Are Kayaks Safe From Alligators? Everything You Need To Know
Author: Nicole Malczan
You can’t wait to hit the water on your kayak, as you have a whole fun-filled day ahead with your friends and family planned. Thinking of all the precautions, you’ve brought water for hydration, sunblock for skincare, and bug repellant for all the insects that abound. What about alligators? Do you need to worry about them when in your kayak?
**Most kayakers have seen alligators and lived to tell the tale. However, you must follow basic precautions to ensure your safety, such as:
- Stay calm
- Maintain a swift pace
- Keep your limbs inside the kayak
- Avoid kayaking during active alligator hours (nighttime, dusk, and dawn)
- If fishing, keep your fish away from the edges of the kayak
- Don’t bring pets on your kayak if you think you’ll encounter an alligator
- Keep away from overhanging trees, floating vegetation, logs, and banks
- Give any alligator you see a wide berth
- Never feed an alligator
- Don’t try to photograph or take a video of the alligator
- Know the warning signs of an alligator attack
- Make a lot of noise to drive the alligator away**
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about avoiding alligators on your kayak. You’ll learn where alligators live, how often they attack, and what the warning signs of danger are. If you’re a frequent kayaker, you’re not going to want to miss this article!
Where in the World Are Alligators Most Prevalent?
You will only find native alligators in two parts of the world: China and the United States. Does that mean the rest of the world doesn’t have gators? Of course not. Alligators can and do travel the waters, but any other home isn’t native to the gator.
In the US, you’re most likely to come across an alligator in the country’s southeastern states, especially these areas:
- Arkansas’ southern tip
- Oklahoma’s southeastern corner
- East Texas
- North Carolina’s coast
- South Carolina’s coast
- Mississippi south
- Alabama south
- Georgia south
- The entirety of Louisiana
- The entirety of Florida
In Louisiana and Florida, more than a million alligators each may live in those two states, by far making them the riskiest places for kayakers, boaters, and swimmers.
Are Kayaks Safe from Alligators?
How dangerous are alligators? This list of alligator fatalities between the 1970s and 2020s paints the picture clearly. In the 1970s, four deaths occurred from gators: in 1973, 1977 (three deaths), and 1978. The 1980s also had four alligator deaths, in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988. That’s about one death a year.
The 1990s went by with only three alligator-related deaths, two in 1993 and one in 1997. In the 2000s, the rate of deadly gator incidents went up exponentially, with 13 deaths occurring between 2000 and 2010. Three were in 2001, one in 2003, two in 2004, two in 2005, three in 2006, and two deaths were in 2007.
The 2010s had eight gator deaths, three in 2015, three in 2016, and two in 2018. So far, in 2020, there’s been one reported alligator death in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Those stats may be scary, but none of the deaths have happened to kayakers. You can take some solace in that fact.
Since they have such good hearing, if an alligator hears you approaching, either by the sound of your kayak as it travels of your light banter, they could disappear into the water. You thus might be close to a gator without even knowing it.
We won’t say the gator is more scared of you than you of it because that’s not really true. Gators don’t particularly like people and get shy around them, but they’re not afraid. Even in your kayak, you don’t really scare an alligator. They don’t think you’re another gator when you’re sitting in your kayak, so don’t act too confidently.
Some alligators might approach you because they think you have food. This only happens when other people have mistakenly fed the gator, so now he associates people with food. Otherwise, if you’re smart, safe, and swift, you should be able to pass by an alligator without it really caring too much.
Several scenarios could trigger an alligator into coming near, even attacking. If you happen to bump into one, that would really irritate the gator. Many US-based alligators prefer brackish water such as what’s found in swamps, lakes, rivers, wetlands, marshes, and ponds. Sometimes, these bodies of water can be shallow, making it easier for you to hit your boat into a gator without meaning to.
Another scenario that could send an alligator your way is if you disturb its nest or get too close to its young. Then, gators will get extremely territorial, even the male alligators.
What Should You Do If You See an Alligator Near Your Kayak?
