How to Kayak Alone: Best Tips and Practices
Kayaking is one of the best experience you can have in nature. I truly believe there are very few activities that can bring you the peace that being out on the water brings. So, we all want to get out there. But, if you’re newer to kayaking and you are struggling to find fellow kayakers to go with you may think, can I kayak alone? How do I kayak alone safely?
This post is all about giving you the tools you need to feel more confident on the water and knowing how to kayak alone.
When kayaking alone you want to be prepared, but there’s no need to overthink it. With proper safety considerations and preparation kayaking alone is a perfectly safe and very enjoyable activity available to all!
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What Should I Bring When Kayaking Alone?
Preparedness is the name of the game when kayaking alone. When kayaking you should always be prepared, but if you’re kayaking with others you can always depend on someone to have a backup of something should you end up needing it. You can’t do this when kayaking alone.
So, you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared with everything you need. For starters, check out this guide for the 5 essentials you should always have kayaking (whether alone or in a group).
When kayaking alone, though, these essentials become even more important. I’ve highlighted a few of the most important essentials below.
What Equipment Do I Need to Kayak Alone?
First and foremost, when kayaking alone you need to bring safety equipment. This always includes a personal flotation device (PFD), which is just a fancy way of saying life jacket. Different states or countries have differing laws regarding kayaking and life jackets, so know the laws that apply to your area and abide by them.
But, even if your local laws are more lax, when kayaking alone always wear that life jacket – even if you aren’t required to wear it. You want to be extra cautious and safe while kayaking alone, because you don’t have someone with you to help out if something should go wrong. So, wear the jacket!
Communication Equipment to Have While Kayaking Alone
Beyond just the jacket you’ll need at least two ways to call for help. Don’t overthink this – the most common ways are to bring your cell phone and a whistle. You’ll also want a dry bag of some kind to keep your cell phone from getting wet.
Most people will always have their phone with them and it can be used if you ever need to call help. If you’re in an area with poor cell service you may consider bringing a VHF radio. They are a little more costly but do not depend on cell service, which could be extremely useful in a remote location.
The whistle is for calling out to someone nearby. It can be very hard to hear while out on the water and a whistle is much stronger than your voice. Plus, if you’re hurt or exhausted, using a whistle is much easier to do than yelling. Most life jackets have whistles attached, but if not, attach a whistle so it’s always there if you ever need it.
Backup Equipment to Have While Kayaking Alone
When kayaking alone you want to prepare for the worst, even when it’s unlikely to happen. This includes bringing repair or replacement equipment. It may feel a little like you’re preparing for a week-long trip, when you’re only going on a short afternoon paddle. But, you never want to be stuck without something you need when you’re out on the water.
The best investment you can probably make is a bilge pump. Have you ever tried getting water out of a kayak while you’re still in the kayak? It’s impossibly difficult, but a bilge pump will allow you to do just that. This manual pump will have your kayak empty of any water in no time and with little effort. It’s totally worth it.
Beyond that, you’ll need two major back-up plans for your larger equipment. One of these is for your kayak itself, and the other is for the paddles.
For the kayak, always bring a kayak repair kit with you (here’s one for plastic kayaks or fiberglass kayaks). This, combined with the bilge pump, can allow you to rig a broken or damaged kayak long enough to get back to the launch site.
For the paddles, always have a backup pair. You do not want to be stuck on the water unable to paddle. Doing that gets you nowhere quickly and is exhausting and defeating. Having extra paddles can be the different between making it back or being stuck on the water – so be prepared!
Bring Basic Necessities while Kayaking Alone: Water and Food
Anytime we are outdoors it’s essential to ensure we have enough water and food. This includes enough water and food for the day, but also a little extra in case something unexpected happens. What is this potentially unexpected event? Well, anything really! From it being warmer than expected, or choosing to stay longer than expected, or if you’re stuck and end up needing to stay overnight. It never hurts to have more water and food/snacks just in case.
When doing any type of physical exertion, especially when it’s hot, you’ll need about 1 quart (~1 liter) per 1-2 hours. So bring enough water to carry you through the day. If that amount seems high, bring some, and then also bring along a water filtration device so you can filter as you go if needed. I always like to carry this on my outdoor adventures, as it helps me feel prepared just in case something happens and I need it.
Beyond just water, be sure to bring food as well. The amount is up to you. I am a big snacker, so usually half my pack is filled with food or snacks of some kind, but not everyone likes to carry that much food. But, no matter how much to carry be sure to bring something.
How to Keep Things Dry While Kayaking: Dry Bags
Every kayaker knows that if it’s in the kayak it will get wet. It’s just impossible to keep things dry while you’re paddling. This is where dry bags come in – they keep everything you need perfectly dry so you don’t need to worry.
Dry bags are important for every kayak trip, but I think they’re even more important when you’re kayaking alone. This is because you can pack things like dry clothes, extra food, or a communication device for safety without worrying about them getting wet. This is essential for staying dry, warm, fed, and being able to call for help if needed.
So, if you’re going out to kayak alone, be sure to pack your stuff in a dry bag or two. My favorites are these, which come in several sizes and colors to suit your preferences.
Transporting A Kayak By Yourself
Kayaks can be heavy, and although you are prepared to head out on the water by yourself you may be wondering, how do I transport a kayak by myself?
As a fairly short (5’4″) woman, with an average level of upper-body strength, the question of transporting the kayak definitely kept me from going out alone way longer than it should have. There are so many assistive tools to help even the smallest of us be able to transport a kayak the farthest of distances without breaking too much of a sweat.
How do get a kayak on and off my car by myself?
