Newbie- is this doable or am I just nuts

-- Last Updated: Sep-11-14 11:36 AM EST --

I am considering learning to kayak or canoe and thought this might be the place to get some much needed advice. First of all my stats: I'm female, 40 years old, 110 lbs, 5'2". After I learn the "how-to's" of kayaking or canoeing, I'd be doing this solo. I wouldn't be going in rivers with boats that produce large wakes, mainly just lakes, lagoons, or small rivers, for wildlife photography or observing wildlife. I have read a lot about "never paddle alone" but are they referring to sea kayaking or whitewater stuff? Or just any kind of paddling? So my first question is would it be safe for me to paddle alone, as long as I'm doing so in lakes or small rivers where there are no large watercrafts or strong currents?

And secondly, would a small female such as myself be able to handle the task of loading the kayak (or possibly a lightweight pack canoe)- I'd have to get a trailer, I'm guessing, as there's no way I'm getting it on top of my SUV, and one of those wheelie carts to get it from my car to the shore.

I have tons other questions but I guess my decision to even go any further with this is all riding on whether I can even manage the vessel by myself (load & launch) and then whether I can safely venture out on the water as a solo female.

Thanks for your advice!

Completely doable, and
given your objectives assuming you’re reasonably healthy you should attain your goals quickly. Further good news is there are lots of reasonably priced boats that will meet your needs just fine. I’d suggest looking for a paddling club in your area and seeking out an independent paddling shop with knowledgeable staff. If that’s not available members in the paddling club should be able to fill in the gaps for you. Good luck!

good advice here^
People paddle solo all the time. You just have to be properly equipped and have an idea of what can go wrong and how to resolve that. Unfortunately you can’t pick that up solo.

kayaking solo
I am 71 and kayaking solo most of the time. You can find my (and others) journeys on the Navis forum (register first) It is in Dutch (automatic translation can solve that partially) but with a lot of foto’s and films.

See also When I kayak solo I take all the safety measures I have available. Swimming aid, recue vest (autamatic inflatable) dry suit, hand flares, marine radio,.; I also like to swim and I practice solo reeenter as often as I can (cowboy reenter). When using a kayak you need a big cockpit for easy reenter. Foto’s and films is somethimes a problem in a kayak and maybe a sit on top will be more easy (I use foldable outriggers on my kayak) There are several possibilities for mounting a kayak on the roof of a car when you are alone and not very strong (side bar end bar) a searrch on google gives a lot of solutions

You will be fine
Life is inherently unsafe and you could choke to death on a cherry sitting at home alone, on your sofa.

Does this mean one should never eat cherries alone?

I have paddled alone a good deal, including whitewater. At times, I was paddling on streams where other people were present, and at other times I was truly on my own. In retrospect, some of those ventures might have been deemed by many to be “risky” but it was a calculated risk.

There is always a small possibility that you could get into trouble even on lakes or moving flat water, and could even have a fatal accident in a situation where another person’s presence might have been life saving, but those odds are pretty remote.

As for loading a boat for car topping, you will be able to find a lot of tricks on this forum to make that task easier.


– Last Updated: Sep-11-14 1:04 PM EST –


I asked this same question a few months ago and got tons of useful replies! Here is the link:

Mine was was about cold water sea kayaking so not all will be applicable but a good start.

First, you don’t have to get a trailer. Just a long enough boat that it can be slid up on the racks. In this way longer boats are actually easier than the 10 footers when dealing with a tall vehicle. You can buy something like the Amagansett Roller Loader or make up a version of your own if you are handy enough.

Second, paddling alone is a larger risk when/if getting back in the boat on the water (an extremely rare event in WW) or swimming to safety are compromised. If you learn to re-enter on the water, something more easily done in a longer and lower boat with two bulkheads, and/or stay where you can swim to safety things get safer. If you are paddling in colder weather, doing the latter things requires an investment in clothing that keep the hypothermia away while you get yourself to safety.

The one thing that is absolutely more important when paddling alone is having decent self-rescue skills and proper clothing for immersion, since you will not be with anyone to help you get back into the boat or with spare warm clothing in their boat. So your best bet is to find someplace to start learning this stuff before ir gets cold, and/or wait until there are winter pool sessions around you.

Can you swim ?
If yes, then by all means go it alone.

If no, then you should never go it alone.

It is as simple as that!

Our oldest daughter, (going on 55) does it all the time by herself.

She is four feet ten inches tall

She has a light weight solo canoe, a short rec kayak, an 18 foot long racing canoe, and a 18 foot long Epic 18 sea kayak.

