Another women's pfd question

I have a Stohlquist M Ocean pfd (women’s model)and love the fit -however I’m finding it difficult to climb back on my kayak for a paddle float re-entry with the bulk of the life jacket. Anyone have any suggestions for a women’s pfd with less bulk in the front area to make the re-entry process easier?

Thanks - J Urban

Kokatat Sea O2
Sea Kayaker Magazine just reviewed it. Their review is quite favorable over all and by their review it has a significantly slimer profile (over all circumfirence and front thinness).

Having instructed several hundred women concerning self rescue techniques I find that both the PFD and the height of the rear deck of kayaks to be major impediments that need the attention of the industry for women’s safety.

Consider giving ths PFD and any other that reduces girth and also look into kayaks with lower and flater rear decks. These make such a difference. Of course wet reentry and roll up with paddle float is still a great option once a person gets over the fear of putting one’s head under water temporarily, and one does not need to know how to roll to do it!

Consider Stirrups, Wet Re-Entry?
I know stirrups are controversial because of the risk of entanglement, but before you spend money on a new PFD with maybe less floatation you may want to try a paddle float re-entry using a stirrup to see if it helps. It is a common problem for women, and going to another PFD may not entirely solve it (remember, you need to be able to do this when yuou are tired).

You can test out the theory with an 8 or 10 foot length of strap from any sewing or crafts store - see if it helps. If it does, even a fancy stirrup frolm North Water or wherever is a lot cheaper than a new PFD.

Also - this is often easier for women than men because of flexibility - what about doing a wet re-entry and roll-up with the paddle float on the end of your paddle? This just involves attaching the float as you normally would, then getting back into the cockpit upside down and rolling up with the float on the end of the paddle. Less fuss than messing with the stirrups and the same st-up time.

By the way, this is also a lot easier if you have a foam float rather than one that has to be blown up.

We had to give up and I made a stirup. just a thin nylon line which loops over the coaming with a six inch piece of PVC for the step. Works great and stores with the paddle float wedged in beside the seat bracket.


In rough water stirrups not so great
By all means have as many ways that work as possible including stirrup, I use one as an alternative for these situations too!

That said, in rough water and bigger waves any recovery using a paddle float takes longer and is subject to waves capsizing the boat when outrigger is flipped up and over.

Thus the reasoning for hauling out the check book for thinner pfd and considering how much time you go in rough conditions to make sure your margin of safety is enough for your purposes.

By all means go the whole way and learn brace strokes, a roll, and management of conditions.

Consider another re-entry
Of course getting a thinner profile PFD is a benefit for more reasons than just re-entry. But if that is solely the reason, consider learning a new method or re-entry.

I was taught by the folks up at Maine Island Kayak a “leg in” method that works for lots of folks but particularly woman with lots on up front or people with lower upper body strength.

Here is how it is done:

Have rescuer hold your boat in typical fashion facing your cockpit and holding the boat firmly level. With your hands on the back deck of your kayak, allow your feet to float up to the surface of the water, with your leg farthest from the boat, place it inside the boat hooking your foot under the coaming edge. Use your leg to lever yourself up on the back deck. You already have one leg in the boat, slip the other in too. Now that you are in the boat with your tummy on the back deck, simply roll over without lifting your butt up in the air (rolling with your weight toward the rescuer).

This rescue is a good one to practice as it can be done on someone with a bad shoulder as it requires no use of the arms if necessary. It is quicker if the victim can use them though.

This is my preferred re-entry and can be done quickly and efficiently in big seas.

One additional note, some rescuers like to “present” the boat to you when they see you going in with your leg, suggest that they hold the boat level as in other rescues as this is easier for them to hold in position and it also means less water in the boat.


Yes use this too
Yes, another good one to have in your bag of tricks. We have to come up with everything possible as industry is changing but s l o w l y!

Still, there is a need to know stuff that does not depend on assisting from others. I train there too and they would be first ones to reinforce we must be self sufficient for all conditions we find ourselves in.

Thanks for the suggestions!
Thank you for your suggestions - I was pretty discouraged (and exhausted) after trying the basic paddle float re-entry several times. I’m glad to know that this is a common problem and there are alternatives. I’ll be playing with them to see which works best for me - and to have a couple of options available.

I’d like to learn the re-entry roll, but have been discouraged by local instructors “You might as well learn to roll” “You have to put your skirt on while upside down before you do it” (???). One person, who I would consider an expert, mentioned it last year as a good way for me to get back in my boat (I think he forsaw the potential problem). Unfortunately he isn’t around here, but I could get him to give the local people instructions. I guess my big question for the re-entry roll is do I have to get my skirt back in place, or is it something that is done quickly and then get the water pumped out?

Thanks in advance for your help - I’ve been a ‘lurker’ for several years and have picked up lots of great info.

