Is It Safe To Kayak With Alligators? 8 Safety Tips & More

by Jason | Last Updated:   May 21st, 2022
Is It Safe To Kayak With Alligators? 8 Safety Tips & More


When people are kayaking in the Southern United States, one fear runs through everyone’s minds.

And that’s what happens if I see an alligator.

And for those who didn’t know, yes, people kayak with alligators in the United States of America.

But that opens the question, “Is it safe to kayak with alligators?” More importantly, what the hell should you do if a wild alligator attacks.

For me, it sounds like an absolute horror story, and I can’t think of many things that scare me more than running into one of these prehistoric creatures.

That being said, I have it under good authority that kayaking with alligators can be extremely safe if you play by the rules.

And this could be said for any time you go kayaking somewhere when there is potential danger ahead.

So….

You need to understand the risks, be ready, and follow the golden rules.

Which is why you’ve come here today…

In this article, I will be answering some of your burning questions about kayaking with alligators and teaching you how to stay safe and recognize warning signs. 

But I’ll also be covering much more than that, so don’t go anywhere!

Do Alligators Attack Kayaks?

One of the best places we can start is, do alligators attack kayaks? And the short answer is yes, it has been known to happen.

And this is why I can never say with complete certainty that you will never get attacked when you’re kayaking with alligators.

With that being said, it’s extremely rare that you’re going to be attacked by an alligator if you go kayaking with them. Yes, there is an additional risk that comes with it, but…

If I’m frank, alligators tend to stay to themselves most of the time. That is unless they have a reason to move towards you.

On the other hand, if we were talking about crocodiles, they are much more likely to attack your kayak because they have a more aggressive nature.

Luckily for you, crocodiles are rarer in the United States, so your chances of seeing them are slim. They are more common in Central and South America than in the United States.

But they can still be found there, so you must understand the differences between a crocodile and an alligator.

Getting To Know Alligator Behavior: Everything You Need To Know

Is It Safe To Kayak With Alligators

I thought it would be good to understand typical alligator behavior before getting into the safety tips.

Here’s the thing:

If you kayak around the SouthEast United States, there’s a good chance that you will have an experience with an alligator at some point.

And when you spend a little bit of time with them, you’ll start to understand that it’s not going to end in disaster… most of the time.

In fact, you almost get used to their presence (well, so I’m told), and it gives you a chance to marvel at these prehistoric reptiles.

That being said, you still have to be very aware that they are predators, so it’s no time to be laid back about things.

And that’s why it’s good to have a basic understanding of their behaviors, so you can start reading the signs and making intelligent decisions.

So, in this section, we will talk about when alligators are most active when they are the most aggressive, and their warning signs.

Don’t get anywhere because this section is important:

When Are Alligators Most Active

One of the behaviors you should understand if you’re kayaking with alligators is when they are most active.

During the day, alligators are very docile and somewhat reclusive, so they keep themselves to themselves. In fact, if you see them in the daytime, they’ll barely move, so as intimidating as they are, they won’t cause you many issues.

But come nightfall, it’s an entirely different story. Alligators are nocturnal predators, which means they hunt at night. So, they tend to be more active between dusk and dawn, so this is the time to stay clear.

When Are Alligators At Their Most Aggressive?

Alligators are ambush predators, which means they’ll sit and wait under the surface for their prey to come to them.

And just the thought of this alone is scary. 

The idea of a 13-foot monster lurking under the surface while you’re kayaking above them can put fear into anyone. 

Luckily, these prehistoric predators usually tend to stay away from humans and spend their days basking in the sun minding their business.

But this laid-back attitude can change very quickly when spring rolls around. 

The spring brings warmer weather, and alligators will start to display much more aggressive behavior. Which unfortunately means kayakers will have a greater chance of getting attacked.

But why does this happen?

Well, there are two reasons why you might see alligators displaying more aggressive patterns:

  1. Alligator Mating Season: If you know animals, you’ll understand that mating season can bring aggressive behavior. And April marks the start of the breeding season, which can last until late June. During these months, male alligators become more territorial and exhibit a more aggressive nature.
  2. Mother Alligators Are Around: Mother alligators will be building their nests to lay eggs during this season. And, of course, they are very protective of this area; in fact, they can guard the site for up to two years after the baby alligators hatch. If you go anywhere near that nest, the mother alligator will not think twice about lunging for you.

So, during the Springtime, you need to make sure you’re fully aware of what’s going on with alligators. In all honesty, It’s best to stay away from when you can and don’t go too close to the edge where mothers lay their eggs.

