skills in a safe environment before you go on your kayak trip. 

Follow the Usual Safety Precautions

The usual rules for safe kayaking apply when going on an expedition in the rain. 

So don’t forget your safety gear. Put on your life jacket properly before you begin kayaking. It should be USCG-approved and well-fitting. 

Bring your phone and a whistle too so you can call for help if necessary.  

Another key safety tip is to never bite more than you can chew. If the conditions are getting too tough, end the kayaking trip. Don’t wait until it’s too late.  

Leave a Float Plan

Someone should know where you are and when to expect you back, so you should leave your float plan with a friend or family member. It’s important to let people know of your plans and your whereabouts.

If you’re not back by the expected time, they’ll know where to start looking. For this reason, it’s also important you try to stick to the plan. 

It’s Best to Go with a Friend

Kayaking is safer with a friend, especially in bad weather conditions. If one of you gets into trouble, the other one can help. 

Kayaking alone does have its benefits, and can be done safely if you take proper precautions. But in the case of inclement weather,  you’re better off going with your kayaking buddy. 

Some Key Items to Bring When Kayaking in Rainy Weather

You need to take extra care when the conditions aren’t favorable. Here are some essential items you should have with you when kayaking in the rain.

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump is used for pumping water out of your cockpit. If water somehow gets into your kayak while it’s raining, you won’t want to sit in a wet and uncomfortable environment. It’s not fun. 

Waterproof GPS

The chances of getting lost are higher in rainy weather than in much friendlier conditions. And it will be hard to use your phone in the rain. 

Good Dry Bag

You’ll need a safe and dry place to store your valuables and an extra set of dry clothes. A good dry bag will keep everything bone dry even when you capsize. 


A headlamp can serve two purposes when kayaking in the rain. First, you can use it to make yourself more visible in low-visibility situations. It will also be a source of light for you if you find yourself kayaking in the dark. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking in the Rain

What Do You Wear When Kayaking in the Rain?

You should layer up properly to stay warm if it’s cold. Also, get a good dry suit to prevent you from getting wet. 

Can You Kayak in a Thunderstorm? 

Kayaking in a thunderstorm is dangerous and I do not recommend it. It’s best to wait until the conditions are calmer. 

When Should You Not Kayak? 

You should not kayak when there’s a thunderstorm, if it’s too windy, and when the water is too rough for your skill level. 

Will My Kayak Sink in the Rain? 

Your kayak may start to sink or sit lower in the water if it becomes filled with water. That’s why you need a spray skirt and a bilge pump when kayaking in the rain. 

Wrapping Up

Even on a rainy day, you can still enjoy kayaking. However, there are risks associated with kayaking in the rain. You have to beware of flash floods, collision with other vessels and objects, as well as hypothermia. 

For this reason, you need to take extra precautions to stay safe and have fun. Check the weather forecast and plan your route accordingly. Wear proper kayak rain gear so you can stay warm and dry. Don’t forget your life jacket and other safety essentials like a whistle.

Bring a bilge pump and spray skirt to keep water out of your cockpit. Always stay visible by wearing bright colors because visibility can be low when it’s raining. 

Lastly, leave a float plan and try to go with a friend. 

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