By Bill Vonnegut

Rocks in coastal environments are often very sharp and covered with barnacles, which is problematic when you have to launch a kayak from them. There are many ways to launch a kayak from a rock, but many of them result in damage to the boat or require a rock with a specific type of surface. When paddling in the rock gardens, finding a rock surface that is just right is usually not an option.

One popular way to launch a kayak off a rock or high surface is to put it in the water and push it away. The paddler then swims to the boat and enters with a self-rescue. This option is easy on the boat, but it takes time and requires a swim in what could be a cold, dynamic location.

A quick and dry method is the seal launch. The paddler gets in the boat on shore, puts their skirt on, and slides down the rock right into the water. While a seal launch is a lot of fun, it often leaves a trail of plastic down the rocks and deep gouges in the boat. If there is a smooth spot, then go for the seal launch!

If there are no smooth rock faces and the area is too dynamic for a swim, there is a lesser known low abrasion option, which will not gouge the boat or require swimming in cold water. The concept is quite simple too; just push the boat into the water and jump on as it clears the rocks.

This launch is challenging, but can become easy with practice of some foundational components. Keep it simple by using the beach to start. First, walk out and lay on the boat and then try it in deeper water. Once that becomes easy, start adding more speed each time. Finally, be a bit more aggressive by jumping on the boat with speed. To simulate launching off a rock, try practicing from a dock. This superb Speed Launch video by Body Boat Blade shows the progression nicely:

An excellent way to make this move more natural is to practice it every time you paddle. Whether you're launching from a dock or the beach, use this launch method. Then when you find yourself eating lunch on a rock, it will be easy to launch and continue on with your day.


––Bill Vonnegut is a sea kayak instructor at River & Ocean and member of the Neptune's Rangers paddling posse. See more from the multi-part rock gardening series where Bill discusses the techniques, skills and gear needed to enjoy coastal whitewater.