How to Properly Lift & Load Your Kayak

As a kayaking beginner, you’re probably focused on learning the tricks and habits of paddling, rolling, turning and other kayak maneuvers. While those skills are essential, don’t forget that you need to be able to lift and load your kayak to get it to the water in the first place!

At first glance, loading a kayak onto a vehicle or trailer can seem cumbersome, and safe ways to lift your kayak when you’re getting out of the water can look like it takes some complicated gymnastics.

That’s why our Southeastern Expeditions team wanted to share a few tips with you to make kayaking for beginners, including lifting and loading, easier. Follow these simple tricks and save your back, legs and arms for the real fun: paddling!

Lifting: Less Strain, Less Pain

Kayaks vary in weight depending on what material they’re made from and how big they are. When two people are present, lifting a kayak is relatively easy, and the trick is the same as when lifting any large object: bend your knees and lift with your legs, keeping your back as straight as possible, to avoid strain.

If you are alone, lifting your kayak requires a special technique. When any of us are lifting a kayak, we use these simple steps:

  • Rotate the kayak onto its side, with the cockpit facing away from you.
  • Bend your knees slightly to lower your body.
  • Grab the rim of the cockpit with both hands.
  • Slide the kayak up your thigh (right or left, depending on which side you will carry your kayak) and straighten up to a standing position.
  • If you are carrying your kayak on your left, re-position your left hand to the outer rim (if carrying on the right, re-position your right hand to the outer rim).
  • Rotate the kayak over, rolling it over your thigh until the outer rim is up at your shoulder.
  • Re-position the kayak so it is comfortably balanced on your shoulder.

Go slowly and avoid jerking motions, which can strain your back. In just a few tries, you will find the best place to grip and should have no problem lifting your kayak to move it around or carry it on a portage.

Loading: Protect Your Body, Your Kayak and Your Vehicle

When it comes time to load (or unload) your kayak, you want to take care of three things: your body (especially your back), your kayak and your vehicle or trailer. Damage to any of these is to be avoided, so take your time finding the perfect technique.

Depending on the type of rack or trailer you have, you will need to adapt this technique somewhat, but the steps are basically the same:

  • Lift your kayak onto your shoulder as described above.
  • Stand with the kayak between you and your vehicle or trailer.
  • Rotate the kayak onto the rack (for example, a flat or J-hook roof rack or on top of a trailer).
  • Once the kayak is off your shoulder, it is easier to rotate it, if need be, to sit securely on your rack.

It might take a few tries to become a kayak lifting and loading expert, but once you have that down, you can focus on becoming a top-notch kayaker! You won’t be a kayak beginner for long if you follow these simple tips, which make getting out in your kayak much easier and more enjoyable.