Is It Safe to Kayak With Dolphins? (Safety Tips and Rules to Abide By)

Dolphins are some of the most beloved animals on Earth. People love to watch them play and jump out of the water. But what happens when you want to get closer to these amazing creatures? Is it safe to kayak with dolphins?

In short, no, you won’t be able to get very close to one. In most states, kayakers must keep 50 yards (½ a football field) away from them. If you get too close to the beautiful mammals, you can be charged with fines. However, many tourist areas have guided kayaking tours that will enable you to see dolphins and other mammals. 

That said, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever encounter one while kayaking on the open waters. That’s why every kayaker needs to know what to do if that happens. 

So, stick around to learn more about some safety tips and rules to abide by.

How Safe is It to Kayak with Dolphins?

While most dolphins in the U.S are kept in conservation, they’re yet to be domesticated. So, the best thing you can do before kayaking with dolphins is to follow safety precautions. 

Whether kayaking with dolphins is primarily safe depends on you. It’ll be safe if you manage to follow the precautions and keep your distance.

Nevertheless, wild mammals are unpredictable. Therefore, we can’t guarantee a 100% safety rate, but there are ways to ensure your safety.

When are Dolphins Dangerous?

Now, you might be wondering if dolphins have a switch where they suddenly turn aggressive. There’s no switch, but there’s a mystery to it.

The strong bond between humans and dolphins you might’ve heard about is often labeled as amicable, but there’s little evidence to suggest that.

On the contrary, there’s more scientific support regarding how dolphins are more aggressive towards humans.

Sociable as they are, dolphins are primarily aggressive during their mating search. Male dolphins, in particular, are more likely to attack you.

Dolphins might seem naturally playful, but their intentions might be far from good-natured. 

Their idea of fun could be to grab you with their strong jaw and fling you around. But, as said earlier, it’s unpredictable.

Safety Tips For Kayaking with Dolphins

If you’re kayaking, chances are you won’t be traveling a considerable distance from the beach (maybe a mile or so far). You’ll likely encounter bottlenose and wild spotted dolphins.

They prefer coastal areas because of the warmer waters. It’s also easier for them to move around since they’re smaller than your average 7 to 9 feet dolphins.

What does that mean for you? Luckily, these dolphins are widely known for their pleasant human interactions, especially with marine researchers. That being so, the safety precautions you need to make are pivotal.

Let’s take a look at some of them below.

Always Be Alert

Kayaking with dolphins doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to chase down the marine creatures. The opposite is true; let them come to you and always be on the lookout for them.

Dolphins can easily sneak up on you. Their sleek gray skin makes them virtually undetectable.

The ocean mammals can also swim under your kayak. The best thing to do is remain calm and wait for them to pass you by and leave.

Listen to Your Tour Guide

Your tour guide—if you have one—has been around many dolphins, so they probably know what they’re doing. If they feel the region is unsafe, listen to them even if you’re having the time of your life.

Apart from their extensive knowledge about dolphins, they can also detect if your kayak is in bad shape or if the tide is too strong.

Tipping over is the last thing you want to happen. Swimming around wild dolphins is relatively dangerous, especially if you’re a beginner.

Bring the Items You’ll Need 

The first thing on your safety protocol should be to pack everything you need.

That means your water bottle, sunblock, and most critical of all, your life jacket. Another safety item you’ll want to consider is a first aid kit in case any accidents occur.

You wouldn’t want to kayak all the way and not be able to properly see anything. It might be too sunny, so don’t forget your sunglasses.

If someone on tour yells, “There it is!” and the dolphin is far off, you’re going to wish you had your binoculars on hand.

Rules for Kayaking with Dolphins

If you’re ever interacting with dolphins, you need to follow some rules. The rules are for both you and the dolphin’s safety. Since you’ve got the chance to see dolphins up close, you need to regard these rules seriously. Most of them are even government-issued.

Rule #1: Don’t Feed the Dolphins

We can’t stress this enough. Feeding dolphins can potentially harm both you and the dolphins in several ways.

Imagine having a piece of meat with you and going to a lion’s territory with no barrier between you and the lion. Guaranteed catastrophe, right?

Dolphins are no different. 

They can quickly snatch your arm and your treats and drag you down in the water. They have the tail strength to propel themselves above the water and a healthy row of sharp-gripping teeth.

You would also be feeding the dolphins an unhealthy habit, where they’re dependent on humans kayaking around for food. Next thing you know, they’ll become aggressive beggars.

Keep in mind that you might not be fully aware of their dietary needs. If you feed them the wrong food, they can face serious health risks.

Apart from the physical risks of feeding dolphins, there are legal ramifications you wouldn’t want to get yourself into.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), it’s illegal to feed wild marine animals, including dolphins. In addition, the act categorizes feeding dolphins as level B harassment.

What would that entail? A hefty fine (up to $11,000) and approximately a year in jail. Before you grab that bait on your kayaking trip, you might want to reconsider.

You might notice other kayakers feeding the dolphins; the best way to approach this is by warning them first. That is, if the guide hasn’t already. If they haven’t stopped, we advise you to report the incident.

Rule #2: Don’t Touch the Dolphins

After getting an idea of how dangerous dolphins can be, naturally, you wouldn’t want to touch them anymore.

While amusement parks have glorified dolphins as your marine pal, you know better than to give dolphins a little pat.

You might find several responses. First, the dolphin could leave along with its pod (dolphin group), which would devastate your fellow kayakers. Otherwise, it could lead to more threatening reactions.

An incident recorded in 1992 saw the latter’s reaction. Lisa Costello patted a pilot whale dolphin. Instead of a friendly boop. The dolphin clenched its jaws on her legs and flailed her around under the water.

Rule #3: Don’t Chase the Dolphins

Remember the MMPA? The act considers pursuing dolphins a level A harassment.

If this doesn’t give you enough reason not to chase dolphins, consider this. You’re on their turf, and they can easily chase after you when feeling threatened.

Trust us; you don’t want a threatened dolphin anywhere near you.

If you want to enjoy your kayaking experience with dolphins, keep your distance. At least 50 yards away should do it, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


It can be safe as long as you take great care of your safety precautions. If you’re caught in open waters with them, stay far away. When you’re kayaking with a group, always listen to the safety tips and follow the rules to avoid any risky outcomes.

With safety at the highest priority, you can enjoy a worry-free kayaking experience, knowing full well that you won’t be disturbing the dolphins.

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