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How To Get Into A Kayak With Bad (Or Stiff) Knees And Start Kayaking

Nicola Burridge
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Navigating a kayak with bad knees can be challenging, but with the right techniques, you can enjoy this water activity safely. 

This guide provides tips and step-by-step instructions for how to get out of a kayak with bad knees, allowing for a smooth exit and minimizing strain on your knees. 

Tips For Kayaking With Bad Knees

Elevate Your Knees

Because of the nature of kayaking, it can sometimes be uncomfortable, even if you don’t have bad knees. Sitting down on a relatively hard surface for a few hours can cause joints to stiffen up and make knee pain worse. 

Blood will often start to pool around your knees if your legs are straight and your muscles can often stiffen.

I recommend placing a dry bag under your knees while you’re seated. This can provide additional support for your knees and can keep them elevated. 

Make sure you have something soft, like a towel or clothing in your dry bag before you try this or it could be uncomfortable.

You could also use a rolled-up towel under your legs instead of a dry bag. Some foam blocks could also work. 

Choose A Better Kayak Seat

How comfortable you are in the kayak will often come down to the quality and design of the seat. 

I find that the best types of kayak seats for kayaking with bad knees are ones that allow you to sit in an elevated position off the deck. An elevated seat allows your knees to bend rather than being in an extended position. 

This can be a more comfortable and natural seating position for your knees compared to being flat on the deck of your kayak with your legs stretched out in front of you.

Fishing kayaks will often have framed kayak seats that can provide an elevated seating position that can reduce knee pressure. This can also make sitting down and standing up much easier as it’s almost like sitting in a chair at home with your knees bent.

> Kayak fishing myths

Check out some of these best kayak seats for back support. But most of these are not elevated.

Try A Sit-On-Top Kayak

A sit-on-top kayak can be easier to get in and out of than a sit-inside kayak because of the open deck. So it can be important to choose the right kayak to prevent further injuries.

> Our favorite Sit On kayaks

This means you don’t have to struggle to enter an enclosed cockpit and you can usually swing or pull your legs onto the deck. It also means you have more freedom of movement for your legs and knees once you’re sitting in the kayak.

Most sit-on-top kayaks, such as recreational kayaks are designed for stability and ease of use. The added stability on some of these kayaks also gives you the option to stand up so you can stretch your legs while you’re on the water.

Stretch Your Muscles 

Before you do any physical activity, it’s always a good idea to stretch. However, stretching will not warm up muscles so you should do a little light activity beforehand, such as walking to the launch site. 

Stretching should be done as part of your daily routine to keep your muscles strong and supple so they can support your joints and keep you flexible.

Remember to stretch after your kayaking trip. 

Use Knee Protection Or Support

Knee pads can be a useful accessory for kayaking as they can help to provide additional support for your knees. 

Knee pads or, more specifically, knee braces are designed to absorb impacts and prevent knee injuries. The compression that these flexible braces provide helps to increase blood flow to your knee and reduces pressure on your knee joint.

You’ll often see athletes wearing knee braces to prevent further damage to joints or to minimize the pressure on their knees from sports such as running.

If you’ll be paddling in a sit-in kayak, you might want to also think about using knee pads in your cockpit to help cushion your knees from resting directly on the hard surface of your kayak.

On another note, knee pads can also provide knee protection if you plan to crawl out of your kayak on land.

Try A Pedal Kayak

While it might not seem like a great idea for bad knees, using your knees to propel yourself across the water can actually be beneficial. Pedaling a kayak can keep your knee joints moving so there’s less chance of them stiffening up in the process.

A kayak with a rotational pedal drive can be better for reducing knee pain. Because of the angle from which you pedal the kayak, this can ease knee strain immensely as pedaling is a relatively low-strain form of exercise.

Here are some of the best pedal kayaks.

For people with arthritis, those who have had knee replacement surgery, and those with other types of knee issues, like these bad knees kayakers on Reddit, a rotational pedal kayak can be better than a push-pedal kayak. This is because it generally doesn’t require a full extension of the leg.

What pedal system is better for someone with bad knees?
byu/RCPD_Rookie inkayakfishing

A downside of pedal kayaks, however, is that they can be much heavier than standard kayaks, which can make them trickier to carry. 

If you don’t want to put additional strain on your bad knees when carrying or car-topping a heavy kayak, I recommend investing in a kayak cart and a lift-assist car rack.

Check out some of the best kayak carts for heavy kayaks. Find out more about lift-assist kayak loaders for cars and SUVs.  

