Capsize Recovery

As a sea kayaker, you'll need to know how to recover from a capsize quickly, so you can minimize your exposure to the elements. Your goal is to be in the safety of your boat, and paddle away in a comfortable, stable manner. Even without a roll, most flips are no big deal if you are well practiced at capsize recovery options, and prepared for the water.

No amount of reading will prepare you for the most threatening situations. You have to practice! For the best success, take a class and learn some of the finer points of each capsize recovery. With each situation there are several of options that work. Your time experimenting will help you understand which variation is appropriate for a true dilemma.

With every capsize recovery you'll want to get back in the boat, and empty the water out. These two essentials happen in either order, depending on the rescue you choose. The primary determining factor is the water temperature. Cold water can rob you of your strength after only a few minutes of immersion. It's wise to dress for the water temperature in case of an unexpected swim, and think through rescues that get you out of the water quickly.

Assisted Rescue

The most common assisted-rescue occurs when the rescuing paddler pulls alongside the swamped boat to stabilize it for reentry. The rescuer leans over and spans the cockpits with a paddle to immobilize the boats.

Maintaining a low center of gravity makes re-entry easier. Usually this means crawling onto the boat with your chest on the rear deck. To get up on the deck, kick your feet up, so you are laying on the surface, and then pull the kayak under you.

From this low position you can slide into the cockpit, and twist into the seat. As you climb in, keep in balance by twisting towards your friend. Then put your skirt on, pump out, and stabilize yourself before releasing and continuing.

There is an alternative to doing all this pumping if the boat has a bulkhead to keep the rear compartment dry. In the T rescue, the rescuer moves to a position roughly perpendicular to the swamped boat and lifts the bow while you push down on the stern. Then flip the boat and pull it into the bow to stern stabilizing position for re-entry.

When the swamped boat doesn't have a watertight bulkhead, it can be pulled further over the deck to drain it completely. This TX rescue takes more effort, lots of teamwork, and risks damage to the boats. So usually paddlers will choose to reenter and pump out boats that don't have a bulkhead.

If a paddler has trouble re-entering the boat a stirrup made from a loop of rope or webbing can wrap around the paddle and provide a welcome step for re-entry. Wrap the stirrup close to the boat, to make it secure. This stirrup can be adapted to many of the rescues.

Self Rescue

The sort of conditions that might cause you to flip are going to make getting back in the boat quite challenging. The ideal is to have assistance with re-entry.

However, if you flip out of range of assistance, a paddle float outrigger can provide extra stability. First, hang on to all your equipment. Then, you’ll use the paddle with a paddle float to form an outrigger held perpendicular to your boat.

After the swim hook a leg into the boat. This frees both hands to attach and inflate the paddle float. This is harder than you might think. A paddle float made of foam is often the preference of paddlers in very cold regions, where cold hands and cold water shock make inflating a float difficult and unpleasant.

Once the float is ready, grasp both the paddle shaft and cockpit rim to form an outrigger. Then kick with your legs to plane your body out before pulling the stern deck under your chest.

Rest your legs on the paddle shaft, then slide one leg in then the other. Turning towards the paddle float will help you lean in that direction, so you can establish a balanced sitting position. At this point use your bilge pump to empty the water. Stow the pump and paddle float, then continue on your way.

By carefully flipping the boat before you re-enter, you can keep out some of the water and reduce your pumping time. This requires a snappy kick of your legs while you lift and twist the bow. Some boats have special deck rigging which greatly simplifies a paddle float re-entry. Deck rigging also leaves your hands free to pump and attach the skirt.

Practice capsize recovery in warm water and calm conditions, so you'll gain confidence in your ability. Take a class to learn some of the finer points, and to get valuable feedback on your technique. Don't underestimate how difficult it can be to maneuver into a helpful position. These rescues are harder than meets the eye, so please practice!