Auto deploy a sea anchor on capsize?

one of the worst case scenarios i can think of is where a solo kayaker capsizes in windy weather & the kayak gets blown out of reach.

i was thinking of making (buying if this exists?) a sea anchor that could be held by gravity (ie lead weights) in some recess in the bow, that would auto deploy on capsize. i dont know how to roll a kayak, i am aware those who do would not want something like this on their bow.

a good place for this would be in the cup holder, or a similar well could be drilled in.

any ideas why this might not work/ be a bad idea? thanks

Do a lot of you kayakers do this ‘out alone’ thing? Sounds like a bad idea altogether.

No disrespect to the OP, interesting idea, actually - the mechanical technology of upside-down trigger and even assisted deployment of some anchor could be quite workable - weight, bulk, cost, mechanical complexity (failure risk) are all factors. You could just have a tied anchor sitting on your deck all the time…

I think a leash is a simpler idea - if I was out alone…

I do paddle alone a fair amount of time. And getting separated from my kayak is one of my biggest fears. Years ago, I was doing a tides and currents class and we did 2-person rescue practice under the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was amazed at how fast my kayak blew away in the winds (likely 10-15 knot) and the challenge my partner had in getting it back to me.

I take 2 steps to protect myself from the fear of losing a kayak. First is to very conservative in when and where I paddle, so I have reduced chance of flipping. The separation issue is mostly due to winds, so I don’t paddle if winds are over 10 knots.

Second is to have selected gear that stays on me should I be separate from my kayak. Specifically, I carry my VHF and a PLB on my PFD, so I can call for help if I do get separated.

The self-deploying sea anchor is interesting though. You’d have to get around concerns of deploying at wrong time, yet still have it deploy when needed. And you’d want to be able to put it away after it deploys(so you don’t have to paddle back with a deployed sea anchor). And it needs to be something that wont get in the way when you self rescue, nor have any major entanglement concerns.

Perhaps leash the paddler to the deployment mechanism for the anchor - so it deploys not on flipping, but on wet exit. Perhaps use something like Velcro to attach so it deploys and then separates from the paddler.

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leashing the paddler to the kayak solves the issue of separation when if capsize when alone & far out at sea (1). but a leash would have proved fatal in the below case on the shoreline(2) :

capsized 40’ from rocky shore

which of (1) or (2) is the more probable in my case? probably (2)

The first line of defense is having a roll, and one that has been tested in some conditions, to increase the odds of staying in the boat to start with.

Sing said once some time ago that he would not go out solo when he started until he had a good roll. I agree with that instinct, really don’t think anyone should be out solo who has not at least made some progress on a roll. At the least benefit it means that the exit is likely to be calmer and better assure staying with the kayak.

This is one reason I am hard core on carrying a spare paddle. If things are really messy and you have to choose between hanging onto the paddle or the boat, you can choose the boat and still paddle home.

Yes, have the VHF or if better a cell phone in a waterproof case on you.

The issue with the self-deploying thing would be the same as for the auto-inflate vests and some of the early SPOT devices. Obviously you don’t want it deploying if you have a successful roll. So I am not sure how it would know that the boat was upside down but the paddler had exited the cockpit. If it is something you can reach, you still have hold of the boat.

I kayak alone more often than not.
Simple fact is that if I want to go out, I go alone. I don’t have anyone who wants to spend the time on the water or spend their weekends camping out of a boat.
To make it better, I’m often where there is no cell service.
I do let someone know where I am, which is general at best since I’m usually places that can’t be named and don’t know exact plans.

Work on your kayak skills instead of relaying on gimics.

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I primarily paddle solo unless I’m at a symposium or taking a class. Like Peter, I’m choosy about wind conditions, especially offshore wind speed. I do pay attention to weather and wind forecasts several hours out and always let a relative know where I’m paddling and when I get off the water.

My PLB, cell phone, and VHF are on me and I keep a paddle leash on deck in case conditions warrant its use.

There’s a lot to be said for paddling solo. You choose your own route, travel at your preferred pace, play or practice strokes when you wish, and explore to your heart’s content.

