Cowboy self rescue

Does anyone know if a soft chine boat makes a cowboy (self) rescue impossible?

I haven’t tried it yet but I don’t want to wear myself out if it is (indeed) impossible.

Will soft chines prevent a ladder self rescue?

Not impossible
I’ve done “cowboy” re-entries on my Avocet.

Chine shape is just one of many factors affecting stability.

No problem
It’s my first preference if I take a swim with my Nordkapp LV.

Not at all
Re the cowboy, I find it is mostly the height of the deck versus the height of me, and how far back I have to go to sink the stern enough to get over it. Since I am on the light side compared to most guys, I have to go to skinnier part of the boat and start from a more precarious position sternward. But the chines have no impact - it’s the deck I care about.

As to the ladder, granted a less roly-poly boat may be easier for the rescuer to keep steady especially if both boats have a pretty slick surface. But if you are going to rescue someone you just have to deal with it.

There are factors that matter more than chine profile. I find it easiest with my highest volume boat which also has the roomiest cockpit. It’s (Aquanaut)chine profile falls between my other boats (Romany & Nordkapp LV).

Not at all…
as Celia said, it’s the height of the deck that throws most people. As long as you can float ON the waters’ surface (not remain perpendicular to it) and kick with your feet, it’s not hard to get onto the rear deck enough so your belly-button is 1/2 way across the boat (so you’re balanced). Then you can rotate on the deck, stay low to keep a low center of gravity, and re-enter the cockpit.

and be ready for sculling brace
depending on the person, boat/cockpit and sea conditions transitioning to sitting and getting legs in can be the crux. Practicing being ready to scull for support on one side can help a lot with this part. I tend to slightly edge boat toward my better sculling side to avoid surprises.

not even more difficult
I wouldn’t be able to even claim that a soft chine makes it more difficult. I own several soft chine and hard chine sea kayaks. Either chine style can span the stability spectrum.

Forget the cowboy
The cowboy is fine for practicing balance and playing, getting to know your boat. It is extrememly rare for it to be used in the wild in conditions. Re-enter and roll should be your backup should you exit the boat. Otherwise, use any effective assisted rescue with your partner. If alone and in conditions you were not confident in and wet exit, you already made a major judgement error. Don’t compound it by expending energy on the cowboy. If not a roll, learn the heel hook to get in the cockpit while on your side and skull back up.

You might…
…pick up the most recent Gordon Brown DVD (volume 2). Besides being full of lots of travel stuff, it’s interspersed with various rescues and balance drills. And I bet you can order it right here at PNet. Hey, that’s where I got my copy.

Brown has kinda a bear-like build but he hops and twists all over his kayak like a little kid at play… great stuff.

But back to the cowboy scramble… your best bet is to work on developing a highly reliable roll so you can stay in your boat. It’s way easier than the scramble (which I do practice).

I slightly disagree
Some say rolling is fine for practicing balance and playing, getting to know your boat… and not much more :wink:

I rather use cowboy than wait for help to arrive. The most difficult part is dealing with the spraydeck. Balancing is relatively easy and once you are seated there is less water in the cockpit compared to re-entry and roll or sculling without the spraydeck fastened.

In general it’s bad judgement to completely dismiss one technique that is generally known as functional. One method works for you, another method works for me and a third method works for someone else. You really don’t know before you try them all.

We were out on a training a few years back and one of the paddlers in the class had to get back into his boat. Based on what we had already seen with him scooting between rocks, we figured he was a fairly well experienced paddler. But it turned out that he was just a terribly talented new paddler - in fact his first sea kayak was the one he was renting and bought used at the end of the symposium the day after this session.

So, due solely to lack of time, he hadn’t learned a roll yet. But he got back into his boat just fine without it. On day 1 of the symposium he had seen and done a couple of cowboys for the first time. This was day 3 and he just quickly popped right up onto the back of and into his boat. He was a professional musician to boot - good athleticism but hardly formally trained.


impossible if you don’t try.

not too hard to do in 30 sec
and in fact it seems to get easier if you do get that fast. The key is to experiment with your particular boat to find the sweet spot to hop on the back deck. It can be unique to a person/boat combo. I generally go over the rear hatch such that I can just reach the back of the cockpit with my hand. With practice it’s one lunge to get belly over deck, turn and pull self forward by pulling on rear of cockpit. As I get ready to drop my butt I will also get paddle ready for sculling support if in rough water. I prefer this over a re-enter and roll when rock gardening and in the surf zone if my roll fails (I’m still not great at rolling after being tossed a lot or pearling). I prefer because I can get more water out of the boat and if fast enough I’m paddling away from the danger zone before the next wave hits. I generally will only try once then do a re-enter and roll if that fails so I don’t waste too much time or energy.

Roger Schumann article
Roger Schumann (the guy in the 30 second video) wrote an article on how to do a Cowboy Scramble that was published in California Kayaker Magazine. Can be read online at

Bear hug the stern and spin
Your boat is upside down. That is OK. Smile and relax. We can fix this. Hopefully you have dresses to swim. If you are wearing a hoodie in cold water, then maybe you will be dead becuase a wet hoodie is too heavy.

So if your boat is upsdide down. That is OK. Hold your paddle and go to the back of the boat. Bear hug the back of the boat and push down to empty the water out. Now spin the boat until your old faithful boat is right side up with water drained out. Now slowly slide up as you use your feet as outriggers.

With a narrow boat such as t-bolt or mohican ski, this might not work. When you wet exit. Hold your paddle. Flpi the boat right side up. Lay perpemdicular across back deck and paddle to shore or at least get up out of the water to rest and develop a plan. Maybe you can whistle for help. And least you have time to put on paddle float. My t-bolt has rear bulkhead. EFT has front and back with small out of way thigh braces.

My problem
… has always been that I got hung up on my life jacket somehow.

Too-bulky PFDs
I have that same issue. Most PFDs are too thick in front if they’re not too long. If they’re not too thick, then they’re too long. The makers have to get minimum buoyancy somehow, but there’s a huge gap between youth PFD buoyancy and the smallest adult PFD buoyancies. There needs to be a proliferation of in-between models that address this problem for small adults and big kids. (I hope to try on a Kokatat XS Aries one of these days.)

When wearing no PFD, cowboy reentry is easy. Better yet is to wear a wetsuit instead of a drysuit, and no PFD. The smoother the clothing lines, the better. Ironic to think that a PFD can actually constitute a safety hazard, but if it creates an obstacle to quick re-entry that’s what it is. The PFD does make doing a re-enter and roll from the side easier (yet much harder if you do it from underneath the capsized kayak, with reverse somersault).

For Me
Re-enter and roll is easier than that cowboy thing. Different strokes for different folks.