Avoiding separation from kayak

I’m completely new to kayaking and will be taking a course in a few weeks. I have all of the safety equipment, as well as kayak (15’ Wilderness Systems Cape Horn).

One question I have is in regards to avoiding separation from the kayak in the event of a capsize and wet exit. Do you hold on to the paddle, which keeps you attached to the kayak by the paddle leash (is it strong enough for that?), or do you tether yourself to the kayak with a length of rope between it and your PFD? My concern with that would be entanglement and getting stuck underwater.

So, what is the proper, safe way to avoid separation from the kayak?


Your Concerns Regarding

– Last Updated: Aug-03-10 8:20 PM EST –

being entangaled by lines attached to your boat are spot on.

Many paddlers, including flat water paddlers like myself, have an extremely sharp rescue knife attached to their PFD's to prevent potential entanglement.

Don't know your boat, and many kayaks have perimeter rescue lines to hold onto after a wet exit.

IMO carrying a spare paddle, attached to the boat, is a good thing.

Suggest you get some professional instruction: ACA or BCU are two routes that many paddlers take.


Hold onto paddle and boat
This is a good thing to be concerned about. Losing your paddle and/or your boat can be very, very bad, particularly in wind.

One of the most important reasons to practice wet exits is to train yourself to hold onto your paddle and your boat NO MATTER WHAT. The reason for a spare paddle on the deck of your boat is in case you lose your paddle. When you wet exit, grab your boat even before you come to the surface.

Leashes can get tangled around you, so I recommend against them in most instances. An exception is a boat leash for surf skis.

Never tie yourself to a boat
What you do depends on the situation. I have never seen a whitewater kayaker use a paddle leash. Ocean kayakers sometimes do.

It is certainly desirable to develop the habit of holding on to the paddle, unless it has become jammed in a rock crevice, or entangled in something. Most ocean going kayaks have bungees or other deck rigging that you can quickly stash your paddle in when you come up to the surface.

In open water conditions, there is little risk of entrapment or getting yourself caught between the swamped boat and a rock. There is some risk in windy conditions of the boat getting blown away from you faster than you can swim after it, especially if you are trying to swim with a paddle in hand. In these conditions, some kayakers will attempt to keep a leg hooked in the boat to remain in contact with it.

On the river, in moving water, there is often a risk of entrapment and you want to get your body free of the boat as quickly as possible and move to the upstream end of the boat to avoid getting caught between it and river obstacles. Under these conditions, never hook your leg into the boat. Hold onto it if you can at the upstream end by a grab loop, toggle, or deck rigging. Try to swim or push the boat into the calm water of an eddy if possible, but if the boat is dragging you into an extreme hazard, by all means let go of it.

No leash
For most newbies who will be paddling with others anyway, the leash is not important.

Learn to paddle the boat, get some floatation, and practice rescue/recovery skills.


My criteria, (for me)
No paddle leash. I don’t want entanglement.

Grab the boat first and then the paddle. If the conditions are bad and the paddle gets away, I always have a spare on my rear deck.

That boat is my ticket for a safe trip home.

Jack L

Never let go!
You’re right to be thinking about what would happen if you were separated from your boat, and how to avoid it. As a beginner, the important thing is to not put yourself in a position where that’s possible. Paddle with friends, and only in calm weather.

I don’t personally use a paddle leash. In benign conditions it’s annoying to have it flapping around all day, and in really rough conditions I don’t want it getting tangled around me in a capsize, and making me blow my roll.

When wet exiting, you should not drop your paddle. You can pull your skirt with a paddle in your hand, no problem. When you come out of your kayak, keep a hand on the coaming, and if possible leave a leg hooked in the cockpit when your head comes to the surface. That way you have both hands free to inflate a paddle float, etc.

Good stuff to practice. And ask instructors about.

Once you’ve developed some skills and experience to make paddling in rougher conditions an option, then you’ll want to equip yourself to deal with a disaster such as boat loss. Think about what gear you need to have on your body (not in your boat) so that all your chances for survival don’t blow away with your boat. Many paddlers carry a VHF on their PFD, a strobe on their shoulder, and an exposure bag tucked into the back of their vest. Some people attach a ditch kit with emergency food and fire-starting stuff to their waist or leg.

Another skill that can come in handy if your boat is blowing away is swimming with a paddle. Practice this sometime and you’ll find you can really cruise through the water by just lying on your chest, and paddling as though you were in a kayak. Much faster than swimming with all your gear on.

Use hands and feet

– Last Updated: Aug-04-10 1:36 AM EST –

You hang onto your paddle with your hand, and to your boat with a leg hooked into the cockpit of your boat. The leg bit will also work if the boat is upright. At worst you may also need to grab your perimeter line with one hand.

A paddle leash used to hold onto the boat means that you have a kayak bounding around at the end of a longish line - in bigger waves the thing could come at you in a bad way. If you are already close to the boat it's harder (so less embarrassing) to get a knock in the head from your own boat.

I'm not a fan of boat-to-paddle leashes. There are wrist leashes that can be useful to hang onto your paddle if you need both hands available.

Stay upwind
When you are finished with your wet exit I suggest staying up wind or up swell of your kayak. Don’t worry about getting entangled under the water, just relax and push yourself out of the cockpit, and slowly blow air through your nose to prevent water from coming in.

what a great question!
I’d suggest you must be slightly up on a beginner because the contrary fear - that we won’t be able to get out of the kayak - is much more common. But your question is much more valid.

