Kayak Stability: Gaining Confidence with Stability

Stability and balance are key principles in life – in varying degrees of course. When attempting to stand on one leg or walking along a line on the pavement, balance is essential, as is stability. Change things up to walking a tight rope several feet in the air, and stability or confidence become more than necessary. While not as intimidating as walking a tight rope, kayaking also requires stability when in the water.

For beginners or admirers of kayaking, this is one of, if not the most raised question; how one manages to stay stable and not tip over while in the water. This is because kayaks are generally small and narrow vessels, with one sitting or standing inside them. In addition, water waves and currents make kayaks look extra susceptible to tipping over. Professional kayakers, however, know that it is not that simple. Good knowledge of your kayak's dynamics, as well as the form factor of the kayak affect stability, and the confidence of the kayaker. In an excellent video by Jeff Little, we see the determining factors to note and steps one can take to get to a point where one gains confidence in the stability of the kayak.

  •         Kayak Width

How the kayak is designed limits its stability on the water. The determining factor here is primarily the kayak's width. The wider the kayak, the more stable it generally is. Wider designs are saved for the vessels where one needs to stand up. While narrower kayaks are still very stable, they are more often than not meant for purely sitting down. It generally comes down to the kayak owner's personal preference.

While one gains the freedom to either sit or stand in a wider kayak, you sacrifice speed. Narrow kayaks are naturally faster than wider counterparts. Depending on the kayak's use, one may prefer stability and extra speed or slower speeds and extra stability. Again, knowing the limits of your kayak as pertains to width will go a long way in solidifying confidence in its stability.

  •         Hull Design

Different kayak manufacturers will have different hull designs for their boats. When moving from side to side, the keel and the patterns appended to either side will determine how far one can go without tipping over. This will, of course, vary from one kayak to another, even for kayaks from the same manufacturer. This brings us back to having to know the limits for yourself. But how exactly can you do this?

Tip It Over

Yes, intentionally. The only way to overcome something is to face it head-on. To gain confidence in stability, you must be willing to get a little wet. This means running the seated stability drill. This is simply trying to find the point at which the kayak tips over, and therefore gaining confidence in the stability and limits of your kayak. Steps for the drill are as follows:

  1. Ensure that you have no gear on the kayak.
  2. Get yourself in deep enough water such that if the kayak tips over, you will not hit your head on anything.
  3. Get rid of the paddles.
  4. Repeatedly lean left to right, stopping whenever you feel scared of tipping over and pull back.
  5. Find the point of no return: repeat until you know at exactly what angle the kayak tips over.

While doing all this, try to keep your torso upright, or 'loosen your hips.' It is also better to choose a relatively warm day to run this drill as the water temperature will be more favourable as opposed to a colder day. The drill helps not only with getting to know the tipping point but also with practicing how to get back on the boat while wet.

Standing Stability Drill

If sitting is a problem as pertains to stability, standing in a kayak is surely all the more intimidating. Getting a wider kayak and not standing on it especially when fishing can be termed as under-utilization. Practicing for the same using a standing drill also goes a long way in gaining that confidence in your kayak's stability. Trying to stand up from a sitting position while already inside a kayak is not easy for beginners, thus the approach highlighted in the below steps would be better in first building confidence.

  1. Find a shallow spot where you can stand beside your kayak. This is so that you can easily step out of the kayak whenever you feel unsafe or unbalanced.
  2. Place both hands on either side of the kayak.
  3. Put one foot inside the kayak such that you now have three points of contact with the boat.
  4. Put the other foot in while still holding on to the sides of the kayak.
  5. Let go of the sides and slowly stand up.
  6. Incrementally lift either of your feet such that the boat leans from one side to another.
  7. When a little more confident, find a deeper part in the water as you continue using your feet to lean from one side to the other.
  8. Continue with this until you feel confident enough to lift one leg completely off the boat, or 'flamingo.' This will show that you now feel confident in the stability of the boat.


Again, you cannot be afraid to get wet!

Check out our Stabilisers for those of you interested in adding additional stability to your kayak.