Can I kayak if I don’t know how to swim?

kayak swimCan I kayak if I don’t know how to swim?

By Gary Mechanic

One of the frequent questions we get at “The Kayakers” is: “Do I have to know how to swim to take a kayak lesson or go paddling?”  The short answer is: “Absolutely NOT!”

Although it’s better to be able to swim than not be able, the longer answer is there is no need for you to be able to swim when you go kayaking, or you are just learning to kayak, for several reasons.

We never go kayaking without a “PFD” or personal floatation device.  Only a very small percentage of humans cannot float without aid. But all people can float for an extended period of time with little effort while wearing a PFD.  Wearing a PFD helps you float if you come out of your kayak and it helps you re-enter your kayak with less effort.   And even if you’re the best swimmer in the world, a PFD will help keep you afloat.

New Amazon shopping section. Please check it out.

Shop Kayaks and gear on Amazon

Kayaking IS the alternative to swimming.  It is one of the most efficient, safe and easy ways to travel on a river or lake without getting wet.  Humans have crossed both oceans in small kayaks!  So if you learn to Eskimo roll, you won’t even have to exit the kayak if you tip over, and you won’t have to swim again unless you want to!

For the beginning kayaker taking a lesson that includes a “wet exit”, swimming is not a required skill.  We teach paddlers to NEVER let go of their kayak if they tip.  During lessons, an instructor will assist you the first time you perform a wet exit.  Upon exiting the kayak you will immediately float to the surface and grab your kayak’s decklines.  The instructor will insure your safety while directing you through the steps of an assisted rescue to get back in the kayak easily and quickly.  By the end of the lesson, you will be able to exit, empty and re-enter your kayak with another paddler’s assistance in less than a minute.  No swimming required!

Finally, if you tip over in your kayak and you don’t know how to perform a self-rescue by rolling your kayak, or by re-entering the kayak from the water, then the kayak itself is a giant floatation device! On open water and large rivers it is almost always a better choice to hold onto the kayak for floatation (and visibility), than to try to swim to shore.

So whether you know how to swim or not, let us teach you how to kayak and you’ll never have to swim again!


Can I kayak if I don’t know how to swim? — 10 Comments

  1. Sorry, We are in the West burbs of Chicago. Kayak classes are in Aurora, IL. I do know a place in Crystal River Florida called Aardvark Kayak. They do classes. That area is a beautiful place to kayak. I was there in March. We saw a lot of Manatees and other wildlife. Well worth the trip

  2. I live near Houston Texas. Do you know of any good classes my wife and I could take? We are both beginners and my wife cannot swim. We are looking at buying a Tandem Kayak, From Riot Kayaks Polarity 16.5 Tandem Kayak. would this be a good Kayak for us to start with? We don’t want two separate Kayaks.
    Thanks for any info and help.
    Rusty and Lisa

      • Thank you, Brian. Whats your opinion on the Kayak I mentioned above? We live near three major lakes. Lake Livingston, Sam Rayburn Lake and Toledo Bend Reservoir. So we have plenty of water to choose from. Just wondering if the Polarity 16.5 Tandem Kayak from Riot Kayaks would be a good choice? This Kayak has great reviews so it looks like it would be a good one to choose. Just wanted a professionals opinion.

  3. Rusty
    That is a loaded question for me. I see tandems as the divorce mobile. You both have to be in sync. I would take the class first. As your skill levels improve, the better kayak you will want to have. If there is a place to rent or demo the kayak, that would be the best option.

    It is not just the kayaks performance. For example, there are some great kayaks I like but, the kayak model just hits my knee the wrong way. Or a seat or the foot pegs is not comfortable to me. However the kayak may be a good kayak.

    Do not rush into buying, try a few. I like kayaks with Skegs not rudders. I also like kayaks with bulkheads and storage. This helps with flotation too.

    You will find at the beginning you may be looking for a kayak that is more stable. As your skills get better, that may not be as important. Better performance may what you are looking for then. Also storage may be something to think about.

    In Short, Try them out, kayak with a meetup group or club. Then try the kayak again.
    Hope this helped. I know its not a simple answer

  4. Thank you, that’s what we needed to know. We will take your advice and try different ones out before we make a purchase. Thanks again.
    Take care,

  5. Me and my girl friendwant to go kayak fishing is there a class in San Antonio TX we could take

  6. Any place in San Diego area that you recommend? I plan to take a swim class anyway but I’ve been wanting to kayak and felt that I couldn’t because of not knowing how to swim. Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • Hi Suze.
      I do not know any places in that area. But, if you do find a place , Please share.