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Can You Use A Kayak Anywhere? Putting Kayaks In Any Body Of Water

Mark Armstrong
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Discover new kayaking adventures by exploring different bodies of water! It’s important to know if kayaking is allowed in your desired location, as it depends on factors such as kayak type and location.

This guide will help you understand the general rules and regulations surrounding kayaking in different bodies of water, as well as some basic kayak safety tips.

And to hopefully get ready to safely and confidently kayak anywhere!

Can You Use A Kayak Anywhere? Putting Kayaks In Any Body Of Water - Pinterest ImagePin

Can You Use A Kayak Anywhere?

River Laws

There are certain rules and regulations when it comes to kayaking in any body of water. In terms of Federal law, all navigable rivers in the USA are open to kayakers and canoeists.

This means if you can physically navigate the river by kayak or canoe, then it’s considered navigable and therefore open to paddlers.

The hitch comes in how easy it is to access the river. For example, some rivers flow through private land, which may mean you’re unable to reach the river without permission or you’re unable to land your kayak.

However, the land up to the high-water mark is generally considered part of the river and public land.

There are some instances where you may require a permit to kayak on a river in the United States, often to limit the number of people on the river at one time. The Colorado River, in the Grand Canyon National Park, is one such river that requires you to obtain a permit before paddling.


Lakes are a little different to rivers when it comes to rules. Lakes can be either public or private. If the lake is private and within private land then you don’t have a right to kayak on that water. You would need to get permission from the landowner before you launch.

Lakes that are publicly owned might allow kayaking, but you may be subject to rules, such as restrictions to protect wildlife or for public safety reasons.

Some National Parks, for example, may have restrictions in place for paddlers. In Yellowstone National Park, paddling is not allowed on Sylvan Lake, Twin Lakes, Eleanor Lake, or Beach Springs Lagoon. But you can kayak on all other lakes in the park.

In other places, you should check locally whether or not you’re allowed to kayak on a particular lake.

Kayak Suitability

One thing that may affect your ability to paddle anywhere is your kayak and the type of hull it has.

Most kayaks are not designed to handle every environment. Some kayaks might be able to handle both rough water and flatwater but you’ll probably find the performance is better on one condition than the other.

Kayaks that are designed for quick turning and fast-flowing river conditions may not be the best choice for ocean paddling, as these can be more difficult to paddle on open water.

Kayaks that are designed for the ocean will be longer than river kayaks, allowing you to paddle faster and with less effort so you can conserve energy for a long journey.

Similarly, recreational kayaks may not be the best choice for open ocean paddling or fast-moving rivers, as they tend to be designed more for calm, flat water than for currents and waves.

Waves and whitewater could flip a sit-on-top recreational kayak (causing you and your gear to fall off), which could be dangerous compared to a sit-inside sea kayak that could be easily rolled to right yourself.

Some shorter river kayaks or recreational kayaks may lack the tracking performance of a longer sea kayak.

On the other hand, a sea kayak may be too long for paddling in some rivers, as these boats tend to be more difficult and slower to turn than short kayaks.

Types Of Kayaks And What They’re Suited To

Recreational Kayak

Girl and boy on separate recreational kayaks paddling on river on sunny dayPin

Recreational kayaks are designed mostly for flatwater paddling. These kayaks can be ideal for beginners, as they are designed to be easy to get in and out of and easy to use. They also tend to be durable and stable.

Recreational kayaks come in both sit-on-top and sit-inside varieties to suit different conditions (warm or cold climates) and paddler preferences. Sit-inside recreational kayaks will often have larger cockpits than some of the narrower touring kayaks out there.

The hulls on recreational kayaks often have flat bottoms for enhanced primary stability. They also tend to be short and wide, combining maneuverability with stability.

Ideally Suited To:

Calm lakes and bays, slow-moving rivers

Not Best For:

Fast-moving rivers, open water, speed

Touring Kayak

Senior female enjoying paddling on a red kayakPin

Touring kayaks are designed to offer comfort for long periods. They are also generally designed for speed and efficiency on the water.

These types of kayaks tend to be longer and narrower than recreational kayaks and they usually have a high level of storage space. This makes touring kayaks ideal for kayak camping and long trips where you need to carry a lot of gear.

Most touring kayaks will have dry storage hatches. You may also find a rudder or a skeg on most touring kayaks, providing additional boat control.

Touring kayaks tend to differ in the conditions that they’re suited to. For example, some will be designed for flatwater and others will be able to handle some rougher conditions.

Ideally Suited To:

Long journeys, kayak camping

Not Best For:


Sea Kayak

Sea Kayaks on seashore beachPin

It’s no surprise that sea kayaks are designed for the sea. Sea kayaks have specially designed hulls that can handle the movement of the water in the ocean, allowing you to paddle straight.