She loads and unloads the boats all by herself and God help any one who tries to help her! (except when dear old dad is around and makes her mind him).

She uses a pad on the rear of her CRV and a small step stool.

Good luck !

Jack L

Only nuts if you don’t try
Knowing the area where you live (warm climate, cold climate) would be helpful. There are some wizards here who can find used boats in your area in a nanosecond.

Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Heck, you’re just a kid at 40. I’m considerably older than you and started paddling a kayak in May. I live in Northern Michigan where there’s an abundance of inland lakes and the bays of Lake Michigan, which I paddle solo. No paddling club in my area and my friends have allowed themselves to become “old” in body and attitude.

I did take a six-hour ACA kayak skills class which was invaluable. Personal instruction should be #1 on your to-do list - a class that includes wet exit and reentry as well as the basic strokes and other safety issues.

ALWAYS wear a PFD (even in perfectly calm water on windless days), and carry a loud whistle in its pocket.

If you’re worried that you don’t have the strength to carry a kayak, start weight training exercises to improve your upper body strength, as well as core exercises. Makes a very positive difference.

You can use Google maps and/or your local DNR maps to find lakes and rivers with public access sites. In most cases you’ll find you can unload right at the shoreline, then park your vehicle. On river trips, getting back to your launch site is another story - which is why I don’t paddle rivers.

Don’t be afraid of boats, waves, and boat wakes on lakes. They can be fun and offer good learning experiences. And if there are other boats on the water, you may be paddling solo, but you do have other people around.

My wife is your size
She started with a 10’ Wilderness Systems Pungo and had difficulty loading the boat by herself when she wanted to go out solo.

She was intimidated by longer boats, but after picking up some of my longer (and lighter) boats she learned that it is much easier for her to load a longer boat buy being able to lift the front onto the rack, and sliding it up on the roof.

There are a lot of 12 to 14 foot long boats that are light and inexpensive to get started with.

Instructional classes will also teach you some skills, giving you confidence and knowledge in regard to safely paddling solo.

Yes, do it, absolutely!
I’m an average sized 64 year old female and I have been kayaking mostly solo for about 12 years. The advice on longer kayaks is good – they are easier to load, even on taller vehicles. I used to regularly load a 17’, 65 lb kayak on a Hyundai Santa Fe (though it was kind of a pain).

But for simplicity and the least hassle, there are various light options, depending on your budget (as in most sports, lighter is costlier.) I’m very fond of skin on frame and folding kayaks and have owned several – there are models around 25 to 30 lbs, in fact. Folders, besides being light, are also easy to store and you can travel with them, checking as baggage on airlines. You might want to look at these models:

  • Orukayak (

  • Feathercraft K-light, Kahuna and Kurrent (

  • Folbot Gremlin or Kiawah (

  • Pakboat Quest 135 and Puffin Saco (

    These are all 12’ to 14’ light touring boats which would be great for the kind of outings you describe.

    You can even make your own skin on frame and/or folding or inflatable kayaks. The site has free patterns and a cool gallery where you can see examples people around the world have constructed on their own.

    My lightest boat is a traditional skin on frame (in fact I spent most of last Sunday paddling it solo on a large local lake), 18’ long and only 31 lbs. This site has good intro information on skin on frames:

    What I’m offering you is a little different from what most answers on here will be. Folders and skin on frames are still in the minority among kayak users and many newcomers to the sport are not even aware they exist. But for your usage parameters and loading concerns I think they are worth considering.

Been solo canoeing for
18 years. Kayaking solo not so much as I kayak on the Gulf of Maine which has some additional challenges. ( I like help getting out on slippery rockweed or in the surf)

I’m almost 70 and continue to go solo. It helped me to first learn skills with a club or formal instruction. That gave me the confidence to go on my own.

I have a number of solo canoes, and pack canoes. I prefer canoes for the ability to move around in them. All are sub 40 lbs. For the most part I don’t need a full deck. Even on the ocean. A spray skirt for canoes helps a lot.

When the wind is up and throwing itself at me at 30 mph…I am not out in it. Its not what I seek.

You have a lot more “company” than you might think you do.

Those questions should be on a FAQ page
Question #1:

The “Never paddle alone” warning is similar to the “Never hike alone” one. Overly simple and frequently disregarded by many people. Dire consequences of some outings happen to not-alone paddlers and hikers, too, and maybe more often because even one miscommunication can trigger a series of problems.

