kayaking beginner guide

Ultimate Kayaking Guide for Beginners (and 11 Tips)

Jumping into any new hobby or sport is both exciting and scary. At times, it can even be confusing. If you have never paddled or rowed before, then, the first time you get into the waters on a kayak can be quite exhilarating.

Do not fear, this is just the beginning of a great new adventure you are about to embark on. In fact, paddling is much like riding a bike. Scary at first then it gets easy in a few minutes, but do not think you can paddle away on your own just yet, there’s much to learn.

In this article, I am going to give you a few tips, plus some technical know-how on your brand-new adventure. I shall talk about what you need to know before you kayak alone, what you need to wear while kayaking, the kayaking lingo that you must know among others, so, stick with me and we shall soon have you paddling way on your own in no time.

Let’s dive in.

Now, to start us off, the first and most important tip that you must know is; no matter how much you think you do not need it, before kayaking on your own, make sure you Take a lesson. (kayak classes)Without proper coaching, you may find yourself paddling round and round in circles.

There are also a few safety measures you must know before you paddle, and this is why a crash kayaking course is important. Though they are not common, capsizing while kayaking is a possibility, and you must know how to recover from such an accident and how to save yourself and others. Learn more at: (Is There a Kayak that Never Tip Over?)


What to Prepare When Go Kayaking?

The next step is to have the appropriate gear. These are what we call the kayaking essentials; You shall need the following before you start kayaking;

First, you need a Kayak. Well, duh? Off course you will need a kayak for you to go kayaking, but most people may wonder where they can get a kayak from. There are a few options such as.

Buying a kayak – You may not be ready for this as they are expensive, but if you are, ensure to shop around extensively, find out from fellow kayakers which is the best kayak and the one that will serve you well and for a long period of time. See my recommendation: My Top Picks for Sit on Top kayaks

Rent a kayak – You can visit an on-the-water outfitter so you won’t need to find a way to transport the boat. There are many companies that rent kayaks, all you need is a little research and you shall find a reasonably priced one.

Sign-up for a tour – Signing up for a tour means that you shall get all the essentials such as the gear needed and the kayak as well. This is the best way to start off.


Basic Accessories

  • A coastguard approved Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or a buoyancy aid.
  • A paddle – ensure it is the right size so you can paddle comfortably. (How to Choose Kayak Paddles)
  • A bilge pulp – this is used to remove excess water from your kayak.
  • A helmet – well this is pretty obvious, for your head protection from rocks, especially when you do whitewater kayaking. (14 Whitewater Accessories for a New Kayaker)
  • A spray skirt – this is optional especially on warm or calm days and only for sit-in kayak.


Proper clothing

  • Swimwear or shorts – these should not be made of cotton and they must be nonbinding.
  • A short or a long-sleeved rashguard top – you can have any top that is made of cotton.
  • Neoprene footwear
  • A hat for shielding the sun.
  • A light-weight fleece jacket or a vest depending on the weather conditions.
  • A spray jacket or a rain jacket with pants depending on the weather conditions.


Important personal items 

  • Plenty of drinking water.
  • Snacks to keep you energized and a lunch if you are going on a long tour.
  • Lip balm, sunscreen, and sunglasses with a retainer.
  • A first-aid kit.
  • A signaling whistle.
  • A watch – this will tell you when to get back.
  • A headlamp in case it gets dark.
  • Dry bags for keeping your belongings dry. (Dry Bag Buyers Guide And My Top Picks)


What Are the Different Types of Kayaking?


When choosing to kayak, it is important to identify what type of kayaker you shall be. Kayaking is not just paddling on your boat, it is a sport that is identified by the kind of boat you use, the type of waters you shall be paddling on, and even the level of risk you are willing to take. The main types are;


Recreational kayaking

This is what you see all over, on safe bodies of water or on well-protected lakes. This type of kayaking is extremely safe. You do not require much experience to paddle the kayak and it is usually just for fun, and rarely will you tip over.


Touring Kayaking

Touring is normally done on protected bodies of water. Touring paddlers are people who are serious about paddling and they can be in the water for long periods of time.  In this kayaking method, you are simply enjoying nature and relaxing.


Sea Kayaking

This is done in the oceans, or on large bodies of water that are unpredictable. It may be dangerous for a beginner or someone inexperienced, but for the pros, it is quite safe and easy.

Sea kayaks normally have a rudder that makes them easy to paddle and steer into the open waters. They also can be able to cut through some pretty sizeable waves due to their aerodynamics.

Ensure to first understand the essential safety practices as well as the principles of navigation before attempting to sea kayak.


Whitewater kayaking

Now, whitewater paddling is extremely exciting, but also very dangerous. The main concern here is the water and the water features. It is crucial for a kayaker to know how to identify the whitewater river features and understand their terminologies as well. You should also be able to communicate these features to the other kayakers.

The most common features you should know are; Whitewater Classification, Continuous Whitewater, Rapid, Flatwater, Pool, Wave Train, Wave, Drop and Ledge Line and Waterfall.