Let’s say one of the above situations transpired and you’re now knowingly sharing the water with an alligator. Here’s what you need to do to be safe.
Your heart is beating so loudly you can hear it in your ears. That’s natural, but you cannot let your fear cloud your judgment. You must remain calm and tell anyone else in your kayak to do the same. Take some deep breaths if you have to and then figure out what your exit plan will look like.
Maintain a Swift Pace
Now is no time to stop. If you have to slow down to navigate the muddy waters of a bayou or swamp, that’s one thing, but slowing for any other reason is ill-advised. Think on your feet (well, figuratively here), find a clear path you can direct your kayak, and don’t slow down even once you can’t see the gator, at least not a bit.
After all, alligators can sometimes seem lethargic, but this creates a false sense of security in humans. Gators are indeed weighty, but if they need to, they can run and lunge on land. In the water, they can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour. The average speed of a kayaker is about 3 MPH since kayaking is reliant on your manual effort.
You cannot outswim a gator or outpace them on your kayak. That’s why we suggest you keep the pace up for a while after the gator is out of sight.
Keep Your Limbs Inside the Kayak
The diet of an alligator consists of worms, crustaceans, snails, insects, and fish when they’re younger. In adulthood, a gator can easily take down deer, birds, muskrats, coypus, turtles, and gar, which is a large species of fish. Some alligators have even eaten black bears, Florida panthers, and dogs, so truly, no animal is safe.
Humans are not on the list of prey alligators like to eat, but if they do attack, they’ve been known to consume people. When you dangle your arms or legs off the side of your kayak, to an alligator, it looks like a fish or a land animal waiting to become the gator’s next meal. They don’t know it’s a human limb, and at that point, they don’t really care.
The gator can drag you off your kayak and into the water. Many people who die from alligator attacks drown. Those that don’t may have fatally broken bones from the force of the gator’s jaw, which has very powerful muscles. Others die when being eaten, a truly grisly fate.
So yes, that should be reason enough to always keep your limbs tucked inside your kayak. Make sure you remind anyone you bring on your kayak to do the same.
Avoid Kayaking During Active Alligator Hours
Gators aren’t active at all times, just like us people. Once night falls, that’s prime gator time, as is dusk and dawn. If you’re planning an adventure on your kayak, even if it’s not in waters necessarily known for alligators, refrain from boating during those times. Visibility is not nearly as good as when kayaking during the day, so even if an alligator was close to you, you might not be able to see them until it’s too late.
Lots of kayakers love fishing on their boats. If you’re one of them, you have to take extra precautions when fishing in gator country.
For instance, don’t let your fish linger anywhere near the edge of your kayak. Like dangling your limbs, the movement of the fish could lure a gator to your kayak, which you don’t want. Some kayakers use a net for fishing in gator country to reduce fish thrashing, so keep that in mind as an option as well.
Then, send your fish to a board or cooler, not a stringer. A stringer full of fish is again just begging a hungry gator to come your way.
Once you get back to land, clean up every scrap of fish, even if you don’t intend on keeping them. The smell of fish on land could lead a gator to come traipsing out of the water in search of food.
Leave Your Pets at Home When Kayaking in Gator Territory
If your kayaking takes you anywhere in the southern US, we strongly, strongly advise you to leave your pets at home. Yes, that’s even if your dog is usually your faithful boating companion.
Like having fish or limbs dangling near the side of your boat, an animal sitting on your kayak is a free meal opportunity to an alligator. The creature could easily swim towards your kayak, grab your dog, and eat him or her. If this thought is too heartbreaking to even bear, then you know what you have to do. Even if your dog gives you sad puppy eyes on the way out, don’t renege and bring them on your kayaking trip. It’s for their own good.
Stay Away from Alligator Hideouts
American alligators make what are known as alligator holes by boring through vegetation and substrate. The holes act as the perfect hiding place for gators and boost the diversity of plants near the holes. Otherwise, gators tend to hide underwater in some instances, but not all.
