Kayaking In The Rain – Tips, Safety & Must-Have Gear

In a perfect world, the weather would always be warm and sunny, and you’d never have to worry about unexpected rain showers and thunderstorms. Real life is far from perfect, though (I’m sure you’re aware of that) – and you can’t always have it your way.  The weather is a ...
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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.

In a perfect world, the weather would always be warm and sunny, and you’d never have to worry about unexpected rain showers and thunderstorms. Real life is far from perfect, though (I’m sure you’re aware of that) – and you can’t always have it your way. 

The weather is a tricky, unpredictable thing – and no matter how much you plan and prepare and how many times you check the forecasts, there’s always the possibility of a storm coming in and ruining your plans. 

But hear me out: 

Kayaking in the rain may not be such a bad idea. Sure, it’s going to require some planning and preparation, you’ll need to have the right gear to stay dry and safe, and you need to be aware of the risks – but it can be done. 

And, honestly, there’s nothing quite like the sound of raindrops hitting the surface of the water as your ‘yak glides through the river. 

So, don’t put your paddle away just yet! 

Kayaking In The Rain – Key Takeaways 

  • Can you kayak in the rain? Of course, you can kayak in the rain. Actually, it can be one of the most unique and serene experiences you’ll have as a kayaker – as long as you are prepared for the weather.
  • Are there any benefits of kayaking in the rain? The biggest benefit of kayaking in the rain is getting to witness the hidden beauty and serenity of surrounding nature. It can be a life-changing experience. Besides, there are usually fewer crowds, which allows you to soak in nature’s beauty and take some stunning photos – if that’s your thing.
  • Is it safe to kayak in the rain? It’s as safe as you make it. In other words, you still have to follow general kayaking safety guidelines, stay aware of the risks and potential hazards, and be prepared for emergencies.
  • How to prepare for a rainy-day kayaking trip? Always check the weather forecast and water conditions and plan your route accordingly. Dress appropriately – depending on the season – and ensure you have the right gear for rainy weather.

The Benefits Of Kayaking In The Rain

Yellow kayak in open water during a rain storm

I know what you’re thinking: 

Why would I go out with all the rain outside? Everything’s gray, dull, and wet. Oh, and the mud. I will be scraping mud from my shoes, car, and boat for the rest of the week.

I get where you’re going with that – but you’re missing the point. 

There is something serene and beautiful about paddling on a rainy day. The sound of rain hitting the water has always had an almost therapeutic effect on me. And who knows, perhaps it’ll work for you, too.

On that note, I recommend going kayaking during springtime showers

You get to enjoy the soothing sound of raindrops – but the weather is typically warmer, and there are cloud breaks that allow sunlight to shine through all the grayness. 

Of course, introspection is not the only reason why you should try rainy-day kayaking. There are a few practical reasons, too: 

For one, due to the chilly weather and rain, there are typically fewer crowds than usual. If you’re not the social type, wait for the rain and hit the nearby river. 

Besides, rain has a way of “enhancing” nature’s beauty. That is why rainy weather is considered prime time for taking stunning photos of the surrounding landscape. Rainbows, dramatic-looking clouds, close-up shots of raindrops, reflections on the water – you get the idea. 

I could continue talking about this until the heat death of the Universe, but I’ll leave you with this: 

Even if you are not a fan of rainy weather, give it a try at least once. I promise it’s worth it!

Preparing For A Rainy-Day Kayaking Trip

I go by the old saying: 

There’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad preparation.

I mean, if you can go paddling in near-freezing weather, a bit of rain won’t be a big deal. Staying safe out there should be a top priority, though – and preparation is key. You can’t really enjoy the rain – on land or in a kayak – unless you’re dry, comfortable, and safe.

So, with that said, here are some tips you should follow to avoid putting yourself at unnecessary risk when preparing for a rainy-day kayaking trip.

Charting Your Route

Rainy weather is really not the best time to wing it and see where the road – or, rather, waterway – takes you. Take the time to plan your route; it will make everything else so much easier – and a lot safer, too. 

First and foremost, identify suitable take-in and take-out points. Ideally, both locations should be easily accessible and within walking distance from your vehicle since you will need to carry your kayak to and from the water. 

