Have you ever capsized a kayak?
If so, you know that reentering your boat is an important skill to master. In fact, it can save your life. Even while wearing a good drysuit, prolonged immersion in cold water will eventually lead to hypothermia; therefore reentry speed is important. In warm water, speed isn’t as critical, but most will agree that getting into their kayak quickly is a good thing.
The problem for many is that reentering from the water isn’t the easiest skill to master. Young, lightweight people often seem able to hop into their boats with very little effort, while older, heavier kayakers can struggle with the reentry maneuver. So, what’s the answer?
First, it’s important to understand the best way to reenter your specific kayak and practice this technique in a variety of sea conditions. Some kayaks are easier to get into than others. Remember that getting into your kayak on a warm summer’s day when the water is flat calm is one thing, but doing so on a cold, windy autumn day, in adverse sea conditions, is something altogether different.
These tools can be especially useful in cases of injury or pain. Shoulder pain is all too common among avid kayakers and any device utilized to help get back into one’s boat is a valuable one.
Different style boats often require different reentry techniques. Sit-on-tops and inflatables are typically very stable craft and not prone to capsizing. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that many owners have never contemplated how, or even if, they can get back into their boats from the water.
The most common reentry procedure for sit-on-tops and inflatables involves flipping the boat to the upright position, reaching across the middle of the boat, grabbing the gunwale or carry handle on the far side, tilting the kayak up, and doing a scissor kick with one’s legs while simultaneously pulling oneself up and onto the boat. One usually ends up on one’s belly in the cockpit and then turns over in order to sit in the seat.
While most kayakers, with a little practice, can perform this sit-on-top reentry procedure relatively quickly, many people, especially those of us who are older, overweight, or lacking in arm or leg strength, find this maneuver exceedingly difficult, even unmanageable.
A rescue stirrup is a simple adjustable piece of webbing or line, with a clip (or other method of attachment) on one end, and makes a loop, or “stirrup”, for your foot. It’s simple to use. Just attach it to the middle of the boat near the cockpit, and while in the water, insert your foot in the stirrup, and step up to help lift yourself into the boat. The stirrup is used in place of the scissor kick and it can make it much easier to get on board.
The paddle float is another self-rescue device. It’s basically a flotation device (either inflatable or made of foam) designed to attach to one end of the paddle.
The other end of the paddle can then be temporarily attached to the kayak with a rescue strap, resulting in something like an outrigger to stabilize the kayak during reentry. Paddle floats are standard equipment on narrow “tippy” sea kayaks, but can also be used effectively on more stable craft like recreational sit-on-tops, folders, and inflatables.
Rescue straps hold the paddle securely in position behind the cockpit, allowing for one of the most stable methods of paddle float reentry.
The straps can be easily adjusted to accept different width paddle blades.
And, cleverly release to free the paddle.
There are several excellent techniques for doing a paddle float reentry without securing the paddle to the boat (see YouTube), but in my mind the best and easiest method employs securing the paddle with a locking device such as the rescue strap.
Bungee cords commonly found on the aft decks of most sea kayaks are often used to help hold the the paddle during a paddle-float reentry but they are not very secure and allow the paddle to easily move out of position. Paddle float rescue straps are easy to use, hold the paddle to the boat securely and allow the use of both hands to be used during reentry.
Now let’s consider recreational sit-inside kayaks. While sit-on-tops and inflatables are some of the easiest kayaks to reenter, recreational sit-inside kayaks, especially tandems with their large cockpits, can be quite challenging to do a self rescue with.
Because of their big open cockpits and minimal, sometimes absent, bulkheads, these boats can take on a ton of water during a capsize. The result is that once righted they sit very low in the water.
Intuitively, this might seem like a good thing as one would think they would not have as far to go to get into the boat. But the reality is that a swamped kayak settled low in the water is very unstable and can be frustratingly difficult to maintain upright. This is perhaps one reason why sit-on-tops have gained so much in popularity in recent years.
Using a paddle float with a pair of rescue straps is a great way to reenter and self-rescue a large cockpit, recreational, sit-inside kayak. Not only will the outrigger technique stabilize the craft, but it will allow the cockpit to remain relatively level while bailing out all that water. Bailing wide, large cockpit boats is normally done with a hand pump, a hand bailer, or a small bucket.
Hand bailers can move allot of water quickly. Consider experimenting with different bailing devices and use whatever works best. It’s always a good idea to keep multiple bailing devices on board, and remember, leash them to the boat! They won’t work if they’ve floated away.
For reentering a narrow touring kayak such as a sea kayak, paddle floats, rescue straps, and rescue stirrups can all be extremely useful. As mentioned, paddle floats are standard safety equipment for sea kayaks (also known as touring kayaks). While most sea kayak purists advocate mastering at least one roll recovery technique (think Eskimo roll), the fact is that most people who own sea kayaks are not able to execute a reliable roll. In my opinion, all owners of touring style kayaks should seriously consider having reentry devices on board. At a minimum, a paddle float and a pair of rescue straps. Even with a reliable roll down, exiting the cockpit is always a possibility. And, this is especially true for kayak-sailing where it’s the norm to exit the cockpit in the event of a capsize.
Most reputable sea-kayak tour operators require that self-rescue reentry devices be carried on board their kayaks, and we would all be wise to do the same.
So, whether you are an accomplished kayaker or a novice, have a performance high-end boat or a Walmart special, being able to reenter your boat from the water is paramount for safety. We should all know the best reentry technique for our specific craft, practice it often, in a variety of conditions, and use any reentry tools necessary to get the job done quickly.
I hope this post proves to be informative. Please feel free to leave a comment.