How To Get Out Of A Kayak With Bad Knees: Step-By-Step Guide & Tips

Getting in – let alone out of – a kayak can be tricky even for the healthiest of joints. But when you have bad knees – stiff, painful, or injured in any way – you’ll likely have an awful time trying to get in and out of your ‘yak.   So, ...
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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

Getting in – let alone out of – a kayak can be tricky even for the healthiest of joints.

But when you have bad knees – stiff, painful, or injured in any way – you’ll likely have an awful time trying to get in and out of your ‘yak.  

So, yes, bad knees are bad news for a kayaker – but you don’t have to give up your favorite on-the-water sport for good: The techniques outlined in this “how to get out of a kayak with bad knees “guide are all you need!

How To Kayak With Bad Knees: 7 Rules For Kayaking With Bad Knees 

As long as you remember the “rules” outlined below, heading out on the water – and enjoying your kayaking journey – shouldn’t be an issue! 

Rule #1: Are You Medically Fit To Kayak? Consult Your Doctor

Kayaking with bad knees -Doctor in white lab coat

Paddling is a strenuous activity – and one that puts a lot of pressure on the entire body. It’s crucial to establish whether you’re medically fit for this type of on-the-water sports. 

So, first and foremost, talk to your doctor before you take up kayaking, even more so if bad knees or knee pain are a result of a past injury. 

Your physician knows your current health status and medical history and can provide you with valuable advice on the matter. 

Rule #2: Choose The Right Kayak That Works With – Not Against – You

Kayaking with bad knees - Colourful kayaks on the beach.

Sit-inside kayaks certainly have their benefits, but why would you pick a kayak that works against you and make things even harder on your knees? 

In general, having the right kayak can make a massive difference to your experience out on the water – even if you don’t suffer with stiff knees or chronic knee pain. But, when it comes to bad knees, sit-on-top kayaks are a much better choice

They’re easier to enter and exit, an open kayak, and, compared to closed-deck designs, open cockpits allow you to keep your legs straight and move them around.

Granted, it depends on what’s causing your knee pain, but it’s hard to go wrong with a sit-on-top kayak. 

Are inflatable kayaks a good choice for someone with bad knees?  

On paper, inflatable kayaks appear to be a good choice for those with weak knees since they are so stable, but in reality, unless they have a drop-snitched floor, they are really difficult to get into and even more challenging to get out of.

Rule #3: Get The Right Equipment (Even If It Means Spending More) 

Man with a paddle for a sports boat kayak in a store

Investing in quality equipment – including the right paddle, a kayak seat with a supportive backrest, and knee pads – and knowing how to set it all up right is essential. 

Your budget might take a hit, but quality equipment is a much better investment than you think

An ounce of knee pain prevention makes a real difference when you’re kayaking with bad knees

  • Footrest – Plant the balls of your feet on the footrests, toes pointing outward, and heels angled to the center. Ideally, your knees should be bent outward, with your legs applying uniform pressure on the thigh braces. 

Go from there and find a position that works best for your bad knees. 

  • Knee Pads –If the cockpit’s not-so-comfortable edges are getting painful, attaching knee pads could make the setup more pleasant and help reduce the possibility of making knee pain any worse. Typically this isn’t an issue experienced by sit-top-kayak owners and is reserved for those with an enclosed sit-inside kayak.

Better yet, you can wear the knee pads, as they provide additional support to your knees and reduce the strain on the joints.

  • Keep The Legs Supported & Elevated – Prop your legs up by placing a dry bag under your knees. Changing the angle and elevating your legs could alleviate the pressure – a trigger for knee pain – and provide some relief on long paddles.

Rule #4: Stretch It Out – Exercises For Getting In And Out Of Kayak

set of older people stretching

If you understand the importance of giving your car’s engine a few minutes to warm up, why not do the same for yourself? 

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d have a good reason. 

Here’s the thing about stretching and warming up your joints and muscles: 

Stretches for Kayakers - Improve your Flexibility

Your lower body will remain stationary for a good portion of your kayaking trip. Warming up can help prevent unwanted side-effects, such as additional pain, stiffness, and discomfort in your knees.  

