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Everything you need to know About Kayaking in Antarctica

6 min read

Antarctic visitors frequently talk about the quiet of the southern Polar Region, a noiseless calm that's best experienced out on the water in a kayak. Apart from the gentle dip of your paddle on the surface of the water, and the occasional bird call or breeze whistling in the gentle wind, kayaking in Antarctica can be an almost meditative experience. On the other hand, depending on the kayak program you've chosen, it could also be an adrenaline-packed adventure that will be the most thrilling part of your polar expedition.

Quark Expeditions caters to paddlers of all stripes. Visitors can choose our:

  • Sea Kayaking – for kayakers looking for a more focused kayak program that involves multiple kayak outings throughout the voyage
  • Paddling Excursion – ideal for guests who enjoy one sigle outing on a sit-on-top kayak that requires no experience whatsoever. Participants must be fit enough to enter and exit the kayak from the Zodiac, and to maneuver with paddle.
    Kayaking and paddling excursions often reward travelers with incredible views of icebergs and whales.

Quark Expeditions guests participate in the Sea Kayaking program during an Antarctic voyage. Photo: Dagny Ivarsdottir

Kayaking and Camping in Antarctica

As mentioned above, Quark Expeditions offers a sea kayaking program in Antarctica, as well as the chance to overnight camp in the Antarctic.

First, let's share some details on kayaking in Antarctica—which past participants have raved about long after they returned home.

The appeal of kayaking in Antarctica: an immersive polar experience; the potential for excellent views of wildlife—after all, what can beat paddling a kayak by a chunk of floating ice where a fur seal is kicking back looking at you; and the opportunity to get close-up views of the fjords and shorelines. Positioning yourself in the seat of a kayak is one of the most intimate ways travelers can connect with the Polar Regions—at water level, up close, where you can touch and feel every polar sensation imaginable. The Sea Kayak Program enables a small group of like-minded individuals to forge bonds throughout their voyage as they explore fjords, glacial faces or mazes of sea ice on multiple days.

Quark Expeditions Sea Kayak Program in Antarctica lasts throughout the duration of the entire voyage. Kayakers who have minimal experience but are very comfortable in the water, as well as seasoned paddlers, will enjoy the wildlife both on land and in the water from a perspective that's very different from the view from the deck of a ship or from the seat of a Zodiac.

The goal of the expedition team is to get participants out paddling as often as possible throughout the voyage, enabling your group of kayakers to bond. Usually, sea kayakers are shuttled by Zodiac from the ship to the chosen starting point where they transfer safely into their assigned kayaks. Some kayak excursions are designed so guests can go ashore and explore.

In addition to the kayak guides, a safety driver in a Zodiac will always stay nearby to offer assistance if required. Excursions typically last one and a half to three hours.

It's strongly recommended to register for the kayaking program when booking as this program usually fills up before the voyage. The number of excursions, for safety reasons, depends on weather and sea conditions as well as logistical factors. You should be prepared to paddle in a double or single kayak. The expedition team will pair you off should you be traveling alone.

Overnight camping in Antarctica is a dream come true for many polar travelers.

Overnight camping in Antarctica is a dream come true for many polar travelers. Photo: David Merron

Now, let's talk about camping in the Antarctic. Imagine for a moment, staring at the stars in the indigo glow of an Antarctic night as you bed down for the night outside in the elements. You've spent an incredible day exploring the polar environment, and now you're about to drift off to sleep hearing the waves of the Weddell sea – and suddenly you sit up alert. Was that a humpback whale you just heard?

You're snug in your insulated sleeping bag inside your bivvy-style tent, and it hits you: “I'm camping outside on the 7thContinent!” How many people experience such a moment?

All participants (maximum 50) in the camping in Antarctica program get a full briefing on the basics of camping before setting out on the adventure. Before settling you down for the night, the Quark Expeditions staff prepare the site, which involves setting up a perimeter in safe, flat to gently-sloping terrain. Campers are free to choose where (within the perimeters) they wish to settle down for the night, whereafter you pass the night under the Antarctic sky, images of long-ago polar explorers invading your nocturnal imaginings.

