The 9 Real Dangers of Kayaking [Rivers & Oceans Covered]
Kayaking can be a very relaxing or very thrilling sport. That depends on whether you prefer paddling through harrowing canyons or calm waters. But at the same time, regardless of where you paddle, there will always be a specific element of danger.
However, the danger can be radically minimized with just a little foresight. Here’s everything that you need to know about the real dangers of kayaking.
Perceived risk vs. the real dangers of kayaking
There are plenty of misconceptions about the dangers of kayaking. A good chunk of them is just perceived, not real dangers. Therefore, we must first clear the water from that, before we proceed to the real ones, the ones that matter.
Perceived risk is an idea that we might have about how scary some activity it is and how risky it is to do that. For example, some might see skydiving as extremely scary and risky, while in fact, it isn't.
There is actual data to prove that the perceived risk of skydiving is high and unjustified. Another example is old folks and their thoughts on traveling abroad. Many still believe that it can be risky and dangerous. That's the very definition of perceived risk. On the other hand, an army of young people that like to travel a lot, know that there is no harm in traveling abroad and that the risk is minimal.
Kayaking has been around for some time, yet the perceived risk is still there. At least with some folks. The reality is quite the opposite. The reality is there are some risks, but nothing like they see it.
When done properly, kayaking is one of the safest sports around, and that's pretty much a fact. We’ve made this list of the real dangers of kayaking and how to avoid them to debunk some common misconceptions.
1) Cold shock
Sometimes when you enter water that is way colder than the surrounding, the body stops to function properly. Anyone that has ever jumped into super cold water knows that feeling. You will feel like your head is about to burst and as if your breath was forcefully removed from your breasts.
The trick here is to get acclimatized yourself to cold. Enter the water slowly and take your time. And make sure that you have someone else next to you. That’s because you may still fall in cold shock, even though you are going in slowly.
Hypothermia is a physiological reaction to continuous exposure to cold temperatures. It results in a decrease in core body temperature. One of the fastest ways to get hypothermia is to be exposed on extremely cold water.
Kayakers can combat this by wearing suitable clothing. It is that or staying at home during the extreme conditions and harsh cold weather. But if you don’t want to miss out on kayaking, even though it's freezing cold, make sure that you pack an extra set of dry clothes.
Sweepers are obstacles and low hanging branches just above the surface of the water.
They might look like nothing, but they can be very deceptive.
A small branch in the face can make you lose your balance and make you fall in the water. Therefore, don’t take any chances to paddle around them.
Strainers are the opposite of sweepers as they are submerged obstacles. Being caught in one and if there is a strong current, it becomes a lethal combination.
There is no way to tell how big the strainers are and how stuck you can be.
If you notice some, stop paddling and look around. Maybe even backpaddle so you can better assess the situation. If you are kayaking in an area that is known to have plenty of strainers don’t go alone.
Make sure that you have a partner that can help you get out if you find yourself stranded by some strainers.
5) Weir Hydraulics
This is especially dangerous. Weirs are humanmade river obstruction designed to control river levels. They are built when a full dam cannot be made.
The real danger is on the downstream of the weir. It is called weir hydraulics, which is a self-circulating current of water.
And anyone caught in it is trapped into a never-ending cycle of re-submersion.
If you notice one stop! Don’t go over it, don’t go near it. Paddle as far as possible from them and don’t take any chances. The video below shows how dangerous the weir hydraulics is.
In the world of kayaking, an undercut is an underwater hollow depression.
Sometimes, mud banks or rock ledges can create a large undercut. One that can easily trap a person.
The thing with undercuts is that usually, they are not visible from the surface, at least not until it’s too late. If you find yourself in such situation, stay calm while trying to figure out how to help yourself. Wearing a life jacket can make a huge difference.
7) Sun Exposure
Too many times people have underestimated continuous sun exposure and what that brings to the table. Constant sun exposure can cause stroke, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and other conditions.
The best way to avoid getting any of those conditions is to always stay hydrated (drink plenty of water), wear light colored clothes, sun hat, and sunscreen at any time.
8) Don’t wear a necklace or anything around your neck
Any type of necklace around your neck can be considered as a lurking danger. You don’t need anything like that while on the river.
Necklaces can easily be caught by some branch, and you can find yourself fighting both the river and the necklace that's strangling you. Just leave all of your necklaces and jewellery in your car or at home.
9) Improper PFD
Wearing a life jacket or PFD (personal floating device) is essential. But it doesn’t work if you wear it loose or if it's not as per your size. Also, it won’t do any good if it is a cheap knock off that doesn’t do anything.
Before you buy it, you need to make sure that it is rated for your weight and size. The PFD should be able to slip past your ears and shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. All you need to do is, considering the right size and a reputable company. So don’t go for the cheapest ones.
Ocean Kayaking Dangers
Kayaking in the ocean brings certain dangers that are specific to that environment. Some of the most notable ones are mentioned below:
River kayaking dangers
Most of the river kayaking dangers can be found in the first part, where we talked about all kayaking dangers. The ones that are specific to river kayaking are as follows:
Some kayakers might add other types of rive kayaking dangers, different than the ones here. They might be real and based on real-life experiences.
But at the same time, they are either specific to only some types of rivers or extremely rare. For example, some would say kayaking in the Amazon is dangerous because of the piranha that lives there.
So yes, piranhas are dangerous, but the danger is only there. There is no danger of piranha in rivers across the world. Another important point is to make sure you get the right river kayak for this activity.
Other kayaking FAQs
Do I need a license to go kayaking?
There is no such thing as a kayaking license. But, before you go kayaking, it is recommended to take some kayaking classes or go with someone that has experience.
Do I need to be fit to go kayaking?
Kayaking is a sport in which you depend on your ability to paddle and keep balance. But then again, you can paddle as much as you like. There is no limit to how far you should go or for how long.
You set your boundaries and goals. Your fitness is essential, but not something that can keep you off your kayak.
How difficult is to learn kayaking?
The learning curve is quite small. There are just a few simple moves that you must learn before you start kayaking. Beginners are always encouraged to take lessons first or start with an experienced friend. You can also get a tandem kayak so that your experienced friend can help guide the way. Check out this article for a good quality 2 person kayak.
Can I take my dog on my kayak?
Technically yes, it is possible, and you might have seen videos of people kayaking with their dogs. However, they are all experienced kayakers, and it is very likely their pets have been trained to remain calm while on the kayak.
In any case, it is a complex issue, and there are a lot of things to be taken into consideration first. Check out this article if you would like to know how to take your kids or dogs on a kayak trip.
Some of the stuff mentioned here is probably new to you, while others not so much. Nevertheless, everything needs to be taken into consideration as all of that comes from a place of experience.
The tips and pieces of advice are all derived from people that have years of experience and well versed with the many dangers of kayaking.
Kayaking can bring tons of fun and joy, but only if you take care of your kayak and equipment properly. Be careful, do your research, take precautions, and make informed decisions. Just stick to what you learned here, and kayaking will be all about having fun and connecting with nature.
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