It’s time to start stretching before and after – and, if possible, during – each paddling session

Rule #5: Choose Your Launch & Exit Spots Wisely

wood jeti dock with step into the lake

For starters, stick with low impact kayaking in flat water ponds and relatively narrow lakes. Why put the unnecessary strain on your bad knees? 

Conquering roaring rivers isn’t the only way to enjoy kayaking, anyway. 

Now, for the recommended launch and exit spots for kayakers with stiff or bad knees

Go with an accessible area at a short walking distance from your car, preferably in plain view – in case you need assistance. Also, try to pick a sandy beach over a rocky or uneven shoreline; this will allow you to run your kayak up onto the bank without damaging the hull. 

Ideally your launch and exit spot should be in shallow water, no more than knee deep and away from any boat traffic – as this will help to keep things low impact as possible, make it easier to get into your ‘yak, a far simpler manoeuvre when exiting the kayak to return to the shore side. Especially if you have limited knee mobility, such as when suffering from stiff knees from arthritis.

However, if you have to walk a reasonable distance from your vehicle to the water then I suggest you invest in a quality kayak cart.

Need some help finding suitable places to go kayaking near you, then check out our free map

Rule #6: Consider Taking Private Lessons 

Kayak school on the beach

If you’re still hesitant about kayaking with bad knees or doubt that you can do it, taking private lessons might give you a much-needed confidence boost. 

Many kayaking instructors have worked with people who have severe disabilities and taught them how to work around their conditions. So, they’ll likely have the experience to help you, too. 

You can work out the best kayak entry and exit methods to keep things as low impact as possible, get advice on dealing with knee problems from experienced kayakers, and find a kayak setup that suits you.

Plus, brushing up on kayaking basics and paddling techniques with an expert is always a good idea – bad knees or not. 

Rule #7: There’s No Shame In Asking For Assistance

Two hands holding on white background

Realizing that you’re no longer your tough, nothing-can-stop-me self and that you can’t do things that come so effortlessly to others can be disheartening. 

But before you let embarrassment overwhelm you, let me ask you: 

Are you seriously ready to give up kayaking, all because you’re ashamed of asking for help

If anything, it’s admirable that you didn’t let your bad knees stop you from doing what you love. 

And if you need assistance getting in and out of your kayak due to knee problems, anyone will be happy to help!  It is far easier to get some help than to have to give up your favourite pastime – swallow than pride.  

How To Enter A Kayak : Two Go-To Methods For Kayaking With Stiff Knees

Two kayakers take a rest on the banks of a river. They are well equipped with life jackets, hats, luggage and a red and white kaja or canoe

How to get in and out of a kayak is that skill that all yak owners need to master-  it’s just a skill that’s easier for people with full mobility.

The first step to kayaking with stiff knees is, well, getting into the actual kayak – which, by the way, can be quite a challenge when your knees aren’t cooperating.

The following two kayak entry techniques may be the key to a more comfortable – and easier – launch!  

Before we continue, we will assume you took our advice and opted for a sit-on-top kayak – as they are easier to get in and out of with bad knees.

Kayak Entry Method #1 

  1. Find a launch spot in shallow water, preferably shallow enough so it’s knee deep, or about half the length of your paddle.
  2. Position the kayak perpendicular to the shoreline or bank.
  3. Get to the kayak’s port or starboard side and stand a few inches in front of the seat. 
  4. Throw one leg over your kayak so that you’re straddling it, with feet planted on the ground, one on each side. 
  5. Place your hands on the hull’s sides to keep it in place, or, better yet, have someone hold it steady for you. Pushing against the kayak will help you maintain balance as you move on to the next step. 
  6. Lower yourself onto the kayak seat behind you or slide forward if you’re sitting on the cockpit rim. 
  7. Use your arms to lift your legs on the kayak one at a time and then push yourself off the shore using the paddle. 
How to Safely Get Into a Sit-on Top Kayak

Kayak Entry Method #2 

  1. Push your kayak out in shallow water that’s about knee deep. If you have someone to assist you when you’re ready to take off, you can leave one-fourth of the hull sitting on the bank. 
  2. Stand next to the kayak, with your back turned to either the port or starboard side. 
  3. Have someone hold the kayak or place a hand on either side for balance, and lower yourself as if sitting on a chair. 
  4. Once in the seat, swing your legs in or lift them one at a time. 

