How To Keep Water Out of Your Kayak 

woman in boat

Learning how to get water out of kayak is a must-have skill, especially if you’re a beginner and plan to take your fishing kayak in rougher waters, and/or you plan on kayaking alone. There are many ways to go about ditching water in your kayak in the event of an emergency, but learning the best, fastest way to do so can mean the difference between safely making it back to shore and serious injury to yourself and extensive damage to your kayak. In these types of emergency situations, you need to act accordingly. Certain models of kayaks can require different techniques and the techniques you use can also depend on the weight of the kayak itself, and whether you’re kayaking alone. 

Key Takeaway: The bottom line here is to be prepared for any type of situation. If you have kayaking experience, but you’ve never been in a serious capsizing situation, practice. We’ve covered many techniques to choose from. Before you even think of heading out into the water whether alone or with a friend have a plan in mind in the event your kayak takes on water, or worse, it capsizes.

Draining Solo 

Emptying your kayak when it’s full of water and you’re alone can be a daunting task. A full kayak can be incredibly heavy and may feel even heavier when you’re trying to drain the kayak on your own just to keep afloat. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to assess the situation before you act. 

Your first step is determining how much water is in the kayak and how far you’ll have to travel in order to get back to dry land.

If there’s an excessive amount of water, then you might want to be careful of how much energy you use to try bailing out the kayak. 

One of the best options may be holding onto the bow of the kayak and swimming to shore, which may be a better option than attempting to drain it. If this is an option, just swim to land, pull the kayak onto the shore and tip it over in order to drain the water. You’ll need to do this a few times to completely drain it. 

If this isn’t an option, you may need to resort to emptying out the water while you’re swimming. 

The first thing you should do is swim to the bow and grab it using both hands. Make sure you’re aware of where your paddle is if you don’t have a tether.

Next, try lifting the bow of the kayak by using your arms and shoulders and simultaneously kicking your legs, in order to lift the bow. 

Once you have the cockpit out of the water then the kayak will begin to drain. If you have enough energy left, you can even try rocking it from side to side to get the water out faster. 

a word of caution

Basic Bow Lift Technique

The bow lift is a very basic option which is why we included it. For an even easier option, you can also try using a paddle float by placing the paddle shaft under your armpit.  Once you’re ready you can lift the bow easily doing a strong scissor kick. In order to break the seal at the cockpit coaming you might need to bounce the kayak. Once the bow is out of the water try to hold it up as long as possible. For kayakers, arm length and strength are a great asset. 

At this time the kayak should be mostly empty, so you can climb back in. When you’re in your kayak you can try using a bilge pump in order to get rid of any access water. This can save you a lot of time and money and they’re pretty affordable.

A Word of Caution 

If you’re new to kayaking, purchasing a kayak you can handle out in the ocean or in rough waters is very important, especially when emergency situations occur and you’re out alone. Often, many beginners are eager to handle the challenges of the water on their own, but without proper training and experience, this type of situation can end in serious injury, or even death, in extreme situations. 

Models such as the Sun Dolphin Journey fishing kayak, are easy to handle and feature a lightweight design that will allow you to use some of the techniques we’ve covered here, with less effort. 

If you’re new to kayaking, click here to read our ultimate fishing kayak buyer’s guide, where you can find more beginner-friendly models. 

When you use these draining methods, you should never risk a longer exposure time in order to drain the water if you’re not appropriately dressed. You should also be sure to practice these techniques before you need them. 

The main goal here is to save the time and energy it takes to pump the water out. If you’re exhausted and trying to use these techniques to drain the water out quickly, then you should probably redirect your efforts. 

Capsized Kayak 

Capsized Kayak

If you don’t have time for an in-water drain, then you can also try scooping out as much water as possible when you’re righting the kayak. 

A great way to minimize scooping action in the cockpit is to get under the kayak when it’s overturned. Inside the cockpit, place one hand on either side of the coaming. You’ll be able to breathe the air in the cockpit as long as it’s not completely filled with water. The majority of cockpits won’t fill up very much when it first capsizes. 

Next, thrust the kayak up and over. Using this technique, only a small amount of water will remain in the cockpit. 

When every other method has failed you, go to the side of the cockpit and flip it as fast as you can by pushing up on one of the sides of the coaming. Whatever you do, don’t jump on the overturned kayak and fall over it in an attempt to right it. 

There may be times when you can’t pump, or you don’t have a pump you can use after a wet exit. The options we’ve covered here are great alternatives. 

Safety Training

Regardless of how much or how little experience you have, if you don’t feel confident that you can handle this type of situation, then safety training lead by a licensed instruction is essential.

These programs are often available through sailing clubs or through private instruction. In one of these short training programs you’ll learn the basics of kayaking safety, including how to empty out a kayak in calm and rough waters, and how to quickly flip over a capsized kayak.

Most of these kayak safety training courses are one to two weeks in length and can give you the confidence and knowledge you need in order to stay safe out on the water.

Practice Makes Perfect

Beginners and seasoned kayakers can both benefit from practicing basic water dumping techniques, in order to be prepared the next time they’re out on the water.

To begin, you’ll want to find a safe place to practice, possibly a spot near the shore. Try to add as much water to your kayak as possible, then, begin using basic dumping techniques to empty the water as fast as possible.

How to Quickly Drain a Kayak

  • If you’re considering lifting the kayak to empty it, you should first get a feel for the weight. If the kayak feels very heavy, reassess the situation.
  • Start with a basic kayak roll, rolling the boat until it’s completely upside down in the water.
  • Once the boat is flipped over, you can begin pushing the bow toward the shore.
  • When you’re close to shore and the bow is on solid ground, you can begin to tilt the kayak slowly on its edge. This will cause the water to begin to flow out of the kayak’s cockpit rim.
  • Next, increase the angle in which you’re lifting the kayak in order to drain any remaining water.
  • As soon as the water stops flowing, put the stern down, allowing any remaining water in the bow to escape.

Remove  Remaining Water After a Dump

  • If your kayak has a built-in drain plug, simply unscrew it and stand the kayak on its stern.
  • Another method is to balance the kayak on your thigh, rocking it back and forth in order to get rid of the rest of the water.
  • If you have a heavy tandem kayak, ask a friend to take an end and seesaw the boat until the last of the water is drained.
Final Thoughts

Kayaking alone in rough water conditions can be very dangerous, without the proper training, especially for the beginner. But even an experienced kayaker can be at risk if they don’t have much experience dealing with this type of emergency situation.

If you’ve ever taken your kayak out to sea, then you know that there will be times when the waves can be very unpredictable. All it can take is just one wave to capsize you and throw you in the freezing water. When this happens, you’ll be prone to many dangers if you’re not prepared, including hypothermia. So, purchase a small, compact pump for your kayak, and practice the above methods discussed here, so when your kayak fills up with water, you can quickly pump the water out, or use these easy to follow techniques quickly, and efficiently.