I see way more negatives than positives. A paddle lease should present fewer handling problems.

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I like this idea. It would be basically a funnel that contains a parachute with some thin wire (or like a semi-rigid silicone tube) around the perimeter such that it can collapse on itself when pulled in, or deploy automatically when not contained. A thin rope like 800lb Dyneema could go through the bottom to retract it. With a little R&D this idea is perfectly feasible. Unfortunately it will never be made because no one will invest the $ and liability to bring it to market, but its a good idea on its face.

I paddle alone 95% of the time since im an evening paddler and most seem to prefer the morning, and I like big, windy ocean which most people avoid. Paddling alone is fine if you’re prepared, knowledgeable, and accept a little risk.

That video reminds me why I love surfski. If a wave like that knocked me over, as long as the swell period is over 12 seconds, you’re back on the boat and paddling away before the next one comes in. At worst I have enough time to get my boat perpendicular to the wave and start swimming out.

Related to both the sea anchor and surfski, a friend of a friend died while doing a downwind because an open water wave broke on him, his boat leash failed (broke), became separated, and did not have enough immersion protection on to survive until rescue (even though he was with a group). A sea anchor would have helped a lot in this situation, as the boat would have probably remained within a reasonable distance. The sea anchor would be like plan J on the list of ‘things to save myself’ (after A,b,c,d,e,f,g,h, and i fail), but the longer your alphabet is when it comes to survival backup plans, the more likely your chance of survival at all…

you’re describing a drogue (or sea anchor).
Years ago, in my early days of paddling, they became somewhat popular, at least talked about in media (Sea Kayaker) more that you hear about them now. (kind of like sails and Greenland paddles, back then - a bit of an oddity, though they both did become popular)

The drogue is helpful in heavy wind & seas that have become too much for the paddler to handle. The drogue would be deployed to slow and stabilize the kayak somewhat, while the kayaker (if necessary) would call for help (plb, vhf, etc)

did a quick ‘google’, this seems to describe it well enough:

Seattle Sports “drift anchor”

I imagine a sea anchor fixed below the stern, which deploys by remote on PFD, or auto-deploys (when? how?) and which includes a flashing strobe on kayak when deployed.

I paddle alone 99.9% of the time…

I would think with the time invested in designing and testing… You could probably already have a reliable roll.

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Any boat with a cup holder isn’t a boat I’m paddling.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m in the camp of not relying on gimmicky gadgets in place of experience and skill. If those two are already covered (and they are not in this case) and you want to add some well thought-out device for better odds, great. But please don’t start there.

I’ve experimented with getting separated from the boat in higher wind conditions (with a partner to assist) and can attest that it is certainly difficult to catch a boat. I started swimming for it when it was only a few feet away and it quickly widened the gap. Seeing that I was losing the battle, I switched to “paddle swimming” and was able to just barely catch up and grab the boat.

I’ve often paddled alone in remote places. I used to rely on a VHF radio until I realized there was little chance of someone being in range of my transmission where I paddle. I then invested in a PLB, which lives in a PFD pocket and is my backup when all else has failed me.



As to paddling alone, it is that or not paddle on salt water. My husband passed away and where I go in Maine is a bay that is kind of between the easily available groups of paddlers. The good news is that is that is is also a bay, and my rental location more so, where if you understand paddling on salty stuff properly you can generally find a direction to paddle safely. Lots of islands, a river mouth, many choices.

That said, with Jim I never was on the water before breakfast and off again by 11am. I do that a lot more often now that I am paddling solo because of when the offshore breeze kicks up. Or I go out later so I am certain to be coming in on the calm at the end of the day. Jim and I used to go out into the windier stuff.

My situation is not unusual. But as I said above, doing that means I do some things I did not worry about so much when I was with Jim. In addition to choosing more conservative times and conditions, I go up there with two boats and if alone use the Romany. It is a more reliable rolling and self-rescue platform than my other faster boat. And stuff like spare paddle is not optional since I have to carry all my own safety gear.

If I don’t have a roll on at least one side in the tank when I arrive, I get it back in the first week.

