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If you train your paddle properly you can let it off leash!
Was in a flippant mood when posted above-here is a more thoughtful post to the need and use of paddle leashes.
The beginner kayaker goes to the kayak shop and is sold a leash, paddle float, pump, deck bag, roof rack, bottle of 303 and anything else they can talk a nubee into-$$$$.
At least 95% of the new paddlers will never use those things, other than making their kayak slightly less stable by all they stuff into the deck bag. They would be far safer if they just wore the life jacket instead of fixing it under the rear bungees. They will also have paddle clearance issues from the height added by the stuffed deck bag affixed on the already too high deck of the beginner kayak.
The kayaker who decides to progress into rougher water soon buys a longer and narrower kayak, always wears their life jacket and skirt and learns to do a wet exit. They are the ones who may need the paddle float, pump, etc.
A leash is a potential entrapment hazard that is most appropriate on long solo paddles (still bring a spare paddle) or on multi-day trips. Fellow kayakers in a group will loan you one of their spare paddles if you temporarily "loose" yours while learning to hold onto it. You can slip the paddle under a bungee when you need to stop to light a cigar.
The most experienced paddlers learn to roll their kayak as their primary recovery technique and back that up with a reentry and roll technique. Paddle floats and pumps still commonly carried but not usually used as the other methods are quicker and more reliable when learned and practiced. On a group paddle in rougher water, the most common rescue is usually the "T" rescue. Rescuer empties the kayak upside down over the deck of their kayak, rights the empty kayak and hold it so the paddler can reenter their almost dry kayak.
trained to return to whistle commands, like a falcon. Sometimes I have to put its jesses on though.
When seakayaking they are very good things to have when paddling solo, or with a group especially in windy conditions, and if there are big waves where you need to keep a grip on things. It could even be a lifeline in high wind/wave conditions where your boat has a good chance to blow away from you if you should happen to come out of it.
I use the cordura nylon covered bungee type. It stays mostly out of the way. I put excess length under the skirt grab loop that I tuck under the forward deck bungee (it doesn't interfere with grab loop access to tuck it under the deck bungee, and in a situation where I needed it the paddle leash would easily pull it loose anyway. They will force more water coming through a nylon/urethane coated spray skirt though from constant rubbing across it.
I would not use one in WW because of the possibility of entanglement or structure entrapment.
Coils around the shaft to stay out of the way. Good thing
- l haven't uncoiled it in 3 years...
Later add -
Agree with below - it is for helping to hang onto a paddle doing an assisted, not a self-rescue. Learn to hang onto that paddle no matter what in a capsize. But even doing an assisted, a floating paddle can get in the way.
I use this one:
I have had too many trees try to steal my paddle...
I attach to my wrist where it stays out of my way -- nice and comfortable.
The zipper bag it comes in is actually very nice and useable.