Launching: Bow or STERN first?

I’ve always launched bow first but have recently seen some more experienced paddlers launching stern first. Is there a reason one way is better/easier/safer than the other?

skeg box blockage:
I always launched bow first from a beach, but then I moved up to using boats with skegs. I quickly learned that the stern scraping the beach tended to lodge small rocks in the skeg box. Now I launch parallel to the beach or back out…

Bow first, stern first, parallel. all
of the above depending on the launch conditions, water depth and my mood.

At least that’s for me.



Second that
I’ve only owned skegged boats. So, with the exception of beaches with surf, I perfer to launch stern first.

Although on beaches with fine sand, there’s usually no worry about skeg blockage. But sands tend to collect in my shoes and get in the cockpit. So I prefer to float the boat entirely and get in with wet feet. It’s easier to get rid of water than to get rid of sand from the cockpit.

Yes, depends on conditions, mood, etc.
In some conditions, there might be only one way to reasonably launch. Other times, we have choices. The only thing that never changes is the fact that we have to be ready and able to adapt.


Neither - parallel to shore for me.

In surf and waves …
if you launch stern first your body will help block incoming waves from filling the cockpit before you get your skirt on.



How do you get out?
If you launch stern first in surf, don’t you have to turn around in the surf zone? I can’t imagine punching through the surf line by paddling backward all the way.

This has to be the worst advice I’ve read in awhile.

always bow first
preferably with a seal launch.

What’s a skeg, and why are waves coming onto the banks of the river? I’d find a different put-in ;-).

Oh, instant assumption of a sea kayak on the ocean. Silly me.

Maybe you have strange boats…

– Last Updated: Oct-18-09 6:29 PM EST –

...but all of mine have aft decks that are lower than the foredecks, so paddling out backward in surf is MORE likely to flood the cockpit that paddling out forward. Then again, I also have this weird habit of putting my skirt on BEFORE paddling out in surf...

Floating Launch
I always launch by floating which ever yak I have selected to use for the day, I then straddle the boat and drop my butt in. Then one leg at a time and off I go…This usually works very well except the last time I was out as soon as I was in the boat I got hammered by a series of large boat wakes and was driven back on shore. The only thing I could do was hold on to the large driftwood tree and wait for the Tsunami to subside while the cockpit was filling with water.

Huh ???
Always bow first for me in the surf.

Wait for just enough water to pick up the boat, and then go like hell.

I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be going in backwards, trying to guess the water situation with my back to it.

Skirt should be on and ready to go, and a few arm pushups on the sand at the right moment and you are good to go.



Depends on circumstances
and conditions.

Because of the skeg in order of preference.

Bow first floating

sideways floating

stern first floating

stern first from beach

Bow first from beach

Whatever works best for you and does the least damage to the boat.

Interesting question

– Last Updated: Oct-18-09 10:51 PM EST –

On my last launch on the Chesapeake Bay where the waves at the beach were small (under a foot, because of a long shallow area ahead where no large wave can travel) but the wind was strong at close to 30 knots with higher gusts, I found that by the time I put my skirt on or while pushing myself off the sand behind me, my bow would turn sideways and the small surf and the wind would push me back at the beach. Mostly because I did not want to use my paddle as a pole to push off the bottom. In this case it was easier to actually let the wind and waves swing the stern towards the wind and the bow towards the beach, and and paddle through the small "surf" backwards while the boat clears the first dozen feet or so, then as I get into a little deeper water (1-2 feet maybe) I could turn around and paddle out to the bigger stuff "normally" - the bow forward... Maybe that behavior is a function of my boat's design - it has a pronounced swede form, I sit relatively closer to the rear than to the front (the cockpit is not half-way from the ends but closer to the rear) and also the stern is easier to move about than the bow (the bow is "catchier" than the stern udner water).

Going out of the same pot - just plow the bow on the sand beach and quickly exit.

In larger surf I don't think I would want to be backwards or making turns though - bow first there.

On a river with current, using the same sea kayak, again I found good use for going stern first out of an eddy. I have been paddling upriver, eddy-hopping my way up. I got myself in a small eddie pool on the side just off a rapid and some waves where I wanted to play in. The current was strong and if I went out bow first, the bow would swing downriver and by the time I could swing back upriver, the strong current would drag me down past the waves where I wanted to surf. After trying several times to go out the eddy bow first and invariably finding myself dragged down too far, I changed strategy and exited the eddy stern first. The current did its thing, the stern pivoted downriver and my bow was now facing upriver and I was still pretty much where I started at the eddy - I could now ferry sideways to the wave and surf it. Also, the reverse maneuver worked well too - entering the eddy backwards, so that I did not have to do a full S turn with the associated loss of position while the current is dragging me down, but I could just make a simple J out of the current and into the eddy.

With a short WW boat that I could control with my paddle much more easy than a long-ish sea kayak, the same eddies make no difference - can enter forward or back...

Not talking about
dumping waves or medium to large surf. Just the kind that tend to spin your boat as your getting your skirt on. Give it a try - it works quite well.

float the boat, get the skirt on, turn around and paddle out.

Exactly NM

Always face surf!
My favorite launch is off a floating dock so my feet don’t get wet; yes I will launch my skegged boat stern first or parallel on a sandy shore BUT NOT IN SURF! If it is not breaking or “dumping” it’s not surf.

Skeg box and breaking stuff

– Last Updated: Oct-19-09 10:44 AM EST –

I am assuming we are not talking a WW boat here, because of the skeg. For tourers, sea kayaks or rec boats with a skeg, the first below applies. As to the second, I've had to go over and stabilize a boat for newer paddlers getting knocked around near a shoreline on lake on a windy day. You don't need an ocean to have that problem.

As above, the skeg box can more easily acquire a pebble or similar that'll jam it if you launch bow first. Very inconvenient when you discover you have a jammed skeg an hour into a paddle. By launching stern first, it is already floating and clear.

Also, in minor breaking stuff I find backwards works a lot better. Sometimes you have to get beyond the breaking stuff then get the skirt on, otherwise you'll spend all your time getting knocked sideways in the shallow garbage on shore. Going out backwards reduces the amount of water that gets into the cockpit before I can fully skirt up. The skirt is usually secured on the back and the water hits my body and breaks around it mostly to the side. Going forward gives the waves my whole lap to dump into and I definately acquire more water that way.

In true surf other rules apply, of course. But I have found backwards to be a better idea at up to two foot and a smidge of breaking stuff on an ocean beach. And faster. Most of the group was still trying to get away from shore and finagle with their skirts, or had to pump out, while I was skirted and ready to go.

(And some newer paddlers will call the small stuff surf. If height matters to the discussion, probably best to include numbers.)