Swimming essential?

Hi all! New to this forum. Wanted to maybe start kayaking on lakes and such. Problem is that I can’t swim. Maybe float for a minute or two, but that’s it. Should I learn to swim before I try my hand at kayaking?


PFD and kayak lesson more important
PFD is essential (lifejacket is technically not the same thing, but close enough). Learning to swim would be a very good idea, but not essential.

More important would be to take a kayak lesson on self rescues. Ideally you never want to swim - if you capsize always stay with your kayak and get back in. Having not taken swimming lessons, you may be more prone to panic if you capsize, which will make the situation worse.

Consider all your safety precautions in totality. Being a decent swimmer is one more ring of safety.

1st for you …

– Last Updated: Feb-24-11 5:59 AM EST –

...... before going out in a paddled craft .

Purchase or better yet , borrow a good quality PFD , adjust it to fit you properly . Then go to an indoor pool , put the PFD on and see how well you can do in water over your head ... while there try to do some swimming in water you can stand up in also (w/o the PFD) .

No body ever mentions them on here , but there are also those inflatable arm bands that might help you have a little more confidence at first (trainer wheels for youth) ... in addition to the PFD .

There is a difference in a pool than in a lake or river . In a pool you see the bottom , you see your body , the pool's sides are close ... in the lake or river the water isn't as clear and what you usually see best is the waters surface and the horizon , and shore is farther away . Remember , your eyes and mouth are pretty much at the waters surface level and things will look quite different . Also your attire in the pool may be quite different than when paddling , and the pool won't have things in the water as are often found in nature .

Once you work out a little in the pool , then perhaps try a little rental canoe/kayak , stay close to shore and relatively shallow waters ... after doing these things (and having some fun with them) , you'll know how you feel about going paddling on a more regular basis and getting into it more from there .

There are a couple of reasons that people drown that stand out most ... one they can't stay afloat (no PFD) , two they can't swim long enough to get out of the water . Maybe you'll never end up in the water unexpectedly while paddling , many never do ... but then again many do . The best insurance to not drown is to keep your head and mouth above the water .

Yes. knowing how to swim removes …
the fear factor.

There are kayakers and canoers who don’t know how to swim, but if you are at ease in the water with out a PFD on you will be much more at ease in a yak or canoe even with one on.

Won’t the lack of the ability to swim always be there in the back of your mind ?

Jack L

Absolutely yes
We know of someone who is not a swimmer but is trying to advance in their kayaking skills, and I am not talking about advanced stuff. This person has been trying to gain the basics that will allow them to be a safe solo paddler - they usually have to paddle alone - a decent brace and at least some progress towards a roll.

These are areas in which newer paddlers who take some instruction and have a good boat (he does) can make decent progress within a season. And I am not talking about even getting the roll, just having the ability to brace somewhat usefully and have the foundation down for a roll.

A number of local folks have worked with this person, all of whom have had a lot of success with getting people well started towards these skills. And every one has had the same experience - that the inability to swim is producing a level of anxiety and near panic that is stopping them from being able to execute anything. This person has a PFD with quite good flotation and can largely stay afloat just from that, but the inability to swim is just too much in the way.

We looked around locally for them at one point, and found that local YMCA’s do offer swimming lessons for adult non-swimmers. If you want to kayak and have that available, suggest that you go for it.

Yes - It will remove the fear factor…
that will probably always be in the back of your mind.

And also make you much more confortable in the water in a mishap even with your PFD on.

I for one would not want to be off shore without knowing how to swim - PFD or not!

Jack L

Do both

– Last Updated: Feb-24-11 7:42 AM EST –

Learn to kayak and learn to swim. Free swimming lessons are often available at community center (school) pools and sometimes at the Y. You'll have fun learning both and it's just common sense. You don't have to be a championship swimmer or kayaker but both go hand in hand.

Just think how good it will feel if you can go across the pool without panic.

Comfort in water
You don’t have to be a great swimmer, but you should be comfortable being in the water.

If you’re afraid of capsizing, you’ll never really relax. That stiffness will make you MORE likely to capsize.

