Can I kayak if I don’t know how to swim?

Sometimes people ask us, Can I kayak if I don’t know how to swim?” and we always answer  YES, provided that the considerations listed below have been attended to.  It is important to note that we are talking about kayaking in the calm, slow-moving waters of South Australia’s Murray River and side creeks , where the bank is never too far away.  (We don’t recommend ocean kayaking or white-water kayaking for non-swimmers.)


Life Jackets

  • According to marine law in South Australia  you MUST wear a PFD at all times when kayaking. (PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device).
  • Our quality PFDs have plenty of adjustment to make them fit well and feel comfortable.  We insist that you wear them and check that they are fitted correctly.   Wearing one of these makes you unsinkable, so even if you do tip in, the jacket will stop you from sinking.
  • (Note however that a PFD is not a “life jacket” in the sense that it will rotate an unconscious person to float face up – not that we see any reason why kayaking should cause you to become unconscious.)


  • Fear is the biggest problem for kayakers who don’t know how to swim,  Even though the life jacket will make you unsinkable, some people, with a strong fear of the water, may panic if they tip in.  A panic-ing person is less likely to act rationally, and may cause problems for themselves and their fellow kayakers .   If you think that you might panic if you tip in, we suggest some trial time in a PFD, in a pool or the river, so that you can reassure yourself that the jacket will indeed keep you up and there is no cause for alarm.
  • If you DO fall in, you can be assured that all of our cockpits are wide and open – you won’t get trapped in.

You’re unlikely to fall in because

  • We won’t run tours or hire out kayaks in dangerously windy or high-flow conditions.
  • Our kayaks and canoes have been selected for their stability – it is very rare for anyone paddling with us to fall in.

But – what if I do tip in?

If you’re on a tour, our qualified and experienced guide/instructor will be there to help.  He  will ask you to hold onto his kayak while he empties the water out of yours, Then he will instruct you on how to get back in, and give you a hand.  If getting back in is too hard for you, he will help you to the side of the creek and assist you there.  He’ll also have a towel handy if needed and a hot cuppa.  You can view the technique here.

If you’re hiring, rather than going on a guided tour, so our experienced staff are not there to help in the rare event of a capsize, we recommend

  1.  Leave the kayak upside down (if that’s how it ended up)  turning it over will  scoop it full of water, making it instantly far, far heavier and harder to handle.
  2. Simply kick your legs to push/pull your kayak back to shore, empty it out, and start again.  We strongly suggest that a non-swimmer always go kayaking with someone who knows what they are doing.  It is not good practice for anyone to go kayaking alone.

Not sure and want to discuss it more? – give us a ring – 04211 676 45

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