How To Get Out Of A Kayak With Bad Knees: Three Kayak Exit Methods To Try

Senior happy couple taking selfie on kayak at Big Lagoon in El Nido Palawan - Travel to Philippines wonders - Active elderly concept around the world - Lens flare and sun halo are part of composition

Getting out is the trickiest part, as it puts a lot of pressure on your knees, and there is a higher chance that the kayak flips – but the three kayak exit methods listed below might help make it less challenging!

In most cases you will follow the same technique as getting in but carried out in the reserve order,

As before, the assumption is that they opted for a sit-on-top kayak – as they are easier to get out with bad knees.

Kayak Exit Method #1 

  1. Paddle your kayak to a shallow water area, as close to the shore as possible, and reach a spot where the water is about two feet deep. 
  2. If heading for sandy shores, paddle until your kayak’s bow reaches the coast. You’ll have more stability when getting out of the kayak if a portion of it is already sitting on dry land. 
  3. Get one leg out to the side of the kayak, plant one foot firmly on the ground, and then repeat the process for your other leg. 
  4. Grab the sides of the kayak with your hands and stand up slowly with both legs on the ground. Pushing off the kayak with your hands as you’re getting up can help relieve some of the pressure. 

Kayak Exit Method #2  

  1. Pick up the speed as you start nearing the shore. You should be able to run your kayak far up onto the bank and plant a portion of the hull on dry land. 
  2. With the kayak’s hull planted on dry land, lift your legs over the side, lean over a bit if needed, and place them on the ground. 
  3. Place your hands on the hull’s side for added support and steadiness, and get out of the kayak. 

Kayak Exit Method #3 

  1. Paddle to an area where the water is relatively shallow; about knee deep or up to waist-high should be good. 
  2. Before you proceed, check if your life jacket is on correctly. Now’s not the time to take your PFD off, no matter how close to shore you are.
  3. Roll your body out of the kayak and straight into the water. 
  4. Once you’re out of the kayak – and in the water – you can stand up; your body’s natural buoyancy should help take some of the pressure off your bad knees.  You can also use your paddle shaft for a bit of extra support and press the paddle head into the shore bottom.
  5. Push your kayak to shore. 

Top Tip – Invest In An Kayak Exit Device

KayaArm Kayak Launch Stabilizing Device

If you have difficulty getting out of a kayak and mostly launch and exit from a static dock, jetty, or pier, you may wish to purchase a kayak exit device – such as the KayaArm.

KayaArm is a kayak stabilization system that resembles a large J-hook and requires you to paddle your boat up onto it. It’s a very simple, yet effective, design that makes boarding and disembarking from your kayak considerably easier. Best of all it is suitable for all recreational kayaks!

The arm is secured to the dock with only a few screws, with the lower arm positioned just beneath the water line. The kayaker then paddles his or her ‘yak up onto the arm – stabilizing the kayak parallel to the dock – and can use the upright arm to assist them to stand and get out of their kayak.

Final Thoughts On How To Kayak With Bad Knees

3d rendered medically accurate illustration of a man having a painful knee.

Sure, there is a list of medical conditions that could prevent you from ever giving kayaking a try. However, the good news is that, other than extreme cases, you won’t find “bad knees” listed on it. 

So, no, having bad knees won’t stop you from enjoying kayaking as much as anyone else. There are numerous ways to improve comfort, reduce pain and stiffness, and work around this condition that seems to hold you back – but it might initially feel a little daunting and will take a little practice to dial in your technique. 

On that note, the recipe for success when kayaking with stiff knees is relatively simple: 

Choose the right kayak – ideally a sit-on-top kayak, follow a few essential rules, practice how to enter and how to get out of a kayak with bad knees, and remember to take it easy and keep things low impact – happy kayaking.

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Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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