Do Fishing Kayaks Flip Over Easily? The 3 Common Causes!


Being on a large body of water in a fishing kayak may seem daunting at times. It certainly was when I first began fishing from a kayak! One of the more common questions people have is how easy would it be for a kayak to flip over!

With normal use and standard practices, kayaks are not prone to easily capsizing. Variables such as current, wind, surf, and weight distribution within the kayak are contributing factors. Modern kayaks are better designed, built with lighter materials, and with wider hulls to lessen overturning.

Nowadays, kayaks, especially fishing kayaks, are safer than ever! When used properly and with common sense, the chances of flipping your kayak over are less than ever. Let’s take a look at these survey numbers!

1,163 Kayak Fishermen Surveyed

Recently I had 1,163 responses from kayak fishermen in different regions to a survey on whether they have ever flipped over or capsized their kayaks, and the results may surprise you!

Fishing from a kayak is actually a very safe activity, as you’ll see!

Do Fishing Kayaks Flip Easily?

A numerical breakdown of the survey is as follows:

  • 27.5% Had capsized or flipped their kayaks
  • 72.5% Had never capsized or flipped their kayaks
  • 68.7% Had lost some or all of their fishing gear
  • 31.3% Had not lost any of their fishing gear
  • 80.5% Were able to re-enter their kayak
  • 19.5% Were not able to re-enter their kayak

As you can see from above, just about 1 in 4 kayaks will flip or capsize for some reason. What was super interesting were the stories they shared that accompanied the survey!

Three Common Causes of Kayaks Capsizing

There were over 150+ comments written from those who responded to the survey. After reading through them, a general theme began to materialize! It was the actions of the person that initiated the capsizing! The kayak didn’t flip over easily from its own accord!

Jumping feet first into a standing kayak isn’t the best method of entering your kayak, but the kayak can and will likely flip over if you do attempt the maneuver! And yes, this happens!

It seems becoming complacent, lackadaisical, or too comfortable in your kayaking abilities can lead you to capsize.

Here are the three most brought up reasons for having a fishing kayak flip over…

1. Reaching for a Dropped Rod or To Grab a Fish

The single most common reason received on how a kayaker flipped while fishing was leaning too far outside the kayak’s centerline.

Two chief reasons were the cause of this.

  1. Accidentally dropping an expensive fishing rod over the side and instinctively leaning over and trying to reach it before it sank out of sight.
  2. Bringing a large fish to the kayak side and leaning over to either net or hand-land the fish to bring it in.

Kayaks are very stable when used properly, and keeping yourself aware of your centerline. Also, keeping most of your weight to the inside of the kayak will keep you drier longer!

For more information on kayak stability, take a look at the article: How Stable Is a Fishing Kayak?

One way to keep your rods safe from falling overboard and to the bottom of the water is to use a fishing rod leash. They are a very popular and cost-effective accessory fishermen use is the Paddle Leash with a 2 Rod Leash Set from Amazon!

2. Having a Fish Pull You Over

This happens more frequently when fishing for larger offshore fish like Cubera Snapper, Roosterfish, Giant Trevally, and Dorado. However, freshwater gamefish like Musky, Flathead Catfish, and Northern Pike can flip a kayak too!

The way this happens is when you’re fighting a large fish, and it swims to the side of your kayak. Now you’re both pulling against each other from the side of the kayak.

The kayak is more stable from front to back rather than side to side. And with the pull coming from the side, the hull will roll toward the fish, and you now have a higher chance of flipping over!

To see a video showing a kayak flipping while fighting a fish, check out my other article: The Best Length Rod for Kayak Fishing – 5 Tips!

Always keep your rod tip pointed toward the bow (the front) of your kayak. By doing so, all the pressure is along the full length of the hull, giving you plenty of stability and remain in control of your kayak!

3. Caught in the Current or Surf

The third most common way of having your kayak flip over and capsize is having it get caught up in the current or surf.

Caught in the Currents

When you’re in a moving waterway such as a river or stream, the current can trap you against a log or another obstruction.

You lose the ability to control your kayak, and it turns sideways to the current and is either drug beneath the log or water is swept over the side, and your kayak floods.

Even when you’re anchored far below a spillway dam and the water is calm, the current picks up drastically if they begin to let more water downstream.

It can become difficult to pull in your anchor against this rising current, and water will sweep over the bow flooding your kayak. At this point, you will need to cut your line to free yourself from the anchor line.

