Capsized rental kayak 3x in 4

I want to buy and become an active kayaker with my wife, I am a complete novice (although a bit more experience with a canoe but still recreationally via short trip rentals). We rented kayaks from a local recreational outfitter for a 4 mile slow moving, shallow river outing. The rental kayaks were some kind of sit in Old Town Loon (no bulkheads or dry storage just a big open cockpit). The outfitter dropped us off 4 miles up river with the kayaks on land and drove off.

Wife and adult son had zero problems (both smaller in stature). I on the other hand (6’ 275lbs) capsized on launch, capsized again around the first bend after second launch, and a third time near the end of the 4 miles. There were several other near capsize moments navigating submerged trees and other obstacles in between.

I felt unstable throughout, Certainly the inauspicious start made me embarrassed and tense which surely contributed to the second capsize and the general unease. I settled in a bit but frankly never felt comfortable or relaxed. I was dejected and wondered whether I am incapable of kayaking as a more active hobby (we now live on a tidal river and near marshes and bays to the Atlantic Ocean in Southern New Jersey) because of my inability to remain balanced and or my size.

I had assumed that a recreational kayak from a rental organization that services every conceivable skill set (presumably mostly complete novices) that the kayaks provided would be very stable and as compared to the others in my party who had no difficulties and are also novices that my problem must lie between the seat and the paddle (me)).

My wife is convinced that the issue is not some kind of innate inability to balance myself but rather the equipment. Is my assumption about this rental Loon kayak being wildly stable for the average novice wrong? Perhaps my weight renders this kayak more unstable for me? Or is it possible that I’m just a terrible kayaker that would require significantly more training/instruction/practice/sense of balance?

Embarrassment aside, my visions of paddling the wider, deeper, tidal sections of.our nearby river in a newly purchased kayak were dashed as I envisioned a constant state of peril and capsizing in deep water without a bank as conveniently near by (and me a weak swimmer floating in my pfd).

Should I hang up my paddle before I buy one?
Is the rental equipment the problem and with the right kayak for my weight I won’t experience the unsteadiness?
Do I need more practice and instruction and the equipment isn’t the issue?
Is it possible my balance is the problem (every beginner kayak guide seems to suggest how very rare it is to capsize in calm slow moving water)?

Thoughts? Advice? Next steps?

Although the boat may have been small for your size, you definitely need a lesson to correct the cause. It should be near impossible to capsized a Loon if you keep your head and shoulders inside the cockpit area.

There’s an exercise I’ve done with people their first time out in a kayak. Most of the time these people have been quite nervous about tipping over and are therefore very rigid, leading to the boat feeling tippy/twitchy to them (even if it really isn’t). I get them in the boat in about a foot or two of water at the beach. Then, while I grab onto the kayak’s perimeter lines I tell them to slowly edge/lean over to one side. More often than not, they’ll get a small amount and think the boat is going over (when it isn’t even close) then lean farther to support themselves - a natural reaction that needs to be un-learned for kayaking. [There was a great post recently describing this… I think from @CapeFear , who can perhaps link to it when he sees this.] I keep going through the exercise, reassuring the person that I have the boat supported - even to the point of getting them to TRY to tip the boat and showing them that they can’t while I hold it. Eventually they learn that the boat will edge quite far before it actually tips, as long as they keep their body centered. Throughout the process I hold the boat less and less. Often they ask “are you still holding the boat?” because they think it should be tipping over. I’ve found it to be a huge confidence builder. Some take longer than others, but even those that don’t really catch on are still more comfortable and loose when the boat is sitting level than when we started.

I’ll second the advice of taking some introductory lessons. With a quality instructor it’s money well spent. Do it solo or make it a family experience.

The smallest Loon lists a maximum weigh capacity of 275 pounds so once you are dressed and wearing a PFD and carrying a heavy rental paddle you may well have been overloaded which may have made the boat unstable. After your first tip you probably had some water in the boat too and water is heavy. You’re a big guy and said you were tense and big dramatic movements to dodge trees don’t help. One thing you could do is look for a place that sells recreational kayaks where there are more models available to test paddle and hopefully people that can advise you on which boats will work best for you. A paddle shop should also be able to guide you to a place where you and your family can take lessons (or at least one lesson). Practice on protected water like a small lake if you can before spending all your time in moving water. There may also be people on this site that are willing to go paddle with you and give you some pointers. Good for you for reading and studying…there’s lots of good stuff on YouTube and the Internet and I’d encourage you to put top priority on safety since the water is always more dangerous than you might think…like make sure you ALWAYS wear a PFD and make sure yours has enough buoyancy to float you comfortably. You may want to bring extra buoyancy aids like flotation cushions or a CO2 powered inflatable emergency cushion. Make sure your boat has enough flotation that you don’t get yourself exhausted trying to pull a swamped boat to shore. If you hit a tree and dump ignore your boat and get yourself to shore. Always tune in to weather forecasts and don’t paddle if the weather may turn bad. Learn more about your tides and when they may present dangers. You may want to take swimming lessons or spend more time swimming to build your confidence since you are a big guy and could be hard for someone else to rescue.