Other than that, as a paddler, you will need to learn a lot more skills before you venture out in to the waters, and do some practice with an experienced kayaker in order to learn how to face the biggest rapids, plus, understand the different paddling methods e.g. playboating, squirt boating, river running and creeking.


Surf Kayaking

This takes place in an ocean, and it’s basically surfing. It uses kayaks that are similar in shape to the whitewater kayaks, but, instead of paddles, the kayaker uses surfboards and sits inside of the kayak. It can be a dangerous kayaking method and will require special rules to be followed, and important skills to be learned.


 Freestyle kayaking

This is where you perform tricks while airborne. It is normally combined with other kayaking styles such as surfing or even whitewater kayaking. Now you will need to take a much longer time before you can perform the tricks, plus, your training must be top-notch.

This is a bit dangerous, so do not attempt it without a proper trainer.


 Competitive kayaking

You have probably seen kayakers competing in the Olympics. These are gurus, who have done it for a very long time. Needless to say, that before you attempt to be a professional competitor you will need some considerable amount of experience, so take time and learn all there is to learn about kayaking.

The Olympic kayaker normally attempts some incredible moves such as the slalom event and even kayak sprints. Do not attempt them before training carefully.


11 Tips for Kayak Beginners

Now that you understand the kind of kayaker you want to be, and you have already bought the appropriate gear, plus, off course you have taken a course in kayaking, the following tips will help keep you afloat while in the waters, and even help you become a much better kayaker.


1. Dress appropriately for the water, not the weather

We have already outlined the kind of clothes you shall need for you to embark on your kayaking adventure. Please note that it is not optional. Whether hot or cold, dress for the water.

For example, if the water requires a swimsuit, wear one, if they require a wetsuit, wear one as well. This, of course, is in addition to all the other gear you will have on such as a buoyancy jacket, a helmet, appropriate shoes, etc. Learn more at: ( 9 Tips for Kayaking in the Cold Weather (For Every Season) )


2. Choose the right kayak

This may seem like a simple point that does not require mentioning but, it is important to choose the right kayak. There are many different types of kayaks, from long and narrow ones to short and wide kayaks.

There are also two types of kayaks, sit-inside kayaks, and sit-on-top kayaks. I will tell you the difference;

A Sit-inside Kayak

A few facts about a kayak: The top of the kayak is normally called the deck, the bottom is what is referred to as the hull, while the front is bow and back is stern. On the top in the deck, you shall find bungees or deck lines.

The sit-inside kayak is enclosed in such a way that people sit inside it. Your lower body is enclosed and this is sealed with a skirt. This skirt can detach if you were to flip over.

Now the beauty of a sit-inside kind of kayak is that it gives you plenty of control over the kayak’s stability since you can stabilize it easily using your knees against the hull. It also means that it may be difficult to topple over with this kind of kayak.

The only worry that people have with it is the fact that it is difficult to get on and off, plus in case it flips over, it tends to fill with water. As such, you will need to bail it manually which may involve either an Eskimo roll or a wet exit – these you shall learn during your training course.

A Sit-on-top Kayak:

This kind of kayak is normally for recreational use and it is engineered for stability in the water. You may think that it looks wobbly, but, they have flat hulls, and this makes them very stable.

Just like the sit-inside kind of kayak, you can stabilize it with your legs, but, not quite as much, because it is stable by design. You will also find that they tend to have foot supporters on the side of the kayak to help in positioning yourself in the center. This gives you extra support.

This type of kayaking is actually very safe in case it flips over, because, you will fall out automatically. Just grab a hold of it and you shall be fine. See more: (17 Reasons Why I’m Choosing a Sit-on-Top kayak (and NOT a Sit-in!) )


3. Always, always, wear a buoyancy aid

This is extremely essential for any kayaker, whether you are a beginner or a pro. Any kayaking beginners guide will tell you this as well. Do not take it for granted that the waters look calm. Anything can happen and it is important to be prepared for any eventuality.

They are actually life jackets that allow you to move your arms around easily. They are provided in most kayaking schools, but if you are going out on your own, ensure to buy one that fits you perfectly and is comfortable enough.

Family visit by kcxd, on Flickr
Family visit” (CC BY 2.0


4. Sit properly inside the kayak

Learning to sit properly is not hard, but extremely essential. It is important to know that your weight will help in balancing the kayak, so, sit upright and do not slouch, let your lower back and buttocks be at 90 degrees of each other.

Your kayak has foot pegs on either side, so keep your feet there. Let your toes point outwards, and your heels in the center. Your knees should be in an upward position and they should stick out. Let them have contact with your thigh braces.


5. Hold your paddle right

This may be obvious, but a lot of people hold their paddles the wrong way while learning how to paddle. Hold the paddle with both hands, and just over the shoulder distance apart. Ensure the concave part of your paddle is facing you.

When you dip the blade of the paddle into the water, ensure that the concave part sweeps through the water. Check also that your knuckles are in the same line as the blade.


6. Bring a change of clothes

Even if you think you shall not get wet, it is important to always carry a change of clothes, because as we said earlier, you never know what may happen, so be safe.


7. Learn the important safety procedures

You must know how to save yourself and others in case of an accident while in the waters. This is the number one rule for all kayak beginners.

