Do You Need To Know How To Swim To Kayak? Tips for Non-Swimmers

happy senior woman in a kayak holding paddles

Are you a non-swimmer yearning to participate in a fun and exciting water sport? Well, kayaking may be the answer! Non-swimmers are often limited in ocean or pool adventures, but luckily kayaking won’t hold you back. 

You don’t need to know how to swim to kayak. Kayaks are designed to keep you out of the water so you can enjoy the beautiful outdoors while keeping dry. While there may be a splash or two, you won’t be required to swim unless you want to. 

If you are interested in kayaking but concerned about your inability to swim, this article will help to put your mind at ease. 

Tips for Non-Swimmers When Kayaking

Kayaking is one of the few water-based activities that doesn’t require you to be an expert swimmer. Of course, if you can swim, you will have an added advantage, but in no way is it a prerequisite.

Kayaking typically takes place on calm days, but there is always a chance of something going awry. If you don’t know how to swim, for whatever reason, you should still be comfortable with water. However, for someone who is aquaphobic, kayaking is not recommended. 

While non-swimmers can absolutely enjoy kayaking, there are some precautions you should take to make your experience on the water more enjoyable and stress-free. Let’s have a look at the tips. 

  1. Take a kayaking lesson.
  2. Wear a life jacket (PFD).
  3. Paddle with partners.
  4. Consider the conditions.
  5. Choose the right kayak.
  6. Stay on your route.

Read on to find out about each of these tips in more detail

1. Take a Kayaking Lesson

A young woman kayaking in shallow clear water near a beach

Both beginners and non-swimmers should take kayaking lessons. Your coach will teach you all the fundamentals and, most importantly, how to hone your paddling skills

First-timers who don’t take lessons often waste a lot of time going around in circles, literally. They often move in circles while trying to correct their paddling. Most instructors will start your lessons off in a protected place or a pool to get you used to the kayak. 

One of the most important skills you will be taught is called a “wet exit” This technique teaches you how to safely escape if your kayak capsizes. It is an essential skill that all kayakers need to know how to execute. 

Not only will kayak lessons increase your knowledge and expertise, but they will also improve your confidence levels while on the water. 

2. Wear a Life Jacket (PFD)

A life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD) should be worn on every kayaking trip. In most places, a kayak is considered a vessel, so it is the law to wear one. It is the most critical piece of gear you need for this fun, outdoor sport. 

Your PFD needs to be the correct size and buoyancy. It should fit snugly but not be too tight. Be sure to keep your life jacket on at all times when on the water. Before each trip, check that all the light sources are working, as they are crucial when signaling for help. 

Even if you are a strong swimmer, you should always wear a PFD. The life jacket will keep you afloat while you assess your situation and ultimately get to safety. 

3. Paddle With Partners

Even though kayaking is considered a safe outdoor activity, nature can be unpredictable. If you can’t swim and find yourself in a bad situation, it would be best to have someone with you. A danger for non-swimmers would be falling into deep water, unable to touch the ground. Having someone there lift you up could potentially save your life. 

Kayaking with a group of experienced paddlers is a great way to boost your confidence as there is always safety in numbers. If you have an accident or are caught in a dangerous circumstance, having many people around will shorten the time you would have to wait to be rescued. 

4. Consider the Conditions

If you can’t swim, but want to try kayaking, it is recommended to choose a calm body of water. Tackling rough rapids when you aren’t a seasoned swimmer could end badly. 

Ideally, you should choose a calm lake or a gently moving river to lessen or even eliminate the chances of capsizing. When selecting your spot, be sure to check on the wind speeds predicted for that day. The wind can affect the swells, and the conditions could change abruptly if the winds pick up. 

Rain can also put a damper on the whole experience, so do your best to go on a bright, sunny day to make the most of the activity. 

5. Choose the Right Kayak

Kayaks come in various shapes and sizes, and choosing the correct one is vital, especially if you are a non-swimmer. While some are designed for speed and exhilaration on the water, others are designed to promote safety. The latter would be best for those who cannot swim. 

There are two types of kayaks on the market, sit-on, and sit-in. The preferred choice for non-swimmers is the sit-on option as they offer good stability and are easy to re-enter should you fall off. They are a particularly great choice for beginners who are keen to enjoy some warm water kayaking. 

Sit-in kayaks are built for speed and have a deep sitting area that can be difficult to re-enter if you capsize. These are recommended for expert kayakers and those in cold climates. 

6. Stay on Your Route

Although it may be tempting to paddle off into the wilderness and discover new waterways, you should not do this, especially if you are kayaking alone. 

Unless you have researched the area, the conditions, and the weather, you should never deviate from your original plan and route. Not only will it make it more difficult to locate you if something goes wrong, but you could unknowingly paddle into rough rapids or even dangerous waters. 

However, if you are traveling with a professional guide or with a group of experienced kayakers, don’t be afraid when another route is suggested. This could be a great way to familiarize yourself with a new area for future kayaking adventures. 

How To Stay on a Kayak

Now that you have read through all the tips for kayaking, let’s talk about what you can do to prevent falling off or capsizing. These tips will be especially helpful if you are afraid of the water. 

  • Choose a wide vessel. The wider the kayak, the less chance of it tipping over. The kayak’s width will determine its stability on the water. A width of 600 mm (23.62 in) is a good option for beginners and non-swimmers. 
  • Distribute weight evenly. If the weight of your gear is heavy and uneven, you have a higher chance of tipping over. Balancing your load and strapping down your equipment will help to evenly distribute the weight on your kayak, thus keeping it stable. 
  • Keep your body low and centered. Keeping yourself balanced on a kayak can be tricky to master initially. If you are unsteady, then try your best to minimize your movements. Keep your weight low and center yourself so that your shoulders remain inside the kayak’s centerline. 


Although kayaking is a water sport, non-swimmers can definitely take part in this fun and exciting outdoor activity. 

Kayaking is a fantastic way to explore new and beautiful parts of the world, and being unable to swim should not prevent you from trying it. As long as you are familiar with the necessary precautions and open to a new adventure, there is no reason not to enjoy kayaking.

More Kayak Stuff!

Recent Posts

Legal Disclaimer is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Additionally, also participates in other affiliate and advertising programs, such as AdSense, ShareASale, Awin, Etsy, and CJ among others, and is compensated for referring traffic and business to them.

Kayaks For Beginners!