Is Kayaking Safe for Non-swimmers? [What To Know]

 With nice weather having finally arrived, it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoors and view some wildlife. One of the most fun ways you can do this is by going kayaking, which will allow you to view the abundance of wildlife that lives in these areas. But, you might be thinking that you can’t swim; so, is it safe?

The short answer is YES! Kayaking can be a safe, fun activity even for non-swimmers. All it takes are basic safety precautions such as a life jacket, fair weather, and considering how and where you are kayaking to enjoy it safely.

Preparing to Kayaking

Although kayaking is safe for non-swimmers, proper precautions need to be taken. You need to do and learn a few things to prepare before kayaking so you’ll be prepared to use a kayak and deal with any problems you may incur.


You should take precautions before you start that’ll help you stay safe in an accident. These precautions are important for everyone but especially vital for people who can’t swim.

Wearing a Life Jacket

Wearing a life jacket is always a good idea when kayaking, but it’s absolutely essential if you don’t know how to swim. Although kayaking is a safe activity, you are out on the water, and you can’t be sure what might happen. 

But with a life jacket, you don’t need to be able to swim. The life jacket will keep you afloat until help arrives due to its buoyant materials. 

You shouldn’t have any problems finding one that fits since they come in a wide variety of sizes. You’ll also find them in many styles and colors, so you should also be able to find one that fits your style.

Wearing a Wetsuit

Some people choose to wear a wetsuit to stay even safer. A wetsuit has buoyant properties that will help you stay afloat. However, it is not a replacement for a life jacket and should only be used in addition to your life jacket.

Skills to Learn

There are certain skills you should learn that will help keep you safe while kayaking. We will describe a few of these below.

Exiting Your Flipped Kayak

It is quite possible you’ll eventually have to deal with your kayak capsizing, so you’ll want to know how to handle this if it happens. We will explain what to do if this happens. The response will vary depending on the type of kayak.

Sit-in Kayak

One technique for escaping a sit-in kayak that has flipped is the sweep roll. To do this, you lean toward the front of the kayak and place your paddle just above the surface of the water. 

Then, move your paddle downward, which will start to bring you upright. While doing this, force your knees into the cockpit and try to move your body toward the side where you are moving your paddle down. As you do this, you should return to the surface of the water.

Another way to escape is a wet exit. This will get you out of the kayak but not turn it upright. You can then flip the kayak or use it as a flotation device once you are in the water. To do this, unclip the splash skirt from the cockpit. Then, push yourself up from the cockpit and flip your legs out.

Sit-on Kayak

With a sit-on kayak, you are not in the kayak. So, if it flips, you end up in the water; then, you just need to flip the kayak over.

Types of Kayaking

Kayaking is an activity in which a person propels a kayak, which is a small watertight canoe, with a double-headed paddle. There are many types of kayaking, such as sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, and surf kayaking. But, recreational kayaking is the most common type of kayaking and probably the safest. 

Let’s take a look at the different varieties of kayaking and whether they are a good choice for non-swimmers below.

  • Recreational Kayaking: You’ll do this in parks or other areas where the water is generally safe and predictable. Thus, this type of kayaking is great for people that don’t know how to swim. 
  • Sea Kayaking: This type of kayaking is done in the ocean or other large bodies of water. It is done with specialized kayaks and requires knowledge of navigation and rescue practices. These kayakers need to thoroughly practice what to do after capsizing. So, this isn’t a great choice for non-swimmers.
  • Whitewater Kayaking: Whitewater kayaking is done in a variety of places, such as rivers, streams, and creeks with rapids or whitewater. This type of kayaking can be dangerous and requires a lot of skill. Therefore, it’s not a good choice for non-swimmers.
  • Touring: Touring is another kind of kayaking that is good for non-swimmers. You do this type of kayaking on sheltered bodies of water, which makes it safer than some other forms of kayaking for non-swimmers.
  •  Surf Kayaking: This is basically surfing with a kayak. You should get some lessons before doing this form of surfing. It’s challenging and not suited for non-swimmers.


There are two categories of kayaks: recreational ones and whitewater ones. There are five main types of recreational kayaks and four major types of whitewater kayaks. Following is a description of each type and its safety:

Flat Water Kayaks

These types of kayaks are used for a variety of engaging activities. You can have fun paddling around the lake at your local park or fishing in a calm river. You’ll find a lot of areas where these kayaks are perfect. 

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

These kayaks are particularly great for non-swimmers, any beginners, or anyone. They are nearly impossible to sink. Also, if you happen to capsize it, don’t worry; you can easily flip it right back over. So, as long as you have proper safety gear, go out and have fun. Although, be prepared to get wet. It’s hard to avoid while paddling these kayaks.

Sit-in Kayaks 

Sit-in Kayaks come in two types: recreational and touring. They have different advantages.

Recreational Sit-in Kayaks 

This type of kayak has a closed cockpit and is wide enough to be quite stable. This kayak works pretty well for non-swimmers as it is easily maneuvered and quite stable. However, it is probably not quite as good for non-swimmers as sit-on-top kayaks. Unfortunately, if you do capsize this kayak, it needs to be pumped out before you use it to get to shore.

Touring Sit-in Kayaks 

These kayaks are pretty stable and made to be easy to paddle for long distances. They also have a good storage area. Additionally, they have thigh braces, which can be used to help a paddler get the kayak upright if it capsizes. 

This kayak takes certain skills to operate, and safety precautions are necessary. So, non-swimmers need to be properly prepared before using touring sit-in kayaks.

Pedaling Kayaks

Pedaling kayaks are great for fishing as they leave the hands free. They are propelled by pedaling like you do for a bicycle or by moving your feet up and down like you’re on a stair master. These kayaks are very stable and maneuverable, making them a good choice for non-swimmers.

Inflatable Kayak

This kayak can be used for recreational purposes. It’s stable, maneuverable, and inexpensive. This is great for beginners and should be safe in calm waters. Just make sure you are using proper safety equipment. A hole in the kayak could happen anytime, and you need to be prepared.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks come in four different types, although none are the best choice for non-swimmers as they can be dangerous. 

Creek Boats

This type of kayak is designed to stay on top of the water and, if it does, go under to surface quickly. However, since creek boats do tend to tip over easily, they are not the best choice for beginners or non-swimmers.


These inflatables are similar to recreational inflatables but are made to be used on rapids. They are also very affordable.

Play Boats

Play boats are short and maneuverable but require skilled handling to control. They were designed to allow paddlers to do tricks. 

River Runner

This type of kayak is made for speed; although, it can also handle whitewater. A river runner will generally resurface quickly if it becomes submerged. River runners tend to be a better choice for beginners than creek boats because they are easier to manage.

Related Questions

Will my kayak sink if it fills with water?

As long as your kayak has airbags, it will not sink even if it fills with water. It will simply become swamped and remain floating. So, simply make sure your kayak comes with some form of floatation device.

Is it possible to drown while kayaking?

While it is possible, it is immensely unlikely. Most kayaks will remain floating at the waterline even should the worst happen. But, always wear safety equipment to make sure you stay safe.

Final Thoughts

Now you have the information you need to enjoy kayaking even if you don’t know how to swim. With the right precautions, kayaking can be a safe, fun activity for anyone. So, don’t be afraid to explore the open waters this summer and enjoy some fun, refreshing kayaking.

My husband wanted us another couple to go Kayaking. My girlfriend is not a great swimmer and she was asking me if she will be okay. Just in case you were wondering where i got the inspiration to write this post. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns in the comments.