lift-a-kayak whitewater creek boat

How to lift a kayak. Photos courtesy Diane Gaydos

By Diane Gaydos

Lifting a kayak sounds simple, and it can be if you’re doing it correctly. But when you’re tired at the end of the day and just want to get your kayak to the car by any means possible, that’s when injuries occur. Practice these steps with a lighter kayak first to get the movement down. Then try them with a heavier, gear-loaded boat. The goal is to use these steps every time until correct lifting becomes second nature.

Step 1: Lift your kayak vertically onto the stern or bow.

For me, it’s usually easiest to lift my kayak onto it’s stern because that’s where the majority of the weight is (breakdown paddle, first aid kit, throw rope, etc.).

Stand next to the kayak and lift the bow off the ground, gripping the boat under the cockpit rim. Remember to lift with your knees, not your back, by bending your knees and keeping your back straight. Next, use both hands to rotate the kayak upside down and use your legs to walk the kayak vertical.

lift-a-kayak whitewater creek boat

Step 2: Positioning

From the previous step, you will be standing facing the inside of your kayak, with both hands on the kayak rim. Rotate your body so that your right shoulder (or left if you’ll be carrying on the left) is inside the cockpit. Place your right hand above your right shoulder to grasp the thigh brace. Leave your left hand where it was previously, on the left side rim.

lift-a-kayak whitewater creek boat

Step 3: Getting the kayak on your shoulder

While grasping the kayak as described above, take several steps forward and allow the kayak to fall forward with you, in a slow, controlled manner. Use your arms in the position described to help manipulate the kayak into position on your shoulder and gravity to help guide it into place.

lift-a-kayak whitewater creek boat

Step 4: Repositioning

Once the kayak is successfully on your shoulder, you will usually need to make some small adjustments to find a comfortable carrying position. This will depend on your personal preferences as well as your kayak. Personally, I like to use the combination of my PFD and hip pad to cushion my shoulder from the weight of the kayak.

Step 5: Mix it up!

This is one of the most important steps. Make sure you get comfortable carrying your kayak on both sides. No matter how careful you are at lifting your kayak in a manner that protects your back, simply carrying a kayak on your shoulder for an extended amount of time places torque on your back and strengthens muscles in an uneven distribution. Lifting and carrying your kayak equally on both sides will help with this and in general having less muscle imbalances will help protect you from injury. Also, consider using a backpack carrying system with a waste belt for longer carries. Be safe out there!

Diane Gaydos is a member of the Jackson Kayak Team.

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