Kayaking and Canoeing with Alligators – Is it safe?

canoing with alligators

Kayaking and canoeing with alligators seems like a ridiculous proposition to someone like me who grew up in the northeastern part of the country.  In fact, the thought of being around alligators, in general, fills me with dread.

This lead me to wonder what people from the southern part of the country do.  Is kayaking and canoeing with alligators safer than I realize or is it something I should stay away from?

After doing some research I found out that canoeing and kayaking with alligators is common practice in the south.  From what I’ve read, it’s also much safer than I would have believed.

However, there are a few steps people can take to increase their safety when doing so.  Also, the south isn’t filled with nearly as many alligators as I thought and it’s possible to find places to canoe and kayak that are unlikely to be filled with alligators.  In case you’re not sold on the idea of kayaking or canoeing with gators by the end of the post, I’ll let you know where these places are.

Tips for Kayaking and Canoeing with Alligators

Get Some Experience First

When you’re not in gator territory a flip can be dangerous but rarely is.  In waters filled with alligators, this can be a different story.  An inexperienced kayaker is much more likely to flip their kayak than an experienced kayaker.  For this reason, it’s a good idea to get your experience in on safer waters and only move into areas with gators after you’ve become a proficient paddler.

If you do end up dumping yourself into the water, try not to panic.  Splashing around frantically in the water will only draw alligators to you.  Instead, quickly grab your paddle, flip your kayak over and get back into it.

Give The Gators Some Space (Especially During Mating Season)

Alligators can swim quickly but they can’t run very fast on land.  A healthy adult should be able to outrun an alligator on foot.  This is of course as long as the alligator does not get them in the initial charge.  Alligators might not be able to run faster than humans for very long, but they can certainly lunge quick enough that a human wouldn’t be able to get away in time.

For this reason, it’s important to give alligators their space both on land and in the water.  In fact, the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia recommends that we maintain a 60-foot distance from them.  If you see an alligator aggressively attempting to close this distance, move away from them.

On the water, you’ll want to maintain your distance from them as well.  Steer your canoe or kayak away from gators you see swimming and don’t go close to the banks that the gators are basking on.  This is especially true in the spring when alligators are in full mating season.  Male alligators become extremely aggressive during this time and fights often break out between them.  Getting caught up in an alligator fight is a surefire way to get yourself bitten.

After the mating season ends, you’ll still need to be careful.  In the summer, female alligators will be guarding over their nests.  Stay away from the nests as best as you can.

When summer ends and the babies are born you’ll have to continue to be wary of the females.  Female alligators will continue to protect their young for at least a year so if you see a small alligator you can bet a much larger one is nearby.

alligator on river

Leave Your Pets at Home

If you don’t want your dog to get eaten, don’t take your dog out kayaking or canoeing when you’re in gator territory.  Alligators will view your dog as a food source and they may even decide to attack your canoe or kayak to get it.

Here is a video from CNBC showing a kayaker and his dog being attacked by an alligator.  Luckily, the man was able to quickly rescue his dog without anyone getting hurt but he should have never been there in the first place.

Don’t Feed The Alligators

It’s a crime to feed wild alligators and for good reason.  Feeding alligators reduces their fear of humans and increases the likelihood that they’ll approach and eventually attack someone.  This can lead to human injuries and fatalities.  On top of that the alligator usually ends up being put down, so everyone loses.

If you ever see an alligator swimming or walking towards you, it’s probably because someone fed them in the past.  This is not typical behavior so you should leave the area as soon as possible as you’re likely to be attacked.

alligator sign


Stay in The Boat

Don’t turn your kayaking or canoeing trip into a swimming trip.  I would hope this would be obvious but sometimes people decide to swim with them anyway and this sometimes leads to their death.  If you want to swim, go to the pool or the beach instead.

Also, keep your hands and feet inside the kayak at all times as well.  Sometimes fisherman make the mistake of putting their hands into the water to retrieve their fish and this sometimes leads to disastrous consequences.  If you catch a fish, quickly bring it into your canoe and unhook it there instead of beside it.

How to Avoid Kayaking and Canoeing with Alligators

The American alligator can occasionally be found in an Atlantic City swimming pool or some other place it clearly was never meant to inhabit but for the most part, they only reside in a small section of the country.  States with alligators include Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

This being said, Florida and Louisiana are the only states where you’ll find alligators throughout the entire state.  Alligators in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Arkansas all seem to be found in the southern regions of the state.  Alligators in North and South Carolina are mostly found along the coast.

states with alligators

If you want to ensure that you avoid alligators while canoeing and kayaking, stay out of these states.  Even if you do live in one of the states listed above, you can generally avoid them by going to parts of the state that are unlikely to have them.  For instance, people in the Carolinas can generally avoid them by paddling on inland lakes and rivers and people living in Georgia can typically avoid them by visiting lakes and rivers further up north.

Even Floridians can generally avoid alligators by kayaking in salt water instead of freshwater.  Alligators can survive for short periods of time in saltwater but they usually try to avoid it as it isn’t someplace they can live long-term.  Just be careful as Florida is home to crocodiles as well as alligators and the crocodiles can live in saltwater.

If avoiding alligators is impossible for you, you can always try to reduce your exposure to them by staying away from the water at dusk and dawn.  Alligators are much more active during this time period which means they’re more likely to interact with you and your kayak or canoe.  If you do come across them during this time period, be careful as this is when they like to feed.

Final Thoughts

After researching this article I still think I’d prefer to go paddling places without alligators but I don’t think it’s as crazy as I once thought it was.  After all, many of us swim in the ocean with sharks, hike in the forests with bears, and generally take risks every time we leave our homes.  If you’d like to experience a southern lake or river, then go for it, just be sure you know what you’re getting into before you head out.

kayaking with alligators pin3
canoeing and kayaking with alligators pin2

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

Recent Posts