The hulls on these kayaks tend to offer more secondary stability than primary stability, unlike a recreational kayak. This means they can feel more tippy for beginners but can be more stable in waves and rough water. They are also designed to roll easily, with added rocker to paddle over moving water.

Sea kayaks are similar in design to touring kayaks, so they have lots of storage space to handle camping trips and long expeditions. They also usually have comfortable cockpits.

A sea kayak will also usually have a rudder or a skeg to help combat wind and currents, giving you more control over your kayak.

Ideally Suited To:

Oceans, expeditions

Not Best For:


Inflatable Kayak

Two inflatable kayaks on the river on a dry bright dayPin

Of course, Inflatable kayaks are designed to be portable, easy to use, and great for beginners. They can usually be packed down to fit in a closet at home or the trunk or backseat of your car, making them a convenient option if you’re limited for space.

Inflatable kayaks can often carry heavier loads than their hardshell equivalents, making them great boats for kayak camping or family trips.

These boats tend to be durable and made from PVC, often with multiple air chambers for added safety and buoyancy. Storage options are sometimes limited on an inflatable kayak, but there will usually be deck space where you can secure gear.

Because inflatable kayaks tend to be extremely buoyant, they can often perform well in rough water, such as rapids. But they may not be the best choice for windy conditions or open water.

The high level of durability also means they can often be good choices if you want to bring your dog along for the trip. Inflatable kayaks come in a range of types to suit different activities, including fishing.

Ideally Suited To:

Flatwater, rivers, whitewater, kayak camping

Not Best For:

Oceans, open water

Whitewater Kayak

Purple Whitewater kayak with man paddling on running rapids on riverPin

Whitewater kayaks are made for running rapids. These boats tend to be shorter than other types of kayaks. This makes them easier to maneuver in tight spaces, such as around rocks and over rapids.

Whitewater kayaks tend not to have much storage space, as they are designed to maximize performance in fast-moving water, minimizing additional weight.

These types of kayaks are almost always sit-inside kayaks (except for some inflatables). This is to allow for quick and easy rolling and edging while wearing a spray skirt to keep water out of the cockpit.

Ideally Suited To:

Whitewater, rivers

Not Best For:


Fishing Kayak

Man on fishing kayak holding rod on sunny afternoonPin

Fishing kayaks are designed to offer incredible stability, usually on flatwater. This is to provide a solid platform for casting and reeling in fish.

A fishing kayak will usually have a ton of extra features that you wouldn’t find on most standard kayaks, such as fishing rod holders, gear tracks for installing accessories, and tackle storage solutions.

Some of these types of kayaks may also have pedal drive systems for hands-free propulsion. You may also find some of them have standing platforms on the deck for easier fishing, plus an elevated seat for improved visibility.

Fishing kayaks tend to be heavier than other kayaks because of their extra features. Most of them are sit-on-top kayaks with spacious, open decks. Some fishing kayaks will be designed for rivers and oceans, and others will be more suited to backwaters and ponds.

Ideally Suited To:


Not Best For:


Tandem Kayak

Adult Couple in a Tandem Kayak paddling on river surrounded by treesPin

Tandem kayaks, as you might have guessed, are designed for two paddlers. Tandem kayaks come in different styles to suit various activities. For example, touring kayaks, recreational kayaks, fishing kayaks, and inflatable kayaks often have tandem kayaks available.

Some tandem kayaks can be paddled by one paddler, either by repositioning the seats or sometimes from the back seat of the kayak. You will also find some tandem kayaks that have room for a third person or a dog.

A tandem kayak will sometimes be longer than a solo kayak but not always. There are options that are compact, allowing for good maneuverability but these shorter boats may have less space for gear or be less accommodating for longer legs.

Ideally Suited To:

Two paddlers

Not Best For:



Do You Need Permission To Kayak On Rivers?

Sometimes. It depends on the river. If the section of the river runs through private or protected land, you may need permission. Some rivers may require you to apply for a permit before kayaking.

Can You Kayak Through Private Property?

If you want to kayak on a river that runs through private property, this is generally allowed in Federal law. On the other hand, if it’s a lake that is within private property, you may not have a right to kayak there and you would need to seek permission.

Can I Use A River Or Recreational Kayak In The Ocean?

If your river or recreational kayak is designed to handle waves then you could use it in the ocean. You may find that shorter kayaks don’t perform as well on open water. Speed and tracking may be an issue. However, if the water is calm or it’s a shallow bay, then you could be fine in a recreational kayak, as long as you have the right safety equipment.

To Sum Up

If you have the right kayak you can kayak just about anywhere as long as you’re safe. Navigable rivers are excellent places to paddle if you have a kayak that can handle the conditions.

If you want to head to a lake, remember to check to see if it’s public or private and whether or not you need permission before you launch.

Encourage more people to get out on the water by sharing this. And tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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