How to Handle Your Kayak in Strong Currents: Tips from the Pros

Navigating your way through placid lakes and tranquil rivers might have been where you began your kayaking journey, but what happens when you’re faced with the challenge of stronger currents? It’s not just about brute strength; it’s about strategy, knowledge, and the right techniques. Let me share with you some insights I’ve gathered over the years.

1. Know Before You Go

Before you even consider entering strong currents, it’s paramount to familiarize yourself with the river’s flow pattern. Look for any online resources, maps, or local paddling groups that can provide insights about the particular stretch of water you’re considering. If in doubt, go with a local guide who can show you around.

2. The Importance of Proper Gear

Safety gear is not just about the basics like life vests and helmets. In strong currents, a spray skirt can prevent your kayak from filling up with water. And a bilge pump can be a lifesaver if water does get in, escpically if you are far from the shoreline.

3. Positioning is Key

When paddling in a strong current, you’ll want to position your kayak at about a 45-degree angle to the flow. This angle allows you to use the current to your advantage, helping you steer and maintain control.

4. Paddle with Purpose

Your paddle strokes should be smooth, steady, and powerful. In strong currents, every paddle movement counts. Paddleing technique counts in fast current: use the whole paddle blade, use your torso and legs for energy and complete full strokes.

5. Lean into Waves

If you find yourself facing waves or rapid waters, lean slightly forward. This position prevents the front of the kayak from being pushed up by an oncoming wave. Avoid being hit side on which is likely to capsize you, either go into the waves head on or ride them straight forward. Use your paddle and bodyweight shift to keep you straight, the bigger the waves, the harder you need to work to stay straight.

Learning techniques such as the ‘low brace’ technique can be particularly useful to stop you capsizing. Keep your paddle blade flat on the water surface and push down when you feel like you’re beginning to tip. Use the paddle like a stabiliser.

6. Scout Ahead

Whenever possible, especially in unfamiliar territory, pull over to the riverbank and scout ahead. Identifying potential hazards, such as submerged rocks or logs, can help you plot the safest course. This is key in rivers with few easy exit points, regular rapids or a fast flow.

7. Master the Eddy

Eddies are areas where the water flows upstream, usually behind obstacles like rocks. They can serve as safe zones or resting spots in strong currents. To enter an eddy, angle your kayak towards it and paddle hard, then turn sharply once you’re inside. Take care when entering and exiting the main flow.

8. Avoiding Obstacles

If you spot an obstacle ahead, like a rock, it’s crucial to decide early how you’ll avoid it. If you’re being pulled towards it by the current, lean towards the rock as you pass it. This might seem counterintuitive, but it will help prevent your kayak from flipping.

9. Understand the Power of Currents

It’s essential to respect the power of water. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re being pulled in a direction you don’t want to go, sometimes it’s best to go with the flow, steer clear of obstacles, and find a safer spot downstream to regain control. Similar to swimming against a rip tide, recognise a lost cause, save your energy, and plan your next move carefully.

10. When in Doubt, Practice!

Finally, just like any skill, mastering kayaking in strong currents takes practice. Consider taking a whitewater kayaking course or joining a local group that often paddles in more challenging waters. Check out our advanced kayak courses:

Advanced White Water Kayaking
Work on your advanced white water kayak skills with experts in Cumbria.
Advanced White Water Canoe Skills
Develop your advanced white water canoeing skills with expert leaders in Cumbria
Advanced Canoe White Water Leader Training
Train as an advanced canoe white water leader with experts in Cumbria.
Advanced Canoe Open Water Leader Training
Train for the Advanced Canoe Open Water Leader Award in Cumbria.
White Water Safety & Rescue Training
Train in white water safety and rescue with experts in Cumbria
White Water Kayak Leader Training
Train as a white water kayak leader under expert guidance in Cumbria.
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Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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