How to Launch and Land a Kayak

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This article is part of our series: Intro to Kayaking

A woman stands in the water with her kayak preparing to launch it

A kayak on the move is a sleek and graceful thing. Grace is harder to achieve, though, while getting into your boat to launch it and while getting out of it to land it. When you launch a kayak, you’ll have two common scenarios:

  • Shoreline launches, where you straddle the boat before you sit in it
  • Dock launches, where you have to maintain your balance as you slide your feet and butt into the boat

Before you do any launch, set your boat down in a safe place to do a prelaunch check. Be sure you have all your safety gear, that your PFD is snug, that your other essentials are stowed where you want them, that your foot pegs are adjusted correctly and that your rudder or skeg, if you have either one, is up.



Shoreline Put-In Points

Launching from Shore

a kayaker straddling the cockpit of their kayak, about to sit inside for a shore launch

1. Carry the boat to your put-in point and set it down in shallow water, perpendicular to the shoreline. (If you're launching into a river or have a very long kayak, then a parallel launch might work better.) For a perpendicular launch, the bow should face away from the shore and the stern should be close to the shore (but fully afloat).

2. Put one of your paddle blades under the deck line in front of the cockpit. (The shaft can stick out sideways like an outrigger.)

3. Stand over the kayak, straddling the cockpit.

a kayaker seated in their kayak, placing their legs inside the cockpit after a successful shore launch

4. Grab the cockpit and set your butt down on the cockpit seat, then lift your legs and slide your feet into the cockpit.

5. Scoot your butt firmly back into the seat and settle both feet comfortably onto the foot pegs.

6. Grab your paddle and use it to move your kayak past incoming waves and boat wakes. Then attach your spray skirt if you have one.



Landing and Exiting on Shore

a kayaker exiting their kayak in the shallows near the shore

1. Paddle straight into shore, but stop before your bow gets beached. Stop when you’ve reached water that’s shallow enough for you to easily stand in.

2. Put one of your paddle blades under the deck line in front of the cockpit. (The shaft can stick out sideways like an outrigger.)

3. Remove your spray skirt if you have one, then grab each side of the cockpit next to your hips.

4. Lift your knees and pull your feet close to your butt.

5. Lift one foot out of the boat and place it down in the shallow water next to the cockpit.

6. Balancing on your planted foot, stand up slowly; then step out of the boat with your other foot.



Dock Put-in Points

Depending on whether the dock is sitting low or high off the water, you may find that you’ll need to adjust your hand and body placement for the best balance while entering and exiting your kayak. Practice the various techniques to find out what works best for you. 


Launching from a Dock

a kayaker starting to enter their kayak from a dock

1. Carry your kayak to the dock and place it in the water, parallel to the dock.

2. Set the paddle down on the dock next to you, within arm’s reach of the cockpit.

3. While sitting on the dock, dangle a leg down into the kayak cockpit to hold it close.

a kayaker entering their kayak onto a dock

4. This is where you have a few options for your hand placement: With both hands on the dock, lower your butt onto the kayak seat, rotating your torso and sliding your feet forward in the cockpit as you do so. Alternately, you can keep one hand on the dock and one hand carefully centered just behind the coaming of the boat (pictured).

5. Situate your butt fully back in the seat and get your feet comfortably settled onto the foot pegs.

6. Attach a spray skirt if you have one, grab your paddle and go.



Exiting at a Dock (Option 1)

a kayaker starting to exit their boat onto a dock

This option works best when landing at a high dock:

1. Paddle up to the dock and stop with your boat parallel to it.

2. Place your paddle on the dock.

3. Rotate your torso to face the dock and place both hands on the dock.

a kayaker exiting a kayak at a dock

4. Pull your knees in so that your feet are close to your butt.

5. Use your legs in the boat and your arms on the dock to slowly raise yourself up.

6. As soon as one leg is even with the dock, set your knee on the edge of the dock.

7. Keeping your weight low, lift your other leg out of the boat as you pivot your body to sit on the dock. Keep an eye on your boat to be sure it doesn’t drift away from the dock.



Exiting at a Dock (Option 2)

This option works well when landing at a low dock. Once your boat is parallel to the dock, do the following:

1. Place your paddle shaft so the throat of one paddle blade rests just behind the cockpit and the opposite paddle blade is resting on the dock.

2. Use the hand farthest from the dock to simultaneously grasp the paddle-blade throat and the rear edge of the cockpit.

3. Place the other hand on the paddle shaft that’s leaning on the dock.

4. Using both arms, press up off the shaft, lifting your butt out of the kayak seat and onto the dock.

5. Now slide both feet out of the cockpit and set them down on the dock.