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Launching a Kayak

Here are the basics on how to lift, enter/exit and launch your kayak into the water as taught by REI Outdoor School instructors. Have a great day out on the water!

Lifting a Kayak

Plastic boats average around 60 pounds. How can you safely lift one to take it out to the water or to hang it on a rack for transport or storage?

  1. Stand at the cockpit.
  2. Tip the boat away from you.
  3. Stand close to the boat and let it rock back against one knee.
  4. Reach down and hoist the boat up higher on that leg, about thigh-high.
  5. Put one arm inside the cockpit until your shoulder is under the combing.
  6. Keep your back straight and stand up. Use your legs to stand.

To set a boat down, perform these steps in reverse order.

Getting a Kayak In and Out of Water

Putting a Plastic Boat IN from a Dock (when Solo)

  1. Pick up the boat using the grab handle at the stern (rear of the boat) as well as under the rudder area.
  2. Aim the bow (front of the boat) toward the water.
  3. Use your legs to lift the boat and slide it into the water.
  4. If a cleat is available, slide the hull against it to guide the boat on a straight line. Just be careful not to snag the rudder.
  5. If your boat starts drifting away after you release it, use your paddle to keep it close.

Note: If your boat has a composite hull (fiberglass, Kevlar), seek the help of a friend or fellow boater to hand-place your boat in the water. This will help to avoid scratches.

Taking a Plastic Boat OUT at a Dock (when Solo)

  1. Place your paddle in the boat's cockpit. If the boat starts to drift, grab the paddle and use it corral the boat.
  2. At the stern, grip the boat's grab handle.
  3. Reach your hand under the rudder to protect the rudder from scrapping when you lift the boat.
  4. Use your legs to simultaneously stand and lift the boat.
  5. Use a cleat (if available, and if your boat is plastic) as a guide as you pull the boat out.

Entering and Exiting a Kayak

Entering from a Dock

If a dock is equipped with cleats (tie-off points), it's fine to use one as a handhold.

  1. Place your paddle perpendicular to the boat. Use it to snag your boat if it starts drifting away.
  2. Approach the boat with your body low and close to the boat. Do not step into it from an upright position (unless you happen to be filming a comedy video).
  3. Initially keep as much of your body on the dock as possible.
  4. With most of your body still on the dock, place your feet into the cockpit first.
  5. Staying low, slowly lower the rest of your body into the boat.

Exiting to a Dock

  1. Pull close to the dock (and a cleat, if one is available).
  2. Lean up against the dock and pull your knees out of the cockpit.
  3. While keeping your body low, slide your legs out of the boat.
  4. Pull yourself up and sit on the dock.

Entering While on a Beach (with a Partner)

  1. Using a plastic boat? Place the cockpit at water's edge, with the bow in the water and the stern on the beach. Composite boat? To avoid scratching the hull, position the cockpit a little farther out in the water. This means your feet will likely get wet during entry.
  2. Your partner straddles the stern and uses both hands to stabilize the boat.
  3. You step into the cockpit and slip into a seated position.
  4. You adjust your spray skirt (with help from your partner as needed).
  5. Your partner gives you a push into the water.

Entering While on a Beach (when Solo)

  1. Using a plastic boat? Place the cockpit at water's edge. Composite boat? To avoid scratching the hull, position the cockpit a little farther out in the water.
  2. Hold your paddle behind you with both hands, with the paddle shaft perpendicular to the boat. The spoon side of the paddle should be face-up.
  3. Use 1 hand to do 2 things: Hold the paddle's shaft at its midpoint behind the cockpit while simultaneously gripping the back edge of the cockpit's combing (outer edge).
  4. Tilt the paddle so one blade rests on the beach. (Or, if in a composite boat, set a blade on a firm foundation just below the water's surface.)
  5. Keep your weight over the paddle. (It's OK to sit on the shaft as you enter the cockpit.)
  6. Place your feet in the boat, then slide your legs in. Use the paddle as a stabilizing brace.
  7. Attach your spray skirt, keeping its grab loop outside of the cockpit and in front of you.
  8. Bring the paddle in front of you.
  9. Use both hands to push the boat into the water:
    • With 1 hand, place the paddle blade-down into the sand and push.
    • With the other hand, make a fist, push it into the beach and drive the boat into the water. Use your hips to add extra forward thrust.
  10. Once clear of the beach, start paddling.

Attaching a Spray Skirt

  1. Once settled into the cockpit, lean back and attach skirt to the rear of the cockpit's combing.
  2. Lean forward, run your fingers along the skirt's edges and wrap front of it over the front edge of the combing.
  3. Pop the sides of the skirt onto the combing.
  4. Make sure the skirt's grab loop is outside the cockpit and in front of you so it can easily be grasped if needed.

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