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Do Sharks Attack Kayaks? – Safety Concerns & Precautions

do sharks attack kayaks
Written by Calvin Furrow
Last Update: August 14, 2023

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks?

This rarely happens. Humans or kayaks are not really in the list of their favorite foods.

But you should still take precautions because even if this is a rare incident, you don’t want to be a victim of a shark attack.

Here is everything you need to know and how to safeguard yourself when kayaking.

Attack vs Encounter: Which Is Which

Let’s think for a moment. If a natural killer like a shark, – at least twice the size of you with tremendous strength – decides to “attack” you, what chances do you have to survive?

Sharks are exceptionally good hunters. If a shark really wants to attack a sea kayaker, that kayaker will lose every single time.

I’m not saying that sharks don’t attack people/kayaks. On rare occasions, sharks do attack kayaks, but most probably because they get curious or confused.

Ocean predators like sharks usually inspect their prey to decide if they should spend their energy on the attack. Once decided, attack their prey from beneath.

They use their mouth to determine if something is edible or not. Normally, you or your kayak is not on their “tasty snacks” menu.

Even so, the underbelly of your kayak may seem like a seal or a sea lion to a hungry shark and it will come close to inspect the kayak.

This is what happened in most cases recorded. That’s why it’s appropriate to name these unexpected events as “Encounters” rather than attacks.

Usually, you or your kayak is not very attractive to sharks. But If you are crazy enough to provoke a natural killer on a pesky little kayak, that’s a whole different story.

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks?

Do sharks attack kayaks

In extremely rare cases of sharks attacking kayaks, they mistake the shape of the kayak with potential prey. Sharks prefer marine mammals over land mammals like you.

There are about 440 different species of shark. Only 12 species are considered “dangerous” and only 4 of them ever attacked humans. Most of those recorded attacks occurred because the shark mistook the shape of the kayak as a sea lion/seal.

However, we’ve seen reports on fatal shark attacks as recently as December 2021. It would be ignorant to say sharks don’t attack people, but the chances of attacking your kayak are lower than you think.

What Are the Odds?

We’ve looked at over 6,500 recorded shark incidents in the US between 1779-2020.

Surprisingly, only 59 of them involved kayaking and only 5 of those 59 incidents (10%) were fatal.

What are the odds

From another viewpoint, the chance of you getting killed in a car accident, by lightning, or even by dog attacks is far greater than the chance of a shark killing you.

In between 2001-2010, there were 364 deaths from dog attacks whereas only 11 people were killed by sharks. 1,970 people died from lightning strikes between 1959-2010 compared to 26 deaths from shark attacks.

You are 44,000 times more likely to die from a car crash and 18 times more likely to be killed by a cow(!!!) than by a shark.

What You May Encounter

The 4 “Dangerous” species of sharks mentioned above are the primary reason for shark encounters/attacks across the globe.

The chart below offers a peek at what you may encounter while kayaking and what to know about these dangerous shark species.

Species Average Size  Average Weight Where can be found Danger Level Remarks
Great White Shark Around 20 feet 1500-2500 pounds Usually in mild waters and close to the shore Very High Large, aggressive, curious, and proficient killers.

Potentially dangerous as they can effortlessly through you flying off the boat.
They have a habit of biting anything they see. They are responsible for more than 30% of total shark attacks worldwide.

Tiger Shark 10-15 feet 850-1500 pounds Mild and tropical climates High Aggressive with a great sense of smell. People hunt them widely. Tend to taste a number of things.
Bull Shark 7-11 feet 200 pounds Tropical, subtropical, and mild climates High Can survive in freshwater. They’re small but very aggressive
Shortfin Mako Shark Around 13 feet 130-200 pounds Mild and tropical climates Low Not much aggressive and don’t attack unless you provoke them.
Can be mistaken for a small great white shark.

Are There Any Shark-proof Kayaks?

Unfortunately, no. No kayaks have been specifically designed to repel shark attacks. We recommend that you pay attention to the material though. Durable, lightweight, and hard material like Thermoform is a good choice for kayaks.

Are there any shark-proof kayaks

Also, avoid inflatable kayaks at all costs if you have plans on kayaking near shark territory. Inflatables are prone to take significant damage from a shark bite.

How To Be Safe From a Shark Encounter/Attack

Read local shark reports

Areas where shark attacks are frequent usually have a monitoring system. If sharks get too close or aggressive, the beach gets shut down. Go through your local shark report to know which areas are safe for kayaking.

Read local shark reports

Also, check the weather and wind update of the day you are planning to go kayaking. Off-shore winds and rough weather can make your return to land a lot harder.

Keep track of time

Sharks usually like to feed at dawn or dusk. We strongly recommend you to keep out of water during these times. If you must, keep an eye out and be extra cautious.

Avoid hunting grounds

Stay away from large groups of fish, sea lions, and seals. Areas within the first 100 meters off the shore and river mouths are especially prone to shark attack.

If you see dead fish or sea mammals floating in the water alongside bloody water, the safest course of action will be to leave immediately.

The easiest way to look for a feeding ground is to look for natural patterns like splashing water, unusual jumps of aquatic animals, and circling birds.

Avoid hunting grounds

Also, never approach a feeding shark. If you ever see one, paddle slowly but swiftly away from that area. Get at least 1200 feet away from the feeding shark or else it may confuse you with a snack/competition.

