How to Get In (or Out) of a Kayak or Canoe Without Embarrassing Yourself

By Karuna Eberl.

Make a splash—in a good way—and impress friends with a smooth transition from land to lake.

GETTING INTO A CANOE IS unnerving. Failure means capsizing, plus looking foolish in front of that cute camp counselor. But as you wobble aboard, know you’re not alone. Even the experts dump their boats from time to time.

“I’ve flipped over completely in six inches of water trying to board my kayak,” says retired park ranger and marine biologist Kristie Killam. “Even though I think I know what I’m doing, it can still be daunting.”

Below are practical steps to help you glide more gracefully into that canoe or kayak, starting with one key concept: “It’s all about having a relationship with your center of gravity,” says Jon Turk, whose exploits earned him a National Geographic adventurer of the year title in 2012.

Turk likens canoes to bicycles: They’re both machines that become an extension of you, if you can maintain constant communication with them about your balance.

“Build that relationship from the very moment you step into it, and you’ll become one and move together,” he says.

Launching canoes and kayaks from shore, like a boat ramp or the beach, is the easiest way to go. If you have gear, put that in first, making sure its weight is balanced in the middle, along the center line. Place the boat perpendicular to the shoreline, either all the way in the water or with a small bit on land. If there’s two passengers, have one person stabilize it while the other steps in.

The golden rule of stepping in is to keep your feet on the center line and traverse the canoe in a low crouch. Slide your hands along the gunnels for balance, then gradually lower your center of gravity until you’re seated. When it’s time to get out, just do all of that in the reverse order.