Learn more about safety knives: Best Kayak Fishing Safety Knife? (My #1 Pick)

Caught in the Surf

The surf can be just as unforgiving to the kayak crowd too!

Whether you are coming in or heading out into the surf, once the force of any wave, no matter how small, turns you sideways, you’re at the mercy of the water!

The surf will then begin to push you into the shore, turns you sideways to the force of the wave, and your kayak rolls over. Not once, but maybe several times until you get to water shallow enough to stop it.

Do Kayaks Tip Over Easily

Kayaks are designed not to tip over easily. Today’s kayaks are wider and more stable than earlier models. With wider hulls, better materials, and sit-on-top kayaks becoming more popular than ever, you’ll find it very difficult to tip one over! Recreational and fishing kayaks are safer than ever!

How To Stop Your Kayak From Flipping

To keep your kayak from flipping, exercise good judgment and always try to remain in a good seated position.

Even though 72.5% of those responding to my survey indicated they had never flipped or capsized, you will want to keep your body centered in the kayak as much as you can.

Don’t lean over the sides too far, as this will cause the kayak to lean as well. Once this rolling action begins, many people will panic and overreact, causing the kayak to roll over into the water.

Kayaks are designed to be a stable platform to fish or for recreational activities. It’s when people push the limits of the kayak that they get into trouble.

If you have an older model kayak or your current kayak doesn’t feel as stable as it should, you might want to consider adding on aftermarket pontoons!

These pontoons attach to your kayak and keep it from rocking back and forth. They’ll also allow you to stand up and sight cast to fish if you desire!

Pro Tip: The YakGear Generation 2 Kayak & Canoe Outriggers on Amazon will give you the ultimate stability with adjustable pontoons!

What To Do if Your Fishing Kayak Flips

Most people do not practice flipping their kayak and getting back in so they are comfortable with it. So what happens is, when you finally do capsize your kayak, it will most likely be the first time.

Your safety is the primary concern if your fishing kayak were to flip! If your kayak flips over, anchor lines can get loose, rods and their leashes may be hanging, and all of these can entangle you. Don’t worry about saving your gear until you have the kayak upright and you are safely back aboard!

The important thing is to get away from any hanging lines that may entangle you and impede your ability to either get back into the kayak or swim away!

Related article: Dealing With A Sinking Fishing Kayak

According to the survey above, 19.5% reported they were not able to right the kayak and climb back in! That means 1 in 5 people were in the water and couldn’t get out.

Most of them swam to shore then rescued their kayak and gear once they were better rested either by themselves or with the assistance of others.

You may have quite a bit of money invested in expensive gear, but as we all hear, it can be replaced. Don’t be concerned with it, your personal safety is paramount!

Why Your Kayak Is Unstable

Your kayak may be unstable for a variety of reasons.

Keeping the weight distribution low and as centered as possible will increase your stability many times over. Having heavy gear, anchors, or coolers strapped to the edges or near the outside of the kayak will decrease the stability.

A top-heavy kayak is more likely to be unstable and capsize without warning.

Having too much weight in the kayak will cause it to be highly unstable! Always go by the ‘Weight Capacity Rating’ of your particular kayak!

You can read more about weight capacity and why it’s important here of you like! Kayak Weight Limits Explained for Larger Anglers

Is a Wider Kayak More Stable

Narrow kayaks lack the Secondary Stability that gives the wider hull kayaks their lateral stability.

Wider kayaks are more stable than their narrower counterparts. Fishing kayaks are generally wider across the hull than other recreational kayaks giving them more side-to-side stability, known as Secondary Stability. A wider kayak hull will result in a more stable kayak.

Overall we have learned most kayakers have yet to flip over or capsize. And most of the incidents are due to operator error, misjudging conditions, or just doing something goofy!

Do Kayaks Flip Over Easily?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

One of the best things you can do is practice getting in and out of your kayak while on the water.

Keep in mind it isn’t if you’ll capsize one day. It’s when you do, will you be ready?

Start in a relatively shallow depth of water where you can easily stand up or reach shore if need be.

Empty your kayak of all your gear and paddle out a short way, grab a good hold of the rail and lean over until you flip it.

Right the kayak, reach across to the other side and pull yourself in.

There is no better time to get wet and attempt to get back into your kayak than when you set the time! Don’t get caught in the cold or bad weather conditions to make your first attempt at getting into your kayak!

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing and is a member of Clam Outdoors Pro Staff. When he has spare time, he'll be found building custom fishing rods.

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