Oh, and while I’m at it, watch out for extremely muddy terrain and slippery rocks. 

If you’re thinking of making this a round-trip, do note that kayaking upstream can be even harder following heavy rainfall due to the higher-than-average water levels and strong currents. So, that is one more thing to keep in mind when planning your route. 

And lastly, look for points along your route where you could seek shelter if the weather becomes too much to handle. 

Notify Someone About Your Trip

Even if you take every possible precaution, there’s still a possibility that something will go wrong – and when it does, a detailed outline of your trip can help others locate you and potentially save your life. 

Float Plan 101 – What is a Float Plan? Why You Need One? What Information Should Be Included?

That’s why you should always notify a friend or family member about the upcoming trip and file a float plan. Specify who’s going, where you’re going, when you’ll be back – and, most importantly, what they should do if you don’t check in as scheduled.

If anything bad does happen, you’ll know that someone is looking out for you, even if they’re not physically there with you. 

Check The Water Conditions

Heavy rainfall can cause higher-than-usual water levels – and, in some cases, even flash floods. Even more so, the increase in water levels could turn moderate Class II rapids into raging Class III or IV whitewater – often riddled with all sorts of dangerous debris. 

On that note, do keep in mind that heavy rainfall also tends to flush a lot of debris into the water, which can start accumulating – and potentially form something called a strainer. 

These river strainers trap large objects while allowing water to pass through, meaning you could get pinned against the barrier, unable to fight the relentless water pressure. And if that happens, the chances are you’ll drown.  

Most importantly, watch out for low-head dams. These things are called “drowning machines” for a reason: 

The recirculating current that forms below the dam is powerful enough to pull you under, pin you against the wall, and even render your life jacket ineffective, making it impossible to escape. 

Since these low-profile barriers sit under the surface of the water, they are virtually impossible to spot – especially when the water levels are high due to rain. And, to make matters worse, they’re often left unmarked. 

That’s why it’s so important to plan your route and get familiar with the waterway before heading out – and, if needed, cross certain areas on foot, just to be on the safe side. 

Increase Your Visibility

If you’ve ever been caught outside during heavy downpours, I’m sure you’re aware of how much it can impact visibility. Heck, it’s hard enough to keep your eyes open – let alone figure out where you’re going.

In that sense, paddling on a rainy day is not that different from paddling at night

See and be seen” is the golden rule of kayaking in conditions of limited visibility, which means a kayak light will be a must-have. Not only will it help you keep an eye on your surroundings, but it will also ensure that your ‘yak remains visible to others.

“See and be seen” is the golden rule of kayaking in conditions of limited visibility, which means a kayak light will be a must-have. Not only will it help you keep an eye on your surroundings, but it will also ensure that your ‘yak stays visible to other water users. In addition to using a kayak light, wearing bright colors or clothes with reflective properties can further enhance your visibility during heavy rain. 

Dress Appropriately & Pack The Right Gear 

When deciding what to wear for rainy day kayaking, you’ll need to take both the weather and the water conditions into account. When it comes to kayak rain gear, staying dry and warm should be your top priority – so, the basics of dressing appropriately are more or less the same: 

  • Base layers – Such as a long-sleeve shirt and full-length underwear made of moisture-wicking materials.
  • Waterproof paddling jacket – Not only will it shield you from the rain, it will protect you from the wind.
  • Splash pants (the lower-body equivalent of a raincoat) 
  • Kayaking shoes – Neoprene booties coupled with waterproof socks to help keep your feet warm and dry. 
  • Neoprene gloves and headwear – Ensuring your head and hands stay warm and dry not only increases comfort but can also help prevent hypothermia.

That said, your choice of clothes also depends on the season

  • If you’re kayaking in early spring, late autumn or in the ice cold water of winter, wear a dry suit paired with a few layers of insulation for warmth 
  • If you are kayaking during a summer shower, you can’t go wrong with a wetsuit.  Wet suits offer a decent level of  protection from the elements, but their effectiveness is temperature dependent. To stay safe kayaking, they should be only worn when the water temperature is greater than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The best advice I can give you, though, is to always dress in layers. It’s much easier to add – or remove – layers depending on the changing weather and keep your core body temperature at an optimal level.

