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Is Kayaking Dangerous? (7 Potential Dangers and How to Protect Yourself)

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People often have wrong ideas when they think of kayaking. The safety aspect of kayaking is given too much attention by one group of people, while others neglect safety too much. The problem with kayaking is the sometimes surprisingly large differences between real dangers and perceived dangers. But is kayaking dangerous?

No, kayaking is not dangerous. The sport is safe and something for the whole family. With thorough preparation, minor hazards (such as dehydration or heat stroke) are easily contained. Wearing the right clothes and a life jacket will protect you from the cold and from capsizing the boat. Always be attentive and watch the other boats on the water. Never go out in storms or thunderstorms. Don’t overestimate your own abilities, but learn thoroughly and take part in courses to learn the basics and relevant techniques.

Before we go into kayaking more closely, let us briefly explain what is meant by real and supposed dangers.

Real dangers vs. perceived dangers

When it comes to dangers, our heads often turn off. We can no longer distinguish between what is really dangerous and what is dangerous, but in reality it occurs so rarely that we should not pay too much attention to this source of danger.

Anyone who asks the 80-year-old grandmother today whether a trip by plane to Asia is dangerous is bound to hear that it is insanely dangerous. A twenty-year-old who has already spent a year abroad will assure you that the trip is, of course, completely safe. The perceived risks can therefore differ and no longer correspond to the real risk.

A kayak trip in good weather and on glassy water will be considered almost risk-free by almost all people. A white-water trip through rapid rapids and passages with rocks is probably very risky for most people. Lying together perceived and true risk is all well. It becomes dangerous when this is no longer the case.

Most accidents happen when you don’t expect it. Those who lull themselves into false security are particularly susceptible to an accident. The most important thing for kayakers is to know when it is really dangerous and when it is not. A rapids is not dangerous per se. Flooding on an otherwise always calm river, on the other hand, is. So what are the real risks of kayaking?

What are the real dangers of kayaking?

Kayakers should be aware of the dangers before the first trip. Shark attacks are not on this list. Instead, it’s about the real dangers:

Hypothermia & Cold Shock

When kayaking in winter, one quickly forgets how cold the water actually is. If you only sit in a canoe, you get careless with time. In spring, the phenomenon is particularly prevalent because the air is often quite warm. The water, on the other hand, is still icy.

For this reason one should always dress according to the water temperature and not according to the air temperature. For the hard-boiled, who cannot be stopped even by winter, cold shock and hypothermia are serious problems.

Those who fall unprepared into the icy water can suffer a cold shock. The extreme temperature difference between body and water temperature causes breathing problems, changes blood pressure, may cause confusion and other mental problems. In watercourses this can be particularly dangerous, because you may find it difficult to climb back into the kayak with a handicap.

Hypothermia can occur if you are exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time. This can happen if you fall into the water. Cold air can also be sufficient if you wear inappropriate clothing.

Protect yourself: If you want to paddle in cold water, you have to dress appropriately. In winter, a wetsuit or a dry suit is required for kayaking to keep your body warm even if you capsize. You should never do without a partner when touring in cold water. Additional help can be important in an emergency.

Solar radiation

Another small danger is solar radiation. A short tour over the nearby lake does not sound dangerous at first. Blue sky? Super!

If you are only on the road for one hour, missing sun cream is no problem. If, on the other hand, you are planning a longer tour, you have to watch out for the sun. Sun cream is mandatory. In addition, there is the danger of dehydration, sunstroke or heat stroke. The waves reflect the sun’s rays and ensure that the sun has a much stronger effect on the water.

Protect yourself: Always wear sunscreen when kayaking. If you are not wearing a kayak helmet, you should at least put on a baseball cap to avoid heat stroke. Even on cool days you have to protect yourself from the sun. These are the days when experience shows that you get the worst sunburn.


Dehydration often occurs as a symptom of sunshine on hot days. When kayaking, the body consumes a lot of energy. On a kayak trip you have to drink a lot to compensate for the loss of fluid (due to sweating). The longer the planned tour, the more water has to be packed. Signs of dehydration are dizziness, exhaustion, confusion and of course thirst. All this will have a negative effect on your paddling.

Protect yourself: Always bring drinking water with you on the boat. The higher the temperature, the more water bottles you will need. During the paddle you should drink every now and then. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, but provide your body with water in time.

Thunderstorms and storms

That’s supposed to be clear. Nevertheless, let us make it clear for once. Kayaking during thunderstorms or storms is absolutely not a good idea. A little rain doesn’t bother a real kayaker, but if you’re already on the water and a storm is brewing, all you want is to get out of the water. After all, water and lightning are not a good combination.

Protect yourself: If you see lightning or the wind is strong, you have to go to the land on the spot. In an emergency, you have to wait for the storm on the spot. Even if there are only 15 minutes to go, you shouldn’t take the risk. Fast winds and heavy rain limit your visibility and mobility. A distance of only a few minutes quickly turns into half an hour and then you are already in the middle of a thunderstorm.

No life jacket

One of the biggest mistakes is that people don’t wear life jackets when kayaking. And that also includes those who take a lifejacket on tour but do not put it on. If you can only take one tip from this list, it should be: Always wear a lifejacket when kayaking. The majority of accidents (including some fatal ones) could have been prevented if people had worn life jackets.

Protect yourself: Never paddle without a lifejacket. When choosing a lifejacket, make sure it is comfortable to wear. If it doesn’t, it will land in the corner after a few operations and that won’t protect you.

Other boats

Kayaks are very small compared to other boats and can be easily overlooked. On a small river this is no problem. If you kayak in wide rivers or in the open sea, you always have to consider motor boats, big ships, jet skis and sailing boats. With a small kayak, you are guaranteed to lose out in the event of a collision. So take care of yourself.

Protect yourself: The best protection is to make your kayak unmissable. If visibility is limited, you should attach a bright lamp to your boat. In this way, other boats and water sports enthusiasts can recognize you from a distance and know that they have to keep their distance.


Most accidents happen because paddlers are too inexperienced. If you watch videos of advanced kayakers, you will quickly feel that kayaking is easy. However, if you lack paddling technique and equipment experience, a kayaking adventure can quickly go wrong. Advanced paddlers know how to deal with rocks, waves and currents and how to react in challenging situations.

Protect yourself: If you have not yet taken a course in kayaking, you should never plunge into white water immediately. Get in slowly and learn the techniques step by step. White water rafting should never be undertaken alone and only after completing a course. Kayaking is not about mastering more and more demanding routes. With this mindset you will inevitably be in great danger.


So, what does it look like? Is kayaking dangerous?

There are some potential dangers when kayaking. On a day on the water, dangers like sunstroke or dehydration await you.

There is always some risk, but kayaking doesn’t have to be dangerous. With proper preparation and some caution, kayaking is actually an almost risk-free sport.

Whoever learns the basics step by step, takes courses, informs themselves in forums and on websites and does not just get into whitewater passages, is on the safe side.

In conclusion, all we can say is that kayaking is a fun and safe sport for the whole family. Use your head, inform yourself and always wear a life jacket.

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