Kayaking FAQs: Everything You Need to Know about Kayaking

A woman happily paddles a kayak

While kayaking may seem straightforward, there’s a wealth of information and tips to keep in mind regardless of your experience level. Whether you’re kayaking for the first time or just need a refresher, these kayak FAQs can help you get started, find an ideal kayak and plan your trip successfully.

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What Types of Kayaks Are There?

People use kayaks for many different purposes and there are different types of kayaks for those intended uses. Here are some of the most common types of kayaks:

  • Recreational kayaks: Recreational kayaks are for calm, leisurely kayaking trips. They’re typically shorter in length than others and have a large cockpit. 
  • Touring kayaks: These kayaks are for longer, more involved kayaking trips. Touring kayaks are long, narrow and have smaller cockpits.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks: Sit-on-top kayaks are wide and stable, so most people use them recreationally. As the name suggests, you sit on top of the kayak rather than in an enclosed seat. Since entering and exiting are easier, these kayaks are popular for beginners.
  • Inflatable kayaks: In many cases, you’ll sit on top of an inflatable kayak. These kayaks are ideal for calm, recreational use. They’re convenient to store and transport because you can deflate and fold them up.
  • Whitewater kayaks: These kayaks are for paddling through rapids and fast-moving water. Since whitewater kayaking is a more advanced and challenging type of kayaking, the types of whitewater kayaks can get more specific.

What Kayak Should I Buy?

Choosing a kayak can be a big decision, especially with all the options available. To help you narrow your search and find the best kayak for your needs, be sure to consider:

  • Where you want to paddle: Where you plan to kayak is one of the biggest factors in determining what kayak you should buy. If you plan to kayak still water like lakes, nearly any type of recreational kayak will be suitable. If you plan to kayak in rivers, recreational kayaks can work as long as they’re short and stable. When paddling along coasts where waves, wind and currents can affect your trip, consider looking for a touring kayak.
  • If you want a sit-in or on-top: You’ll need to determine if you’d be more comfortable paddling with a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. This factor may also depend on where you’ll be paddling, as calm water is more suitable for sit-on-top kayaks. This decision ultimately depends on personal preference — you can use sit-on-top kayaks in moving water if you don’t mind the possibility of getting wet!
  • Your budget: Be sure to keep your budget in mind when choosing a kayak. Many types of recreational kayaks are affordable, though prices can quickly rise depending on the boat’s materials, weight and additional features like pedals or rudders. Specialty kayaks also cost more, though simplicity is best for most kayakers.

What Size Kayak Should I Get?

In addition to the factors listed above, you’ll need to make some more specific considerations regarding the best size kayak for you. Different types of kayaks have different length and width ranges, which you can use to help you decide what kind of kayak you’ll need and what size may be best. In addition to the length and width, you’ll want to pay especially close attention to the volume and weight capacity:

  • Volume: A kayak’s volume is its internal capacity. This factor affects the amount of space for the rider and gear as well as how the boat rides in the water. For example, high-volume kayaks are popular with beginners because they’re slower in the water, making them easier to start using. Lower-volume kayaks cut through the water more smoothly and are easier to maneuver. 
  • Weight capacity: A kayak’s total weight capacity includes the rider and their gear, and different kayaks are designed to support different weights. Kayaks with a higher weight capacity typically also have added stability rather than maneuverability and speed.

Other size considerations include legroom and the cockpit. If you’re tall, find a kayak that has the necessary legroom so you can avoid being cramped on your trip. Also, remember that certain kayaks, like touring cockpits, have smaller cockpits and are generally more narrow. If you need more space, opt for something wider. 

Finally, when considering kayak sizing, remember that you’ll need to transport and store whatever you get. Be mindful of this when considering a kayak’s weight and length.

What Size Kayak Paddle Do I Need?

While kayak paddle specifications can get pretty in-depth, for most amateur and beginner kayakers, your height and the boat width are the biggest factors to pay attention to. These two factors will help you determine an ideal paddle length. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that wider kayaks and taller people need longer paddles. In these cases, a longer paddle will allow you to reach the water with the paddle blade more effectively, helping you propel the kayak more effectively. 

You may also want to pay attention to the shape of your paddle blades. Narrow blades are lightweight, making them ideal for kayaking long distances, while wider blades allow you to make more powerful strokes to accelerate quickly. Unless you have specific needs, standard recreational paddles work fine for most kayakers’ needs. 

How to Kayak Properly

Proper kayaking technique is mostly a matter of knowing how to paddle. Keep your back straight and bend your knees slightly when you sit in the kayak. Hold the paddle with your hands slightly past shoulder width on the paddle shaft and the concave side of the paddle blades facing you. Keep your knuckles pointing up and the blade vertical.

Using your core, lean forward and slice the paddle into the water near your feet, then pull the blade through the water towards your seat and remove it from the water — this is a full stroke. You’ll need to alternate sides to propel yourself forward — paddling only on the left side will turn your kayak to the right and paddling only on the right will turn the boat to the left. If you need to slow or stop your moving kayak, drag your paddle blade in the water. The longer you drag it, the more you’ll slow down.

How to Launch a Kayak

You can launch a kayak from the shore or a dock. Here’s how to get in a kayak and launch from both types of locations.