Kayaking Rain Gear Recommendations 

You’ll notice that most of the items listed below are already considered essential kayaking gear – but I’ve added a few pieces of gear that can make a lot of difference on a rainy day, too. 

Here are my gear recommendations for kayaking in the rain: 

  • Dry Bags – You might be okay with getting wet, but your equipment, especially electronic devices, probably shouldn’t. These bags are designed to be 100% waterproof and will be crucial for keeping your valuables dry. 
  • Bilge Pump – You’ll need a way to get rid of the excess water before it fills up your ‘yak – unless you’re fine with sitting in a puddle, that is. 
  • Spray Skirt – If you’re going kayaking in whitewater, a spray skirt will be a must. It’s hard to keep the water out of the cockpit, even when it’s not raining, but it becomes practically impossible when rain is involved. 
  • Tarp – Any rectangular piece of waterproof fabric will do – provided that it is large enough to serve as a makeshift shelter but small enough to be stored on your kayak’s deck when it’s not in use. 
  • Communication Devices – You should carry at least one communication device – a VHF radio, an emergency beacon, or a smartphone – with you. 
  • Waterproof GPS Device – Navigating unknown waterways can be a bit tricky, especially when you have the weather working against you. 
  • First Aid Kit – Make sure that it is in a waterproof bag and that it contains everything you could need to treat minor injuries, pain, inflammation, and allergies. 
Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

You may want to consider installing a kayak canopy. It’ll serve as a rain shelter, make you more visible to others (provided that you get a brightly-colored one), and, of course, it will create some much-needed shade on sunny afternoons. It’s a win-win!

– Sam O’Brien

Safety Considerations: Is It Safe To Kayak In The Rain?

Generally speaking, yes, kayaking in the rain is safe. That does not mean that there are no risks involved, though. I mean, kayaking has some inherent risks in the best of conditions, let alone in adverse weather. 

Besides, you were probably going to end up wet anyway, and, in that sense, the fact that Mother Nature decided to send rain clouds your way won’t make much of a difference. 

Of course, there’s a significant contrast between feeling a few raindrops on your skin and getting caught in a full-blown thunderstorm. Plus, there’s an increased risk of hypothermia; cold and wet are the main ingredients in this recipe for disaster. 

My point is: 

Severe weather conditions should never be taken lightly. And if you plan on kayaking in the rain, it’s imperative that you prepare for it and take the necessary safety precautions. 

Know Your Limits & Ability 

Rainfall can lead to higher-than-usual water levels and more powerful currents, which amount to more challenging water conditions. 

Even a relatively tame and slow-moving river can turn into a hard-to-navigate nightmare, riddled with debris and dangerous rapids. And don’t get me started on the waves and currents you may face in open waters. 

That is to say: 

You should be aware of and respect your skills and abilities. Be realistic about what you can – and cannot – handle in terms of river difficulty, and adjust the route accordingly. Now’s not the time for you to push your limits. 

That’s particularly true if you do not have the skills needed to maintain control over your kayak in choppy waters. 

On a related note, know when to call it quits: 

There’s no need to take unnecessary risks for the sake of staying out on the water longer. If the conditions take a turn for the worse or there are signs of an approaching storm, it’s better to turn back or seek shelter in the area. 

Be Prepared For Emergencies 

I would generally advise you to always be prepared for potential emergencies, even on perfectly sunny afternoons. You never really know when things might go south, so it’s vital to be prepared for – well, everything – and expect the unexpected, especially in wet weather. 

Now, “being prepared” implies a few things: 

For starters, it means knowing how to handle an emergency – performing a self-rescue following a capsize or figuring out your exact location after getting lost, for example. That’s not all, though. You also need to keep a well-stocked and easily accessible emergency kit onboard. 

On that note, your emergency kit should contain the following: 

  • First-aid kit 
  • Noise-making device (whistle) 
  • Hand flares 
  • Communication devices (smartphone and/or VHF radio) 
  • Lightweight tarp (for building shelter) 
  • Waterproof GPS device 
  • Firestarter 

Remember: 

It’s better to have a piece of equipment and not need it – than to need it and not have it.

Pay Attention To Lightning And Thunder 

You need to keep in mind that when you’re out on the water, you are exposed to everything that Mother Nature may throw your way. 

Not just heavy rain – but lightning and thunder, as well. 

