Do You Need to Be Able to Swim to Kayak?

You can't go kayaking without water, but does that mean you need to be able to swim to enjoy the hobby?

You should definitely be able to swim and tread water if you want to go kayaking. However, you don't need to be an Olympic swimmer to put paddle to water. 

If you're not super confident in the water and aren't the strongest of swimmers, don't worry. You can still head out kayaking if you haven't learnt to swim but there are a few ways to ensure you stay safe and avoid putting yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.

In this article, we'll be helping you make the right preparations to ensure you stay safe in your kayak regardless of how good a swimmer you are.

You Don’t Need to Be a Strong Swimmer to Kayak

You don't need to be a strong swimmer to go kayaking. As we mentioned, you can kayak without being able to swim but you should learn to kick water at least. 

Regardless of whether you're a strong swimmer or not, you should always wear a buoyancy aid when you go kayaking. If you're a weak swimmer you should opt for a vest that's a bit more buoyant than your typical kayaking buoyancy aid. This will ensure you keep your head above the water even if you're panicking. 

Learning how to kick water and even just walking out into deeper water will help you feel more confident. The worst thing you can do during a capsize is panic. Getting to terms with the aquatic environment will help you reduce panic if the worst happens. Knowing how to kick water will help you recover if something does go wrong as well. 

Although it's not essential, you should feel comfortable in the water regardless of whether you're a strong swimmer or not. 

There are several other things you can do to increase your safety in the water too. In the next section, we'll be going through five essential tips for the kayaker that isn't a confident swimmer. 

How To Stay Safe on a Kayak if You’re Not a Confident Swimmer:

Follow these five tips and you'll be more confident when you're kayaking and you'll be at less risk while out on the water. We'll be going through location, buoyancy aids, and other ways you can mitigate the risks of kayaking.

1. Choose The Water Wisely

The first tip I have for people that want to go kayaking but aren't strong swimmers is to choose the water you're going to paddle on wisely. 

It would be stupid to head out onto the coast or a rough river if you're not a confident swimmer. Instead, you want to pick a water that's calm and ideally, quite shallow.

Shallow stretches of river are great for beginners. There are plenty of rivers in Ireland that are ideal for kayaking and not all of them are huge. It's possible to find stretches that are relatively slow-flowing and under 6 foot deep. This is great for weak swimmers and areas of water that's shallow enough to stand in are never far away. 

Lakes are often much deeper but during calm conditions a capsize is extremely unlikely. You can also stick to the edges of the lake if you feel more comfortable. This means you'll be able to get back on land easily if the worst happens.

2. Always Wear a Personal Floatation Device

This is a pretty obvious one and we've already mentioned it, but it deserves another mention. 

Buoyancy aids, floatation devices, life jackets, or whatever you want to call them… They can save your life especially if you can't swim.

As a weak swimmer you should opt for something that's highly buoyant. Buoyancy aids that are labelled as "life vests" are created so that even if you end up unconscious, your head will always remain above the water. These are the vests you'll find on cruise ships and aeroplanes. 

Life vests are usually avoided by kayakers and stand up paddle boarders because they are a little bulky and harder to swim with in the water. Buoyancy aids/ floatation devices are made so they aid your buoyancy while still providing a bit of free movement so you can swim easier. 

If you can't swim you're going to be far safer with a life vest on. This way, your head will remain above the water even if you can't tread water effectively. If you can swim but aren't a particularly strong swimmer, a buoyancy aid may suit you better. This way you'll be able to make your way back to land easier with a little help from the vest.

Whichever option you choose, just make sure that you always wear it! Make sure the vest is fully fastened and secure before entering the water on your kayak.

3. Go Kayaking in Groups or Pairs

This is extremely important for the beginner who's a weak swimmer. If it's possible, you should always head out on the water in pairs or groups. This way if you go into the water you can get a helping hand back into the boat or onto land. 

When you first start kayaking, try to head out in numbers until you build both your skills and confidence on the water. Once you're more acquainted with the sport, then you can start to do more solo adventures. However, stick to the edges of lakes, and shallow stretches of river until you at least learn to tread water.

4. Trust Your Kayak

Trust in your kayak. If you've purchased a good kayak it should be stable with good tracking. There's no reason you should capsize as long as you're paddling in calm waters. If you trust in your kayak and don't panic, you shouldn't throw off your balance to the point of capsizing.

You can also use a leash. Leashes are more commonly used by paddle boarders and surfers to keep their board close by. They are not necessarily used by kayakers but if you aren't a confident swimmer, leashing yourself to your kayak may provide you with a bit more confidence in the water. 

If you do capsize, a leash will ensure that you don’t stray too far from the vessel. This will allow you to use it to stay afloat and get back onboard the vessel far quicker. 

Although leashes aren’t commonly used by kayakers, a weak swimmer can definitely benefit from one. However, there are a few situations where you shouldn’t leash yourself to the kayak. 

If you’re paddling on faster flowing stretches of river or rivers with whitewater sections, you should refrain from using a leash. Doing so could see you getting dragged down stream in an unsafe fashion. If you were to capsize in these scenarios it’d be far safer to stay separated from the vessel.

5. Get Acquainted With the Water 

If you have a fear of the water I'd recommend getting acquainted with it first. This may sound obvious, but you don't want to fear the environment of which you'll be paddling on. 

Try heading out and floating on your back in a local lake, or just head out and bathe somewhere in nature. 

It's also an extremely good idea to learn how to recover from a capsize. You can do this with an experienced kayaking friend or if you feel more comfortable, you can find a local kayaking instructor. Knowing what to expect if the worst happens will prepare you for the worst and hopefully, reduce the panic in a real life situation.

If You’re Serious About Kayaking You Should Learn to Swim

A final word on kayaking for weak swimmers: if you're serious about kayaking and see yourself practising the hobby a lot more in the future, you should definitely learn to swim. 

Being a confident swimmer will allow you to explore places that before were too dangerous. As you progress in kayaking, you'll likely want to head to different environments that are more challenging. It would be extremely unwise to progress in kayaking without first learning how to swim. 

We recommend getting swimming lessons and learning a few basic strokes before attempting any challenging stretches of river, large wild lakes, or coastal kayaking routes.

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