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Sea Kayak or Day Paddle in Antarctica? The Differences, Explained

You glide across the still water, quietly paddling through ice. Up ahead, a humpback whale breaches as you admire the otherworldly iceberg formations. It’s no secret that kayaking in Antarctica is one of the most epic things you can do on your trip, but what’s the difference between kayaking or day paddling in Antarctica? Many ships, including the Ocean Endeavour, offer both, and it can be confusing to determine which is best for you - here’s what you need to know about deciding to sea kayak or day paddle in Antarctica!


Why kayak in Antarctica at all? Isn’t it…cold?

You might be surprised, but kayaking is actually one of the most popular optional activities you can do in Antarctica! Yes, Antarctica is cold, but you’ll be dressed appropriately for your adventure with base layers and a dry suit, provided by your tour operator, so you shouldn’t feel too cold on the water. When kayaking, safety is always the first priority and it also only occurs when weather conditions are great, so you won’t be out in strong winds or heavy snow.

Many people are excited to kayak in Antarctica because it’s one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the completely unique polar environment. Removed from the sounds and comforts of the ship, and away from the crowds on landing sites, kayaking allows you to be still and take in Antarctica as it truly is, untouched and natural.

Being on the water level, you’ll hear the beautiful crackling of sea ice, you’ll observe porpoising penguins and breaching humpbacks, or you might even spot a leopard seal on an ice floe, napping in the sun. In short, it’s one of the best ways to truly get to know Antarctica and ideal for those who love being outside and active. Most Antarctic ships will offer kayaking in one of two ways: via an immersive daily sea kayaking program or a one-off kayaking experience, referred to as a day paddle.


sea kayak in Antarctica
A sea kayaker in Antarctica

So, is kayaking or day paddling right for you? If you:


Are a keen kayaker and want to be out on the water daily, would rather kayak than walk around on landing sites, or you love the idea of an active holiday:

Then the kayak program might be perfect for you! Weather willing, it allows you to kayak twice a day throughout your time in Antarctica, alongside your experienced kayak guide and your small group of fellow paddlers.

Aren’t an experienced kayaker but want to try it out, or just want to kayak once so that you can try out other Antarctic activities:

In that case, the day paddle program might be just what you need! This is a one-off opportunity to kayak in Antarctica, for 2-3 hours, alongside your experienced kayak guide and your small group of fellow paddlers.

Sea Kayak Programs in Antarctica


Sea kayaking in Antarctica is generally an immersive program that runs for the duration of your time on the continent. For example, most Peninsula cruises spend four days in Antarctica, so with two landing sites per day, you may get to kayak up to eight times.

On your sea days on the Drake Passage, your kayak group will have meetings for safety briefings, dry suit fitting, and other pertinent information so that you can hit the water right away once you arrive in Antarctica.

The sea kayak program requires a reasonable amount of fitness, as you’ll be paddling for a few hours each day. Each time you kayak, you’ll go out with your guides in a zodiac, taking you to a sheltered and safe area away from the ship where you’ll begin paddling. The kayaks used are designed for ocean use, and you’ll love spending each day observing icebergs, looking for wildlife, and admiring the constantly changing scenery.

If time allows, your kayak group may be able to pull up on a landing site to get out and look around, but most of the time, you’ll be on the water.

However, if you decide to skip kayaking one afternoon, that’s completely ok!

Travelling solo? Single travellers may love the kayak program also, as it’s an easy way to make like-minded friends on the ship!


day paddlers in Antarctica
Sea kayak or day paddle - either way, you'll have tons of fun! 

Day Paddling in Antarctica 

If you don’t want to kayak every day, a day paddle might be just what you’re looking for. This is a single opportunity to kayak during your Antarctic trip and is suitable for both complete beginners and experienced kayakers.

Day paddle kayaks are often inflatable or wider-sized kayaks that make them more stable on the water, another benefit to those who are new to the activity. Your day paddle may occur at any point during your journey, so listen closely to the evening briefing announcements each day as to which group of kayakers are scheduled for the following day.

Like with the kayak program, your guides will provide a full briefing of what to expect and will get you prepared with all of the gear you need.

Your day paddle may last anywhere from 2-3 hours, but you’ll probably have leisurely moments where you stop to take photos or observe penguins or whales, so it shouldn’t be too intense.

You’ll have a fun and relaxed afternoon of kayaking and are sure to meet some friendly travellers, so a day paddle is ideal for just about anyone - solo travellers, groups of friends or family, or couples.



kayaker in Antarctica
With proper gear on, including your dry suit and hat, you won't feel too cold at all!

Kayaking in Antarctica FAQs

Still have questions? Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions the Chimu team receives about kayaking.

Should I book my Antarctica kayaking excursion in advance?

Yes! If kayaking is a priority for you, either as a day paddle or the full program, it’s best to book as far in advance as you can. Both options have limited spaces and fill up quickly on most voyages.

However, if space happens to be available, you can also sign up once you’re onboard, but we highly recommend confirming your place when you book your trip. 

What should I wear to kayak in Antarctica?

Your kayak guide will provide a full briefing based on the day’s weather conditions, but generally, you’ll want to wear:

  • Beanie
  • Waterproof gloves (inner layers are better than thicker gloves)
  • Sunglasses, for the glare, and plenty of sunscreen! 
  • Your woollen Antarctic base layers, warm socks, and a jacket or thick fleece, if you’re likely to feel the cold. 
  • Dry suit, waterproof booties, and a PFD (personal floatation device) - these will all be provided by your kayaking guide for you.


Do I need kayaking experience?

Previous paddling experience is not required, but you may feel more comfortable if you try it out at home first before your trip. New kayakers may not want to commit to the full program and might be better suited to start out via a day paddle.

Can I take photos or videos while I’m kayaking?

You can, but be careful - more than one iPhone or GoPro has been accidentally dropped in the sea by kayakers. Taking photos is definitely part of the fun though, so we recommend a waterproof lanyard for your phone that you can wear around your neck, along with a dry bag for anything you want to bring along, but want to keep dry.

Bringing a large DSLR or mirrorless camera out on the water is pretty risky, so most kayakers would leave their large photography gear safely tucked away in their cabins.

Your kayak guide is also likely to take some photos of everyone that can be shared once you’re back on the ship.

Is kayaking in Antarctica safe? What if there is bad weather?

All Antarctic excursions, including kayaking, are first and foremost dependent on safe conditions. If the weather is bad (strong wind, choppy seas, extreme cold), kayaking will be postponed or cancelled.

You can be assured that your kayaking expedition will only go out on the water if the seas are flat and calm, ensuring a positive experience!

Which Antarctic ship is best for kayaking?

Many expedition ships offer amazing kayaking programs, but our top choice is the Ocean Endeavour, offering both kayaking and day paddling on every voyage, under the guidance of experienced and passionate professional kayak instructors.

Ready to start paddling? Chimu’s experienced team of Destination Specialists are here to help you find the perfect Antarctic cruise that includes kayaking, so give us a call on 1300 720 564 anytime.

Written By Katie
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