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

Mark Armstrong
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Getting into a kayak can be tricky at the best of times but when you have bad or stiff knees, it can be even more of a strain on your joints. But kayaking is a sport and outdoor activity that just about anyone can enjoy.

So we’ve put together this guide to show you how to get into a yak even if your knees aren’t quite in the same shape as they used to be, so you can continue enjoying kayaking with everyone else.

How To Get Into A Kayak With Bad (or stiff) Knees And Start Kayaking - PinterestPin

How To Get Out Of A Kayak With Bad Knees (kayak exit for seniors)

First up, if you have bad knees you may find it easier to get into a sit-on-top kayak rather than a sit-inside.

Sit-on-top recreational kayaks have open cockpits which can make it easier for most people with knee problems to get in and out of, compared to an enclosed cockpit on a sit-inside.

Video: Gently Entering & Exiting The Kayak

Exit Into Shallow Water

This can be one of the best ways to get out of a kayak with bad knees and possibly one of the easiest. This is because shallow water can let you stand up from a more natural seating position compared to flat on the floor.

To do this, you should paddle close to the shore where you plan to exit. Stop when the water gets to around a foot deep or knee deep. Try not to go too shallow or your kayak could suffer structural damage.

Secure your paddle on your kayak. Then gently swing your legs round to one side of your kayak, so that your body is perpendicular to the kayak and you’re facing the water on the side of your boat.

Slowly slide yourself forwards so that your feet and legs are in the water and you’re sitting as if you’re sitting on a bench. Keep going until you can touch the bottom with your feet. Now you can stand up gently using the side of the kayak to push yourself up.

You could also try this from water that’s waist high.

This might take a little practice. Remember to pull your kayak along with you when you walk to the shore.

Roll Out

Another easy exit method, if not always the most graceful, is to simply roll out of your kayak while you’re on the water.

This can possibly be easier with sit-inside kayaks than sit-on-top kayaks. Because of the natural buoyancy, a sit-on-top kayak is not really designed to roll over and it means you’ll just fall off the deck with a splash rather than out of the cockpit if your kayak flips.

The best way to roll out of your kayak with bad knees is to make sure the water is deep enough that you won’t hurt yourself on the bottom. Make sure there are also no other hazards, such as rocks, tree stumps or underwater obstacles.

Man rolling a kayak on a lakePin

It’s also a good idea to secure your paddle shaft to your boat so that it doesn’t float away and make sure your life jacket is securely fastened.

Once you’ve found a safe spot, close enough to shore, lean your entire body over to the side using your bodyweight so that your kayak tips over. Once you’ve fallen out or off, you can start to swim to shore with your kayak in tow.

Your medical history will probably determine whether this method is safe enough for you or not.

How to roll a kayak

Get Help

Sometimes it can be easier to get someone else to help you. If you’re paddling with a friend and they’re able to get out of their kayak safely and easily on their own then they can stick around to help you. If you’re on your own, you might want to call for help if there are people within earshot.

Paddle your kayak as close as you can to the shore so that the bow of your kayak is perpendicular to the shoreline and your body is facing the shoreline.

With your kayak beached on dry land, get your friend to stand next to your kayak and facing you. Have your friend take both of your hands in theirs and when you’re both ready, have them pull you up out of your seat until you’re safely on your feet and can stand out of your kayak.

This method may not work well if you’re in an enclosed cockpit, as you might need a little more room for your legs to stabilize yourself as you move from a seated position to a standing position.

Kayak Knee Pads

A pair of knee pads like these Ion K-Pact ones can be useful in helping you get out of a kayak. As well as providing additional support for your knees if you’re in the same position for a while, they can also provide impact protection to prevent knee pain.

The Ion K-Pact neoprene ones are made for mountain biking but they can be useful because they can be easily put on and taken off using the side zipper, so you don’t need to take your shoes off to get them on and off.

This means you could easily keep them in a dry bag and put them on just before you head back to shore to attempt your kayak exit method. That’s if you don’t need them for your entire paddling session.

Crawl Out

Adding some padding can give you more versatility on how you get out of your boat and can help to reduce knee pain. For example, with added padding around your knees you could effectively crawl out of your kayak and onto the shore as a way to get out, without having to kneel directly on solid ground (even if it is just sand).

However, if your knees aren’t completely healthy or for anyone with severe disabilities, this may not be the best method, as it could make things worse.

Crawling out on your own hands can help you get out of a kayak with bad knees, although it’s probably not the most dignified (especially if you have an audience) but it can work if you have a quiet exit spot.

To do this it’s probably easier if you’re as close to the shore as possible so that you can crawl onto the beach. Make sure about half the length of your kayak is on dry land or, alternatively, have your kayak parallel to the shoreline and exit to the starboard side. 