You may not capsize the first couple of times you go out kayaking, but in case it ever happens in the future, or you happen to witness a fellow kayaker capsizing, always equip yourself with the right knowledge.


  • Tips on what to do if your kayak capsizes

Getting out of a kayak that has capsized is usually automatic. You may, however, need a little more practice on how to remain calm without losing a hold of your paddle. It is important to know how to act underwater and how to swim with your kayak.


Assisted Eskimo Rescue

First, you need to remain calm and oriented. If you have people nearby, ask for help and put the paddle between your hands and your stomach to prevent it from floating away. Bang the bottom of the kayak to attract the attention of the other paddlers, and wave your hands in the air.

If you have a friend nearby, they should bring their kayak’s bow near you, so you can use it to pull yourself up. This is what is called an assisted eskimo rescue. However, there’s a likelihood that you do not have the time to wait for your friend.


Exit the kayak

When you are ready to exit the kayak, put the paddle on your lap, and grab the spray skirt’s handle so as to pull the skirt off. Take a firm grip of the cockpit coaming and try pushing yourself up using both sides of the kayak.

Keep your head close to the surface. This will help you not hit your head. Leave your feet inside the cockpit to avoid losing the kayak due to bad weather.


Swim with your kayak

In case you need to swim with your kayak, keep it upside down. This will trap air inside and prevent it from sinking. It also prevents any more water from entering the cockpit. If you find that you have lost control of both the kayak and the paddle, try reaching for the kayak first and then you can look for the

This is because the waves and the wind will normally push the kayak away much easier compared to the paddle. You may actually find that the paddle remains in place. Swimming with your kayak is hard to even when the weather is good. You may also be swimming for a long time if there is no land nearby, so, it is important to always learn other methods of rescuing yourself.

One rule of thumb is that; Never abandon your kayak, as it will help in keeping you afloat even if it has sunk a little, plus when being rescued, the kayak is much easier to spot.


  • Tips on how to avoid kayak capsizing

Falling out of your boat is of course not fun, and in some cases, it can have some fatal consequences. So, in order to avoid such accidents, you can employ the following tips;   

Go wide–As mentioned above, wider kayaks are safer than the narrow ones. When selecting a kayak, consider where you shall be paddling, your experience level, and the type of kayaking. Sit-on-top kayaks which are over 600 mm in width are much safer and very steady. They are also perfect for beginners. See more:17 Reasons Why I’m Choosing a Sit-on-Top kayak (and NOT a Sit-in!)

Stay low and centered–Do not move around while kayaking. If you must move, ensure to keep your body low, and centered perfectly on the boat. Avoid moving your shoulders outside the central line or on the long axis of the boat.

Keep 3 points of contact–Stick to this rule as it will ensure stability and control of the kayak. It is also easier to enter and exit the kayak from the dockside, which enables other group members to hold the kayak. If you must get out of your seat, make sure you have three limbs spread out to stabilize the boat.

Keep paddling–A moving kayak is easier to keep upright than one that is resting. This doesn’t mean you keep racing, but if you are slowing down, keep a slow stroke momentum.

Tie down and balance any loads–Always tie all of your gear down. This will also help you not lose anything in case it capsizes. Keep the load low so as to improve the stability of the boat, and balance it well between the bow and stern. This will stop the kayak from rising up on one end.

Tackle waves immediately–If you happen to come across waves, tackle them head-on or at an angle. Do not let the wave hit the side of the kayak, as you will be rocked and may end up capsizing.

Learn more at: Is There a Kayak that Never Tip Over?


8. Avoid kayak alone

This is very important. Even pro kayaks never like to kayak alone. It is never a good idea to kayak on your own regardless of the calmness in the water, your level of experience or even your abilities to rescue yourself. Do it in groups to be safe.


9. Bring a map

Technology is much more advanced now, and bringing a phone with a GPS signal is enough to keep you sorted while you paddle. But, remember that phone batteries may run out, so keep a physical map in your kayak when you go out.

In your kayak training, they will teach you how to read a nautical map, and how to use a compass. These are vital skills.


10. Know your limits

Kayaking is an extremely interesting sport that may keep you entertained for hours on end. Be careful not to overdo things. This may cause unwanted accidents that you could avoid by simply staying safe and sticking to what you know.

Do not do what you see others attempting to do, they could be more experienced than you, so, just stick to your lane and move with your own pace.


11. Practice often

They say that “practice makes perfect,” this is true in everything. If you want to be the best at anything, then keep practicing to perfect your art.



Kayaking is one of the biggest rushes you will ever have in the waters. However, you must be careful and you must be safe. When starting out, stick to calm waters, before you attempt the surfing or the whitewater kayaking which are more dangerous.

Hope you find this post interesting and helpful. If you find anything wrong or outdated, please leave your comment below. I’ll update it as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading, Happy kayaking.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Eve Mitchell
2 years ago

I appreciate the tip you shared about always having a lifejacket when kayaking, and that you can find some that allow for arm movement. I am looking for a good kayak and paddle to take my kids to the lake this summer. We used to go a lot but now we haven’t, and I want to teach them how to do it! 

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: