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Kayaking In The Rain – Safety Tips To Avoid Danger

Mark Armstrong
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Embrace the elements: kayaking in the rain offers a unique and exhilarating adventure for water enthusiasts. 

Discover the serene beauty of nature in its most unfiltered form, as raindrops dance on the water’s surface. 

In this guide, we’ll unveil essential tips and gear to make your rainy-day paddle an unforgettable experience.

Is Kayaking Dangerous In The Rain Or During A Thunderstorm?

Kayaking in the rain is generally safe, but not without risk.

Kayaking in a thunderstorm, on the other hand, is not safe at all.

Dangers Of Kayaking In A Lightning Storm

Kayaking during a thunderstorm can be very dangerous. Being on or in water during an electrical storm can put you at increased risk of being struck by lightning. 

If you live in or have ever visited, Florida, for example, you’ll probably have heard the common phrase, “When the thunder roars, go indoors.” This means you should seek shelter immediately and avoid water in a thunderstorm because lightning won’t be far away.

If you are paddling when a thunderstorm rolls in, I recommend that you paddle to shore as quickly as possible. 

Lightning can travel through water, including the plumbing in your home, which means you can get electrocuted even if you’re not struck by lightning directly. 

When lightning strikes a body of water, the electricity spreads horizontally across the surface rather than under it. 

If you are stuck out on the water with no time to get back to shore, it’s advisable to get as low as possible in your kayak. Remember to remove all vertical accessories, such as fishing rods and flag poles. Avoid direct contact with any metals on your boat. 

Water Levels Can Rise And Conditions Can Change Quickly

Kayaking in the rain can be different from kayaking on a calm, sunny day. Rain can cause water levels to rise, which can be significant in some locations. 

Rivers, in particular, can be susceptible to the effects of heavy rain. Debris can get washed downstream by heavy rainfall and can become a hazard for paddlers. 

The speed of the currents can increase in addition to the river level rising. You may also encounter fast-moving whitewater rapids on a previously calm river. Heavy rainfall a few miles upstream or in nearby mountains can affect the conditions where you plan to paddle.

If you’re planning a river kayaking trip, I recommend checking out the route in advance. You can check river water levels online or through local outfitters. 

Remember, if the weather and water conditions begin to take a turn for the worse, it can be best to head to the nearest safe landing area so that you can wait for the bad weather to pass. 

While you’re waiting on dry land, this can be a good time to check the weather forecast again to find out if it’s safe to continue on your trip. If the rain is accompanied by strong winds, this can make paddling more difficult.

Do I Need Special Training To Kayak In Rainy Weather?

While you don’t necessarily need special training to kayak in the rain, your trip may require extra preparation. You may also need to think about added safety considerations for kayaking in inclement weather.

As always, and especially when kayaking in rainy or cold weather conditions, you should wear a life jacket. 

Prepare For Kayaking In The Rain

Checking the water levels at your paddling location can be a good idea before you set off on your kayaking trip. If there are strong currents or flooded areas, it’s probably a good idea to postpone your trip until the conditions improve.

Check the local weather forecast ahead of time. Avoid kayaking in the rain if there’s an increased risk of flash floods, as this can be dangerous due to submerged hazards and floating debris.

I recommend making sure you have sufficient safety equipment with you on your kayak trip, such as a first aid kit, waterproof GPS device, radio with weather alerts, and a whistle.

Boost Your Visibility

Visibility deteriorates in the rain. This means you need to make yourself more visible to compensate. 

For kayaking on lakes and large bodies of water, I recommend attaching a safety flag to your kayak to improve your visibility to other boats.

Check out the guide to kayak safety flags here.

A kayak light can be useful if the conditions are particularly bad. But this is not essential if you’re paddling in daylight.

Wearing bright colors or clothing with reflective strips can also boost your visibility.

Know How To Roll Your Kayak

If you plan to paddle in a sit-inside kayak, you should know how to safely roll your kayak if your kayak flips in rough weather conditions. 

This involves using your hips and your paddle to bring yourself back to the surface and in an upright position in your kayak after having capsized. 

Video: How To Roll A Kayak

Water conditions can change rapidly in rainy weather, both on inland waterways and on the coast. This could increase your risk of capsizing. If the conditions start to deteriorate, you should make your way to shore as safely as possible.

> Learn how to roll a kayak

File A Float Plan

A float plan can help to save your life if you get into difficulty while on your rainy day kayaking trip.

Your float plan should include your intended route and any alternative routes that you might take due to a change in the weather forecast or conditions during your trip.

Remember to include a description of your kayak. If other people are joining you on your kayaking trip, you should include them on your float plan.

Float plans can let friends and family know when you plan to return. Leave the information with a responsible person who’s staying behind so that they can raise the alarm if you fail to return as scheduled.

Are There Particular Types Of Kayaks Suitable For Rainy Conditions?

Generally speaking, sit-inside kayaks can be better for kayaking in rainy conditions. This is because a sit-inside kayak can offer increased protection from the elements thanks to the enclosed cockpit. 

The cockpit can help to keep your lower body drier than if you were paddling in a sit-on-top kayak. 

There’s also the benefit of being able to attach a spray skirt to the rim of your cockpit, which can help to keep the rain out of the cockpit, ensuring your lower body stays dry.

However, not all sit-inside kayaks are compatible with a spray skirt. Some recreational sit-inside kayaks have oversized cockpits that are too large for most spray skirts.

Remember to take proper precautions when paddling in a sit-inside kayak. For example, bring along the right safety gear for paddling in the rain. A bilge pump can be particularly useful for bailing water out of your cockpit. 

A sit-inside kayak with an open cockpit may start to fill up with water in the rain, which is where bilge pumps come in handy. A sponge can also help to get rid of excess water. 

What Clothing Is Best For Kayaking In The Rain?

Pack Your Waterproofs

Waterproof clothing can be the best option for kayaking in the rain. The main consideration is that your outer layer of clothing is waterproof, for example, your rain jacket. 

Gore-Tex and other similar materials are ideal for keeping you dry in rainy weather conditions. 

Gore-Tex is a waterproof fabric that is often found in good-quality waterproof jackets made for hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Some outdoor brands have their own variations of this type of waterproof material.

Waterproof overtrousers can also be useful, especially if you’re in a sit-on-top kayak, as these can keep your clothing underneath dry (like a waterproof jacket for your legs). Overtrousers are usually also wind-resistant so they can help you to feel warmer and more comfortable on a cold, wet day.

If the weather is particularly cold, thermal clothing, such as base layers can be essential. These help to regulate your body temperature to keep you comfortable and can help to prevent hypothermia. 

Hypothermia can be extremely dangerous. This is caused by being exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period. This is one of the factors that can make kayaking in the rain dangerous.

You can find out more about what to wear when kayaking to make sure you have the right gear. 

Thermal layers can be essential if it’s cold, allowing you to stay warm, with your outer waterproof layer allowing you to stay dry in the rain.

You can also wear waterproof socks under your waterproof footwear to help keep your feet dry. However, most waterproof footwear should be adequate for keeping your feet dry if that is its purpose.

You can check out some of the best water shoes for kayaking here. However, most of these will not keep your feet dry, as water shoes are designed to let water pass through the fabric and dry quickly.

Remember, cold temperatures and wet feet are not something you want to combine. A good pair of waterproof socks can help to keep your feet warm as well as dry. 

Most waterproof gear can be reproofed if it’s lost its water resistance, such as with a spray or a laundry detergent product.

Avoid Cotton Fabrics

When you’re kayaking in any weather, you should avoid wearing cotton. While cotton can be a useful fabric for warm weather where breathability is important, it’s not so useful when it’s wet. 

Cotton holds a lot of water, which means it takes longer to dry when it’s wet. It also becomes heavier, which can be uncomfortable and can make swimming difficult if you have to swim to shore.

You should try to stick to synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, as these tend to dry more quickly. 

Synthetic materials used in sportswear are often described as “moisture-wicking”. This means it helps to keep moisture away from your body to keep you more comfortable.

