How NOT to Flip a Kayak

3-minute read + 12-minute video

Many non-kayakers and new kayakers are worried that if they try kayaking, they’ll flip over. Some even let that fear stop them from getting on the water. How easy is it to flip a kayak?

 woman kayaking on a lake

(Photo courtesy of Rob McNamee)

“With some simple strategies and techniques you can dramatically reduce the chances of flipping,” says Ken Whiting, Paddle TV host and Aqua Bound Ambassador.

NOTE: For safety, you should be comfortable with both the wet-exit and know how to re-enter a kayak from the water. You can learn more about these here:

Now, take a look at the video below to learn more about how NOT to flip your kayak in the first place:

1. Get a Kayak that’s Designed for Stability

Recreational kayaks are extremely stable. They’re generally between 28 and 40 inches wide and, while you won’t win any speed records, you won’t have to worry about flipping. That’s because the wider a kayak is, the harder it is to flip.

A great way for a new kayaker to start out is with a wide recreational kayak that’s under 12 feet long.

Sit-on-top kayaks are in this width range, too, and are also designed to be very stable. If it still makes you nervous to kayak because of the chance of flipping, start with a sit-on-top model—the easiest type to enter and exit.

Now, what you gain in stability with a rec kayak you’ll lose in performance. So if you want better performance by using a longer and narrower kayak, then stability is a matter of learning techniques to keep you upright.

2. Learn Techniques to Prevent Flipping


  • The best way to keep balanced in a kayak is to keep your head centered. Even when the kayak is leaning over with your hips, you can keep your head up and centered and you’ll stay upright.
  • The second way to maintain your balance is to keep your hips loose. Your upper and lower body should be able to move independently from each other. Your hips move with the kayak in the waves or current while your upper body and head stay upright. Don’t let your body stiffen up.


When you take a high-performance kayak into waves or rapids, you’re bound to lose your balance eventually. The key is to learn techniques called braces to recover your balance.

A brace is stopping your flipping motion by using your paddle to slap the water and keep you upright.

male kayaker demonstrates a brace in a sea kayak

This kayaker demonstrates a brace (photo courtesy of Rob McNamee)

Braces work very well when you’re in a kayak with hip support and thigh hooks. A touring kayak should fit your body like trail shoes fit your feet. Rec kayaks don’t have those kinds of supports, so, as Ken says, it’s more like wearing oversize rubber boots.

There are both low and high braces, depending on how you’re holding the paddle. In either case you’ll use your paddle to slap the water while you’re using your hips to straighten the kayak. Then you snap your upper body and head back to center.

You can start by practicing these braces on the ground first. This will especially give you a feel for how your hips and legs move with your kayak.

woman practices a brace in a sea kayak on the ground

Aqua Bound team member, Luanne, practices bracing technique on the ground during the Door County Sea Kayak Symposium

3. Learn to Roll a Kayak

Ken describes how his braces are strong because he had learned to roll a kayak early on in his kayaking career. Because he became very good at rolling, learning to brace was easy for him.

For those who want to take kayaking seriously, learning and becoming adept at the roll is a super backup plan. Between the roll and braces, you’ll be able to handle almost any water condition.

(NOTE: Like many things, rolls are easier to learn the younger you are. Learn early on, if you can, and get your kids in lessons to learn, too!)

Taking a local ACA course with a certified instructor is the best and fastest way to learn these techniques. Then get out on the water and practice, practice, practice.

close-up of a man kayaking

The more you get on the water, the more comfortable you’ll be in a kayak

So, if the idea of flipping a kayak makes you nervous, simply use a wide recreational kayak and stick to flat water.

Once you’re comfortable there, you can move up to better performing boats and more diverse water conditions by learning and practicing some techniques to keep you or get you upright.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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