Boats that are too small for the paddler are unstable
Rent a larger boat
Kayaks are not one size fits all

You absolutely will find it easier to capsize a Loon at your height and weight than your wife, unless she is a very unusually tall person. Rental outfits use boats like the Loon because they are inexpensive and easy to handle for most people. It is a mistake to assume that a rental outfit for a river float will have boats tailored well to people at the end of the spectrum. That’s not what they are about, just getting a few bucks to get someone on the water. This outfit may not have boats well suited for you.

And after the first capsize you were probably stiff and tense. At your size in a 10 ft rec boat, that alone is enough to take it over.

If you plan to be serious about kayaking, you need to find a place that does instruction and has a proper fleet of boats. I can’t really tell from your post if this trip was a one up or a first attempt to explore kayaking at a more serious level.

Maybe you need to get a lesson, in a lake and get used to the boat first then try rivers with trees and other things.

You have come to the right place. You will find solid advice on your post. I would also encourage you to spend a couple of hours digging into this forum. There are a ton of posts worth reading. There is no substitute for actual in the seat practice but reading this forum and watching YouTube videos is a cheap means of becoming familiar with this whole arena.

Jumping into any new boat as a beginner (like me) can be daunting. When your body weight, height, distribution, foot size, old injuries, etc, etc, is not within a boat’s specs the whole ball game becomes more of a challenge. I am a long legged 6’4” guy with gorilla long arms and a high center of gravity. It is taking me longer to “get comfortable”, but this is a journey that is supposed to be fun, so there is no real rush.

My advice is to find a pro trainer or a guide and pay him/her for one on one basics. Watching out for your family’s safety while trying to have a good time but being tense the whole time in moving water will almost guarantee more dips in the water. Especially in the wrong boat.

Along the way you will create a short list of boats to try out. This is a journey. Lots to learn and experience, but it’s solid fun and great exercise…

All of the above is good advice.

I’ll just add, balance is a learned skill. Think of it like learning tennis or soccer. Its tough at first but each session should yield some improvement. If you put your mind to it most people can master very skinny (and tippy) boats. Not that that’s what you want to do - sounds like you just want to be comfortable on calm rivers which is cool - just saying if you stick with it, balance will become second nature and paddling will be much more enjoyable.

Next time try to get a 138 Loon and if you can tip it over, maybe you should consider out riggers.

Outstanding advice so far. To answer a question from an earlier comment: I do intend to take the journey and become serious about the sport. Ideally with a purchase of appropriate gear for my wife and I and frequent trips. If I’m able I would very much enjoy more technical kayaking, longer trips, etc.

I have been exploring the site and will continue to do so. I am curious to view the recommended link mentioned above if anyone comes across it.

You’ve given me hope and renewed determination and I am forever grateful!

Any other thoughts, additions, emphasis is also appreciated.

Thank you all.

CB, I reread your initial post and was struck by this: “The outfitter dropped us off 4 miles up river with the kayaks on land and drove off…”

I am not sure how common this is with kayak rental outfits but as a business involved with real water safety risks would you not take better care to make sure your clients are informed, outfitted and beginning their trip down the water safely? You make it sound like the guy just drove off leaving you on the bank? I for one find that quite poor?

I trust once you start digging into this arena you will connect with better professionals and sales people if needed…

The other thing you might want to consider is just seek out a good paddling experience. Like going someplace nice with your wife/family and do a 3-4 hour guided kayak tour on the coast someplace? In proven tandem kayaks. Try to paddle with the guide in the same boat. We did this many years ago in Maine and enjoyed it immensely. A good professional tour outfit will spend about 20-30 mins going over safety, life jackets (PFD), spray skirts, posture and basic paddle strokes. This might provide a positive reset while having a good time, plus it will give you some insight into the mechanics. And you can pepper your guide with questions…

@PhotoMax said:
CB, I reread your initial post and was struck by this: “The outfitter dropped us off 4 miles up river with the kayaks on land and drove off…”

I am not sure how common this is with kayak rental outfits but as a business involved with real water safety risks would you not take better care to make sure your clients are informed, outfitted and beginning their trip down the water safely? You make it sound like the guy just drove off leaving you on the bank? I for one find that quite poor?

