I am a kayaker and I am height-challenged. Though I am rather strong for my height, the act of moving a kayak has always been an issue. To get my kayaks on and off my vehicle requires not only good lifting technique but the ability to climb a step-stool. A video of this act would make a good Cirque-du-Soleil audition tape, and more than once I have dropped a boat. Sea kayaks are long and awkward beasts.

A single-person touring sea kayak can range between 40 to 60 pounds, but it is not the weight of the boat you are attempting to lift that causes injury; it is the way you lift.

Lifting a kayak basics

Assuming you have managed to get your kayak off the roof rack and onto the ground, (a subject for another article) the first thing you should remember when lifting and carrying a kayak is the age-old lifting technique.

  • Bend from the knees using your legs to lift rather than your lower back, or upper body.
  • Keep the kayak close to your body while lifting.
  • Perform the lift in stages and never twist or use jerking motions.
  • Use both hands.

Another thing to consider is the path you are taking. Check for obstacles such as uneven ground, stair-like sections over roots or rocks, and even seaweed. Take a break if moving the boat a long distance (for example, a very low tide situation) even if it means re-lifting the kayak more than once. Take it easy, and take your time.

Lifting a kayak solo is not recommended. If you have a paddling friend handy, get them to give you a hand by taking one end of the kayak by the toggle and walking with it to the shore. However, if you are paddling on your own and no one is available to lend a hand you can drag your kayak to and from the vehicle with the use of a kayak cart.

However, if you are faced with lifting and carrying a kayak on your own, in the absence of a set of wheels here is how to do it.

Solo lift

Roll your kayak onto its side with the cockpit opening facing your body. Crouch down and put your hand inside the cockpit rim. Put your shoulder under that hand for extra strength and support while lifting from the knees to a standing position. You may have to shift your hand location to find the balance point and then begin slowly moving to, or from the water.

An alternative version of this technique is to start at the beginning with the kayak on its side facing you. Crouch down and lift the boat onto your thigh. Then position your shoulder inside the cockpit rim before lifting to a standing position.

Always remember when lifting anything, do not twist or jerk and use those leg muscles to do all the work. If you meet an obstacle, carefully negotiate it. Avoid jumping on loose rocks or across creeks. When you arrive at the water, lower the boat to the ground using all the motions of lifting, but in reverse order. Lower it to your thigh and then readjust your grip to take it the rest of the way.

Whichever method you choose to carry a kayak, be sure to do it slowly and methodically.