Alligators also obscure themselves near overhanging trees, floating vegetation, logs, and banks. There, they’ll wait for their prey (not you) and attack. However, if you startle an alligator with loud sounds, that could cause the gator to attack you instead of the prey it wanted.
As you approach a new area on your kayak, keep your eyes wide open. Look at your surroundings (while still paying attention to what’s in front of you on the water) and ask yourself, are there any areas for alligators to hide? Then, keep away from those areas.
Give the Gator a Wide Berth
Let’s say you didn’t spot a gator in its hideout in time. Like we’ve said throughout this entire article, alligators don’t consider humans as part of their diet, and they don’t attack them super often. If you scoot your kayak to the other side of the water the alligator is on, they shouldn’t come swimming over to you. The only exception is if in the gator is in attack mode. We’ll tell you how to recognize those signs in the next section.
If you travel quickly and determinedly while giving a gator plenty of space, we see little reason there should be even so much as an encounter between man and animal.
Don’t Feed Alligators
That said, you have to use your head when kayaking. If you see an alligator, do not feed it. You can create a bad habit in the gator that could lead to someone else’s injury or even their death down the line.
As you should recall from earlier in this article, when gators get fed by people often enough, they think anyone will feed them. This can cause the alligator to come up to you when it usually wouldn’t, which is a terrifying ordeal.
Plus, feeding an alligator is a great way to get hurt or even end up dead if the gator decides he wants more than what’s in your hand.
Don’t Otherwise Antagonize the Alligator
Seeing an alligator out in the wild can be a unique experience to some.
Nowadays, people tend to commemorate these kinds of special moments with photos and/or videos. That’s fine if you see a beautiful bird in your yard or even a deer, but not an alligator. Those other creatures aren’t deadly animals, but a gator is.
Plus, you’d have to stop your kayak to take the photos or video, and that’s again very much not recommended. If you’re not commandeering the kayak and you can snap a photo of the gator quickly (without flash and by muting your phone), then so be it. Don’t go out of your way though. People will believe you if you tell them you’ve seen an alligator on your kayaking adventure without you potentially having to become a statistic.
Make a Lot of Noise
Let’s say you disturbed a gator or he thinks you’ll feed him, so he’s gotten a little too close to your kayak. What do you do? Very loud sounds ought to send the alligator the other way. You can pack an air horn in your bag, as that’s loud enough to not only bother the gator, but any others lingering around too.
Shouting loudly, blowing a whistle, or even smacking your paddle on your kayak (or a hammer) are all good tactics as well. Do not try to hit the gator with your kayak paddle, though. You’ll just make him mad, and he could steal the paddle and drag you into the water.
What Are the Warning Signs an Alligator Might Attack Your Kayak?
To wrap up, let’s talk about what an alligator might do if it’s prone to attack your kayak or possibly even you.
The alligator will turn in your direction and open its mouth, revealing its vicious set of teeth. You’ll also hear it hissing at you. This sound is very distinct; here’s a video so you can hear what it sounds like.
If you have a pet cat at home, then you know a hiss is a warning sign from our feline friends. The same is true of an alligator. The gator is telling you he feels threatened and will act very shortly.
You’re going to be scared out of your wits in such a situation as this, but you shouldn’t just wait idly by and let the gator do whatever he’s going to do. Instead, back up or shoot off at an angle away from the alligator. Keep your motions slow yet concerted and remember not to freak out.
Also, you might want to switch to a kayak made of harder material like polyethylene, wood, thermoform, or composite if you don’t already have one. This way, if a gator ever bit into your boat, they wouldn’t do much damage. The same can’t be said of an inflatable kayak. That thing would be toast!
Alligators aren’t exactly an everyday threat for many when kayaking, unless you live in the southern US where gators are prevalent. Still, it’s best to take precautions. Leave the pets at home, don’t kayak when gators are active, avoid feeding alligators, and be prepared to make a lot of loud noise if a gator gets too close. Although we couldn’t find any stories of alligators killing kayakers, crocodiles have, as this story proves. You might not be able to tell a gator from a croc in a moment’s notice, so it pays to be safe no matter what!