That is why it’s so important that you know how to “read the weather” – besides just checking the forecast, that is – and recognize the signs of an approaching storm in time. 

Otherwise, you could find yourself in a bit of a pickle: 

idiot kayak fisherman caught offshore in a thunderstorm (near death experience)

Here are a few warning signs you shouldn’t ignore: 

  • A sudden drop in temperature 
  • Darkening sky and large cumulus clouds 
  • Sudden changes in wind direction and speed 

Ideally, you should head back to shore as soon as you notice a thunderstorm approaching. Seek shelter on dry land and wait until the weather clears up again. 

What if there’s no time to head back, though? 

Well, in that case, you might have to ride out the storm on the water. 

Here’s how to stay safe if you can’t get to shore in time: 

  • Position yourself so that you’re as low in the kayak as possible 
  • Break down and store your kayak canopy and fishing rods 
  • Head to an area with little to no obstructions to minimize the risk of collision 
  • Avoid contact with any metal objects on the kayak’s deck 
  • Wait at least half an hour after the last flash of lightning before proceeding 

Understand The Risk Of Hypothermia 

Every single time you go out for a paddle, you face the possibility of ending up in the water if the kayak flips or capsizes.. That is just a part of being a kayaker. While capsizing is rarely fatal in and of itself, the combination of being wet and exposed to cold temperatures could make things go from bad to worse pretty fast – and put you at risk of hypothermia

And with rainy weather and strong winds, that risk becomes even higher. 

Why does cold water exposure have such a devastating effect on the human body? 

You need to maintain a stable core body temperature of around 37°C; even the seemingly small variations in the core body temperature can have a profound impact on how your body functions and how you feel and perform. 

Since water can draw heat from the body up to 25 times faster than air, it’s hard for the body to sustain a stable core body temperature when exposed to water, which translates to a higher risk of hypothermia. 

Watch Your Step 

What do you mean, watch your step? I will be spending my time in the water, kayaking – I’m not going on a hike here.” 

I agree; you will spend most of your time on the water. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some walking involved: 

For one, you’ll need to carry the ‘yak to and from the water. And two, if you happen to encounter any hazards, obstacles, or dangerous sections of the river, which is a real possibility after heavy rainfall, you will need to navigate around them on land. 

In an ideal scenario, you would research your kayaking location beforehand and get there with a rough idea of the suitable entry and exit points along that paddling route. But if you come across something unexpected, you may have to improvise and come up with plan B on the spot. 

And that’s where the whole “watch your step” thing comes in: 

It is important to remain alert and take each step carefully, especially if it’s been raining for some time and the surrounding terrain is slippery and muddy. 

Unfortunately, you won’t see a “Slippery when wet” warning sign anywhere in nature. One wrong step is all it takes for you to end up with a twisted ankle – or worse. 

Follow General Kayaking Safety Guidelines 

Kayaking in the rain obviously calls for some specific considerations – but the basics of kayaking safety still apply here. 

You need to keep in mind that accidents happen regardless of the weather conditions. And sure, in most cases, they are preventable – but only if you come prepared and follow general kayaking safety guidelines

With that said, here are some safety rules to keep in mind every time you hit the water – whether it’s raining or not: 

  • Wear a properly-fitting PFD at all times. 
  • Dress appropriately, especially if you’re kayaking in cold weather. 
  • Check your equipment before each outing to ensure that everything’s in usable condition – and that you know how to use said equipment correctly, of course. 
  • Master the basic kayaking safety maneuvers and skills, including self-rescue techniques, on-the-water navigation, and reading the weather and water conditions. 
  • Do not consume alcohol while you’re on the water. 
  • Don’t go kayaking alone; there’s safety in numbers. 

Making The Most Of Your Trip – Top Tips For Rainy Weather Kayaking

Kayakers sheltering under a tent to take a break from the rain
Image by Ruth Hartnup (CC BY 2.0)

The fact that it’s raining does not mean you will have to cancel your trip altogether – or spend the day hiding in a tent. 

There’s actually a lot you can do to make the most of a rainy day kayaking trip. 

