Nature Immerse

How to launch and control a kayak

Launching and Landing a Kayak

So now you know how to make your Kayak go with the various paddle stroke, let’s finally turn our attention to getting on the water. Aside from the seal launch which is a very advanced launch method usually used in whitewater kayaking and some cool and nifty slips, there are three main launchings: directly from the beach area, from the edge of the water and from a dock.

Beach entry

One of the easiest ways to get into the kayak is to place the bow of the kayak straight into the water with the stern still resting on the beach. Then, sit on back of the deck, put your feet into the cockpit and slide in until you are properly seated. Once comfortably seated, you should then rock and sift your weight side to side while pushing yourself forward with the paddle until afloat. Remember kayaks have very little draft.

Edge of water entry

The next entry type is from the edge of a river or stream. Ensure that the kayak is parallel with the land / edge . Place the kayak’s paddle across the back of the cockpit and the other half of the paddle rests on the land. With much of your weight on the paddle and across the back of the cockpit, you then from a crouching position on the shore shift yourself into the cockpit and slide in.

Dock entry

When launching the kayak from a dock the technique is relatively the same as the edge of water entry. The only difference is that you may have to compensate for the height of the dock.


When landing you simply reverse the steps outlined above. Just remember that when you approach you must be wary of obstructions and ensure that you don’t run aground.

Normally these techniques are taught in class and practiced in the calmest of conditions or in pools so that they become second nature to the newly minted paddler.

Transporting your Kayak and Things

When you buy a kayak you are going to need to consider how to get it from the store to your house and more importantly from your house to the water. Perhaps you’ll be part of a club that may help you with this.

To get the kayak from point A to B, there are special roof racks specifically designed for this task. Although there are trolleys, I have been using a standard J-Rack System for transport to and from the site.

This will require that you hoist the craft to the roof of your car and place the kayak in the crook of the J on its side with the cockpit outward and covered to keep the air from scooping it and to keep your paddles and gear that you may have stowed safely within. Once it is positioned, secure the boat with special straps designed just for the task.

Another method that I have retired is the use of specialized saddles/ boots that I would affix to the roof of my Subaru. I literally would bring it to the rear of the car and center the boat in line with the rack and push it up until properly positioned. Then I would secure it with specialized strap and rope to ensure that it was secure. You can never have enough rope.

Kayaks are very lightweight and can be manipulated by one person although awkwardly. In this manner, the cockpit rim can be placed on your shoulder and walked to the water. That aside, however, I would highly recommend that you don’t do this and have another person help you.

Two people are definitely better than one when it comes to this! The handles on the bow and stern make this a relatively easy endeavor.

Right of Way

Like cars, kayaks must respect the rules of the road or as the case is -- water. This is very important when you are sharing the water with swimmers and other boaters.

As a rule of thumb, any boat with more maneuverability must give way to any boat with less maneuverability.

Collisions occur between boats more often than you might think. Most of the time bigger boats will not even see you. Since kayaks are very maneuverable, it is usually up to us to keep clear and give way to larger vessels.

When in a narrow channel with other boats, the kayaker should stay to the shore-side of navigational markers or buoys and cross traffic at a right angle and as quickly as possible and only if trying to reach port or avoid danger.

There are shipping lanes marked on charts, and less formal but equally real lanes where ferries run. Know where the shipping lanes and the ferry runs are, and avoid them! If you are in a fog it is best to also have a horn or whistle.

When meeting a boat head-on, you should let it pass to your left, as should they. Make a definitive course correction so they have no doubt as to which way you are headed. If someone is approaching from your stern, you must maintain your course, and they must avoid you. You still must pay close attention to traffic from your stern, because they might not be able to see you below their bow. Boats entering waterways from slips or marinas will not see you, and you must exercise caution in those situations.

Whenever two boats come close to each other, the rules designate one as the stand-on vessel and the other as the give-way vessel. In general, a kayak will always give way to:

  • A disabled vessel or a vessel not under command
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
  • A vessel restricted by draft
  • A vessel engaged in fishing.

Kayak Paddling

Kayaks are typically solo crafts where the paddler has a paddle with a double blade. The double blade of the kayak paddle allows kayakers to paddle on both sides without having to switch. You are, in effect, the engine room of the boat with the power being provided by the rotation of your torso and shoulders.

Paddling Positions

Paddlers should sit straight when kayaking. This allows a broader range of movement and an increase in strength to perform strokes and maneuvers.

Boat lean helps kayakers feel the stability of their craft. It occurs when a paddler pulls one knee up, while simultaneously pushing down with the opposite hip and keeping his body weight above the kayak. This transfers weight to the hip and allows the paddler to balance on that hip. This will move the craft underneath him.

Paddling a kayak involves a push-pull action against the paddle. When going forward, kayakers punch out with their upper arms and pull back with their lower arms. This creates a need for kayakers to rotate their body, while keeping their trunk and shoulders facing their hands.

