You’re out in the middle of a large lake and in the process of grabbing some gear that’s stored in your boat when you accidentally roll it over. What do you do now?
Falling out of your kayak is never fun; but it happens, so it’s important to know how to get into a kayak from the water.
After You Hit the Water
Depending on the type of boat and your level of experience, you may be able to roll the boat back over and continue paddling as if nothing happened. This isn’t always possible though, and if it’s not, you’re stuck hanging upside underwater. You need to pull the tab on your sprayskirt and make a wet exit.
Now you’re back on the surface, floating in the water because you’re wearing your PFD (you are wearing a PFD, aren’t you?), you can devote all your energy to getting into the boat.
Take a look around – locate your kayak and your paddle, and see if there’s anything that would make reentry unsafe (like a strong riptide or crashing waves). If it’s safe, retrieve your paddle and sidle up next to boat to begin your reentry.
Basic Reentry Technique
The first step is to secure your paddle; you won’t need it for this type of reentry, but you don’t want it to float away. Once you’re back in the boat, it will be very difficult to retrieve the paddle if it gets too far away (no one wants to hand paddle a kayak!).
Start by securing the paddle under the rear deck rigging, if you have any. From this position, it won’t hinder your reentry. If there’s no rigging available, slide it down into the cockpit.
As you float next to the kayak, grab on to the opposite side of the cockpit. If it’s a sit-on-top, you might have grab handles to use, but otherwise just hold on to the rim of the cockpit.
Now lift yourself on the top of the boat by simultaneously pulling on the opposite side of the boat with one hand and pushing down on the side closest to you with the other. This will prevent the boat from rolling over.
Accomplishing that will leave you lying on top of the boat and perpendicular to its direction. This next step won’t look graceful on the first couple of tries, but you need to twist your body so that your legs are inside the cockpit or at least in the foot well on a sit-on-top kayak.
There’s a good chance that you’ll tip over the first few times you try this, but with practice, it will get a lot easier. However, this method is less useful with narrow sea kayaks, which are more prone to rolling over and don’t provide as stable of a platform for reentry.
Reentry with a Paddle Float
A second method for reentering the kayak requires almost no skill at all, but you will need one extra piece of equipment – a paddle float.
A paddle float is essentially a balloon that can be secured to one end of your paddle. When it’s attached, that end of the paddle becomes very buoyant and can be braced against the kayak to create an outrigger.
When the paddle float is deflated, it takes up almost no space and fits inside a sleeve that can be attached to your deck rigging for easy access. Should the kayak capsize, take it out of the sleeve, blow it up like you would a beach ball, and then secure it to the end of your paddle.
Now take the other end of the paddle, and slide it into the cockpit. To get a sense of how stable this bracing is, push down on the paddle shaft and notice that the kayak hardly moves.
Once the kayak is stable, follow the final steps for the basic reentry technique, which should be much easier. Paddle floats are a worthwhile investment as they will make these self rescue situations go much more smoothly.
The T Rescue
This last method for reentering the kayak requires a paddling buddy – one more reason you should never paddle alone. It has the added bonus that you can empty some of the water that might have gotten into the cockpit during the wet exit, which you would need to bail out after reentry with the other techniques.
Start with your kayak flipped upside down and have your partner position their boat to form a T with the bow of yours. Next, push down on the stern of your boat so its bow comes up onto the top of your partner’s deck, which will empty some of the water from your cockpit.
Flip the boat over, and have your partner paddle their boat parallel to yours. They’ll also secure your paddle for you, so it’s not in the way during the next step.
Now have your partner press down on the cockpit rim of your boat opposite of where you’re floating; this will stabilize the kayak just as you would during the basic reentry technique. Come between the two boats, float on your back, and place your feet up into the cockpit space.
The final step of the reentry involves using your arms to push on your partner’s boat and then pivot your body into your kayak’s cockpit. Again, it’s not going to look graceful, but it requires less effort and experience than trying to reenter on your own.
If All Else Fails
If for some reason you’re unable to return to your boat’s cockpit, you should still know how to signal for help. In a large lake or the open ocean, this will be your only choice.
You should carry a safety whistle in the pocket of your PFD. The sequence of three short blasts followed by a pause and then three more short blasts is a recognized signal to boaters that you’re in need of assistance.
If you aren’t carrying a safety whistle, a universally recognized sign of distress is to wave one arm back and forth above your head. Since you’re so close to the waterline, it can be difficult for other boaters to see you, so wave your paddle above your head if you still have it.
Most importantly, do not panic if you can’t get back into your kayak. Your PFD will keep you afloat, and there’s no reason to tire yourself out treading water.
While it might seem like a daunting task to roll yourself into an unstable kayak as it bobs up and down in the water, it really isn’t as hard as it seems. With some practice (and you should practice), it will become a routine task that you can complete with ease.
It’s important for every paddler to know how to get into a kayak from the water; in shallower waters, it will save you from wasting time and energy on a shore swim and out in open waters, it will prevent you from needing to be rescued.