It IS a good idea to go with more experienced companions when you are brand-new, though. Especially if you’re not sticking to small, sheltered lakes or ponds on nice calm days. If nothing else, going with others means you’re likely to get some tips–whether good or bad advice is the question.

If you only go when you have partners, you won’t get out as often. Period. I think it’s better to (conservatively) go alone than to champ at the bit waiting for company and not get the butt time in. But you should have a lot of common sense, and not everybody seems to have it.

Question #2:

You do not have to use a trailer although it is easier for loading boats. This depends tremendously on the height of your roof, your own height and strength, the weather (wind), how much you are willing to spend on roof hardware that might be specific to a vehicle, and what loading accessories you find useful. With trailers, as long as the trailer’s coupler size and the vehicle’s ball size match (assuming it’s a vehicle that can tow anything), you can swap trailers to other vehicles.

The overall answer to your post is that being a solo female does not mean you can’t go paddling. But you might need additional equipment to load or transport the boat. The “solo” part is the same regardless of gender.

Maybe rent some shorter, lighter boats at first and see how you do at securing them to your vehicle’s roof. Use painter lines on bow and stern also.

My wife, who is 48, and just a little larger than you, paddles solo a lot nowadays. She has a 15 foot kayak that weighs 49 lbs. She can lift it on and off her car (a minivan), but we are leaving the boats at a club these days, on a dock. Her additional challenge is, she had a fairly nasty variety of breast cancer, and has just come off four years of multiple surgeries and treatments. Serious lymphedema in one arm is a bit limiting, but she still does it.

Life is short. Live it.

Just do it!
If you’re nuts, then I am too. I do exactly the type of paddling you describe, more often than not alone. I’m 5’3", 65 years old, and still feel some effects of a stroke, but I can load my lightweight pack canoe onto my Forester without help.

Many go out alone for week long trips.
Often go out canoeing alone for day trips myself. If you have the money for high end light weight canoe or kayak would recommend that you get thirteen to fourteen foot light weight boat. Other wise just get what you can afford. But choose a canoe/kayak with medium to low initial stability but high secondary stability. My choice for you would be a used Bell Flashfire canoe or a new Colden Flashfire. Very hard to tip over but fast and maneuverable. Also it is light weight.

Obtain proper equipment. Ditch kit, spare paddle, dry bag with extra clothing & towels, waterproof box for electronics. Maybe even a spot II locator beacon.

Get professional training for your chosen type of watercraft and style of paddling. Alternately spend a lot of time with a group and learn from then and by trying on your own while in company of others.

Do not skimp on racks. They will last you years and make or break you when loading and unloading.

To sound like a sneaker ad just go out and do it. Carefully.

To add to the other posts, go for it!
Hubby bought me my first kayak the year I turned 52 and I’m my 19th summer of kayaking.

I too started out solo here on one of our local rivers, but once I found a ladies only club it’s been nothing but pure joy having like minded paddlers to go with.

I’m 5’2" and after 12 years of putting my boat on my car alone, when hubby wasn’t around to help, we purchased a Hullivator and it’s my ‘go to’ piece of equipment when I travel to weekend or week long outing with group. It cost me $400 and I already had the bars, but it has been well spent money.

Welcome to a fun, relaxing, sometimes challenging and awesome sport. You’ll be amazed at the great people you’ll meet!

Paddling solo
is what a lot of us do fairly often. Additional paddlers only increase the level of safety if they are competent. An individual with bad judgement and a poor understanding of what can go wrong can make an otherwise leisurely outing stressful and uncomfortable.

Solo paddling is (a bit) more dangerous, and thus, requires a few extra precautions. Boat handling, bracing, and self-rescue skills need to be reliable and safety gear is more important. The posters who answered before me have addressed nearly all that needs to be, although there are times when a helmet should be added in the safety gear.

Also, solo paddles can be lonely. A good paddling partner not only opens one’s eyes to additional possibilities, he/she provides a comforting level of security that may enable one to take more chances and expand skills. Often, I encounter something that I would dearly love to share with someone and that can enhance the enjoyment of the experience. There is a time when I really love paddling alone and others where I wish I had someone with whom to share the experience.


That’s encouraging, thank you!

– Last Updated: Sep-12-14 4:39 PM EST –

Wow, 4'10" and can load it herself? Well I have 4 whole inches on her! LOL I feel much better now about the loading/launching process. I guess now it's more of a safety issue. That is, making sure I can paddle alone, and do so safely. And yes, I can swim, in fact I'm a very strong swimmer and do so often.

Thanks for your encouragement!

Thanks guys
Thanks for your input. I agree on all counts.