How to Handle Wakes in a Kayak

Kayaking is a soul-stirring experience. People often say they lose track of time while kayaking in a peaceful river. Though this is true, occasionally the peace and tranquility are disturbed by water wakes. They tend to rock the kayak which can be dangerous. You may wonder – how to handle wakes in a kayak.

You can handle a wake in a kayak in several ways. If the wake is mild, you can brace it. Otherwise, if it is a strong wake, you can paddle away from it. If the wake is coming from your front side, approach it at 45 degrees and paddle into it. Cross the wake and then readjust your balance and course. In all types of wake, it is important to stay alert.

Handling wakes while kayaking is an important concept. It takes years of experience to face a wake with confidence. We bring to you a detailed discussion on how to handle a wake while kayaking. Once you go through it, you will have enough pointers to handle a wake while kayaking.

What is a wake ?

A wake is a man-made wave. Often, you would have seen power boats creating ripples. These ripples are big and powerful enough to topple a kayak. Or at the least unbalance a kayaker. It can lead to accidents and in rare circumstances cost a kayaker’s life. Hence it is important to know how to handle a wake.

Improper wake handling is the second largest cause of personnel accidents among boaters. It even leads to injuries such as compressed spines and disc dislocations. Wakes are caused by speed boats, ship anchoring at docks, and other activities in the port. At times, big fishes are also culprits in creating wakes for kayakers. If there is a rush at your kayaking spot, wakes can be created by your fellow kayakers as well.

A wake can be mild or strong. A mild wake just leads to a nasty experience whereas a strong wake can eject you from your kayak’s cockpit. Small kayaks are more prone to wakes. This is due to their lightweight. At times, wakes splash water on you filling your cockpit with water. Or wet your gear mounted over your kayak. You should always be on alert against waking while kayaking.

Why should you know how to handle a wake ?

It is important to know how to handle a wake. There are several reasons for it. Some of them are highlighted below:

  • Kayaker’s safety: If you fall victim to a wake, you could get wet or even fall off your kayak. Wakes are known to have caused injuries and in extreme cases death.
  • Gear safety: A strong wake can topple your gear into the river. It may sink to the bottom.
  • For a better fishing experience: Kayakers need a tranquil environment to make a good catch. So stay alert for the disturbing wakes.
  • For an overall smooth experience: Many a time, kayakers like to be alone in the wilderness. If they don’t know how to handle wakes, their whole expedition may turn out to be tasteless.

Preparing for wakes

If you know how to, then handling wakes is easy. There are a few things to keep in mind while you go out kayaking.

  • Wear a life jacket: Even if you are a pro, it is always advisable to wear a life jacket while you are in the water. You never know what type of wake you may have to handle.
  • Use waterproof clothing: To avoid getting wet by a wake, use waterproof clothing. This will save you from cold and other diseases for a long duration in the kayak
  • Secure your gear: Cover your gear with waterproofing and secure it tightly with your kayak. Add buoyancy devices to it. If your gear does get lose, it will continue to float.
  • Carry radios for an emergency: If you are planning to go solo, carry a VHF radio to call in for help. Wakes can be unpredictable. Also, whistles are handy in alerting nearby kayakers.

How to handle a wake

There are a few ways to handle a wake. Though these are not hard and fast rules, the pointers below will help you to handle wakes effectively.

  1. Stay alert: A wake can be well handled if you know of it in advance. If you have a kayaking partner, alert him in case he is unaware of a wake nearby. If kayaking in a group, make your whistle codes to alert the group.
  2. Move away from the wake: Once you know of a wake, see if you can avoid it. Many a time, you can simply steer away from a wake. If you can, do so. It is the best way to handle a wake.
  3. Slow down: If it is a mild wake, just reduce your speed. Let the wake cross you. Alternatively, if the wake is approaching you from behind, speed up till the wake dies out.
  4. Approach the wake at 45 degrees: For strong wakes which you cannot avoid, approach them at 45 degrees. Brace yourself for the ripples and maintain your balance. Start paddling once the effect from the wake starts to die down.
  5. Stay close to your fellow kayakers: When a large wake approaches, group together and hold each other’s paddles. This will help all effectively counter a strong wake.


For beginners, it is advisable to go kayaking with experienced partners. Take due precautionary measures while handling a wake. Start from shallow waters and slowly graduate into the wilderness. It is better to start off in a group before venturing out all alone.

As we understood, wakes can be a challenge for a kayaker. You need years of experience to handle them. We hope that with our tips, you will be able to engage a wake on your next trip. Kayaking and wakes are synonymous with each other. Having said so, every kayaking trip will make you more experienced and confident. Bon Voyage!

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