Attach A Rope To The Bow

One suggestion from other bad knees kayakers is to attach a rope to the bow of your kayak. This can help you get in and out, as you “can use the rope for support while lowering yourself into the cockpit”.

byu/khoker from discussion

Whether this works or not is not something I’ve tested. However, I can see how a rope could be useful in helping you to get onto your feet, like a stand-assist strap on fishing kayaks. 

You would need to have some decent upper body strength and a good grip to lower yourself into a kayak holding a rope.

Use Your Paddle As A Bridge

One method for getting in and out of a kayak is using your paddle as a bridge between the kayak and dry land so that you can lift yourself into the kayak more easily. 

This is similar to how many paddlers automatically get into a sit-in kayak. 

Video: How To Get In And Out Of A Kayak

With your kayak parallel to a dock or shoreline, place your paddle across the back of your kayak. 

About half the length of the paddle should be on the dock. From a sitting position on the dock, you can place both hands on the paddle behind your cockpit and use your arm strength to lift your lower body into the kayak. 

This trick might be easier if you have someone else with you to stabilize the kayak or you could end up in the water. 

It’s also not great if the dock or shore is much higher than your kayak. I recommend trying this from a low dock that’s the same height as your boat.

How To Get Out Of A Kayak With Bad Knees

Shallow Water Exit Method

Step 1: Paddle Close To The Shore

Paddle close to the shore where you plan to perform a shallow water exit. Stop when you hit knee-deep water. 

You can also try this in waist-deep water if you need the extra buoyancy from slightly deeper water. 

Secure your paddle to the kayak so that it doesn’t float away.

Step 2: Swing Your Legs Out

Start by swinging your legs round to the side of the kayak so that you’re sitting with both legs over the same side of the kayak. Your body should be facing the water and you should still be sitting in the kayak seat. 

Step 3: Shift Forward

Now that you’re sitting on the kayak like it’s a bench, shift yourself forward so that your butt moves closer to the edge of the kayak. Your feet and lower legs should be fully in the water at this point. 

Step 4: Carefully Stand Up

With your legs and feet in the water, keep sliding your body forward so that your feet eventually hit the bottom.

From this stage, you can push yourself up with the kayak and you should be in a standing position.

Roll Out Kayak Exit Method

Step 1: Find A Suitable Spot To Exit The Kayak Safely

Paddle close to the shore but make sure the water is deep enough that you’re not going to hurt yourself on the bottom when you roll out

You should also check to make sure there are no underwater hazards, such as rocks, submerged logs, or other obstacles that could be dangerous. 

You should also be close enough to the shore that you’re able to easily swim or wade to dry land. Remember to wear your life jacket for this.

It can also be a good idea to secure your paddle to your boat so that it doesn’t float away.

Step 2: Lean Over To The Side

This kayak exit method can be more suitable for sit-inside kayaks rather than sit-on-tops, as sit-in kayaks are generally easier to roll. However, it will depend on your kayak setup and whether you have a lot of extra gear on deck.

With most sit-in kayaks, when you lean to the side, the kayak will start to tip. Keep leaning over with your body weight until the kayak flips.

Step 3: Exit The Kayak Safely

Now that your kayak has flipped, you should automatically fall out. If you have a spray skirt attached, remember to unclip it before you start this process or you may have to perform a wet exit underwater.  

Video: Kayak Wet Exit

If you’re trying this exit method in a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll automatically fall off the kayak when your kayak starts to flip.

Step 4: Swim To Dry Land

Swim to shore but remember to pull your kayak along with you. When you hit shallow water you can wade the rest of the way. 

Roll Over Kayak Exit Method For Bad Knees

Step 1: Pull Up To A Low Dock Or Level Shoreline

Paddle up to a dock or a beach so that your kayak is parallel to the land. If you’re at a dock, it’s a good idea to secure your kayak to the dock so that it doesn’t start to move away. 

This can be done with most types of kayaks. However, if you have a sit-inside kayak, it’s probably easier if the cockpit is a larger-style design.

Step 2: Slide Down In The Kayak

Slide your butt forward so that you’re no longer sitting on the seat. Roll your body sideways so that you’re now on your knees. 

Step 3: Stand Up 

From a kneeling position, use your hands to push yourself off the deck into a standing position. Now you can easily step off the kayak onto the dock. 

You may also be able to try this in shallow water if you have a stable kayak or someone to help stabilize your boat while you perform the maneuver.

You might also want to think about using knee support when you try this exit, as it may put unnecessary strain on your knees when you’re on your hands and knees on a hard deck.

Video: Exiting A Kayak With Bad Knees

How To Get In A Kayak With Bad Knees

Shallow Water Kayak Entry

Step 1: Wade Out With Your Kayak

This is essentially a reverse example of the shallow water kayak exit method for bad knees above.

Wade out with your kayak from the launch spot until the water is around knee-deep. 

