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Kayaking in Antarctica

Paddle up to icebergs from your personal vessel. Encounter penguins and seals diving in the water beside you. Float and listen to the symphony of ice cracking. Kayaking is an intimate and magical way to explore the South Pole during an Antarctica cruise. Here's what you need to know before you sign up, from how much it costs and what gear to bring to how to prepare and which seasons to consider.   

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What is it like to kayak around Antartica?

Kayaking in Antarctica enables you to thread your way through floating icebergs, ponder the silence in glassy coves and get extremely close to wildlife in the water--seals have even been known to get next to kayaks! And depending on the season, you might also feel the swell created by whales rolling in the water nearby. This type of activity is less about how far you go and more about seeing as much as possible on the way, so you are often only kayaking a short distance, and if the water is rough it may be hard work. One day, the kayaking excursion can last three or four hours, but the next day it may only include one hour of paddling plus a shore landing. Most kayaking trips include shore landings with rest of the passengers who will arrive in zodiacs directly from the cruise ship. 

What to consider before booking

How serious are you about the commitment, are you in good shape and what are the key details to keep in mind? 

  • How is your stamina? Kayaking in Antartica can be tiring. If weather allows, you'll be out on the water as often as possible, so you can easily get exhausted after multiple days of paddling. Seriously, don't underestimate the potential physical exertion that can occur after a few days.
  • How important is photography to you? Good shots might be limited as most of the time you'll take photos from the kayak which is not always optimal. Even a few gentle waves can interrupt a good shot.
  • Do you have previous experience? Getting into and out of the kayak securely is essential. You will also need to know how to do a wet exit (when your kayak overturns and you have to get out of it in the water). Be sure you know how to balance yourself so you don't overturn the kayak and can feel confident during the activity.
  • If you're keen to participate but aren't sure if your experience is adequate, sign up for a kayaking lesson before your trip that includes practising a wet exit and basic paddling skills.
  • Depending on the operator, you may be in either a single or a double kayak.

Kayaking in Antarctica
Kayaking in Antarctica

Safety

Kayaking in Antartica is a safe activity, but the most dangerous possibility is that you could fall into the water, which is frigid but definitely not deadly. The activity is always supervised by specialists from the crew and there is generally a zodiac on standby in case someone needs to be taken back to the ship. Kayaking will be allowed only when weather conditions are right. Previous kayaking experience is recommended and you should be in reasonably good shape.

Did you know?

Antarctica contains the largest single mass of ice on Earth.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains contains 26.5 million cubic kilometres (6,400,000 cubic miles) of ice.
Antarctica is the 5th biggest continent in the world.
The Great White Continent is larger than both Europe and Australia.
According to the NOAA, the Arctic regions are getting warm at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the planet.
Central West Antarctica is among the most rapidly warming regions on Earth.

FAQ

  • Is kayaking included in the price?

    Usually, no. You'll have to pay extra to take part in the activity. Prices oscillate around 1,000 USD on top of the price you paid for the Antarctica cruise, but this covers multiple days of kayaking throughout your trip.
  • Can I change my mind after I book a kayaking activity?

    Yes, but getting your money back is not guaranteed--refund conditions vary by tour operator.
  • When should I book the kayaking option for my Antarctica cruise?

    ASAP, spaces are limited and usually sell out quickly.
  • I didn't book kayaking and the option is sold out, is there any way I can still participate?

    Possibly. Ask your tour operator if there is a standby list they can put you on. If someone else cancels you can take their place. 
  • How often will I kayak?

    As often as possible but it is weather dependent. You could end up doing it multiple times every day of your trip, or not at all. The first priority is safety and kayaking will be allowed only when the weather conditions are right. Consider that if the weather cooperates, you may be kayaking frequently so make sure you are prepared for that physically.
  • Do I have to participate every time my group goes kayaking?

    No, it's not mandatory to take part every time. But note that the more often you go, the more value you get and the price per trip decreases.
  • Is there an option to kayak just for one day?

    Some operators offer a one-off kayaking activity which offers the chance for people to try the experience without the commitment of doing it multiple times. The total price is much lower as well. This is an excellent compromise for anyone who wants to try kayaking in Antarctica but does not want to sign up to do it multiple times during the cruise. 
  • What happen if I fall in?

    Dry suits should protect you from cold water and your PFD (a special life jacket for kayaking) will ensure you stay on the surface. Crew supervises the activity along with a zodiac on standby, and if you fall in they will make their way to you immediately After falling in, you can decide if you want to continue the activity or be taken back to the ship.

How should you prepare for sea kayaking in Antarctica?

It's key to be prepared physically and bring certain skills. You don't need to be an expert, but you should not be a complete beginner. You also need to pack appropriately and consider what each season offers.

Training

Antarctica is not an ideal place for beginners. Ideally, you should have previous sea kayaking experience, know how to balance on the kayak and how to enter and leave without overturning. You'll also want to be confident in making a wet exit (getting out of a kayak when it is overturned). Experience also ensures that the ensemble of travellers embarking on Antarctica kayaking expeditions is calmer and more confident as a group. That's why we recommend taking a short kayaking course or to try sea kayaking before the expedition. A general good level of fitness is also advised--if weather conditions cooperate, this activity might take place several times on consecutive days during the Antarctica cruise and can be physically demanding.

Gear and clothes

A full-body wet-suit, boots and special gloves will be usually provided, but it depends on an operator. Sometimes a dry suit will be available. For extra comfort and to ensure you stay warm at all times, invest in several good quality items. Previous participants said they have often suffered from cold extremities, especially cold fingers:

  • Thermal base layers (both tops and leggings).
  • The best gloves or warm mittens you can find.
  • Thick socks.
  • For extra warmth: hand and feet warmers. These are often disposable and available in snowsport shops.
  • Drybags for cameras are usually provided by the operator, but double check and verify what they will lend you and what to bring.

Tips

  • Consider the timing of the cruise. Kayaking is possible through the duration of Antarctica cruise season (October-March), but earlier in the season you will see more icebergs floating around, while later is whale watching season.
  • If kayaking is must-do activity, don't wait until the last minute to book it. We recommend booking ist 12-18 months prior to departure. Kayaking in Antarctica is an activity that sells out quickly so book it as far in advance as possible.
  • The kayaking boots/booties you get from the tour operator to wear are not ideal for walking around on the shore. Consider bringing your personal boots with you on the days you will be doing shore landings. You can change into them when you arrive and will enjoy the time on land with warm feet.
  • If you don't want to be constantly worried about damaging your expensive camera, consider bringing a waterproof camera. Most operators provide drybags for the equipment, but it is easy to accidentally drop a camera in the water when you're taking photos from a kayak.
  • Bring a stainless steel reusable water bottle, you'll want to stay hydrated.
  • Start dressing early if you plan on wearing a drysuit. Getting into it is a timely task so it's better to get a head start and avoid causing a delay.

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