You have planned for it and finally the day has come for you to realize your dream kayak adventure. And so you want to begin on a good note and hope to end well too. That means you want the smoothest entry, ride and exit of the water. But how do you launch your boat gracefully and ensure your day in the water begins well?
Understand your boat
You’ve got to know your boat thoroughly in order to have a proper launch. That’s why you’ll need to do a pre-launch check of your boat. Place your kayak on a safe spot and check whether it has the safety gear you’ll need, the foot pegs are appropriately adjusted, the PDF is snug, the skeg or rudder — if you have either — is up, and all other essentials are stowed properly. That’s what knowing your boat means
What does launching entail?
You know that it’s easier to propel your kayak smoothly once it’s on the water. It’s not so easy when getting in or out of the boat as you launch or land it. But with practice and good technique, it’s possible to launch your boat safely and seamlessly. You’ll need to start by bringing the boat to the water’s edge and have it in just enough water to make it float without drifting away.
A launch involves keeping the boat parallel to the shore or dock, placing your paddle offset, at cockpit’s back and having one of its blades touching the shore, then using the paddle to boost steadiness as you slip your legs into the boat placing one foot in at a time. Throughout the process you have to ensure complete control over the boat and also make sure your weight is even each time you get into or out of the cockpit.
There are two most common scenarios when launching a kayak. You either can have a shoreline launch or a dock launch. A shoreline launch is where you have to straddle your kayak before you can sit on it. A dock launch requires that you maintain proper balance as you slip your body into the boat. In both instances, you’ll be able to launch the kayak once you are inside it by bringing the paddle in front and dipping it into water to catch the shore with a single blade, then pushing yourself forward into the open water. You must do this until you clear the land and have the boat fully on water. Once accomplished, you are free to paddle your kayak to wherever you wish.
Let’s look at different launching scenarios.
1. Launching from the shore
- a. Carry your boat to the put-in point, then set it down perpendicularly to the shoreline in shallow water. Make sure to keep the stern adjacent to the shore and fully afloat, and also to have the bow off the shore.
- b. Place one of the blades of your paddle below the deck line but before the cockpit. The shaft may stick out to the side of the boat like an outrigger.
- c. Get in and stand over the boat, straddling the cockpit.
- d. Now grab the cockpit, set your butt on its seat and then raise your legs and slip your feet inside the cockpit.
- e. Swiftly set your butt firmly into the seat, fitting both feet securely onto the foot-pegs.
- f. Pick up the paddle and make the necessary strokes to get you past the boat wakes and incoming waves. If you have a spray skirt, this is the time to attach it.
2. Landing a kayak and exiting the shore
- a. Paddle straight along the shore until your bow is just about to get beached. That is, you stop when the water is shallow enough to allow you to stand easily in it.
- b. Place one of the paddle blades just below the deck line but before the cockpit. You can allow the shaft to stick out to the side like an outrigger.
- c. If you have a spray skirt, remove it. Then grab the cockpit on each side around your hips.
- d. Raise your knees to allow you to draw your feet closer to your butt.
- e. Get one foot outside the kayak and plant it in the shallow water close to the cockpit.
- f. By balancing your body on the planted foot, you should stand up slowly and step outside the kayak with the other foot.
3. Launching and exiting your boat from a dock
A dock may be either low or high, requiring you to adjust your body and hands for better balance as you enter or exit your kayak. Make sure to practice the following techniques and apply the one that serves you best.
Launching from a dock:
- a. Bring the vessel to the dock, then place it in water, keeping it side-by-side with the dock.
- b. Set your paddle onto the dock area near you, but only up to an arm’s length away from the cockpit.
- c. Sit over the dock, then dangle your leg into the boat’s cockpit to keep it close.
- d. With both your hands over the dock, sit on the kayak’s seat and rotate your torso while at the same time gliding your feet forward in the cockpit. Another option is to keep one of your hands over the dock while carefully centering the other hand just behind your kayak’s coaming.
- e. Place your butt fully inside the seat, resting your feet on the foot pegs comfortably.
- f. Then fasten your spray skirt — if you have one — and pick up your paddle and get going.
Exiting a high dock (option 1):
- a. Paddle your kayak till you reach the dock, then stop and have the boat side-by-side with the dock.
- b. Set the paddle over the dock, rotating your torso in order to have the dock before you.
- c. Place both your hands over the dock, then draw your knees in to have your feet closer to your butt.
- f. Using your arms placed over the dock, together with legs inside the boat, raise yourself up slowly.
- g. Then, as soon as you align one of your legs with the dock, position the knee of that leg over the edge of the dock.
- h. And by keeping your weight as low as you can, lift the other leg outside the kayak with your body pivoted on the dock. As you do this, keep your eye on the boat so it doesn’t drift from the dock.
Exiting a low dock (option 2):
- a. Paddle your kayak toward the dock and set it side-by-side with the dock.
- b. Position your paddle shaft such that one of the paddle blades’ throat rests behind the cockpit while the opposite paddle rests on the dock.
- c. Using the hand that’s farthest from the dock, grasp both the throat of the paddle blade and the cockpit’s back edge simultaneously.
- d. Place your other hand over the shaft of the paddle that is inclined on the dock.
- e. Now, with both hands, press the shaft upward, lifting your butt from the seat to the dock.
- f. Then slip both feet from the cockpit, setting them on the dock.
Are you ready to get out on the water now? Kayaking is a wonderful water activity that’ll allow you to appreciate nature and the world around you, while enjoying an exciting hobby and getting a full-body workout. Sure, there is a lot to learn, but you’ll make the progress you need with just a bit of time and effort. For more information on kayaks, kayak rentals and paddling tips, visit the “Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy” site.
- Rei Co-op. (2017). How to Launch and Land a Kayak. Retrieved from https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/kayak-launch.html