The key thing here is, of course, that you stay warm and comfortable and actually enjoy the time you spend outside in the rain. So, I’d just like to remind you of a few essentials that will definitely improve the overall experience

  • Bring your favorite hot drinks – tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, for example – in an insulated bottle (thermos). 
  • Pack some “outdoors-friendly” snacks, such as energy bars, canned soup, or trail mix, in weather-proof containers. 
  • Remember to take breaks to warm up and eat. You can set up a tarp to provide cover on land. 
  • Dress in layers to regulate your temperature more efficiently; you can add or remove one layer at a time as the weather changes. 
  • Pack a spare set of dry clothes and, preferably, a towel; if you happen to get wet, you will have something to change into before heading home. 

Now, for the whole “making the most of a rainy day kayaking trip” thing – I’ve got some ideas: 

  • Plan a little picnic under a tarp; you’ll still get to spend time outdoors – but you’ll be out of the rain. 
  • Use the opportunity to work on new paddling techniques, like rolling and bracing. I mean, you’ll be wet anyway – so, what’s the harm? 
  • If you’ve got your fishing gear with you, cast a line and try to catch some fish; maybe you can cook it once the weather improves. 
  • Explore nearby waterfalls; they’re stunning, especially after heavy rainfall when they’re in full swing. 

And don’t forget to jump in a puddle or two. Make your inner child giggle! 

Oh, and if you have a knack for photography, this is your chance to take some once-in-a-lifetime shots. Here are some tips: 

  • Bring a waterproof case for your smartphone (if you are using a camera, get a rain cover or waterproof housing) 
  • Keep a microfiber cloth on hand for wiping your lens 
  • Play with shutter speeds (a slower shutter speed is great for long-exposure photos, while higher speeds will allow you to photograph splashes) 
  • Use medium to high ISO settings to compensate for low-light conditions 
Why I LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY in the RAIN (and how it improves your photos)

Frequently Asked Question On Kayaking in the Rain

Can you kayak in the rain?

Yes, you can kayak in the rain! It is crucial to take the necessary precautions, though. Plan your route with care, be prepared for emergencies, dress adequately – and, most importantly, stick to the general safety guidelines. 


Is kayaking in the rain dangerous?

Actually, kayaking in the rain is generally safe. That’s not to say that there are no risks involved, though. Heavy rainfall could lead to higher-than-usual water levels – and even flash floods. Plus, you’ll likely be dealing with poor visibility. You also face a higher risk of hypothermia. But as long as you’re aware of the risks and prepared to handle them by taking the proper precautions, there’s no reason to worry.  


What should I wear when kayaking in the rain?

It depends on the season. If you’re going out in the early spring or autumn, you’ll need a dry suit (with insulating base layers), a waterproof jacket, and rain boots – things that will keep you warm and dry. During the summer, you can get by with a wetsuit – and a jacket, if it’s a bit chilly – and a pair of kayaking shoes.


Can I use my phone or camera while kayaking in the rain?

Yes, you can use your phone – or even a camera – to take photos in the rain. However, you have to be careful and have the right accessories for the job. That includes a waterproof case for your smartphone, a rain cover or even waterproof housing for the camera, and dry bags for storing all your electronics and preventing any form of water damage.


How do I transport my kayak and gear in the rain?

Transporting your kayak and gear in the rain is not that different than in “normal” weather – but it does involve additional precautions when it comes to weather-proofing. If you’re transporting your kayak on a roof rack or in a trailer, place it upside-down and use a cockpit cover to prevent the rain from accumulating inside the kayak. As for your gear, safeguard any electronic or valuable items by storing them in a dry bag within the hull, effectively shielding them from the rain.


Kayaking In The Rain: Quick Summary 

Kayaking in the rain might not be your idea of a perfect outing – but that does not automatically mean that it can’t be a fun experience. With some planning and preparation, you can still have a great time – despite the inclement weather: 

  • Choose your location wisely, plan your route, and inform someone about it 
  • Pack the right gear (dry bags, bilge pumps, spray skirts, emergency kit, GPS device, and communication devices) 
  • Equip your kayak with navigation lights 
  • Dress appropriately and opt for warm, waterproof layers 
  • Follow general kayaking safety guidelines 

Had a memorable rainy-day kayaking experience you’d like to share with the community? Drop us a message, here! And if not – well, now’s the time to start planning your next outing!

Photo of author

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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