If you’re on a sandy beach, you might find that it’s easier to lean to the side and use the beach to support your body before you then pull your legs out of the kayak to get on your hands and knees.

Alternatively, as another kayak exit method, you can swing your legs out first and then roll onto the deck of your kayak (as if you’d just climbed back on from the water). Then you can crawl backwards on your hands and knees till you’re safe on the land. From there you can then stand up either on your own or with the help of a friend (or a nearby tree).

How To Enter A Kayak With Bad Knees

Wade Out With Your Kayak

Just like you can get out of your kayak easier in shallow water, you can also get into it this way, by wading out with your kayak until you’re about a foot deep in the water, or till the water is just below your knees.

The way to get into your kayak from the water is similar to how you got out and a method we mentioned earlier, except in reverse. This can be an efficient method of kayak entry.

Firstly, in knee deep water close to your launch spot, you should secure your kayak paddle to your kayak so that it’s safe until you’re seated. Waist deep water may be too deep for this.

Standing at the side of your kayak with your back to it and your hands on the sides, carefully lower yourself to sit down in your kayak. Then you swing your legs around so that you’re fully seated in your cockpit or seat. This can be one of the easiest ways to get into a kayak and lets you get your butt in quickly to stabilize yourself.

Slide Into The Cockpit

If you have a sit-inside, it can sometimes be more difficult to get in and out of, especially if your knees aren’t in great shape. One way to get into a sit-inside kayak with bad knees is to straddle the kayak and lower yourself in.

Video: How To Safely Get Into A Sit-on Top Kayak

This can be done more easily if the back half of your kayak is on the beach, with the front half in the water, so that it doesn’t move around too much while you attempt this maneuver. Remember to secure your paddle in a paddle holder or somewhere safe on your boat.

Once your legs are on either side of the kayak, carefully sit down on the back deck, behind the rim of your cockpit. This can now let you swing one leg into the cockpit one at a time.

Now that your legs are both in you can support yourself with your arms and lower your body into the cockpit and safely into your seat, moving your legs forward under the cockpit a

This can be an easy kayak entry method for bad knees and those with limited mobility.

Paddling A Kayak With Bad Knees

Kayaking with bad knees can sometimes be uncomfortable, depending on the type of kayak you’re in, how comfortable your seat is, and how long you plan to paddle.

There are a few paddling techniques you can use (together with the right gear) to improve your comfort, reduce the pressure on your knees and minimize knee pain once you’ve mastered the kayak entry and exit method.


One thing that can help is to keep your legs elevated rather than flat on the deck. Some kayak seats feature full adjustability to let you customize your seating position to best suit your body and paddling style.

For paddling with bad knees kayakers often prefer to upgrade their seat to one that’s more suitable, although finding the right equipment will generally mean an extra cost.  

Some kayak seating systems, for example, benefit from leg lifters within the seat, which can allow you to raise the edges of the seat to better support your legs so that your legs aren’t in the same position for too long.

One such seating system is the Phase 3 AirPro seat, which can be found on several Wilderness Systems kayaks, including the Tarpon 120.

Alternatively, you might find it useful to securely position a dry bag underneath your legs to provide that much needed elevation. It can also help you to move your legs while you’re on the water, so that your legs don’t stiffen up. A knee brace or pads might also help with this.

Some sit-on-top kayaks, especially fishing kayaks, often feature elevated seating, which can be more comfortable for longer trips, as it can let you sit more naturally with your knees bent and your feet flat on the deck.

These types of seats can also let you straighten your legs every so often to loosen and stretch your muscles, giving you a lot more freedom of movement than an enclosed cockpit on a sit-inside kayak, which may be preferable if you have bad knees.

Kayaking in Lake McDonald, American Rocky Mountains in the background, USAPin

Cockpit Padding

Deck padding or rim padding can also help if your knees will be resting on the sides of your cockpit. Most kayaks will come with some type of padding for your knees and thighs, but you might want to add your own for extra protection, such as with these self adhesive NRS Padz.

Another top tip: you could even add knee blocks for added support for your knees, which can be stuck to the sides of your cockpit just below your thigh pads. The knee blocks are designed to help reduce strain on your knees and provide additional posture support for improved overall comfort. 


Our final thoughts kayaking with bad knees is that just because you have stiff knees shouldn’t mean you can’t enjoy taking private lessons and kayaking like everyone else. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your comfort while you’re in the right kayak and now you know how to get in one, there should be nothing holding you back.

Let us know how you get on when you next take to the water. And if you have any tips you want to share or advice on how to kayak with bad knees, leave us a comment. Don’t forget to share this guide with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts to encourage more kayakers.

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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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