Do kayaks tip over easily?

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But do kayaks tip over that easily? Kayaks are generally safe to use and hardly tip over. Nevertheless, the risk of tipping depends on the sort of kayak and the type of water where you are paddling. For example, it’s extremely hard to tip over when paddling with a recreational kayak on a relatively calm river — unless you really try too hard. But whitewater (rapid water) paddling with an ultra-light or sea kayak comes with a very high risk of the boat flipping.

Preventing your boat from tipping over

Not every flip can be prevented, but with a few techniques the chances of capsizing can be reduced enormously. When you’re just starting out, you’ll need time to practice these techniques. But once you become very good at paddling, you’ll not need to worry about capsizing as the techniques will become almost instinctive. The most common ways of preventing a kayak from tipping over are: picking the right conditions, balancing your kayak, using the low brace, and using the high brace.

Picking the right paddling conditions

Depending on your skill and experience level with kayaking, you should choose the paddling conditions that suit your ability. Most often, the weather determines how safe you can be out there when kayaking. For instance, when the wind is blowing strongly, the waves are usually higher and there is a greater likelihood of flipping your boat under such circumstances. So avoid inclement weather and always plan your paddling trips in fair weather. Remember that there is always a next time.

Proper balancing of your kayak

Going out with a boat that’s well balanced will reduce the risk of tipping over. Before you can begin balancing your kayak with your torso, it’s prudent to first distribute all your stuff equally in the boat so the weight is evenly distributed from width to width, and from length to length. You also should have the kayak perfectly balanced when sitting straight up. By doing this right, you’ll make things a lot easier and will not struggle to keep a balance on the water once you set out on your trip.

Using the low brace

The low brace method is a wonderful way to recover your balance without getting wet. With the low brace technique, you can prevent yourself from losing balance as it uses a very quick and efficient stroke. In fact, it’s the perfect go-to move that you should master to develop your instinctive reaction whenever your boat is about to flip.

How do you practice the low brace? Take the right posture on your boat and maintain your normal forward grip of the paddle, then bring the paddle near your hip with the blade pointing downward on the side where you’re about to lean. Your knuckles on that side should point downward and your elbows should be high, but if the boat is moving then the blade’s edge pointing toward the boat should be slightly elevated. With this positioning, the paddle will climb upward to the surface and not dive under when sweeping it against the water.

To practice this technique, you should lean sideways until you’re about to fall over. Then after slightly losing your balance, quickly push your paddle’s blade downward against the surface while simultaneously moving your weight against your paddle. Keep your paddle horizontal as you brace so you can get utmost support. Though your intuition may push you to bend your torso quickly back over the top of the boat to recover your balance, you should know that you aren’t on solid ground and things work a little differently. So simply twist your hip then push the deck using your knee for tilting the boat back upright.

With the kayak restored to its level position, use its rotating force to help you get your upper body into balance. Consider it more like the kayak is slipping and you are pulling it back in place underneath you, and with your body closer to the deck it will be much easier. With continued practice, you can try adding a sweeping back-to-forth motion and increase your kayak tilts farther with time. Soon you also will learn to brace for much longer and these movements will become like second nature. But don’t forget to practice on both sides as tipping over won’t always occur on the same side.

Using the high brace

A high brace method is an upgrade on the low brace method and it’s invaluable when your boat tilts very far over to one side. It is a powerful recovery stroke, but follows virtually the same concept as the low brace with the power generated by pushing the blade against the water surface to provide energy for balancing the boat. The main difference between the two braces is that the high brace is done when you are under the paddle blade and dragging it down for support. You perform the low brace when over the paddle blade and shoving it down, which is completely opposite. So with the high brace, you have to be prepared for plenty of wet exits.

How do you practice the high brace? Maintain the normal forward grip of the paddle, keeping it near your body and controlling the boat with your feet. So your knees should be touching the deck and your heels pressed against the bottom so you don’t fall out of the boat when moving sideways. Then lean gently to the side until you begin to fall, winding your upper body marginally in order to turn your back slightly toward the surface. This will allow you to use your upper body later to make a bigger sweep with the paddle and as a major force for the brace.

With your paddle over the water, wait until you splash against the water surface and lose most momentum on your upper body then use the little support provided by the paddle brace for recovery instead of slowing down your fall. Also try keeping the paddle horizontal and turned with the blade on the side where you’re falling in is facing the water. Keep your hands and shoulders closer to your body to protect them from exposure to heavy pressure in unusual positions.

Now, unwinding your upper body and drawing the blade downward against the surface to create a supporting force to lean against, straighten your boat and draw the paddle against the water with your upper body still in water. That will offer a lasting force to enable you to flick the boat with your hips to bring it back upright. Once the boat begins to balance, drag your upper body quickly from the water and press the paddle downward, more like pulling the boat back underneath you but making sure your head comes out last off the water. The operation is much lighter with your body closer to the boat’s center, so it’s prudent you lean to the back of the deck when possible.

If the paddle stroke fails to give you a brace lasting long enough and the support vanishes quickly with the blade starting to sink underwater, draw the blade up quickly to the water surface by having it slice through the water. Once the blade is back to the surface, begin sweeping it back-and-forth horizontally against the surface, remembering to retain the blade in an elevated angle in its direction. Actually, the principle of the high brace is similar to that of the sculling draw and is easier when done with the body leaning toward the stern.

That’s how to prevent a kayak from tipping over. In truth, you’ll flip over someday as that’s just part of the paddling process. However, with practice, you’ll master all these techniques and everything will be fine. For more kayaking tips, visit the “Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy” site.

  • Jim Hill. (2018). Do kayaks flip over easily? Prevent a kayak from capsizes. Retrieved from

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