Holding the Paddle

Grip the paddle in the palm of your hands rather than your fingers. This makes it easier to cock your wrists and gives you better control over the paddle. Your hands should be at a greater width than your shoulders. Your elbows are at a 90° angle to your forearms, which are approximately a 70° to 90° angle to the paddle shaft. An easy way for beginner kayakers to remember their hand position is to tape their proper grip location on the paddle.

Basic Strokes

Kayak strokes are straightforward. When the paddle is planted in the water and the paddler pulls, she is pulling herself and the kayak along. The power in kayak strokes comes from the push of the upper hand, twist of the torso, and pull of the lower hand. The use of all three will provide smooth, quick, strong strokes. In general, there are forward stoke, the backward stroke, the forward sweep stroke, the backward sweep stroke, the draw stroke and the stop.

Forward Stroke

The forward stroke moves the kayak forward. In order to execute proper forward stroke the blade should be completely in the water and parallel to the centerline. The paddler’s stroke should not cross the centerline as this makes the stoke too long and may cause the boat to turn. The stroke should look something like this:

  • The paddler’s torso rotates with the right shoulder forward and the blade inserted in the water close to the kayak.
  • Next, the upper hand punches out toward the bow handle, while the lower are pulls, rotating the paddler’s body. The upper hand will continue to full extension of the arm, while the upper body follows through for full rotation. The lower hand will stop at your hip.
  • Then, the paddle will be removed from the water by quickly lifting your wrist and elbow to shoulder level allowing for a quick and easy recovery of the blade. Now, with the torso rotated with the left shoulder forward and ready to repeat the motion from you left. Then, back to the right. Then left. In so doing the kayak in propelled forward.

Back stroke

The back stroke is much like the forward stroke, but in reverse. In other words, it would be akin to walking backward. Naturally, the back stoke move the boat backward. In the back stroke, the grip stay s the same as the forward stroke and the paddle should stay parallel to centerline. In essence, it will look like this:

  • You will rotate your left shoulder with torso as much as possible and place the paddle as far back as practical.
  • Next, the lower hand pushes forward while the upper hand pulls back. The right arm moves to paddler’s shoulder. Then, this motion is repeated from the right side.

Forward sweep stroke

The forward sweep stroke is used as a primary means to turn the kayak. It will turn the bow of the kayak the opposite direction paddled while maintaining forward motion.

For a specific turn, you reach forward as far as possible and stick the blade into the water. Instead of drawing the paddle along the side of the kayak, you will reach out with a straight lower arm and pull the paddle back in an arc.

As the water blade is drawing back close to the stern of the kayak, the paddle should be flipped and raised from the water. If the boat has remained stable and the blade comes out of the water cleanly, the kayak will continue to turn.

Reverse sweep stroke

This is essentially the reverse of the forward sweep stroke that will slow the kayak. It will turn the craft to the side it is performed on. Without changing your grip on the paddle like we had discussed with the backward stroke, you place the blade into the water as far back as possible, rotating your torso and shoulders for the best extension.

With rotation from the torso, draw the water blade forward in a wide arc removing it from the water before hitting the bow of the boat. Frequently, the forward and reverse sweep strokes are used together to make a boat turn more quickly.

Draw stroke

The draw stroke pulls the boat sideways. It is executed by turning the body toward the direction in which you want to move. Simply, extend the paddle out as far from the edge of the kayak and make sure the blade is turned toward the kayak before inserting in the water. The paddler then pulls the boat to the blade using both arms and keeping the paddle nearly vertical.

The lower hand applies much of the force. The stroke ends when the blade is near the craft. The blade is then lifted out of the water and placed in the position that you started in. That’s, if you need to repeat.


Lastly, simply ceasing to paddle will not stop a kayak. Stopping it requires you to stick the blade into the water right at your side with the blade perpendicular to the kayak. Try to hold the paddle straight until the resistance begins to turn the kayak. Quickly stick the paddle into the water at the other side and repeat the procedure until you have stopped.

Kayak vs. Powerboat

Powerboats cause a lot of headaches as they oftentimes don’t know the rules of the road and may cross your path. In most situations the powerboat/ watercraft should give way to you and do their best to avoid you, but this isn’t always the case. Be careful and alert when they are in your vicinity as they can be on you quickly and may leave you in their wake.

While there are some situations where the kayak has right-of-way, you cannot assume that other boaters are able to see you or even know the rules. In addition to being safe and courteous with other boaters, just remember to use a hefty dose of common sense.

Samuel Affleck

Samuel is a co-founder of Nature Immerse. If you want to enjoy the charm and beauty of ocean and mountain in different seasons or want to go hiking through the fragrant flora amidst breathtaking scenery, just follow his footstep for the exploration of nature.

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