Know The Warning Signs

As with any creature on this planet, alligators have warning signs where they are telling you enough is enough, don’t come any closer.

And if you can recognize these signs, you can avoid a sudden meeting with an alligator.

One of the most accessible signs for humans to notice is the ones we put up ourselves. So keep an eye out for signs letting us know there are alligators in the area.

But it’s not just about looking out for signposts:

We also need to pay attention to the warning signs they give us when they are showing aggression.

Just like dogs, alligators have their tells to let you know they are not happy. And while sometimes they might retreat themselves, other times they will not.

So, here are some warning signs you need to look out for when you’re around alligators:

  • Opening their mouths wide
  • Snapping their jaws
  • Hissing or growling
  • Tail wagging
  • Turning their head or body towards you

If you see any of these signs, it’s time to get out of there. And remember, alligators aren’t just quick in the water. Alligators can easily outrun us in a straight line, so make sure you have a head start.

Tips For Staying Safe: What To Do If You See An Alligator While Kayaking?

Is It Safe To Kayak With Alligators

Okay, we’ve spoken about the behaviors of alligators, but now it’s time to talk about what to do if you see one and how to stay safe.

You have to remember that you’re in their territory when you are kayaking, so you need to treat them with respect.

That being said:

Here are some top safety tips for when you’re kayaking with alligators:

#1 Never Feed Alligators

There are a few reasons why you should never feed alligators when you’re out kayaking. One of them is that they can become more aggressive during feeding.

Some kayakers have been attacked on their boat when trying to feed the gators, so it’s definitely something you should try to avoid.

But if this reason isn’t enough, then I’ve got another one for you:

If you start feeding wildlife, they begin to build up trust and rely on the food source. And this means they stop depending on their hunting abilities to find their food and start scavenging for food.

In fact, some kayakers have reported noticing strange behaviors from alligators approaching the boat. They say it’s like they are trying to get a free handout from the kayakers, but this can’t be confirmed.

Either way, it’s best if we keep ourselves out of gators’ lives and help to maintain a natural balance in the ecosystem.

#2 Leave Your Dog At Home

Although bringing your dog on a kayaking adventure is great fun, it’s not necessarily good when paddling near alligators.

So you should probably leave your dog at home instead. And there are a few reasons for this:

One of the main reasons is there have been many reports of gators attacking kayaks when there is a canine presence.

This is such a factor that some people have reported their dogs being picked off kayaks and fishing boats.

Alligators don’t usually attack humans, but dogs emit an odor that’s very attractive to gators.

And just thinking how I’d feel watching my dogs getting dragged into the water by an alligator makes my skin crawl.

For this reason, it’s probably best that you leave your dog at home and enjoy spending time with them another day, preferably a day when you’re away from gator territory.

#3 Try To Avoid Alligator Territory

One of the easiest ways of staying safe is to avoid kayaking in gator territory. And, of course, this can be pretty tricky depending on where you live in the United States.

If you’re looking to avoid alligator zones, you check out this map of gator territories. From there, it’s a simple case of choosing your location.

If you live in the Florida or South Carolina region, you might find it quite tricky to find a gator-free location. But don’t worry, I will give you some great spots later on in this article. 

#4 Leave Them Alone During Mating Season

I’ve already touched on this earlier in the article, but I want to enforce this point to you because it’s so important.

If you know anything about animals, you’ll know their behavior can dramatically change during mating season. They’ll become more aggressive and protective of their territory, so you need to be extra vigilant.

And this is why you need to stay away from alligators during mating season.

The periods can vary from country to country; you’ll need to do some research. But, if you’re in the USA, you can expect it to begin in April and finish in June.

After June, the female alligators prepare their nests, making the males less aggressive. That being said, you’ll still need to stay away from the female nests because they will charge you.

The good news is:

You should be good to go during the summer months because they tend to calm down in the warmer months. You’ll also be able to enjoy the fall season without worrying too much about alligator attacks.

#5 Keep A Healthy Distance

Again, this should be another obvious safety tip, but you should keep a healthy distance from alligators when kayaking. Basically, don’t go paddling close to alligators to try and get a closer look.

As a rule of thumb, it’s suggested that you stay at least 20 yards away from any gator you see.

But this goes back to respecting their territory.

You don’t want a gator to feel threatened by your presence, or they might charge at your kayak.

Luckily for you, gators prefer to spend their time on the banks of rivers or lakes, so if you stay away from those areas, you should be just fine.

#6 Don’t Make The Alligator Feel Cornered 

Another thing you have to think about is not blocking an alligator in the corner. And while you might not intentionally do it, it’s pretty easy to happen when you’re kayaking in a group.

