What Happens if My Kayak Flips Over?

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Questions such as “What Happens if My Kayak Flips Over” and “What next?” are topics that are in the back of every kayaker’s mind. some take action and practice these technique and some don’t.

For those who want a quick answer, preparation is key. You want to practice these techniques in real-world conditions. This way you will be ready to take action on what to do when you flip out of your kayak.

1st. Make sure that you are wearing a US Coast Guard, Transport Canada (or other Governing body) approved life vest.

2nd. Remain calm and do not panic. Calmly get yourself positioned and right your kayak back up. Even better if you have a friend to help you with this.

3rd. Haul yourself into the kayak. Once it is stable, prepare for re-entry.

So I hear you ask, Okay, that’s nice and all but how do I actually do this? Below I will reveal these techniques with the help of video. These are for both Sit On Top and Sit Inside Kayaks. Read on fellow paddlers!

Know Your Conditions

Derek Kayaking Nanaimo
Derek Kayaking Nanaimo

The simplest way to avoid having your kayak capsize is knowing when you are out of your element. The kind of conditions correlates to your skill level and the type of vessel you are paddling.

To give you a real-life example. I was paddling outside a bay near Nanaimo B.C. I was paddling a tidal zone of a bay in a recreational kayak. Driven by my curiosity to find wildlife such as seals along the woodpiles I paddled further out. As I got out I started having a bit of an uneasy feeling as it was getting choppy leaving the tidal bay zone. If you get this same uneasy feeling it’s time to paddle back to safety, no matter how large your curiosity is.

As a rule of thumb stick to the conditions that best suit your kayak.

Bring the Right Accessories

This first most obvious one is having a governing body approved PFD or life vest on you at all times. Not laying on the deck of the kayak but actually on you. There are actually a lot of comfortable picks specifically made for kayakers.

Other accessories to have include:

  • A whistle
  • wet-suit
  • dry suit for colder water conditions.

If you are by yourself then it is recommended to have a paddle float and a bilge pump handy if you own a Sit Inside Kayak.

Sit On Top Kayak Recovery

Sit On Top kayaks are on a whole a lot easier to climb back into because they are built to be stable on the water. You also don’t have to worry about water getting into them. Below is a video by Paddling.com that shows you exactly what to do to recover a sit on top kayak flipping over.

Step One: Flipping the Kayak Back Over

Stay calm and get yourself focused. If the kayak has flipped over then right it back up. This is easier when you have a paddling friend with you that can help you with this. If you are not with a friend then right it by pushing down on one side and pulling on the other.

Step Two: Getting back on board.

With a Friend: Get a friend to stabilize the kayak by holding onto it while you are climbing back on.

By Yourself: Head towards the Bow (front of the kayak) and haul yourself up like a seal would onto the ice. Use your legs to help give you more leverage, similar to that of you kicking to get out of a swimming pool.

Next, Straddle the front of the boat with your legs and inch forward. Do this by laying the paddle across the boat and inch yourself towards the seat. Pull your feet inside, retrieve your paddle (if you haven’t already) and you are ready to go.

Side Entry:

Another way of hauling yourself onto the kayak is by entering the side. For some people, this may be the easier option as long as you have a good hold on the kayak. This is especially useful if you have a kayak that is built for stability like a SOT fishing kayak.

Haul yourself onto the kayak by kicking your legs and enter the side of the boat

Haul yourself onto the boat and when comfortable and stable pull your hips onto the cockpit.

Sit Inside Kayak Recovery

Sit Inside kayak recoveries can be a bit more tricky, especially if this is the first time you are attempting it. To ensure that you are as prepared as possible. I recommend taking a kayak recovery course by a certified sea kayak instructor. There are a few techniques on how to do this. Below is what they look like.

Wet Exit

Reading words does not exactly give you the best visual picture about how to do this. So I have included a video by REI to follow along with. These techniques work best with Sea/ Touring kayaks.

Step One: Take a Deep Breath and Lean Forward

Lean yourself as far forward as possible and flip the kayak into the water. You will be underneath the water at this point

Step Two: Find the Grab Loop and Pull

At this point, you are peeling off the Kayak skirt of your kayak to allow you to exit from underneath. You push it forward and pull the skirt back. After this, you push yourself out of the kayak.

How to Get Back into a Sit Inside Kayak

The below video shows you how to get back inside your kayak by yourself (also classified as a self-rescue).

Self Rescue

Once you are swimming, set up a paddle float. A Paddle Float is essentially a floating cover that goes on one of your paddle blades.

Next you want to flip your kayak over and use the paddle as an outrigger. Do this by having the paddle float in the water while placing the other end of the paddle (the exposed blade) onto the back of the cockpit. Grab the combing of the cockpit as something to hold onto.

Use this as leverage while you haul yourself up. Use the kicking motion or wrapping your leg around the paddle to allow you to climb onto the rear deck. Once onto the kayak, spin your legs into the cockpit and slide in. adjust yourself until you are comfortable. For stability lean onto the paddle so that you don’t repeat that trip to the drink!

Finally, take off your paddle float, place it on the deck lining, and use your bilge pump to get water out of the boat. Once this is done you can put the kayak skirt back on and you are ready to go!

For more advanced techniques check out our how to roll a kayak post.

With a Friend (The T Rescue)

This is a more recommended and safer route to go with trying out sit on top kayak rescue techniques. A Video can be seen here done by REI.

To explain. Head to the stern of the boat while rescuer is perpendicular to the boat (Forms a T)

  1. The Person in the water pushes down on the stern. This allows the other side to go up which allows the Rescuer to place it on their stern.
  2. Right the capsized kayak
  3. The rescuer will hold the kayak in place while leaning to the side stabilizing both boats
  4. The rescuee holds onto the rear combing and climbs back onto the boat,
  5. then stay low and keep their weight balanced between both kayaks. Swivel to get your legs back into the cockpit. Once Rescuee is back in the boat you can pump out the remaining water in the kayak

Final Thoughts

Flipping your kayak into the water is not as big of a deal as it seems, especially if you have put in the practice.

  1. Be ready: Have all the accessories needed with you. Practice in a real-life environment with supervision.
  2. Practice the different techniques that apply to you over and over. Find out which is best for you and your kayak going forward.
  3. Stay Calm and stick with it. Remember if you have practiced it lots of times before it becomes a piece of kayak… Oops I meant cake!

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