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.
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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!