Launching From the Shore

After walking your kayak down to the shoreline, position it in shallow water perpendicular to the shore with the paddle secured to the kayak. Straddle the cockpit and lower yourself into the seat while stabilizing the boat with your hands. Once you’re seated, pull your legs in and get settled. Once you’re comfortable in the seat, release your paddle and start paddling.

Launching From a Dock

Place the kayak in the water parallel to the end of the dock. Set the paddle down on the deck, where you’ll be able to reach it once you’re in the boat. To get in the kayak, you’ll need to sit on the edge of the dock and dangle one leg into the cockpit. 

From here, you have two ways to lower yourself into the kayak: 

  • Keep both hands on the dock while you lower yourself into the seat and rotate your torso into position.
  • Keep one hand on the dock and one hand behind the seat of the kayak and lower yourself into the seat. 

Whichever method you choose, do so slowly and keep at least one leg in the kayak at all times to prevent it from floating away. Once you’re settled, retrieve your paddle from the dock and paddle away.

How to Get Out of a Kayak

The key to getting out of your kayak without taking a dip is to keep it stable. Exiting in shallow water near the shore tends to be easier for some paddlers, though you’ll have to step out into the water and get a little wet. 

To exit along the shore, get your boat as close to the shore as you can so the water is as shallow as possible. Rotate your torso and pull your legs up to your chest. Lift one foot out of the boat and into the water. Stand up with most of your weight on the foot in the water and step out of the kayak. 

To exit using a dock, pull up parallel to the end and put your paddle on the dock. Turn your body to face the dock and use your hands to hold yourself next to it. Pull your feet up toward your seat, then slowly rise. Keep your weight low and lift a knee onto the dock. Pull your other leg up and pivot into a sitting position on the dock. Just be careful not to push your kayak away when you push off!

How to Kayak Alone

While kayaking with family or friends can be a lot of fun, you may be interested in kayaking alone to get some time to yourself. While this is certainly an option if you have some kayaking experience, there are a few things you should be sure to do:

  • Take a GPS or tracker: Having a GPS is extremely helpful, especially if you’re paddling in an unfamiliar area. Some GPS units also have a tracking feature, which allows others to check your location if necessary.
  • Share your plan with others: You should always share a float plan with friends and family. Tell them where you’re kayaking and when to expect you back. This way, they have a better idea of when something may have gone wrong and know where to look for you.
  • Check the weather: Bad weather can quickly ruin a kayak trip and even put you in dangerous situations on the water. Plan your solo trip around the weather to avoid getting caught in a storm alone.
  • Kayak in a familiar location: Solo kayak trips are safer if you’re familiar with the body of water and the path you’ll be paddling. If you’re going somewhere new, be sure to do plenty of research before your trip.
  • Practice reentering your kayak: While no one wants to think about their kayak capsizing, it’s best to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, especially when you’ll be out alone. Make sure you know how to reenter your kayak alone.

What to Bring Kayaking

Most recreational kayaking trips only require a few essentials:

  • Personal flotation device (PFD): Life jackets or other PFDs are crucial to your safety on the water and are even a requirement in many states.
  • Water and snacks: It’s essential to take water so you can stay hydrated any time you take your kayak out, especially on hot summer days. If you expect to get hungry or plan to be out all day, consider packing some snacks or sandwiches.
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent: Water can reflect up to 80% of UV rays, so sunscreen is essential. Depending on where you’re kayaking, you may also want bug spray to protect yourself and make the experience more enjoyable.
  • Whistle: Carrying a whistle when kayaking allows you to signal others if you need help or something is wrong.
  • Dry bags: Dry bags help keep your personal belongings dry, especially if you’re carrying electronics, keys or spare clothes.
  • Swimwear or moisture-wicking clothes: Plan to get wet. Whether you capsize your kayak or splash yourself while paddling, you’ll be more comfortable if you’re wearing swimwear or moisture-wicking clothes.
  • Personal items: You may want to bring things like sunglasses, a first aid kit, a cellphone and permits. It’s best to keep these items in a dry bag that will float if it goes overboard.

If you’re spending extended periods on the water, you may need more than these essentials, so remember to always plan with your trip in mind!

How to Store a Kayak

Properly storing your kayak is crucial for preventing damage. Storage options will vary depending on where you live and your available space. At the very least, it’s best to limit your kayak’s exposure to extreme temperatures, sunlight and moisture, which are prime candidates for damaging kayaks. 

Most kayak owners store their kayaks with either a suspension system or racks to keep their boat off the ground and out of the way: 

  • Suspension systems: These systems feature wide straps, allowing you to safely hang your kayak from the ceiling. When using this method, it’s best to hang your boat with the cockpit facing the floor to avoid damaging the hull. 
  • Racks: Whether you buy one or make your own, you can set a rack on the floor or mount it to the wall. Whichever you choose, it’s best to use a rack that holds your kayak on its side or with the hull up to protect it.

Always clean your kayak, paddle, accessories and gear before storing them. Even weight distribution is also important, as it helps prevent bending or deforming, especially around the hull.

Launch Your Kayak With EZ Launch From EZ Dock

Entering, exiting and launching your kayak from a dock is much simpler and safer with our EZ Launch System. Regardless of your experience level, you’ll have the necessary stability to get your paddle craft in and out of the water. The floating kayak dock design seamlessly connects with any dock and falls and rises with water levels to provide maximum accessibility to the water. 

Contact our EZ Dock representatives for more information about custom docking and launching solutions.