Do I Need A Wetsuit Or A Dry Suit?

Wetsuits and drysuits can provide additional protection for paddling in cold conditions, especially if the water is also very cold. 

Remember, a wetsuit will allow water to pass through the fabric to your skin so that there is a layer of water between you and the wetsuit. This layer of water is what provides you with the insulation. Your body heats the water. This means a wetsuit won’t keep you dry. 

If you want to stay completely dry, dry suits are your best bet. These allow you to wear your layered clothing underneath for warmth and insulation. Drysuits usually don’t offer any thermal protection. Wet suits do offer thermal protection.

Find out more about wetsuits and drysuits

How Do I Keep My Gear Dry While It’s Raining?

Use Dry Bags

I find dry bags essential for any kayak trip but they can be even more useful for kayaking in the rain. 

Because dry bags come in all shapes and sizes, you can easily find one or several to suit your needs. 

I find it easier to use several smaller ones to organize gear. This lets you store the bags in different locations around your kayak and you can keep the most essential items close to you.

A larger dry bag can be useful for storing camping equipment and a spare set of dry clothes.

Check out some of the best dry bags for kayaking in the rain here.

Pack A Tarp

A tarp can be a multifunctional piece of kayak rain gear. Tarps are waterproof, for the most part, and can provide a decent layer of protection for you and your gear on a rainy day.

Tarps can be used to cover your gear while you’re actively paddling. They can also be used to cover your entire kayak at your camp. You can even use a tarp to create a shelter for yourself, so you can stay dry until the storm passes. 

Is It Safe To Use My Phone Or Camera When Kayaking In Wet Weather?

If your phone or camera is water-resistant then it’s safe to use it while kayaking in the rain. Most phones now have a degree of water resistance and should be able to handle rainy weather with no problems. 

From experience, I know that Apple iPhones from iPhone 11 and newer can be submerged in water and can even take underwater photos. 

If you’re not sure if your phone is water-resistant or you don’t trust using your phone in heavy rain and around water, you can use a waterproof phone case. 

There are many phone cases available that are transparent, allowing you to continue to use the phone while it’s safe and dry inside the case. They usually have a lanyard attached to keep your phone around your neck.

Many modern cameras are also designed to handle rain. 

You can check the IP rating to see how much water it can handle. IPX4 and above can be ideal for use in the rain. Ratings lower than that may be adequate for minimal use in light rain.

Ratings of IPX7 and above mean the gadget can be submerged. The length of time the item can be submerged will vary between products and manufacturers. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Kayaking In The Rain

Can Rain Drastically Change The Kayaking Experience?

It depends on whether you’re kayaking in a summer shower or a full rainy day.

Rain can often make the kayaking experience quieter, as there are often fewer other water users. 

A calm wet day can be a peaceful time to kayak, when you can experience nature in a different light.

Can My Kayak Sink When It Rains?

It’s unlikely your kayak will completely sink in the rain, as it will take a long time for a cockpit to fill up with water from raindrops. Most sit-inside kayaks have sealed compartments or bulkheads that provide buoyancy to keep the kayak afloat.

If your kayak starts to fill up with water, you can probably bail out the water faster than the rain can fall, unless it’s coming down in torrents. If you’re afraid your kayak will fill with water, cover the cockpit.

If the rain causes flash flooding, there may be an increased risk of your kayak sinking if it’s overwhelmed with water.

Do I Need Special Permits For Kayaking In The Rain?

Unless you are planning to kayak in a location that requires a permit in general, you shouldn’t need additional permits to kayak in the rain. 

Check with local outfitters and authorities at the intended paddling location to make sure you adhere to local regulations.


A few raindrops shouldn’t affect your ability to spend time outdoors. A rainy day kayaking trip can be fun if you plan ahead and stay visible. 

Make sure you check the weather conditions for your paddling location and always keep an eye on the forecast during your trip.   

Remember to take into account the water temperature, as cold temperatures can be more dangerous if you get wet. Always wear your PFD, pack some energy bars, and enjoy kayaking in the rain.

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