can I kayak if I can't swim - two people in yellow kayaks in a pond

Can I Kayak if I Can’t Swim?

Kayaking is an incredible activity to get you active, outdoors, and seeing a side of nature not always seen by others. But, if you can’t swim, getting out on the water in a kayak can be a scary experience. So, can (or should you) kayak if you can’t swim?

If you can’t swim, kayaking is still something you can do, but you must take several important safety precautions before getting out on the water. First, non-swimmers should only kayak in calm water without motorized boat access. On top of this, kayakers who can’t swim should always have the proper safety gear with them, and should always kayak with others.

If you’re a non-swimmer looking to kayak then let’s dive into how to choose your kayaking location, what safety gear you should bring, and precautions to take before getting out on the water. 

can I kayak if I can't swim - two people in yellow kayaks in a pond

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Choosing a Location: Kayaking if You Can’t Swim

Choosing a kayaking location is a crucial part of remaining safe if you’re planning to kayak without knowing how to swim. This is because kayaking conditions can vary greatly depending on where and when you go, so knowing what to look for can help you kayak safely. 

If you’re kayaking without knowing how to swim you’ll want to choose smaller locations that do not have motorized boats, and only choose to kayak in good weather conditions.  

Select Small Kayaking Locations

My best recommendation for kayaking if you don’t know how to swim is to choose a very small pond. This is for several reasons. 

First, you want to make sure that no matter what you can always see land (meaning the people on the land can see you too). Smaller ponds don’t have miles of water before reaching land, ensuring you’re never too far away from dry ground should something happen. 

Additionally, smaller ponds are also unlikely to have currents or waves, which can pull or tip your kayak unexpectedly. As a non-swimming kayaker it’ll be crucial to prevent kayaking in waves or choppy water conditions.

It is less likely on calmer, smaller water you’ll run into any danger due to water conditions. But, if something were to occur in a smaller pond you’ll be able to call and receive help very quickly. 

So, you want to choose small kayaking locations to have calm water where land (and people) are always visible. This means avoiding large lakes, sea kayaking, and fast-moving rivers altogether. 

Avoid Kayaking Around Motorized Boats

Places that allow for kayaking often also allow motorized boats. If you don’t know how to swim then you’ll want to avoid any place with motorized boats. 

This is because motorized boats create waves when they pass by your kayak, and if you aren’t careful these waves can easily cause your kayak to flip.

If you’re trying to kayak without being able to swim you want the calmest waters possible, and if there are motorized boats around the water wont be calm. So, check out where you’d like to kayak – and if there are motorized boats there, then avoid it completely. 

Be Aware of the Weather While Kayaking

Even the calmest of ponds can become violent in certain weather conditions. Storms and strong winds are two weather events to avoid completely if you’re trying to kayak without being able to swim. This is because poor weather can cause even calm water to become choppy and can cause your kayak to flip.  

Be sure to check the weather forecast (including wind speeds) before heading out to kayak anywhere. If the wind speed is above a few miles per hour then do not go (and really, you’ll want wind speeds as low as possible). Additionally, if any rain or storms are predicted, reschedule your trip for another day. 

Since you can’t swim, being on the water in a kayak during a storm or strong winds is extremely ill advised, so please avoid it altogether. 

can I kayak if I can't swim. A female in an orange kayaking on a river

Gear You Should Have With You While Kayaking if You Can’t Swim

If you’ve located the calmest, smallest water source you can find and are now planning your trip you’ll need some essential safety gear to get you started.

If you’re kayaking when you can’t swim, then you’ll need to have a personal flotation device, whistle, and a first aid kit.  These are essential pieces of gear for any level kayaker, but become even more important if you’re unable to swim. 

Personal Flotation Device (AKA Life Jacket)

Even with the best preparation, your kayak still could unexpectedly flip and place you face down in the water. If you can’t swim, it’s incredibly important to wear a personal flotation device (PFD, or life jacket) to protect you should this occur. 

You’ll also need to wear it 100% of the time you are in or around the water. Even if you think the water is so calm you don’t need it – keep it on, always. You never know when a strong wind gust blows by and puts you straight in the water. 

If you can’t swim, a PFD is your primary source of safety should you end up in the water and so you’ll want it on your body ready for anything at all times. 

Always Carry a Whistle

Many kayaking PFDs come with whistles included, but if not you’ll want to make sure to bring a whistle with you.

Whistles are so important for getting peoples attention if something happens on the water. We all like to think in emergency situations that we could yell and people would hear us- but if you’re on the water your voice may not carry as far as you think.

A whistle is loud enough to get peoples attention and is the standard piece of gear boaters use for calling attention when there’s an emergency.  So, people know someone is in trouble if they hear a whistle.

Don’t ever try to kayak without one, especially if you don’t know how to swim. 

First Aid Kit

Always carry a first aid kit. It doesn’t matter if you know how to swim or not – no one should ever be kayaking without one. 

First Aid Kits are essential pieces of safety gear for any outdoor adventures. They’re inexpensive and lightweight, so there’s no reason to not have one with you anytime you venture outdoors. 

You never know what could happen while kayaking, and it’s always better to be prepared for the worst case scenario. 

Kayaking With Others: An Essential Safety Precaution

Kayaking alone is an amazing adventure that I highly recommend. BUT (and this is a big but), if you don’t know how to swim you should never kayak alone. 

You need someone with you, who can swim, and who is aware of your swimming abilities (or lack thereof). That way if something happens they can assist you in getting back into your boat, or getting to shore and on land. 

Outside of the life jacket, kayaking with someone is the best way to keep yourself safe if you’re attempting to kayak without being able to swim. 

Kayaking is a fantastic activity, but if you don’t know how to swim it can be a scary and dangerous. If you follow the guidelines in this post then even non-swimmers can still enjoy kayaking in a safe way.

For other tips like these check out our kayaking tips page so you can be even more confident getting on the water. 

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