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How to Lift and Carry a Kayak by Yourself or With a Partner

Learn how to carry a kayak safely and efficiently, whether you’re tackling the task solo or teaming up with a buddy.

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Ever tried lifting a kayak? It’s not as simple as it looks. From the days of traditional Inuit crafts to today’s sleek, modern designs, kayaking has seen a vast evolution. But one challenge remains consistent: how to carry a kayak safely.

We’ll break down the process, showing you step-by-step how to carry a kayak easily and confidently, whether you’re going solo or teaming up with a partner. We’ll also introduce you to equipment that can make transporting your kayak more effortless.

How to Carry a Kayak by Yourself

Before you even think about lifting a kayak, take a moment. A swift inspection can save you from potential mishaps. Did you forget a water bottle or perhaps a paddle inside? Removing these items not only ensures a safer lift but also makes your journey more manageable.

Carrying a Sit-Inside Kayak

The defining feature of sit-inside kayaks is, unsurprisingly, their cockpit. This design offers a gripping point when it’s time to carry.

  1. Positioning: Stand beside your kayak, aligning yourself with its midpoint. Ensure the kayak’s bow (the front) is directed where you intend to go.
  2. Initial Grip and Lift: With feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and grip the cockpit’s edge closest to you. Tilt the kayak, making the cockpit face outward, and gently hoist it onto your thighs.
  3. Securing the Kayak: With the kayak stabilized on your thighs, reach across with one hand, grabbing the underside of the cockpit.
  4. Lifting onto Your Shoulder: Engage your leg muscles, using the leverage of your thighs to lift the kayak. Then let it settle on your shoulder, using the cockpit rim for support.
  5. Balance and Movement: Feel the kayak’s balance. If it tilts, adjust accordingly. With the kayak secure, move forward using your free hand to guide and stabilize the kayak. Or, if you feel comfortable, you can use your free hand to carry your paddle.

Pro Tip: Wearing your personal flotation device (PFD) while carrying can act as a cushion, making the kayak sit more comfortably on your shoulder.

Carrying a Sit-On-Top Kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks present a slightly different challenge due to the absence of a cockpit.

  1. Identify Grip Points: Look for the most comfortable grip areas, typically side handles or specific molded grips.
  2. Lift: Emulating the sit-inside technique, use the power of your legs. A firm grip is paramount to prevent mishaps.
  3. Carry: Once lifted to waist height, hold the kayak sideways, reminiscent of a briefcase.

Is It Okay to Drag Your Kayak?

Man dragging a blue kayak on sand

While dragging a kayak might seem tempting, it’s not always the best choice. Rough terrains can be unforgiving, causing potential damage. If dragging is unavoidable, lead from the bow and steer clear of abrasive surfaces.

On softer grounds like sand or grass, short-distance dragging has minimal impact. However, if it becomes a regular part of your routine, consider investing in a protective skid plate to shield your kayak from excessive wear.

Note: Composite or fiberglass kayaks should never be dragged due to their delicate hulls, which can easily sustain damage.

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