How you go about getting a kayak on and off your car will partially depend on which type of method or rack you’re using to transport your kayak.
If you don’t have a roof rack, and are loading it either on the roof of the car or onto just the cross bars then the best way is to prop the kayak onto the car and slide it into the proper place. You can do this from the back of the car, and slide it forward. Or you can do this from the middle of the car and pivot until it’s in place. This method requires a bit of strength to get the kayak propped on the car, but doesn’t require you lift the entire thing by yourself. I’d recommend using something like this suction boat roller to help you load and unload if using this method.
Now, to get the kayak off the roof rack from these positions, you’ll just need to guide it as you slide it off the roof of the car from the back. This is the step I found takes the most strength as when sliding the kayak likes to slide from the side as well as from the back. Go slow, and ensure your kayak is centered before starting.
If you already have a roof rack you may also be able to use the sliding method above, but it will be a bit more difficult as you’ll have to get the kayak into the rack in addition to just getting it onto of the car. In this case, you’ll definitely need an assistive device, like the suction boat roller, or a lot of upper body strength.
There really isn’t a tried and true method to doing this as it’ll depend on your strength and also your rack. However, there are some assistive devices that can help you. These include using sturdy step stools (like these), or a car step up (like this one). These are especially helpful if you’re shorter or weaker – as I am!
If you’re looking to buy a new rack you may want to invest in the Thule Hullavator. It is pricy for a kayak rack, but this beauty will lift the kayak on and off the car for you with ease. If you’ll be kayaking alone often, then it may be worth the investment.
How Do I Get a Kayak To and From the Launch Site By Myself?
So, you’ve gotten the kayak of the car and now you need to get it to the launch site by yourself. This is no easy feat, as some kayaks can be pretty heavy.
If you’re exceptionally strong, or have a lighter kayak you can carry it by yourself. There are specific ways to pick it up and carry it a short distance to prevent hurting yourself or damaging the yak. You’ll want to practice these at home before trying them out in the field.
If carrying the kayak is a bit too much for you, there are kayak carts, which can help you roll your kayak from your car to the launch site. The kayak roller comes highly recommended and makes it incredibly easy to transport the kayak by yourself. However, there are other, cheaper options, like this one, available as well.
How Do I Return to My Car While Kayaking Alone?
After managing the logistics of transporting the kayak by yourself – both getting it on and off the car, but also getting it to the launch site by yourself, now you need to know how to get back to your car. Since you don’t have two+ people (and two cars), you do need to find some way to get back to where you launched without relying on others.
If you’re kayaking in a lake or pond, then this isn’t an issue. Since these aren’t directional, you’ll just kayak around the area and back to where you started. But, if you’re kayaking a river, then you need to have a plan on how to get back to where you started.
If you want to return to the same launch site, then you’ll need to be aware of water flow in the river. If you paddle downstream first, then you’re going to have to go against the flow of water to get back up. Although that might be good if you’re looking for an exceptionally good workout, if that doesn’t describe your trip, you may want to find an easier way.
The most common is to spend the first half of your trip paddling upstream. When you get ready to return, you can just turn around and the rest of your way will be downstream paddling. This method is much easier and has the trip ending without fighting the current.
But, if you don’t want to return to the same launch site there are other options that allow you to launch from one area and land somewhere entirely different. Even when you’re by yourself.
How to Use a Bicycle to Get Back to the Launch Site When Kayaking Alone
If you are looking to launch from one site and land at a different one this is still possible if you are kayaking alone. A few, more popular, places will have shuttles that you can reserve to transport you back. Sometimes people will even use Uber or Lyft, leaving their kayak at the landing spot and catch a ride back to the launch.
But, if these options aren’t available to you, or you don’t feel comfortable using them – there is another option. Bikes!
How do you use a bicycle to get back to the launch site? It’s all in the preparation.
First, before heading the kayak launch site, you’ll stop at where you plan to land. Here you’ll unload your bike, and secure it somewhere accessible after you land. After this, then you’ll head to the launch site and launch your kayak. When you get to the landing spot, you’ll switch to the bike and head back to the car.
Kayak miles are nothing compared to bike miles, so it takes much less time to bike back then it did to kayak down.
But what about the kayak? Do you leave it there? Well, you can, although I’d recommend securing it in some way (like with these locks). But if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, there are kayak bike carriers you can use to help transport yourself and your kayak back to the car.
What Else Should I do Before Kayaking Alone? Prepare a Safety Plan
Again, and I can’t stress this enough – preparation is the key to kayaking alone safely. So, even with all the best equipment to help get you to and from where you want to go – without a proper plan it won’t be successful.
First, no matter if you’re kayaking with a group or by yourself, always know the weather. You need to check the wind speeds, specifically, and if they’re too high (above 15mph max) then stay home. It also doesn’t hurt to check other things like chance for rain as well. This is less concerning on a lake or pond, but if you’re kayaking on the ocean or in a river, rain can have a massive impact on safety.
Once you know the weather will be good for your trip, have a plan and convey it to someone. Give your route, start times, end times, and descriptions of equipment/cars/yourself to someone you trust. Having a safety plan is essential for any solo trip (kayaking or otherwise) and can help you be found if something goes awry on your trip. Safety plans are essential before undertaking any solo kayaking adventure.
With all this information you’re completely ready to set out on a solo kayaking trip!
Do you know where you will be kayaking? If you’re local to Connecticut or New York, check out the Charles E. Wheeler Nature Preserve, or Croton-on Hudson for some excellent solo kayaking adventures. Maybe I’ll see you out there!
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