Anatomy of a put-in

A few questions about kayak put-ins. No need to answer all of these if you don’t want to.

  • What characteristics do you look for in a put-in spot?
  • What would you say the average distance is from your car to the put-ins you go to?
  • Do you have a strategy for finding put-ins other than investigating on your own or asking people?
  • Have you ever got to what you thought would work for a put-in and then something just turned you off and you hightailed it the other way? What turned you off?

Anyway yeah I’m curious about this. I know kayaks offer more freedom than a motor boat with less rules and restrictions, but certainly there are better and worse places to get into the water (based on personal preference I’m sure). I’m also just generally concerned about carrying a giant kayak to the water and people being like “WTF are you doing, does this look like a put-in to you?” hehe.

If there is a line of power boats putting in, I will go somewhere else.

I prefer a grassy or sandy slope, because I always do a wet entrance. Luckily I live in Florida, which is a big sandbox


I use the Go Paddle map on this site (also available as an app) and Goggle maps to find locations of interest and what they look like. For rivers I have used Google satellite pictures to do a fly over to see what I might encounter along the way.

I like reading the trip reports on this site also, to get a firsthand narrative account of the areas I want to visit. The trip reports are tied into the Go Paddle locations, so they are easy find for a specific launch location.

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I prefer an adequate paved or stone parking lot with a strip of grass and a sand or gravel natural wet launch. It’s nice to have a bit of a break to disrupt incoming wave during landing.

I look for an RV park with a beach to launch/recover next to my parking spot. Of course we often settle for something else.

Mostly I’m looking for DNR access sites or State/County/Township/City parks. Need to be aware of local rules for public beaches as kayaks & canoes don’t always mix with kids swimming. There are a lot of river & some lake guides in our area (Michigan) so that’s a good place to research as are county map books. It’s also good to be aware of local private property rules.

I paddle canoes & kayaks and don’t mind getting my feet wet so don’t need much other than safe, legal parking & access to water.


Wow, that’s quite an adventurous spot to put the canoe in! Is it scraping against rocks or do you manage to avoid those? And it looks like there’s a small tree in the way there :laughing:

Yes, I was wondering about put-in rules around Seattle. Reached out to @3meterswell about that :slight_smile: I wasn’t able to find anything with a google search.

so I paddle rivers and access varies a lot from state to state and even for different regions within states- high kudos to new york for lots of free state access areas with parking, also like Iowa, my home state of wv is pretty good but don’t expect a boat ramp, just find a wide spot off the road to park.

The western states can be trickier- ranching, tribal land, and in some places landowners actually own the waterway. If you are boating in popular spots that are managed then access can be quite good- blm rec sites, parks, even town parks. Some states have self registration fees and invasive species inspections/permits.

So I sometimes have to seal launch in. Not a big fan of it but do it on occasion. Mostly concerned with how safe the car will be. Sometimes I put up flagging tape so I can spot the takeout from the river.

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I look for slow moving water if paddling rivers. I don’t want to be fighting current while getting situated or waiting for others. I have had a lot of time in the big rivers near me (fishing and hunting) so I know all the put in / haul outs. This is great for planning trips when dealing with distance and time limitations.

I’ve noticed that over time we’ve become less picky regarding put-ins. Usually we go to areas we’ve read have a place to park and put in. We park and then check out the put-in and find the place that looks the easiest. But I’m now able to use spots I would’ve rejected a few years ago. I’d say we typically carry the boats maybe 100-500 feet to the put-in from the car. When paddling and we want to take a break we’ve also gotten used to getting out in more challenging places, like sloping rock ledges or beach areas with lots of obstacles. I think like most aspects of kayaking you learn as you go, and expect to leave some gelcoat behind.

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If I am paddling alone the put-in really doesn’t matter - its more about the water. I’ll figure a way to get the boat there.

If I am leading a trip for a group its different. There needs to be parking and public access. I led a trip a couple of years ago at a public access site that required parking on the street. It wasn’t posted, but when we got back after the trip every car had a ticket. I called the police and was able to get the tickets rescinded, but I learned my lesson.

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If I have it right you are in the Seattle area and plan to get some training from an outfitter that gets people out on the salty stuff. Yes?

And get a cart. No one who likes their back regularly carries a sea kayak.

