Kayak, Canoe, Paddleboard Launches

We are looking to develop some preferences when building new paddling launches. Any input or preferences is greatly appreciated.

Stairs vs sloped?
Surfacing under the water?
Floating dock vs shallow water?
Any other preferences or input?

Thank you!
Ranger Mark

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No stairs - they are difficult and/or dangerous to navigate while carrying a boat, whether by yourself or with another person. They also prevent the use of a boat cart.

Natural surfaces are less slippery - sand is best, or gravel. Concrete quickly gets dangerously slippery and damages boats and people when falls happen. Rubber mats are OK but can get slippery and mark up hulls.

Floating docks make getting into or out of kayaks and canoes difficult. Many folks find it impossible. SUPs are OK with docks. Those floating kayak launch assists are OK for plastic recreational kayaks or canoes, but I wouldn’t use them with my composite kayaks. Nice to have as an option, but not the only option.

Hope this helps! I’m sure others will chime in, lots of accumulated experience here from paddlers of a wide variety of watercraft.


I love that you are asking for paddler input. I have some physical limitations and stairs at a launch pose real problems for me and for other people I know. Any other preferences are often dictated by the location, but I will say that floating docks are easier than the fixed dock at the marina I use. Shallow water is ideal IMO.


A grassy or sandy slope down through two feet of water. No concrete of any sort.


Use the KISS principle for outstanding kayak launches. Less construction, engineering, and expensive other stuff is more.


Brodie has it 99% covered. The 1% niggle that I have is that the accessible launches are also a no-no for composite canoes, especially tandems.Also, for me, the wide wooden stair like launches work fine. Those are 20’ + long with 2’ - 3’ wide treads.

One of the things that we see in our area is accessible launches being poorly placed in relation to the local current and also blocking alternative launch areas that are used by those of us who paddle craft that don’t work well with the accessible launches. Please don’t assume that all of your users are ‘recreational’ paddlers. If possible, engage with local paddling groups.


Yes. I want this at all the launches! Once the marina I belong to closes on 1 Nov, I have free options, the worst of which being a long walk to stairs with about a 10 inch rise and ultimately a huge drop to the water from those same stairs. I won’t be using that with the Scorpio. I hate it even with the SUP.

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I don’t know where you live, but I’ve found some wonderful secluded launch sites by searching shorelines with Google Maps. They’re small village/township owned parks or sometimes roads dead-ending at the waterfront. No docks or ramps; just easy access.

Might be worth a try.

Sloped into water, away from boat ramps for trailers.

Kayak launches attached to dock are great and better than just a low dock.

Another thought - launches that are only wide enough for one or two boats at a time cause traffic jams. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space, but if there is, make the launch capable of handling multiple boats at the same time. Nothing like having to wait 15 minutes to launch or land because someone dropped their boat off and then went to park and load up their gear.


Accessible to an appropriate amount of parking. People bring their boats to launch sites on cars. My town has a nice launch dock but parking for only 3 cars, so people have to double park, unload, move their car, walk back to the launch etc etc.

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I take care of my stuff, so I don’t sit in my kayak while it’s in contact with the ground. That means getting in and out with kayak floating - preferably in 6 to 12 inches of water so when I’m standing on the bottom, my feet are lower than the kayak seat making it easier to lower or raise my butt. So for me, a grass or sand shoreline to put the kayak down on, sloping down to 6 to 12 inches of water with a firm bottom for getting in and out. And as others said, with adequate parking. Here’s a “dream” launch that happens to be near me:


I recently launched my canoe at a new “kayak park” and thought it was kind of ironic that the beautiful new handicap access floating dock made it difficult. I can’t use the semi-submerged main part with my composite boat, one open side of the dock was unusable due to a thick wire that anchored the dock, and the whole dock blocked me from just launching from shore. So I launched along the one open side and yes it’s a bit dicey climbing back out with stiff knees and legs after a good paddle. But I’m all for handicap access.

For me the best launch is just a natural gentle slope…it always works even as water levels rise and fall. If you ever stumble or trip you won’t break any bones like you will on concrete. I like ramps, not steps.


I was looking for similar information myself and found this. I think it will help you:

I prefer a sandy beach, protected from waves and ideally slightly convex so the cockpit can get close to shore. I have an issue with purpose-built “launch sites” that I can’t get my kayak parallel to because they are short and have rock at the ends to gouge my bow and rudder on; not everyone has a canoe or a 10’ boat.

If we absolutely must buy some kind of edifice, a dock 6 inches off the water with some kind of handholds near the edge.

Finally, a short carry from where you can drive your car, not a parking lot hundreds of yards away.


Designing a launch or anything for that matter that tries to be all things for all people normally in the end doesn’t do any one thing really well.

Then there is how the boater prepares for all the variety of launches they might encounter unless they always paddle at the same place.

We have one of the fancy handicap launches like shown above that takes up most of the area for launching paddle boats, so everyone that wants to launch old school moves over to the boat ramp and competes with cars launching motor boats off of trailers. That’s at one inland lake here. People back their car top boats down the ramp because the carry is too long from the parking area and then fight loading and unloading parked on a slope with J racks that are hard enough to do on the flat. Then some carry the kayaks and canoes the distance and then leave them at the bottom of the ramp as they make several trips back and forth bringing coolers and gear.

Then we sometimes launch into our river that has a nice genital sloped concrete ramp down to the water. The river goes up and down a lot so the last 10-15’ of the ramp has 8” of slippery silt on top to deal with and when the ramp ends there is an unexpected 18” drop off. Most people here have beater canoes or beater rec-kayaks so they one by one get in on the ramp and have someone push them down. I’m that last guy slipping in the mud and stepping off the end to mount my canoe. The exit points (take outs) are not as nice and most are 45 degree rock and mud banks where you have to drag the boats. We have painter lines and we use them to pull the boats up the banks.

Actually a couple poles to tie up to would be wonderful.

We take my folding dolly everyplace we go that straps to the hull of my canoe and we then load the kayak on top of that. If we need to park a quarter mile away we load the canoe on the dolly and then load gear and then load the kayak and strap it to the canoe when we get to the water we are in and paddling in a couple minutes. We both like to launch in about a foot of water with a bottom that we can stand on and an easy incline to and from the water is nice.

On a river I would rather see more simple nice spots with parking for a few cars than one big fancy site and then nothing for the next 20 miles. That’s how all these makeshift launch sites come about.

Simple is better IMO.

A place to park a few cars and a relatively flat spot is all we need. Canoes, kayaks, and rafts can all be carried to the water;s edge. Drift boats can be lowered on a slope and cranked out with a winch.

In the West, there are lots of great places to paddle with no improvements. Some big rivers have boat ramps designed for fishermen.

I used this launch once and will never use it again. Too steep, I can’t get out of the boat because it wants to slide back into the water. The edges are sharp and cut deep gouges in the plastic. Agree with gently tapered natural slope. Sand is ok, but it always tracks into the kayak and gets in foot peg slides. Grass is nice. I used gravel which works well for plastic boats.

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@RangerMark thanks for coming here and asking.

What might be helpful in letting us better respond is some details of the area(s) you are working with. Things like expected types of vessels you are designing for, what the body(s) of water look like (size, currents, etc.), tidal versus not tidal, seasonal padding vs year round (does the water freeze), etc.

No stairs.
Shallow water.
Access to open water not in conflict with power boats launching.
Handicapped accessible features located so they don’t block access to shallow water.
If there must be docks, cleats or something to grab onto.