Kayaking with bad knees

I’ve done quite a bit of canoeing, but this week I got my first taste of kayaking. My family rented a house on a quiet lake, and the rental included a tandem kayak. I went out every day, and I loved it.

The problem is, I have terrible knees, and I had an awful time getting out of the kayak. I watched other people getting out, and they seemed to either just roll forward into a squat and then stand up, or push up with their arms and scooch back onto the back of the boat and then stand up.

I can’t do either of these. The only way I was able to get up was to get on my knees (which is really painful and caused awful bruises), turn sideways, and use the side of the boat to stand up. I was getting in and out on a small beach, so I didn’t tip, but it hurt a lot.

Does anyone have any ideas for getting out of the boat? Does anyone ever, say, somehow attach a bar across the kayak to use for standing up? (Probably not, just thinking aloud.) I was sick for years, and though I’m well now, I’m just not as strong or limber as I used to be. (Maybe kayaking will help, but not if I can’t do it!)



I have one bone on bone knee, and
have taught myself several ways to get in and out, which I won’t go into here, but I can certainly sympathize with you.

I am surprised you haven’t seen any one getting in or out using the paddle across the back of the boat as follows:

1, Pull your kayak in parallel to the shore as close as you can get it

2. place the paddle behind the cockpit coaming with it at a 90 degree angle to the kayak and with most of it off to the shore side.

3. use your hand that is on the away from the beach side to grasp the paddle shaft and squeeze it tightly

to the rear coaming, (behind your back)

4. use your other hand to grasp the paddle shaft out on the beach side, and as you are doing this just lean the kayak toward the beach so the paddle will brace against the shore bottom.

5. Now keeping all your weight on the paddle shaft, and the rear coaming, just pull your leg that is on the shore side out of the yak and place your foot in the water beside the yak.(think crab walk)

6. with that foot firmly on the bottom you should be able to balance on that and then pull the other leg up and out.

Takes a little practice, but it works like a charm, wants you get the hang of it.

Warning: don’t do it with a high end paddle, or if you are a heavy weight. You could possibly break your paddle

Jack L

kayaking with bad knees
Marie - My wife has the same problem. Best solution so far is to get the boat in shallow water (works better than beaching it as is sits higher), and swing both legs over one side of the boat, keeping your butt in the seat. It helps to have someone stabilize the boat for you. Then, lean over the side and you should have both feet on the bottom. Finally, simply stand up.

To get in, do the reverse.

Good luck,


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+1 to what dennisjs says and
if you don’t mind getting wet you could just do a wet exit.

Jackl left out a step
Before step 5, push down with your arms and lift your butt onto the combing of the boat. That helps anchor the paddle and makes it easier to get your legs out. Advice about the paddle is correct. You might even consider carrying a get out/in paddle on your front deck that has an aluminum shaft and plastic blades.

Both my wife and I have a bad knee from ACL repairs and arthritis. She may be looking at knee replacement surgery. When she gets in the boat she sits on the back combing with feet out at 90 degrees. Then she swings her leg with the bad knee into the boat balancing with the other leg. Then she shifts her weight a bit and lifts the other leg in. Finally she slides in. This requires more balance and practice but is doable by most people.

bad knees
I too have bad knees, I just could not get in and out without a lot of trouble. I sold the yak and bought a solo canoe. You can still use a double paddle with the canoe and i can get in and out with no problem.

Is your strength in your arms good?
Dear Marie,

I got into kayaking because I have bad knees. Now, I know there are bad knees and there are bad knees; we may not have the same problem, but here’s what I do.

To get into the boat, I put it close to the water’s edge, straddle it, lean forward and grab the combing, and then perform sort of a controled fall sitting on the back deck of the kayak right behind the combing. From there it’s easy to put one foot in the kayak, then (reaching under my thighs and holding the combing with both hands) lift my other foot up and into the kayak, lift my buns a bit, and slide in.

To get out of the boat, I pop and loosen my spray skirt, paddle up to shore running the boat as far aground as I can (we live near a beach), then quickly put both hands on the combing behind and lift my behind up and out of the boat and onto the back deck. Then I swing both legs out of the boat to one side (for me it’s to the right), roll into push-up position and push myself up off the boat with both arms. That’s why I ask if your arm strength is good.

For me it’s been successful. I have terrible knees but haven’t injured them once in five years of kayaking. You may have to just find what works for you. Don’t be embarrassed though. Sure, you may look dumb. But the trade-off is that you get to kayak. This puts it in perspective:


Happy paddling!

How about a SOT kayak?

No cockpit to deal with. In clam water, just stop where there is still a foot or so of water depth, hang your legs over one side and stand up.


lawnmower pull cord handle
Recent issue of one of the kayak magazine’s had an article that explained how to tie a pull cord for a lawnmower or snowmobile to the bow of the kayak. It was long enough to reach the cockpit and was used to pull on so the paddler could get leverage for standing. It may also be an option to paddle with someone with good knees who can help until you are more comfortable with the process. Good luck, John

Thanks so much for all the advice!
I really appreciate the advice. The ideas I think I might actually be able to do are the one where you wedge the paddle to use as an aid, the one where you swing your legs out with your butt still in the kayak, and the one where you tie a rope to the bow.

I don’t own a kayak yet, though, so maybe it would make sense to just get a sit-on-top.

You gave me a lot to think about!

10+ year old zombie thread!

I made the mistake of checking the “article” that was posted. I’m not sure if English isn’t their primary language, but most of the steps are disjointed and poorly written, and some just don’t make sense. Don’t waste your time.

It’s a bot and soon to be deleted. First time poster giving this definition of a skeg:

It’s some sort of a tool that can help a kayaker with tracking. Even though some kayaks already include a skeg, but still you have to buy it separately especially if it’s not present in your kayak.

:+1: :wink:

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Technique is one approach with varying levels of practical success. Another approach is a different designed craft. As MitJulep was recommending, a SOT. My recommendation would be more Tour on Top like the Stellar S14S or S16S. Other constructions of this ilk likely exist and the hive mind here can likely recommend.

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If you have bad knees then it is time to get serious about boating.
You can work on some core exercises to strengthen your stomach and lower back. Do some stretching. Then figure out the best way to get in and out of a boat.

I drive a sports car at 70. I cannot just “get in” like I used to. I sit in the seat with both feet still on the pavement, then swing the legs in. Find the right combination for your kayak.

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Thanks, it’s really helpful for me and my wife.

Rather than pulling up to the ramp to keep your feet dry stop a little out so your support foot / leg goes in something a little less than knee deep. Easier to lift up when the thigh is equal or higher than the knee.

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