I think celia and nate have it. Use your legs and try to hook a knee inside the cockpit. Once you have the boat hooked it doesn’t often take much effort to keep it there, UNLESS wind and waves are really strong. I prefer to work on the upwind side of my capsized boat in order to keep it from knocking into me.

great replies
better to learn & practice correct technique than rely on an unnecessary accessory.

Practice releasing your skirt w. one hand, perhaps your dominant hand to start. You can tuck your paddle under your arm - either arm.

Some expeditioners - Chris Duff & Jon Turk for example - did tether themselves to their boats… but they were solo in very big, open ocean environments. Most of us will do just fine hooking a leg or grabbing a deckline.

Once you are in the water…
keep hold of the paddle and the boat. Immediatly move to your safty line. Wrap the line around the center of your paddle. Get on your back and use the paddle to get to safty. The line should be long enough for you to get a good stroke going before it tightens on the boat. If the line runs out before you can touch bottom, just stop and pull the boat to you. Repeat until you can stand. RULE OF THUMB: Don’t paddle out any further than you are willing to swim.

Thanks for all the replies. I have no intention on moving into rougher/open sea conditions for quite some time, but I just want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. I think after I take the safety course I will spend a good deal of time practicing wet exits/re-entries in a protected harbor. I think as a beginner I may still go for a paddle leash, but only to keep from losing the paddle in the water, not to tie myself to the boat.

Ultimately I want to learn to roll before I head to the open ocean, but I’m in no rush for that.

Consider a wrist leash
Less line and still lets you have a free hand as needed. Most will wrap around the shaft unobtrusively buit deploy easily when needed.

Most important though, practice hanging onto that paddle.

safety line - no
in this context I take it to mean you are using a line (a painter) to tether your boat to you and the line-wrapped paddle - and swimming for it.

Bad idea unless it’s a last resort - e.g. you can’t get back in your boat. Even then, boosting yourself on the overturned boat and signalling for help (there are myriad ways depending what waters you paddle) can be a better option, depending on the distance to shore, the temperature of the water, etc.

Swimming in the waves that probably caused the capsize in the first place means you are in proximity to your boat, a heavy object that can rocket on a wave and injure a paddler, or knock them out. Read a few chapters from “SeaKayaker: Deep Trouble” by George Gronseth and Matt Broze for examples of people whose probable cause of death was just that.

Swimming a boat in is much slower and a much poorer use of energy reserves than getting back in the boat.

If you are in cold water you will tire even faster and your vital organs will chill faster. You need to get OUT of the water ASAP and get underway.

Learning how to swim w. a paddle is worth doing if the shoreline is near. Prioritize your life over the boat.

As for the paddle, if you are swimming the boat in, why not just secure it in the decklines?

The best option, besides your overall good judgement, is not a safety line but a safe, solid rescue, solo or assisted.

in flat water
you’ll not need a paddle leash of any sort.

It’s very natural as a beginner to take it slow and learn on flat water. I did, as did many others. I practice new skills on flat water. It’s no badge of shame. We all start from there. We all keep learning.

On flat water, if you drop your paddle, it either lands with a plop next to your boat, or you use your two hands to paddle your boat to it. No sarcasm intended.

Or you can carry a spare on the foredeck and use that to retrieve your paddle.

Or you paddle w. others - who either can get your paddle for you or loan you their spare - generally a good way for beginners to achieve a comfort level. And learn about boats, gear and technique, too.

Kudos to you for wanting to take a rescues class, learn to wet exit and do rescues. Your head is in the right place :smiley:

On the paddle leash band wagon
I have one stowed away and really only have used it when i’m taking pictures in calm conditions or am eating lunch while on the water etc. . I always have my spare paddle within reach just in case though. The whole getting tangled thing freaks me out a bit too.

Don’t delay learning to roll. It takes a bit of learning, usually 1-3 lessons, but it is not hard and does not require much athleticism. Too many kayakers neglect to learn this critical skill, for no good reason. I’ve seen male and female rollers, 80 to 300+ lbs, klutzes to superathletes, 10 to 70+ years old. Some have almost no other kayaking skills. It’s just not that big a deal to learn the best way to be safe.

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I have one
but never leashed to my paddle. When I take pix, eat lunch, etc. on the water, I just stow the paddle in my deck lines w. the blade closest to me under a bungee.

I’ve used my paddle leash a handful of times in four years - mainly to tie up the boat when it can’t be beached out of the water (rivers and calm inland lakes) or to use as a painter when lining the boat in shallow rivers.

Don’t count on 1-3 lessons

– Last Updated: Aug-06-10 10:58 AM EST –

I just have to insert this for the sake of those like me who may take a much longer time to get a roll - way more than 1-3 lessons. This is because I've seen people who had heard this kind of number, and gave up completely on learning to roll just because they didn't get it in a few lessons. There can be a lot of things that come into play once you are upside down under a boat, and until you actually do it there's no sure way to figure out how it'll go for you.

Also, a lot of folks (including myself) who recommend to go for a roll early on are people who themselves didn't go for it until they'd been paddling a bit. So some of the basic familiarity with how the paddle feels in the water as it takes a bite was further along than it would be for someone who just started paddling. I still agree with the start early idea, but the learning can be different for new paddlers/new rollers than for old paddlers/new rollers.

Bottom line is that if you stay the course and keep working at it, you WILL get a roll. I'd just suggest you not add a timer to your goals - when you get it you get it, and if it takes a while you'll learn other good things along the way.