Water is rarely perfectly smooth. A kayak will want to move with the waves. If you relax and let it move under you you’re much more stable than if you’re fighting to stay perfectly upright.

You want to be at the point where capsizing is just annoying, not terrifying.

Yes, I was a Lifeguard for 7 years and
seen everything that can happen on the water. You really need to know how to swim for any number of reasons.

A good story …

“Lakes” are not the ocean but, given the right circumstances, one can drown in a bucket of water …

this should start a fire
The late Verlen Kruger who is known as the king of paddling and during his 80 year life covered 140,000 miles by paddle could NOT swim!

Wear a life jacket!!!

Swimming doesnt save lives it only gets you from point A to B.

Common sense and a life jacket is what keeps you out of the coffin.

One exception is not the rule
Obviously the man was comfortable in the water.

Have you tried teaching bracing etc to someone who could not swim? People here have, and I’ve been around for some of it. It isn’t working, and the coaches are proven.

it’s clearly possible without swimming…
but why not use this as a time to learn and be that much more comfortable. Learning to swim adequately is pretty easy unless there is some strong fear factor in the way and if that’s the case then the same fear factor would likely be a problem learning kayak skills.

Don’t become a footnote on Darwin’s list
Learn to swim or stay out of a kayak. For your good and the good of you loved ones.

you don’t have to choose
between a PFD and learning to swim.

Echo what jackl and celia said.

You don’t have to be an olympic swimmer, you don’t have to learn the butterfly. Just learn how to move from one point to another comfortably or keep yourself afloat with little effort.

Words of Encouragment
When I was a young kid I was sent to swimming lessons a few times, but except for the first round of lessens when I was very young, my overall uneasyness around water kept me from learning anything. As a young adult I tried to teach myself to tread water a few times, but couldn’t figure it out on my own, as I kept remembering something an uncle had told me about the movement of the legs, which he’d described incorrectly. All this time I was spending lots of time in canoes and small boats, and often felt afraid in choppy conditions. I seldom wore a PFD in those days because “nobody else did either”, but I knew I’d be much safer and less fearful if I learned to swim. I had the chance to take a beginning swimming class when I was in graduate school, and having the mindset of an adult instead of a fearful kid, this time it worked. I was so pleased with the result that when I returned to my home town I took an intermediate-level class sponsored by the local schools. I’ve practiced and improved ever since, mostly for the exercise, but it has totally changed my comfort level when out in small boats. If you can find a way to take lessons, you really should. You will be glad you did.

good testament

– Last Updated: Feb-24-11 3:19 PM EST –

I grew up in and around water and even swam competitively for a bit. So whenever I hear something like the OP, I can't comprehend not knowing how to swim. So it's nice to hear someone who didn't grow up with it value it just as much as I do.

I am sorry, you will not be paddling with me. I don’t care if you are Lady Gaga with beckoning eyes wearing only a PFD. If you believe that…

The previous responses of relieving anxiety, opening doors, and staying alive are good. You can paddle without knowing how to swim. You can jump off a bridge without a bungee cord also (a little over stated).


I haven’t went swimming for a long time

– Last Updated: Feb-24-11 4:26 PM EST –

...... never had any problems doing so before though . My biggest concern in our canoe would be gathering up the yard sale and loosing expensive gear like rod and reels , ect. to the river ... I think that would be a big hassle !!

Don't expect to go swimming any time soon and guess nothing much has changed except maybe my endurance , but I can rest more often with a PFD on should it be nessasary .

My original orientation to swimming came by being thrown into the river over my head (WV style at age 8) . Later in time my greatest challanges were to swim across a rock quarry and a tidal river , and back . One time the tidal river almost exhausted me due to strong tide that day . My buddy saw me going down and grabbed my hand (the last thing sticking up) ... I couldn't yell or anything , just froze and went down , glad he noticed !!

The following week in the same tidal river we watched them drag for (find and bring in) another teen a few years older than me . Weird the way they just layed his dead body up on shore in front of everybody , something one doesn't forget .