Always carry essential tools

Always keep a set of essential tools with you when you go kayaking. Here are the most needed items for a sea kayaker:

  • First aid kit
  • Air Horn/Whistle/Flares
  • Life Jacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD)
  • Knife
  • Shark repellent
  • Rope/Towline
  • GPS/Cellphone/VHF radio
  • Dry-Bag
  • Lights

Keep calm

It’s okay to be afraid, but panicking won’t make the shark go away. If you encounter a shark, keep calm and assess the situation. There is a good chance the shark won’t even notice you.

Answering these questions can give you heads up about the shark’s intention:

  • Are you near a hot spot, feeding ground or bait fish?
  • Is the shark aware of your presence?
  • Is it swimming towards you?
  • Has the shark started circling you?

If all the answers are no then you’re safe. The shark most probably is just passing by. Don’t try to paddle your way out as this will draw the shark’s attention. Calmly assess the situation and act accordingly. Alert the other nearby.

Get rid of potential shark food

If you have anything fishy or bloody on your kayak, discard them as soon as possible. You should also avoid the area where there is blood or dead fish floating in the water.

Even dripping a few drops of blood in the water or fish flapping around in your kayak’s floor may attract a shark. Be careful and remove things like bait buckets and stringers with attached fish to distract the shark away from you.

Never try to feed the shark from the bait of the fishes you’ve caught. This will only make the shark more comfortable and bold.

Turn off electronic devices

Weak electric signals may peak the interest of sharks nearby to your kayak as sharks are highly sensitive to electricity and electromagnetic impulses.

If you have a cell phone, fish finder, GPS, or any other electric device, turning them off as soon as you notice a shark is the wiser choice. The electromagnetic impulses can either make the shark curious or annoyed at your presence.

Never provoke

Surprisingly, around 30% of all shark attacks were provoked in some way. If a shark comes close to the kayak and starts to chew or bite, don’t engage. The shark will leave you alone once it realizes kayaks don’t taste good.

You can also try banging your paddle on the deck to show it that you are not it’s prey.

If the shark doesn’t give up yet, you can show it who’s in charge by hitting it on its snout with your paddle a couple of times. If the shark still persists or becomes aggressive, hit more sensitive areas like its eyes or gills as a last resort.

Use shark repellents

You can also use shark repellents to send the shark in other directions. There are a number of repellents available in the market. You have these options available:

  1. Electronic shark repellents

They use electrical impulses to overload the senses of the fish so it leaves the area.

 Electronic shark repellents

  1. Magnetic shark repellents

These wearables use a magnetic field to achieve the same results.

Magnetic shark repellents

  1. Acoustic shark repellents

They use a combination of sounds that frightens sharks. The combination usually contains sounds of orcas or other predators that hunt sharks.

coustic shark repellents

  1. Spray shark repellents

Sharks can’t stand the smell of dead sharks. These repellents use the smell from dead sharks and send the shark off to the opposite direction.

Spray shark repellents

Stay off the water

This might seem hard to believe, but your kayak is the safest place for you in case of a shark encounter/attack. Stay in your kayak for as long as possible. Even if you are thrown into the water, try to slowly get back to your kayak.

This is why practicing re-entry into your kayak is a must. In case you get thrown into the water, slowly swim back towards it.

If the shark is more interested in the kayak than you while you are on the water, wait at a distance till the shark moves on and then get back to your kayak. You should only abandon your kayak and swim towards the land as a last resort.

Report back

If you encounter a shark, head back to the shore before it becomes more curious. We recommend you to keep an eye on the shark and slowly paddle backwards.

Keep calm and use smooth gliding strokes rather than paddling frantically and splashing more water. That’ll surely grab the shark’s attention. Don’t leave your kayak until you reach the land.

If you have someone within reach, ask for help. Sharks avoid groups of people. Don’t forget to provide as much details as you can to the authorities about the shark you just encountered. This will make the water safer for the next kayakers.


  1. What color kayaks do attract sharks?

Ans: According to National Geographic, most shark species are colorblind. So no matter what color kayak you choose, that doesn’t eliminate or alleviate the risk of a shark encounter/attack.

  1. Is kayak fishing dangerous because of sharks?

Ans: Kayak fishing doesn’t pose much threat itself. Kayaking is better for stalking skittish fish in shallow water since it leave almost no water trails. Sharks don’t usually attack people/kayaks. Taking precautions is enough to avoid sharks when kayaking.

  1. What are the dangers of kayaking?

Ans: Kayaking isn’t safe in any type of water. The risks/dangers that come along kayaking are as follows:

  • Drawning
  • Getting lost (In the sea)
  • Hypothermia/Cold Water Shock
  • Rough weather conditions
  • Low-Head Dams
  • Extreme sun exposure
  • Capsizing
  1. Can sharks smell period?

Ans: Yes. Sharks have an amazing sense of smell. They can find prey by the smell of it’s blood from hundreds of yards away. They will pick up scents of blood regardless of where it came from. However, the water pressure of the sea keeps period blood from spreading.

About the author

Calvin Furrow

Calvin started off his kayaking career in South Carolina after his family moved from Houston in 1968. Being exposed to plenty of water bodies and a great curiosity for fishing drove him across the bountiful rivers in the region and matured him over the years to be a pro angler who mainly prefers kayak fishing.

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