J Urban

Stohlquist Betsea
I had the same problem as you, with a 36D upper body size - my pfd would hang up on the edge of the boat and I couldn’t get up. I purchased a Stohlquist Betsea and the problem was solved. The foam in front is tapered towards the top so there is no “shelf” and there are molded depressions on the inside for the breasts. It solved my problem beautifully.


what to do when get bad advice?
You got some very bad advice concerning the wet reentry and paddle float recovery! Just not accurate. In fact it is one if not the only reliable way to get back in one’s boat in very rough water reliably and without exhausting oneself. If using a foam float it is even possilbe to practice staying in one’s boat and recovering without exiting! NO one does not need to and usually does not put one’s spray skirt on underwater. Yes some water gets into the cockpit that needs pumped out, but that is OK. NO people who do not know about hip snaps, rotating their boat, or roll positions can in 5 minutes learn to do a wet reentry. With a little repeated practice it is simple and fluid. A real life saver I highly strongly recommend you find someone who understands this and teaches you it.


In addition to Evans’ advice
about getting a local instructor who actually knows how to do re-entries, I would suggest you get a copy of Wayne Horodowitch’s DVD or VHS called “Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures - Volumes 1 & 2”.

I believe you can order it here or directly from Wayne’s website, This way you can keep refreshing what you learned in your class.

Wayne teaches a variety of methods and subscribes to the “what works for you” theory as to which is the best.

It is possible to do a paddle float re-entry in rough water. I’ve done them in 11 foot seas and 20 knot winds. Best bet though is to not have to get out of the boat in the first place and just roll up. Second best option is to do a re-enter and roll, third is to do a re-enter and paddlefloat roll.

But you do need to be shown the proper techniques, and you need to practice, practice, practice.

BTW, did I say you need to practice them. The people I paddle with who are all pretty skilled paddlers practice at least once a month. And we look for bumpy and textured water for more realistic practice.

Climbing back on?
What exactly is happening? Are you “hanging up on the edge of the kayak” as someone below described?

If so, the PFD might not be the problem. Getting your torso over the kayak is not a climbing action, it is a quick lunge. There is no hanging up anywhere: you either are instantly horizontal across the rear deck (or cockpit) with legs straight out behind you, or you are back in the water again. Think of a gymnast whose body is flat, rigid, and horizontal as she holds herself onto 2 rings with her hands. Think of the classic (not the “girl’s” version) pushup position. After the inital split-second lunge, though, your arms are not holding you up; your torso’s weight is being supported by the rear deck (or cockpit). Therefore, you are kind of resting on top of the PFD as you pivot your legs into the cockpit.

Or are you so far over the other side of the kayak that the PFD is caught on that edge???

waterdoc you are a rare athlete

you are a rare athlete. Of the hundreds of folks who have tried paddle float in that rough a sea very very few are as good as you. Congrats! For most folks they will need as many methods as possilbe. My main reason for the post was just to guard against the novice getting the hard sell that all they need is a boat, some gear and a paddle float and they are good to go. The DVD is awesomely done. He is a very good educator.

Second on the bad advice
I love instruction and am using it heavily this season in particular BUT… any advice that you have to get your skirt back on for a wet re-entry and roll, or that you’ll scoop enough water doing to cause it to fail, or that you have to forego a very helpful technique of using the paddle float on the end of the paddle while you are getting a combat roll should be placed in the circular file. I do have a roll on my onside, most days can do a regular roll at the end of a paddle with a partially loaded boat, have managed to roll in an unplanned moment of a failed brace and most times can do a wet re-entry and roll without the float.

And yes, as far as I am concerned everyone should endeavor to get a roll, because even the journey provides wonderful skills.

But if I were in cold water, or unexpectedly messy seas, or in any way whatsoever unsure of my regular roll I’d have that paddle float on in a heartbeat. Practice is fine, but in the meantime you need to be able to get back in as quickly as possible in a real life emergency. In that case, whatever works the first time will probably be the best method.

I don’t advocate a boat, pf, and your
good to go at all. In fact, the PF should be one of your last recovery options.

I know that I can do a PF re-entry better and faster than a lot of people. But that’s only because I’ve had some quality professional instruction (Wayne Horodowich, Jennifer Kleck, Derek Hutchinson, Gregg Knight, etc). Most importantly, I get out and practice all of my recovery options at least once a month. I’ve also found that practicing them in flat water does not equate to having to use them in real life conditions.

One of the best classes I had was a guiding class put on by Wayne H. At the end of the day, when we were all wet, cold, tired, and fatigued and the wind had come up, Wayne had us pair up into teams of two. We then went to a sea wall and got as close as we could without getting smashed against the rocks. The other person was a safety person only to pull us away from the rocks if we got too close. The clapotis from the reflected waves made the water “very interesting”.

We were then told to do any kind of solo re-entry we wanted. Most of us tried several because our first ones invariabley failed. I opted for a re-entry and roll which failed twice because of the reflected waves, my fatigue, etc. I then managed to use my pf and did a re-enter and pf roll recovery.

After the class was over, Wayne told us that he did that exercise because we were all good enough paddlers that we wouldn’t capsize until the end of a day, when the wind and waves were up and we were extremely tired.

Although I successfully did a solo recovery, it was a very humbling experience.