Knee-deep water makes it easier to get into a kayak because it essentially raises the kayak closer to waist height. This means you’re not putting unnecessary strain on your knees to go straight from a standing position to floor level.

Step 2: Face Away From Your Kayak

Secure your paddle before you turn away from the kayak. Then you can turn your body so that the kayak is behind you. Keep a hold of the sides of the kayak with both hands, as if you were about to sit down on a bench.

You should be standing next to the seating area of the kayak at this point. 

Step 3: Carefully Sit Down

Holding onto the side of the kayak with both hands, gradually lower yourself as if you’re about to sit down on a chair. In this situation, the deck of the kayak is your chair.

If you have an elevated kayak seat on the kayak, you might find it’s easier to sit down on the floor of the kayak and then shift yourself into the seat once you’re on the deck.

Step 4: Swing Your Legs Round

Now that you’re safely in the kayak, you can swing your legs into the kayak so that you’re facing the bow. Position yourself in the seat and you’re ready for kayak paddling.

Kayak Entry For A Sit-In Kayak

Step 1: Start On A Sandy Beach

Position your kayak on a sandy beach at your launch spot with the back half on the sand and the front half in the water. 

This can be a good place to start because of the gradually sloping nature of a beach, meaning you can essentially launch from dry land without getting wet. 

Remember to secure your paddle to the kayak. 

You can also use your paddle shaft to help you enter the kayak by placing it perpendicular to the kayak behind the cockpit where you plan to sit down. 

However, this might be trickier if you have a severe knee issue and need to fully concentrate on entering the kayak properly without having to worry about holding a paddle at the same time.

Step 2: Straddle The Kayak And Sit Down

Stand over the back of the kayak, just behind the cockpit, with one leg on either side.

Carefully lower yourself to sit on the back deck of the kayak. You can lean forward to grab the sides of the kayak to help stabilize yourself as you sit down.

You should be sitting on the back deck, just behind the kayak’s cockpit and your legs should still be on either side of the kayak. 

Step 3: Bring Your Legs In

Pull or swing your legs in, one leg at a time, so that your legs are now inside the cockpit. 

Step 4: Slide Into The Cockpit

With both legs inside the cockpit, use your upper body strength to lift and slide your butt into the cockpit. 

It can be easier to keep your legs straight for this maneuver so you can comfortably slide your legs under the deck in front of you as you bring your entire body forward.

Once you’re in a seated position, grab your paddle and push yourself away from the beach to start your paddling session.

Common Questions On Kayaking With Bad Knees

Can Special Equipment Help When Getting Into and Out Of a Kayak?

There are some companies, such as Creating Ability, that make adaptive kayaking gear for paddlers with disabilities and limiting physical conditions. 

But generally, you might find trial and error works for many entry and exit methods with bad knees. You may also be able to make use of existing equipment or a second person to help you get in and out of your kayak.

Does Using A Solo Or Tandem Kayak Make a Difference to Knees?

A tandem kayak will often be heavier and more difficult to carry compared to a solo kayak. This can add extra strain on your knees when you’re hauling the boat to the water or lifting it onto your car roof rack.

The right kayak will be one that’s easy for you to get in and out of with bad knees. Whether it’s a tandem or a solo kayak will generally have little impact on ease of use.

However, the legroom on some shorter tandem kayaks is often restricted when there are two adults in the kayak. This could mean you have less room to stretch your legs out if necessary and it could force you to sit with too much bend in your knees.

What Long-Term Impact Can Kayaking Have on Bad Knees?

Sitting with bad knees in the same position for a long time can cause stiff knees. However, kayaking as a sport puts minimal strain on the knees because it uses most upper body muscles. 

If you opt for a more gentle kayaking experience with simple paddling techniques on calm waters, you can enjoy a leisurely paddle without affecting your knee condition whatsoever. 

Just make sure you choose the right kayak for easy entry and exit to minimize pressure on your bad knees. 

Conclusion: Wat-er You Waiting For?

Kayaking with bad knees doesn’t need to be a struggle. Entering and exiting the kayak in shallow water can often be your best bet for simplicity.

It’s also important to choose the right kayak for your specific needs. A low-impact, gentle paddle downstream on your favorite local waterways can minimize strain on your lower body, and ultimately your knees, letting you enjoy your time in the outdoors.

Think about the height and adjustability of the seat so you can avoid stiff knees from sitting too long in the same position.

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5 thoughts on “How To Get Into A Kayak With Bad (Or Stiff) Knees And Start Kayaking”

  1. Once you are in the Kayak, having a propulsion system like Hobie’s mirage drive, stops them from seizing up and helps your back and shoulders as well


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