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Kayak Self Rescue Techniques

Regardless of your kayaking skill level, there’s always a chance of tipping over in your boat. The likelihood decreases as you gain more experience and learn to balance better, but there’s always the possibility of a rogue wave, current, or unexpected obstacle while you’re paddling.

As you learn more about how to master paddling techniques and kayak maneuvering, you should also buff up on self-rescue techniques while you’re at it.

How to Practice Kayak Self-Rescue

Practicing how to rescue yourself from a capsized kayak is as key as learning and perfecting your paddling techniques. Having some muscle memory about what to do when you flip over and how to re-enter your kayak prevents you from panicking and being stranded if it happens in real time. Carve out some time to find some calm water, bring a friend for support, and prepare to get wet so you’ll be prepared for whatever your next kayaking adventure brings!

Performing a Wet Exit

A wet exit refers to the way you have to exit your kayak if you’ve flipped over. It’s particularly relevant for sit-in kayaks, as the process of getting your legs free is more involved than if you flipped over while on a sit-on-top kayak. This is opposed to a regular exit where you dock your boat and get out as planned.

The first step to a proper wet exit is to take a deep breath and lean forward towards the deck in front of you as you tip over. Keeping your torso close to the boat will make it easier to remove your spray skirt, if you use one, and it protects you from any underwater debris.

Next, you’ll remove the spray skirt if you have one, and bring your knees together to push out of the leg braces inside the hull of the boat. Use your arms to push against the cockpit if necessary and pull your legs out of the kayak. Once your legs are free you can let your PFD float you to the surface and collect yourself from there. Make sure you move the kayak to the side before you bob up or swim out from under it so you don’t hit your head while surfacing.

Re-Entering Your Kayak

Getting out of the kayak is just the first step to a self-rescue. Once you’re out and have taken a quick break, you’ll need to think about getting back into your kayak from the water. This can be challenging if you’re by yourself, but not impossible! Practicing this technique will make it easier each time you do it, and you’ll be back on your way in no time.

Here are the basic steps for re-entering your kayak from the water:

  1. Locate your paddle and flip your kayak back the right way around.
  1. Take out your paddle float and attach it to one end of your paddle. This piece of equipment is really helpful for this type of entry, so think about investing in one if you haven’t already.
  2. Lodge the end of your paddle that doesn’t have the float on it into the deck riggings on the stern-side of the kayak. You want to position yourself so your legs can easily slide into the hull.
  3. Strongly kick upwards, using the paddle shaft as support until you can boost your torso onto the kayak deck. It’s sometimes helpful to bring one knee onto the paddle and shimmy on from there.
  4. Pivot until you can bring your legs around and slide into the cockpit of the kayak.

    Once you’re in the cockpit, you can readjust yourself, bail or pump any residual water from the kayak, re-attach your skirt--if applicable--and you’re ready to continue on your adventure.

    This process can take a few tries to get the hang of, so a few practice sessions can go a long way towards getting comfortable with it. Even if you’re a veteran kayaker, incorporating some self-rescue practice into your routine is beneficial to keeping you at the top of your game. The most fun and rewarding kayaking adventure is a safe one!

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