That last is an area where I readily admit to not being where I should have been the last few years. I had two long term health issues to manage back to back, first Jim then blinked and was dealing with an eldercare thing. This winter will be the first one in a few where I will have the time to make a decent number of pool sessions, so I will be going for that. I fought hard for a roll on both sides. I have to gain ground back there as a matter of basic safety.

The only way a sea anchor would know that the paddler had exited was if it was somehow connected to the PFD. As someone who has a roll. there is just no safe way I can think of for that to work.

Sometimes the only solution is to get the skills commensurate with where and how you want to paddle. As above, if talking about being beyond swimming distance offshore I do not personally think it is a plan without some progress on a roll. And the other preps for where you paddle, like knowing that in Maine in June and early July you have to be ready for the fog to catch you before you can make it home. Every area has some things that you need to keep in mind so you can handle them rather than get unnerved.

Admittedly, I’ve been spoiled in this regard. When we were sailing it was always me and one of my sons, or me and my wife, and in many cases with a yacht club group. So far, my wife and I have only kayaked with groups, and when we buy boats this Spring it will still be at least the two of us.
I sympathize with your loss and understand there’s a lot of singles out there too.

When I say I didn’t expect people to kayak alone, I meant outside of calm/coastal waters. I should have said, “Kayaking alone (in ‘challenging conditions such as whitewater/rock gardening/open sea’) seems like a bad idea.” At my age, I’m much less of an adrenaline junkie than I used to be, and it’s hard to judge what is acceptable risk.


WW paddlers rarely paddle alone, a long term habit that is borne of those conditions. I know some who do, but they are terribly good and I doubt would ever go alone in anything higher than class 2 with a touch of 3. For ex the Hudson Gorge, unrelenting class 4. If anyone I know has ever gone solo there I have not heard of it.

Open water, as above, can be managed with some education and preps. It is not as safe as being out in a group. Nothing alters that. But the risks can be brought down to a rational level.

OK you have a chute that deploys out due to gravity acting on the thing from a cup/funnel. You are facing down current. You capsize, the chute deploys, the boat drifts with the wave, the chute comes to you and in your swimming moves you tangle up in the chute/rigging and/or line. The chute, wrapped around your legs, “deflates” . You are now the chute being dragged by the kayak.

OK you are launching out through the surf busting through waves. The boat goes high and the bow slams down the other side. The chute deploys. You need all the forward you can to bust through the waves, but the chute deploys and slows you down. You capsize.

OK for the thing to deploy it needs to have some weight. Dang more weight on a kayak. That is against the trend to make them lighter and easier to carry.

Maybe you shouldn’t have been out there. This can be dangerous.

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We all paddle alone. Or should think like that…the bigger the water conditions, the farther we spread apart . To the point that we may as well been alone. Groups paddling together only really work well in calm water. {false sense of security} but at least on shore, you have company.

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I would recommend having an exit strategy (pun intended).

The first instinct during a capsize is: “I am trapped. I want to get out of this trap!”. So a beginner will often fully separate himself from the kayak cockpit in order to get out of the trap.

But you really don’t have to do that in most sea kayaks. Usually, you only need to let go of one thigh brace, keep both legs in the cockpit and let your PFD bring your head over water. In this position your legs have a pretty good grip in the kayak, and - equally important - the kayak is still upside down and has a lot of resistance in the water so it is less prone to blowing away.

When you then start doing the initial steps towards a self rescue (for example a paddle float self rescue), keep the boat upside down and the legs in your cockpit until you are completely prepared (for example paddle float securely attached to paddle and inflated). Then turn the boat around and immediately do the self rescue while at all time keeping at least one hand on a deck line or the cockpit edge. (For this reason I often discourage people from going to the bow of their kayak to empty it in a self rescue. They will get more water out, but they will also increase the risk of letting go of the kayak.)

I am not saying that this technique is bulletproof. Anyone who have tried to hold on to kayak in surf will know the forces at play. But I will say that a proper wet exit is something one should train before thinking of equipment to solve the problem.

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