So once you have the requisite skills for water with waves, tidal current, or can find protected bays, you need to account for a tide height that varies by about 8 feet about every 7 hours. You need an all tides launch, which is usually noted in places like paddler’s guides and descriptions for state launches. Otherwise you could leave on high tide and return on a much lower one to a vastly altered takeout situation.

As much as I don’t love messing with motor boats, there are two huge advantages to these launches. One is that they are always all-tide. The other is that the parked car is usually relatively safe from break-in. The ramps are nice as long as the paddlers operate with some courtesy to the motor boats, stay back coming home for the motor boat folks to get the boat pulled out of the water and don’t clog the ramp getting in or out. A small break-down set of wheels that can be loaded into the boat can help with that.

Public launches often include hand launch only sites, where you have amenities like a ramp but are not competing with motor boats. Like this one I got from Googling “Seattle Area Boat Launches”. Day Street Boat Ramp - Parks |

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We do some scouting and if a road goes near a lake there may be a put in. Or not. Some in Maine are down 30 foot more than 45 degree inclines. We also use a Maine Gazeteer that shows hand and motor boat launches. Sometimes the hand launches actually work and sometimes not.

Tides are a big factor where I am and it is nice to have an all tide boat ramp which motor boat launches are… If its a hand carry and on the ocean if you pick the wrong time you can have a long slog through clam flats.

Good point on t he cart Celia. I think as we age we are too slow to pack and unpack for day trips and we could load the boats packed onto the cart and cut down our ramp time…even though we tuck off to the side.

I look for a place I can safely pull off the road. In the West, there are lots of good paddling spots that have no put ins, parking lots, ramps, or any facilities. Sometimes the bank is steep. It is one of the ways to get away from people. Paddle where they ain’t.

Anne Arundel County in Maryland allows the public to hand launch anywhere land is not privately owned and parking is allowed.

One of my favorite paddle spots is the James River. I often had my family drop me at a launch site in a tributary, then paddled to the parking areas on the Colonial Parkway to land where they were fishing. Great arrangement until a ranger stopped me and explained it wasn’t permitted. Wondered why I rarely encountered kayakers on that section of the river.

First of all, thanks for the really informative post :slight_smile: On this point I’ve noticed how it would make a huge difference when we visit Alki Beach. I think it’s not unreasonable to launch in a spot west of the public sandy beach, but it can either be an actual beach or just a rock wall depending on the tides. Smacking into a wall on the way back home isn’t fun I’m sure!

Hood Canal would be the long walk situation that comes to mind for me. At a certain time you can practically walk to the middle of the canal for clamming. That could be a mile walk in the worst case I think if you’re out in a kayak.

I think the only put-ins I’d avoid are ones with a high risk of personal injury (mossy rocks or concrete rip-rap) or ones where I’d be uncomfortable leaving my vehicle for the day.

I sometimes just look at maps online to get ideas for new put-ins. Then I’ll do scouting trips to check out one or more new places. For my area one can also use the guide shown below to get ideas.

For me I think an ideal put-in would be secluded, spacious, safe, dog-friendly, and natural with a soft, gentle slope at water’s edge.


Here is one of our normal put-ins. It is normally just the two of us, but on this day we put-in 450 boats in an hour. I had one of the few canoes and you can see mine sitting to the right of the photo on its wheels. I’m getting too old to carry it around. Wheels are really nice to have and make a 1000’ walk to the water with all the gear in the boat a piece of cake.

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I think there was a recent post where someone asked about the characteristics of an ideal launch - coming from the viewpoint of building one. The answers were quite good from what I remember; probably worth searching the forum for it.

But as others have said, most prefer natural, grass or sand slopes with a short, flat (ish) walk to the water, a secure parking area, and ideally a restroom.

I don’t use a cart as I find them too much of a hassle. Occasionally I have to walk longer than I would like but I consider it part of the workout. But the launches where I can back right up to the high tide line are the best!


For the Florida paddlers … we have the most registered number of boats in Florida per state than any other state. To account for that I think we likely have more boat ramps to go along with the boats. However boat ramps don’t normally fall into the stereotypical boat ramp shown in Youtube videos. Many country places are normally empty. Many are dirt. Note on this link you can filter the search to show only dirt or hand launch only.

If you have to share many of the boat ramps might have one or two small boats.