How to Get Out of a Kayak With Bad Knees: A Definitive Guide


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Unfortunately, one in five people in Ireland will suffer from a knee problem of some sort in their lifetime. It’s one of the most common joints to go bad because it sees the most strain in day-to-day life. It can be all too easy to stop doing the things you love when you suffer from bad knees and find the pain restricting your pleasure during physical activities. However, it doesn’t have to be that way, you simply have to find the right hobby that keeps you fit and happy without putting unnecessary strain on your weak spots. 

Kayaking is an excellent activity for those with bad knees that want to get out in nature exploring again. When you’re out on the water in a kayak you will mostly use your upper body to get moving, so the sport puts minimal strain on your knees. However, as with anything, it’s not without its difficulties.

If you have bad knees, actually paddling around and exploring your local waterways is easy and won’t affect your knee condition whatsoever. But, it can be difficult to get in and out of your kayak if you suffer from knee pain. This doesn’t make it impossible though and there are some simple steps to take that will ensure your safety and pleasure while out on the water kayaking.

In this read, we’ll be looking at some simple ways to ensure that you enjoy kayaking with bad knees from the moment you get in your kayak to the moment you get out of it. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to get in and out of your kayak effectively without putting any unnecessary strain on your knees. 

Steps to Take Before Kayaking With Bad Knees

Before we talk about using the kayak safely and how to get in and out of your kayak safely with bad knees it’s first important to look at some steps to take before getting into your kayak to explore. 

1. Choosing the Right Kayak for You

The first step to take before stepping into the kayaking world with bad knees is to select the right kayak for you.

If you have bad knees we recommend you invest in a sit-on-top kayak over a sit-in kayak. A sit-on-top kayak provides you with a lot more freedom to move. You will be able to sit with your legs straight and be able to stretch out your legs while on the water. This will make it far more comfortable if you have bad knees and will help you prevent your knees from stiffening up.

Sit-on-top kayaks are also far easier to get on and off of if you suffer from bad knees. Of course, sit-on-top kayaks aren't appropriate for all environments. They certainly won’t do the job if you plan on tumbling down rapids, but realistically if you have a knee issue you’re unlikely to be chasing fast-paced adrenaline-fueled stretches of water.

If you do require a closed-cockpit kayak (sit-in kayak) then be sure to purchase one with some extra legroom inside. This will make it easier to get in and out of while providing you with some wiggle room while out on the water.

2. Speak to Your Doctor or Physician

If your knee condition is relatively serious it is important that you first speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before taking to the water. They will provide you with useful advice while advising you whether this hobby is the right choice for your condition. 

Chances are, your doctor or physio specialist will encourage you to get out on a kayak paddling as it’s a relatively low-strain form of exercise when concerning the knees.

3. Get Yourself Some Knee Protection and/or Support

This factor is more important if you are planning on paddling with a sit-in kayak. The cockpit of a kayak can be particularly narrow even in more roomy varieties. The hard lining of the kayak’s cockpit can be painful if you bash your knees on it while paddling. 

It’s a good idea to get some knee protection to attach to the inside the cockpit or alternatively some knee pads to wear while you’re kayaking. This will make things more comfortable while out on the water.

Whether you’re using a sit-on or sit-in kayak, it is wise to purchase some form of knee support. something as simple as compression bands will provide extra support when entering and exiting the kayak and may also prevent your knees from becoming stiff after a long period of sitting in your kayak. 

4. Make Sure to Stretch Out Before Kayaking 

Make sure to stretch out before entering your kayak for a paddle. Doing so will reduce the likeliness of cramping and stiffness. 

When your joints are stationary for a long period it may cause pain and discomfort. In turn, this can make exiting your kayak after a paddling session less than easy. Stretching out will relax your joints and hopefully prevent stiffness that may hinder your exit from the vessel or reduce the pleasure you get while paddling.

5. Don’t Skimp on Equipment

If you suffer from bad knees be sure not to skimp on equipment. Sure, there are ways to cut corners and save some money when purchasing a kayak setup but the size of your wallet isn’t as important as your health.

Simple things like a high-quality paddle will help reduce strain on your body and make life on the water far easier. Another aspect is the quality of your seat and backrest. Going for something with better support will reduce strain on your hips and ultimately your knees.

Steps to Get in Your Kayak with Bad Knees

1. Choose Your Launch Spot Wisely

Choosing your launch spot wisely is the first step to ensure you get into your kayak safely with bad knees. 

The best places to launch your kayak if you have bad knees are flat and shallow. If you want to launch from a platform or dock, a high water level is easiest so you don’t need to step down into the kayak. Getting in the kayak at the same level or better, stepping up into the kayak will put far less strain on your knees. 

If you’re launching from a dock, make sure the kayak is secured horizontally (side-on) next to the platform. Ideally, the kayak will be relatively stable so try to find an area where the water is calm and not choppy.

2. Consider Wading Out with Your Kayak Rather Than Mounting From Shore

The best option for launching your kayak with bad knees is to wade out into shallow water and mount the vessel this way. Doing this allows you to step up into the kayak rather than stepping down into it. This puts far less strain on your knees. 