You'll be supplied with the necessary mummy-style sleeping bag, Bivy sack, insulated sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner and other necessities. Check the list of recommended gear.

How hard is kayaking in Antarctica?

Quark Expeditions guests participate in the Sea Kayaking program during an Antarctic voyage.

Quark Expeditions guests participate in the Sea Kayaking program during an Antarctic voyage. Photo: Dagny Ivarsdottir

Quark Expeditions developed the Sea Kayak program to accommodate kayakers with a range of experience. Consult with our polar travel advisors if you have any questions. Participants in the Sea Kayak Program go out multiple times and spend a lot of time together. You'll want to have the stamina for multiple outings. It's typically a bit more of a workout than the sit-on-top kayak paddling you'd do in the paddling program. Bear in mind that you'll always have the full support of your trust-worthy expedition team who are there not only to keep you safe—but to help you step outside your comfort zone safely, and fulfill those long-simmering dreams of kayaking in Antarctica.

Kayaking in Antarctica: cost and where to book it

The Paddling Excursion (which lasts a minimum of one hour) is offered to participants once per voyage. The Sea Kayaking Program costs extra—and the idea is that you'll go out multiple times. Ensure you book the Sea Kayaking Program in advance when you book and get full breakdown of costs at that time.

Gear and equipment necessary for kayaking in Antarctica

For anyone interested in sea kayaking in Antarctica, should know that Quark Expeditions provides the basics of what you need. You'll be equipped with:

  • Sea kayak (single or double)
  • Paddle
  • Spray-skirt
  • Drysuit
  • Insulated rubber gloves and pogies*
  • PFD (personal flotation device)
  • Neoprene booties
  • 10L dry bag
  • Water bottle (provided in rooms upon embarkation)

Other recommended gear/clothing include:

  • Thermal base layer top and bottom (synthetic or wool, no cotton)
  • Thin fleece 200 weight top or wool sweater
  • Fleece pants
  • Liner socks
  • Thick wool socks
  • Neckwarmer
  • Thin fleece or wool liner glove to wear under rubber gloves (if you wish)
  • Warm hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof and sweatproof sunscreen
  • Camera (either waterproof, in exterior waterproof housing, or stored in a drybag)
  • Waterproof backpack or a drybag

Paddling Program in the Antarctic

The Paddle Excursion was created for guests with little or no paddling experience, or for those who want a single paddle experience to add variety to their expedition. Participants must be fit enough to enter and exit the kayak from the Zodiac, and to maneuver with your paddle.

Our Paddle Excursion Program provides sit-on-top, two-person, inflatable kayaks that provide guests with an intimate, water-level experience in unforgettable locations in both the Arctic and Antarctica. These stable, rugged and comfortable crafts are an ideal way to see the polar regions from a different perspective. On-ship, you'll be provided with instruction and equipment including dry suits, personal flotation devices (PFDs), and waterproof gloves. Experienced guides will lead you safely throughout the paddling excursion. Your group will always be escorted by a safety driver in another kayak who will stay close by to provide additional support.

As mentioned, the paddle excursions last a minimum of one hour and are offered to participants once per voyage. The wind, weather and water conditions determine the timing and location of Paddling Excursions.

As with the kayaking program, most of the gear is provided. See the full list here.

Alpine Kayaking in the Arctic

After you've maxed out on the kayaking wonders of the Antarctic, consider a new program Quark Expeditions has launched in the other Polar Region, the Arctic. We now offer helicopter-supported Alpine Kayaking as part of our cutting-edge Greenland Adventure: By Sea, Land, Air Program.

Our expert kayak guides will take you beyond to remote glacial lakes high in the upper alpine zones of Southern Greenland. Once deployed by our helicopters, you and your fellow kayakers will find yourself immersed in the most remote corners of this area of Greenland.

Another kayaking adventure for the bucket list after you've fulfilled your dream of kayaking in the Antarctic.

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