Just imagine what an alligator will think when they see multiple kayaks paddling towards their space. As you can imagine, they’re not going to take too kindly to your advances, so you really need to be aware.

I already mentioned that you should keep around 20 feet away from an alligator when paddling.

But…

You should also keep at least 15 feet away from each other when traveling in groups. You should also try kayaking in a straight line, so you don’t take up too much of the river.

And never start paddling towards a gator as a group to try and get pictures. This is a sure-fire way to make an alligator feel trapped in a corner.

#7 Carry An Air Horn

You might be wondering, “what should I do if an alligator starts coming toward me?” Let’s face it, having a colossal alligator floating toward you is nothing short of terrifying.

And this is why I recommend you carry an air horn with you in places where you might run into an alligator.  

Just one loud blast should be enough to scare the gator away if it gets too close.

But what if you don’t have access to an air horn or don’t know where to buy them?

In that case, your only option is to try and scare the gator away from you. You can do this by shouting and slapping your paddle against the water to scare it off.

The slap of the paddle is a very effective technique because it makes a sound and causes vibrations through the water, which alligators can feel.

I’ve seen a few videos of people hitting gators with their paddle. And although it did work, it also made the alligator more aggressive, so I probably wouldn’t give that one a try.

#8 Watch Out For The Hiss

Again, this is something that I mentioned earlier when we were talking about the warning signs, but I really want to reinforce it.

When an alligator is feeling threatened, it will start to admit a warning sound to let you know it’s unhappy.

This is most commonly heard in female alligators when they are protecting their nest from perceived danger, and it sounds like a strong hiss.

And unfortunately, if you don’t listen to this warning, it might be the last thing you hear before being dragged to the river bed.

If you haven’t heard the hiss I’m talking about before; you should check this video:

I’m guessing this guy is a handler because no one should ever get this close to an alligator!

Can You Go Kayak Fishing Near Alligators?

I hear a lot of questions about whether you can go kayak fishing when near alligators. And while you can go fishing near alligators, you might have a shock when you land a fish.

Something like this:

Having a fish at the end of the line flapping around can capture the attention of alligators. And they are fast enough to catch up with the fish no matter how quick you’re reeling it in.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to prevent yourself from getting caught off guard.

When you’re reeling in your fish, try keeping the tip of your rod pointed in the water and slowly reel in the fish.

This should element the vibrations in the water, so the alligators don’t know you’re landing a fish.

Another thing to keep in mind is you’re catching and realizing you need to make sure you do it quickly. The last thing you want is an alligator to appear and snatch your arm.  

Where To Kayak In Florida Without Alligators?

If you’re living in central Florida and love kayaking but don’t want to come across any alligators, you might want to find a location that’s gator free.

But as you may know, Florida is home to many alligators, so you might find it hard to spot a location safe to paddle in.

Luckily, there are a few locations you can head out to, and I will point them out to you.

But, with alligators competing for space, your best option is never to presume that you’re in a gator-free zone.

But these are the best places for you to go:

  • Ichetucknee Springs
  • Madison Blue Spring
  • Withlacoochee River Corridor Park (Upper)
  • Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail

Again, I’d like to remind you that I can’t give you a 100% guarantee that you won’t see a gator there, so make sure you’re still being vigilant.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Okay, I hope this has helped answer the question, “Is it safe to kayak with alligators?” The short answer is yes, even if gator encounters are scary you’ll still be okay.

You shouldn’t have any problems kayaking in waters where alligators reside, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

Of course, the best way to stay safe from alligators is to stay away from them. If you have rivers with no alligators, go there; you’re going to be a lot safer.

But unfortunately, this isn’t always easy in some parts of the United States. And in this case, you should follow my golden rules above.

Remember:

  • Never corner an alligator
  • Don’t get too close
  • Don’t feed them
  • Avoid mating season
  • If they hiss, back off
  • Carry an air horn
  • And leave your dog at home

If you follow these golden rules, you have every chance of successfully kayaking with alligators and not getting attacked.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Alligators Attack Paddleboards?

While it is unlikely you’ll get attacked on a paddleboard, it’s not impossible, so you should stay aware of the risks. If you’re paddling on a paddleboard near gators, you should take the same precautions as kayaking with them.

Can Alligators Jump Into Boats?

It really depends on the type of boat you’re in, but YES alligators can jump into the boat. It’s pretty unlikely for them to do so unless you’ve been fishing or you’re feeding them. For this reason, you need to be careful.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.