Top Tips for Kayaking Solo

Many people tell you to avoid kayaking solo, as we have previously done, as it not considered the safest way to enjoy the sport, and you can have a lot of fun in a group. However, that shouldn’t put off experienced kayakers making solo trips on calm waters. Many paddlers prefer being alone on the water, as it’s a soothing activity that gets you closer to nature, helps clears your mind and gives you a challenge.

If you are a more experienced kayaker looking to have a little adventure alone, we have put together some top tips to help prepare for a solo expedition, and some conditions you should be able to confidently meet before getting one of our kayaks for sale out onto the water.

Woman kayaking solo

What You Need to Know

Before you head off paddling solo, there are certain things you should know and be able to do. This includes reliable self-recovery skills and good swimming abilities should you capsize or get stuck in a strong current, solo launching and landing skills, as kayaks can be heavy and hard to carry without an extra pair of hands. You should also make sure you have a spare paddle, signalling kit and repair kit with you if you are heading out alone.

Being able to navigate and be familiar with the route you are taking is essential too; try your first solo trips in places you are familiar with before seeking out new destinations. It is also a good idea to listen to and understand weather forecasts, especially for the sea, before setting off. Being caught unawares by the weather is dangerous, more so for solo paddlers.

Start Short

Solo sessions don’t have to last an entire day; a couple of hours is enough to give you a feel for a solo adventure. As we mentioned above, choosing a familiar route you have travelled on with a group is a good idea too, as you won’t have the worry about navigating unknown waters. Once you have become used to solo paddling on shorter distances, you will be able to start on planning longer trips for yourself.

Have an Emergency Plan

When going off alone on a solo expedition, whether it’s by kayak, bike, SUP or walking, you should always have an emergency plan in place and let someone, be it family or friends, know where you will be going, how long you’ll be gone on average and what you will be doing. Remember to have your phone with you, kept in a dry bag or pouch within easy reach when on the water.

Person kayaking solo watching a sunset

Secure Your Belongings

When kayaking alone, you are the one responsible for everything you will take with you. Get a quality dry bag, and make sure it is securely attached to your kayak when you head out; you don’t want it to sink should your kayak turn over!

Don’t Overestimate Your Strength

Keeping your journey short also means you won’t be overestimating your strength and the distance you can cover. Take it slow and steady – remember to save some energy for the end as paddling back to shore requires a bit of strength, as does carrying your kayak back to your car! Take energy bars with you and eat a slow-burning meal before setting off.

Don’t Panic

Saying don’t panic is all well and good on dry land, but it is important to remember to stay calm if things go wrong, so you won’t make the situation worse. Take deep breaths and find a solution, as there should rarely be instances where your first thought is calling for help. Experienced kayakers should know to be prepared and aware of any situation.

Person using a one man Riber kayak

Know the Area

While starting out in places is a good idea, solo kayakers no doubt will want to try somewhere new. Before taking your kayak in the water, get to know the area on land, taking note of landmarks and distances between them, if you’re paddling on a canal or river. For sea kayaking, have a look at the coastline’s topography so you won’t be surprised by having to navigate a large headland or rocky area. It is also important to be aware of others around you such as other paddlers and boats, though avoiding areas popular for powered vessels is best.

Packing List for Solo Kayakers

–    Communication devices; mobile phone, VHF radio, whistle, torch.

–    Water and light snacks.

–    Waterproof bags and pouches to protect electronic and personal items

–    Skin and eye protection; sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, lip balm.

Paddling alone can be a lot of fun, but make sure you are confident on the water, a capable swimmer and have the right equipment with you to stay safe.

Take a look at some of our other blogs about paddling:

8 reasons to take up a paddling sport

All you need to know about paddling on canals

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  1. Bertie on December 2, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    This is very good advice! One thing i would advise is to make sure the one thing you do leave behind is your pride. I myself have experienced times where I’ve felt encouraged to keep going in dangerous conditions, or to change my plans at launch, as it can feel demeaning to not be ‘able to do a solo paddle’ when you have already organised with family/friends knowledge of your route (hopefully). Even if you feel you could continue in poor conditions solo, the coastguard will always be happy to take you out of a situation that could turn into something worse for the both of you.

    • John on August 5, 2021 at 11:12 am

      Long range touring. I was advised to invest in a VHF radio as this means you do not have to find some high spot along the coast from which to get an adequate mobile phone signal. Your mobile phone is useless near the shore. I used the phone to take pictures with location and times on, sent this to the coastguard. You really should look up coast guard stations on the internet in advance as regions change along your route, and make sure they communicate with each other. They don’t always remember to do this which means at certain points no one knows where you are.
      Timed GPS photos are sent to the coast guard, also this helps keep track of where you spent the night in case you are keeping a diary. They will tell you off if you fail to report for more than a day. This is a good thing! (I took an SLR also though these can not be used in choppy waters but photo quality is better.)

      I the morning the coast guard can give an accurate weather report. If travelling down wind do keep a look out behind you. I have been caught in bright sunshine, wonderful clear conditions only to find a dark grey sky behind me. I raced to the shore on an incoming tide and had to climb the cliffs to hang the boat half filled with water from a rock againt which the waves crashed below me. Bless mountain tackle, good cleats and rope. Weathered the storm having wedged myself into a crevice with boat hanging from another rock. Not a soul in sight.
      Once the storm abated and the tide started back out I set up tent having to bury the tent pegs and load then with rocks before covering with sand and slept till midday to emerge on a totally empty vast beach near Sidmouth. Not a footprint in sight. A better heaven indeed than I would have been in had I sunk altogether before making it to the beach where the boat sank in shallow water, spray deck and all.
      Have maps and phone coast guard every morning definitely and evening also if possible for weather forecast and approximate travel plans. They will look out for you and will get to know you by name.

      If planning a longer trip, do collect maps to drool over in the winter months so you can look for places where a morning coffee might be come by not to mention places to visit. (Seeing as you are nearby anyway.) ALSO take a compass. If the fog descends as it can, you will have no idea which direction to go in. Buy and learn to use a Silva compass and take readings now and again if a mist begins to form near the shore line. You do not want to get caught in open water with night approaching. Always seek to find a place to sleep in plenty of time to set up camp before dark. If the weather turns, you may be there for days.

      Finally (if you are still with me) use your maps and the winter months to get in touch with canoe clubs along the way of your planned route. They will give the best local information, may come out and join you and on occason some of their members will become friends – people you would otherwise never have met.

  2. Jason G. Davidson on July 11, 2020 at 9:24 am

    I have found your article very informative and interesting. I appreciate your points of view and I agree with so many. You’ve done a great job with making this clear enough for anyone to understand.

  3. Adventure HQ on April 9, 2021 at 6:07 am

    Great kayaking tips for beginners

  4. Thomas Clarence on April 12, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    This summer, I would like to go on a kayak tour during the two-week vacation that I am going to be going on. It was really helpful when you talked about how it is a good idea to get a dry bag to use so that your belongings don’t get wet. I will have to get a dry bag that I can use to keep my phone dry so that I can use it if I get into an emergency.

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