Kayaking with Alligators

Canoes and Kayaks

What you Should Know when Kayaking with Alligators

Alligator Facts, Tips & Safety Advice

alligators South Carolina

When you think of kayaking, alligators may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, if you’re paddling in waters that these large reptiles inhabit, you may inadvertently find yourself kayaking with alligators. So it’s important to be aware of their presence and take some precautions.

Here is some alligators facts and tips to kayak with them safely and answers to questions like – What to do if you see an alligator while kayaking?

Do Alligators attack Kayaks?

The short answer is yes. It has happened before. While the odds of an alligator attacking a kayaker are extremely low, paddling in areas where they’re native comes with some risk. Kayaking with alligators is safe if you stay alert. Most of the time they pass by they want nothing to do with you. 

Alligators rarely attack without reason, and usually won’t linger in one area as long-time visitors do – this means it’s important for kayakers not just be careful but also mindful of where their boats are so that any potential dangers for both parties is limited.

When are they most active?

According to FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Commission) Alligators rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. They control their body temperature by basking in the sun, or moving to areas with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures. 

Alligators are most active when temperatures are between 82° to 92° F (28° to 33° C). They stop feeding when the ambient temperature drops below approximately 70° F (21° C) and they become dormant below 55° F (13° C). 

Kayaking near alligators - Alligator basking in the sun

When are they most aggressive?

Alligators are usually most aggressive during breeding season. During spring, large numbers of alligators congregate at night to mate. That’s when the chance of kayakers to be attacked increase significantly. Mating season is the leading cause of territorial alligators – especially males. The mother alligators will not hesitate to attack you in order to protect their young.

Check for warning signs

For starters, you should always check for actual safety signs, local laws and guidelines before you enter the water. Perhaps the gators in that area are not so friendly, and it isn’t recommended you kayak there. It is always worthwhile speaking to locals to see if it is safe to kayak with alligators in that area.

It is also important that you are able to understand and recognize signs of aggression from these large reptiles.

Alligators have sensitive ears alerting them of your presence. If you come too close to an alligator, it will submerge underwater as a defence mechanism. 

Be aware that a mother guarding her nest may not retreat so its a good idea to recognise some of the other warning signs. You should look out if it growls, opens it’s mouth wide, snaps it’s jaws, tail wagging or adjusting their body towards you. If this occurs, take it as a warning and back up immediately.

Beware of the 'Hiss'

If the alligator feels threatened by your presence, it will create a warning sound which will sound like a hiss. In this circumstance, paddle away.

Watch the video below for an example.

What to do if you see an alligator while kayaking

The bigger question is, what do I do if an alligator approaches me?

They are likely to leave you alone, but in that rare occasion you may find a gator swim up to your kayak, and this is usually because of two reasons; the alligator was fed by other people, and thinks you have food. Or it’s territorial.

It’s really important to not panic and aim to get away from the alligators attention. Use smooth paddle movements to avoid splashing and making the alligator become more alarmed. If it charges at your kayak, hit it in the snout with your paddle. Some kayakers even carry rubber mallets for this reason.

Be prepared to create loud noises if an alligator approaches. 

Similar to how we scare away bears – you need to get big and loud. Use the same technique to scare alligators away. You can use the paddle to hit your kayak as a way to create loud noise, as well as creating vibrations in the water, which is sensitive to them. It is even recommended that you bring an air horn along with you. 

It is also super important that you do not block the alligators path to the water. Typically they retreat into the water around humans, and if their escape route is blocked, they are more likely to attack as they feel more vulnerable. An alligators speed on land can reach up to 30 miles an hours for short bursts. It would not be wise to block an alligators path to the water at this speed in a kayak.  

alligator kayaking girl in canoe in alligator waters

What not to do when kayaking with alligators:

1. Do not feed them

The best way to avoid an unpleasant encounter with an alligator is not to feed them. Animals such as alligators naturally tend to avoid people, however this behaviour can be changed if they are being fed, associating us with food, causing them to hang around humans to see if they can get a snack.

FWC advise residents and visitors to never feed an alligator. It’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal.

2. Try not to get close

Although alligator bite incidents resulting in serious injury are rare, keep your distance. This should be pretty obvious. You definitely don’t want to paddle your kayak right up to an alligator if you see one. 

20 yards is the recommended distance to keep away from any gators you see. Following this advice, they will feel less threatened by your presence and in turn you’re less likely to create a disturbance in their environment.

3. Don't bring your pets kayaking with alligators!

In the wild, alligators are a natural part of the environment and we shouldn’t forget that we invade their home – not vice versa. Alligators have a very good sense of smell and the odor of a dog is vastly different from a human. As a result they will be attracted to your canine, which could put you in a bad situation.

A dog may be a pet to us, but to a large predator like an alligator it is just another food item. 

You certainly wouldn’t want to risk an alligator bumping into your kayak, tipping you and your dog into the water. The last thing you want to see is an alligators death roll with your pup in its mouth!

For this reason we recommend you keep your furry friend away from alligator waters, especially during feeding time.

kayaker alligator pets not advised

4. Do not swim

You are putting yourself at a huge risk of being attacked if you choose to swim or enter any body of water, river, swamp or stream that is infested with alligators. Please stay in your boat at ALL times.

5. Do not go kayaking in gator territory

To completely remove the risk of running into an alligator, plan your kayaking trip to avoid gator infested waters as best you can.

There are still plenty of other beautiful kayaking locations you can visit instead.

alligators florida

6. Do not let your body parts hang over the edge of your kayak

For that extra step of safety, it is important that you keep your hands, arms and legs inside the kayak at all times. A dangling leg may look like a potential meal for the alligators.

Are there any spots for kayaking with alligators near me?

Where alligators are found; American alligators are mostly found in south-east states of the USA, including Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Carolina’s coastline. Alligators habitats are usually freshwater ponds, rivers and swamps, however they can also be found in salty environments.

Kayaking with Alligators near me - Alligator Habitat areas in the USA
Courtesy of US Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program.

Conclusion

Kayaking is a fun activity, but there are often risks involved. You should be aware of the potential dangers before you go out kayaking so that you can plan accordingly and take appropriate precautions to ensure your own safety.

Be sure to follow the advice of local authorities, laws and guidelines for specific kayaking areas.  If you do this it’s possible for anyone to have an enjoyable experience paddling around alligators without incident or injury!

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