You should find an area of calm water near a beach and wade out into the water until the level is at knee height. Form here, you can stand side on and lift each leg straight up and onto the kayak without too much bend or pressure on the knee. Of course, you will get wet by doing this but your knees will thank you!

3. Take Your Time When Entering Your Kayak

Put some time aside when launching your kayak. This goes for the preparations leading up to launch as well. Take your time when dragging your kayak to the water and use a kayak porter (set of wheels) during transportation to the bank. This will ensure you don’t overstrain before you even get in the kayak. 

When you’re entering the kayak, don’t rush things. Think about your launch spot wisely and don’t make any rushed decisions when entering. When you rush you’ll likely strain and pull a muscle which will make things unpleasant while paddling and even worse when it comes time to exit the vessel.

Steps to Reduce Knee Pressure While Kayaking

1. Stick to Low Impact Kayaking

If you have a severe knee issue be sure to opt for a more gentle kayaking experience. Heading out onto a river for a long tour or tackling weirs and rapids may seem fun but you’re more likely to strain your knees and cause further injuries.

A far more suitable option would be to tackle a large lake or area of still water that requires less strain and control on your part. This will make for a far more pleasurable experience with less impact on the knees. 

2. Get Your Legs in a Comfortable Position

While in or on your kayak make sure to spend some time getting your legs in a comfortable position. You will be sitting stationary for a long period of time, so being comfortable is paramount.

Try to get your legs as straight as possible without too much of a bend in the knees. This will ease pressure and allow you to sit for longer. Also, attempt to get into a position in which you can give your legs wiggle every now and then. This will prevent your knees from stiffening up.

3. Move With Your Kayak and Don’t Fight It

When you’re out on the water be sure to move with the water and the kayak. Don’t fight the kayak and strain to move in a way that the water isn’t. For example, a gentle paddle downstream is going to be far less straining on the knees compared to a hard fight upstream against the flow.

If your kayak want’s to turn, turn with it, and don’t fight it. Of course, this isn’t always an option but where possible just go with the flow, take your time, and try not to fight against the motion of the water.

Steps to Get Out of Your Kayak With Bad Knees

1. Get Your Approach Spot-on

The first step to disembarking from your kayak effectively is to get your approach spot-on. If you plan your approach well, getting off your kayak will be much easier. 

If you have to get out on a raised bank, platform, or jetty be sure to take a slow approach and get parallel with the landing point. 

If you need to get out on land on a beach then take a fast approach directly toward the beach and ramp your kayak up onto land with speed. This will beach the kayak and make it easy to roll out of.

The best approach if you don’t mind getting wet is to take a gentle paddle into shallow water where you can step down off your kayak.

2. Consider Getting Out into Shallow Water

As we’ve mentioned, the best way to get in and out of your kayak is to utilize areas of shallow water. Finding an area of knee-deep water makes it far easier on the knees to embark and disembark from the kayak. 

Stepping down from your kayak puts far less strain on the knees compared to stepping up from it or rolling out onto dry land and having to lift your weight up onto your feet. Although you will get quite wet, this is by far the best way to get out of your kayak with bad knees. 

3. Exiting Your Kayak Correctly

Exiting your kayak properly is going to ease knee strain immensely. As we’ve mentioned there are three main ways to get out of your kayak (on a beach, on a bank or platform, and in shallow water). Which way you must exit your kayak is going to depend on the environment however the best way, if you can, is to use shallow water. 

While in shallow water you should slowly move to a complete stop. Make sure the water is around knee depth. You can test the depth by touching the paddle to the bottom of the waterway. From here, you should place your paddle behind you at a 90-degree angle so one blade is dug into the bottom. This will keep you stable and provide leverage to get out. 

You can then hoist your body up and remove one leg so it’s in the water with your foot touching the ground. Then, pull your other leg up and stand. This should be almost as easy as standing up from a chair if you get your depths correct. 

If you must beach the kayak because you can’t get wet, you should disembark in a similar way. Swing both legs round onto land so both feet are flat on the floor. After this, you can use your paddle as leverage to stand up. This is far more straining on the knees compared to shallow water exit. If you’re paddling with a friend, the best way to exit on the beach is to ask them to help you up.

The last way to get out of your kayak is by lining up horizontally to a platform, bank, or dock/jetty. This is by far the worst way to get out of your kayak if you have bad knees but sometimes it must be done.

When you’re kayak is parallel to the platform, dock, or bank place your paddle half on and half off the dock so it’s on land but can easily be grabbed. From here, you need to hoist your body up out of the kayak using your upper body strength until you’re sitting on land with your feet in the kayak. You can then swing one leg at a time up onto the dock making sure you also have the cord to your kayak in hand so the vessel doesn’t float away.

Once you’re sitting on land with your legs out in front you can use your paddle to hoist yourself up. This will put a large amount of strain on your knees though. If possible, ask a friendly person nearby or a paddling buddy to help you up onto your feet. 


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