Quite standard for the rental outfits here in the Great Lakes and probably elsewhere. River trip rentals are unguided; the rental kayak and shuttle service are what they provide. Obviously no whitewater rivers are involved.

There’s an outfitter on Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan which regularly hauls rental SOTs to the bay and turns the renters loose. They do provide PFDs and paddles, but I’ve seen some folks carrying the PFDs instead of wearing them. Same goes for most kayak liveries on Lake Huron.

They do pay attention to water and weather conditions and do not rent if either are threatening.

Just my two cents: try a sit-on-top kayak, see if it feels more comfortable to you. Most of them are built with rock-solid stability in mind, albeit at the expense of some speed and maneuverability, which is why they’re so popular with anglers (that and the big open deck for all their gear!).

I do a a lot of lake, lagoon, and wide river kayaking and I really appreciate the trade-off. It allows me to focus on my other hobby (photography), because I would have to try extremely hard to fall off of my SOT, but it’s also streamlined enough that I can easily get a few miles away from the dock or marina, to enjoy some peace and solitude.

That stability also comes in handy when the weather kicks up. I’ve been in some serious wind and waves and never felt like I was going to capsize.

Just offering an alternative here. Sit-ins are definitely the way to go for whitewater, big surf, or serious long distance touring–where speed and maneuverability are critical–but for the kind of kayaking it sounds like you’re wanting to do, try an SOT.

And take a lesson or two!

First of all, you are near enough open water paddling (the ocean) to want to be on it at some point. So I suggest finding some training/outfitter that will focus on getting you guys safe for ocean bays as well as smaller rivers.

I just googled for that and so far am not finding a place that seems to be in southern New Jersey. But here is one that looks like it has the right stuff, if you can make a day to drive there. Or find someone closer who seems to be offering the same thing.

There is a group that may reach down your way and, when you know what you want, be a source for used boats. These guys also do skills sessions. What this often boils down to is lesser skilled paddlers joining more skilled paddlers to learn how to do self or assisted rescues. I highly recommend it for a stinking hot day. But more importantly this is stuff that can literally save your life.

Wife and adult children went back to same outfitter today, I didn’t go because of last week’s experience and fear of a repeat (capsizing) and I just couldn’t put my family through that again (I planned to go get a lesson and try different boats). HOWEVER, this week they were outfitted with Loon 106s. We’re guessing we got loon 111s or equivalent last week. My wife and family all described this kayak as being far more stable than last week’s.

Comparing specs online I see the 106 is wider and has a weight limit 50lbs more (325 vs. 275 lbs) they said there were even thigh pads (there were none last week). My family is convinced I would have had a much better experience with this kayak.

I’m considering giving it a second chance and requesting this kayak. I’ve been reading and watching YouTube videos voraciously and making every effort to follow the advice given above.

As an aside, the sea kayak group the kind user found for me above apparently began in the loft of an amazing paddle shop that has very regrettably gone out of business, once in central NJ. I had sold and supported the POS/inventory control system at that shop years ago. Small world.

Thanks again to all the advice and support.

I would like to add one comment (no, actually a few).

I have no experience with recreational kayaks. However, I do have a lot of experience with large men and capsizing in sea kayaks. I am a sea kayak instructor, and I have taught several men of your size. Also, when I started out myself, I was quite heavy, and I capsized 7 times in my beginner’s course.

My advice is:
You don’t need to learn balance (for now). But you need to learn trust in your kayak.

On flat water, while not doing technical manoeuvres which require edging, you need to do absolutely nothing to keep your balance. The kayak will do that for you.

The trouble only begins when you don’t trust that the kayak will keep the balance for you. Then you will try to help the kayak keep its balance, and as explained by others above, you will automatically end up doing the opposite, so you provoke a capsize instead of preventing one.

You just need to relax and keep your upper body approximately over the centre of the kayak. And if you feel that your upper body is off centre, don’t rush to get it back in place. You are probably still far within the limits of what the kayak can handle, but a fast effort to get yourself back may end up causing a capsize.

Another good thing to learn (and practice!) is getting support from your paddle blade. There are several ways of doing this, but something as simple as putting a flat blade on the water will give you a tremendous stabilising force, at least for some seconds. You only have to make sure that you slice it sideways out of the water if it digs. If you try to pull it out of the water, you will drag yourself down.

I second what Celia wrote about

My wife and I have been out with John Pagani who runs Kayak East and would highly recommend him to you. He’s an excellent instructor, he has good boats and I’m sure he could get you on the right track.