Accessories to help get back in a kayak after swimming in deep water?

Are there any accessories to help you get back in a kayak if you get out to go swimming and are in deep water? I’ve been able to get back in, but it requires a lot of strength and coordination and is not very graceful.

Is there anything I could bring with me that I could use as a step or that I could attach to the kayak (or multiple kayaks) that would make it easier?

I also go kayaking with someone who is overweight and not able to get in by pulling himself up and some older people who also have trouble.

I’ve been trying to find something, but I don’t know what it’s called or what to look for. The kayaks we have are sit on top and we’re going in the bay.

I have found a paddle float helpful.


A few different ways/equipment used depending on the type kayak you are using and equipment you are carrying (paddle float & rescue sling). Almost any ACA Intro to Kayaking or Essentials of Kayak Touring instructor should teach you these methods based on the type kayak you have.

FYI, sea kayaks and better SOTs are easy to accomplish a deep water reentry. Most rec kayaks and cheaper SOTs can be more challenging. None are quickly accomplished.

PS - Rescue slings are very easy to make whether for a SOT or cockpit combing kayak. As boaters/kayakers, you probably have all you need already around the house.


A rescue step can be helpful on a SOT:

I have one for my Hobie but honestly I have never had to use one in earnest so I don’t know how well it would work after you are cold/tired etc. I would second the suggestion on the paddle float to make an outrigger or attach actual outriggers for your boat. There are various inflatable outriggers you can buy that just screw/bolt onto your boat and pop out for transport/storage.

EDIT: Some outriggers:

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Taking a class, watching videos, and then finding some water to practice in was very helpful to me personally. I learned a lot about my strengths, my limitations, and which techniques worked best in various boats. When I was still sea kayaking, we used to organize practice sessions with my paddling friends in warmer water where we had a chance to develop a little body memory for the season. I also took a class with an outfitter and we practiced in our chilly local water.

Paddle float, sling, and most important lessons.


You need a boat with flotation. That usually means a sit on top, or a cockpit boat with sealed bulkheads.

The normal routine involves a paddle float and a bilge pump. If you have never practiced wet exits and kayak re-entry you better stay close to shore.

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Pretty sure the OP has a boat with flotation since he/she stated I’ve been able to get back in, but it requires a lot of strength and coordination and is not very graceful.

@max3732, watch this video then give it a try. It’s much easier than the technique taught.


Some of the people in our Club have switched to the heel hook method for a self rescue using a paddle float and then a pump. It is faster and requires less upper body strength. Almost all use this method for an assisted rescue now.

Another method for those with limited upper body strength, the use of a stirrup with a paddle float often works. A simple loop of line is often enough. It takes up almost no space and costs almost nothing. I always keep one behind my seat in case someone needs it.

All rescues require repeated practice under safe conditions, starting is calm water and then in real world conditions where there is an increased possibility to have gone over.

Regarding paddle floats, be careful of the rigid ones. They might be faster and easier to use, but many people find that they do not provide the floatation needed for a successful self rescue. Pretty much all inflatable paddle floats now have two chambers for increased safety in case one fails.


Heel hook works for many really well…however, I am not one and refuse to personally use it though I teach it in classes (now without personally demonstrating). 4 out of 5 times I do a heel hook results in a ruptured blood vessel in the back of my knee. Anyone else have this happen also?

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I haven’t had ruptured blood vessels but I have taken the skin off my knees a few times doing the heel-hook. It’s disorientating sliding in face down and I find myself catching my legs on seat buckles or such. My other issue with the heel-hook and cowboy scramble is dealing with all the gear on the front of my pfd. I broke a VHF radio practising these in the past, so now I try to rearrange things before I haul myself up which just adds more time.

My self-rescue of choice is the re-enter and roll because it is quick, although you pay for that afterwards by having a lot more water to pump out. Here is one from a few days ago:


I am small and light so I can use and do prefer the rigid paddle float. It takes no time to inflate and … I can sit on it at lunch time.

A rigid paddle float works for you. However, when you need to help/rescue a larger, less water adept person, your rigid paddle float does not do the job.

And, the person you rescue may not be from the paddling group you started your paddling day with.

I thought abut this and couldn’t figure out exactly what rescue requires a paddle float to be involved when there is a 2 nd kayak present and helping. { T rescue? Scoop? Heel Hook? HOG?}

I take a ridgid one in the winter and inflatable 2 chamber one behind the seat.

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I have an inflatable paddle float, but generally don’t carry it … maybe I should put it where I can find and retrieve it … but can’t envision giving it to someone who needs rescuing when I’m already in my floating kayak ready to perform an assisted rescue. Many years ago I had an instructor (John Dawson) who related an interesting tale - a student in a practice session was to attempt a self rescue and got so excited that he was hyperventilating and couldn’t inflate his paddle float. The key to any of these techniques is to practice and practice, at least once per season.

Two other recollections from many years ago.

  1. I had a new paddle with a very wide blade. When I practiced a self rescue, the blade was too wide to stick under the rigging as I usually did. I eventually figured out what to do, but it was good that it was in a practice session, not under cold water conditions.
  2. I took a friend out to try kayaking. He was a rafter and was even wearing a dry suit. He inadvertently capsized and I did an assisted rescue. He was 6’ 4" and 240+ pounds. It was all I could do to drape myself over his kayak and keep it upright while he climbed back in. Now I’m 80 and don’t believe I would be successful under those same circumstances.

A paddle float is normally only used for self rescues.

It’s still useful to have if the unthinkable happens and the rescuer loses their grip or doesn’t have a spray skirt, swamps their boat, and both end up in the water without another person to help. It’s also not an uncommon occurrence when a person attempts a HOG rescue of a much bigger person.

True statement about paddle floats normally are for self rescue. The super light person needing to rescue a larger person, however having problems as you indicate, has a better chance of a successful assist by using the paddle/double compartment paddle float placed on the opposite side as additional support, with a rescue sling is optional if needed. We have needed to do such in several classes for smaller paddlers to help the larger swimmer reenter a kayak. As far as I know, it is not normally taught…merely necessity and creativeness with dissimilar paddlers.

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