Do All Kayaks Roll?

Just Wondering ? Are All Touring Kayaks Capable Of Rolling Or Is That A Separate Category? Which Company ? Models Work? Is It Something Worth Learning ?

The more accurate questions are: Which kayakers are capable of rolling? If so, up to what beam (width) before the kayak becomes too challenging and/or impossible for the particular kayaker?



Well all kayaks can roll 180 degrees. Those designed with a beam of 25 inches or less can roll 360 degrees if the paddler knows how to do it.
Helen Wilson demonstrated how she can roll an open canoe.

So I guess all kayaks can be rolled, but those with very large cockpits can’t be rolled without filling up with water because the spray skirts are not able to hold it back. Also any kayak, with no front bulkhead (or any bulkheads) need to be filled with flotation bags or they’d sink even if you were able to get them 360 degrees around.

But I for one believe it’s a good idea to learn how. For 1 reason it gives you a much higher level of confidence because you know you can get back up if you tip over, meaning you are in far less danger if you ever accidently capsize.
#2, in learning the rolls, you are at the same time learning how to control the paddle and the kayak as well as how to move your body so the likelihood of ever needing it is in direct opposition to your ability to do it. In other words, the better you get at rolling the less chance you’ll have of ever NEEDING to do it.
#3 It’s actually a lot of fun. I am a sinker and so I set out trying to learn from the first month I ever got a kayak. It was a long and somewhat difficult task for me, because I was unable to go anywhere or afford any instruction where I could learn under the eye of someone that knew how. Local folks who know how were too expensive for me to afford, and the ones that were offering me instruction for free or for very reasonable prices required me to drive 2000-3000 miles. Gas costing what it did, I could not afford that either. So I watched vids and did what I could to self-teach. It took me a long time
Now that I know how I have taught 9 others to do it and what’s funny to me is that 7 of the 9 were taught in a short class I did from early morning and we were all done, with them rolling easily by themselves before lunch.
So getting someone who knows how to watch and correct you is a SUPER good investment in time. Many (probably most) kayakers live is states where you can find someone to coach you. I live in Wyoming and was not able to do that, but it still didn’t stop me. But it took me 2 years to learn what I can now teach in 3-4 hours. It makes THAT much difference.

I would recommend learning in a White Water or a Sea/Touring kayak. As Helen Wilson said, all kayaks roll the same way, but some roll far easier then others. Learn how with an easier kayak and then you are doing the correct movements in one that is less easy, but at least you’ll have the understanding before you try rolling a kayak that is harder to roll.

A few tips I’ll offer you that I wish I’d have learned first.

#1 and the most important of all: get comfortable with being upside down in the water. Just tip over and “hang out” at 6:00 under your capsized kayak, and count to yourself slowly to 10. Do that a LOT. Practice that for a full hour and if you get sea-sick do it every time you get into the kayak at least a few times, so you get used to knowing subconsciously that you are NOT in any danger being under the water. 10 second and wet exit, stand up (do this in 2 feet of water) Empty the kayaks and get back in. Take the time to really get relaxed doing this 1st step.

#2. You’ll see the advice “the head come up last”. Well I’ve learned a better way to think of that principal and how to teach it. I told my “students” the head doesn’t come up at all in a roll. It goes to the deck (back or forward deck ---- depending on your flexibility and your kayak) as soon as you go under. You’ll then move the whole body to one side or the other and flex to get the head near the surface and then place the head BACK on the deck again as you lift the kayak one way of the other with a knee/thigh and give yourself support against that knee with the paddle. If the body moves correctly the paddle will too, and the kayak rights itself. You just come along for the ride. The head is ON the deck as you come up. So you don’t “lift it out last” You never lift it out at all. You just sit up AFTER the kayak is back upright.
Get someone to show you and to coach you if at all possible, but if you read and re-read this information above several times until you remember it well, you’ll find the roll is actually so easy you’ll wonder why it ever seemed hard.

Remember---- get VERY comfortable with having your head underwater so you can hum a tune and count to ten. Get REALLY comfortable because once you are the other details are super easy to remember and do because you are not hurried.

And swing you upper body from a head to deck position to a 3:00 or 9:00 position to start your paddle movement and then GO BACK to the same position you went to as you went over. Head to deck, (front or back…your choice) and press up hard with a knee — crunching your body towards the paddle blade as you replace your head to the deck.
That’s it!

It’s not a natural movement at first, so I struggled with it for a long time because I had no one to help me at all. But once I got it I was rolling like a log and was astounded at how easy it was.
Once you do it a few times you’ll find it’s easy. The kayak is designed to float best upright. You simply have to get it started and then get out of it’s way.
Underwater with a PFD on, your upper body is weightless and your lower body is floated by the kayak itself. But get the upper body 1" out of the water and it weight as much as it does on dry land. So not lifting it at all is the key. Let the kayak lift it. You rotate the kayak with a knee pressing against the side of the deck and pressing against that pressure with the paddle blade and the kayak will come up all by itself once it’s moving , if you get out of it’s way.

The body laying flat against the deck (head to deck) is how you get out of the way.


No simple answers because there are so many variables.

Definitely worth learning if you kayak whitewater or deep open water or cold water, because it gets you back upright and out of danger faster than self rescue if you get dumped out of your boat.

There are hundreds of different models of kayaks but generally the easiest to roll are fairly narrow and have low decks. Sit on tops and recreational style kayaks with large open cockpits are not suitable for rolling since there is little to keep the paddler inside the boat to leverage it up once it is upside down and it will fill with water anyway. Sea kayaks designed to carry a high volume of gear for experitions and camping can be difficult to roll due to size but that is not always true. The hull cross section (whether it has soft chines, meaning a rounded profile, or hard chines, meaning angled facets around the hull) can affect rolling ease, but there are people who prefer one or the other, so chine type is not always a clear indication of rolling efficacy.

Cockpit and seat design also are factors – high backed seats prevent the paddler from leaning back onto the deck during the roll process. There are also many types of rolling – some kayakers skilled in traditional Greenland style rolling can do a variety of rolls, some of them without even using a paddle. And Greenland paddles make rolling simpler and easier to learn than conventional large-bladed kayak paddles. The paddler also needs to fit fairly snugly fitted in the cockpit so they can brace their lower body so they don’t fall out when capsized – gravity still works underwater.

Whether an individual paddler needs to learn to roll depends on what types of waters and outings they plan to engage in and what type of boat suits those needs. Most manufacturers make a range of kayak models that are more or less easy to roll. And some paddlers build their own custom kayaks intentionally to be very easy to roll. In most cases, a kayak that is easiest to roll is also going to be longer and narrower and feel a bit unstable to a beginning paddler, so that is something to which the kayaker will need to become adjusted.

If you have an opportunity to take a skills class that teaches rolling where the instruction provides boats for you, that would be one way to get the feel for what it’s like and how the features of a boat contribute to the process.

Assuming ”skin” is a typo for “sink,” this isn’t the case. I’ve rolled my skin-on-frame kayak many times without float bags and it does not have bulkheads. Of course I was wearing either a tuilik or a sprayskirt. It does not sink!

I’ll go back and change that.

Yes, touring kayaks should be rollable. Yes, IMO, it’s worth learning. It’s fun! It helps a lot to have a kayak that fits close to your body to roll it and it helps a lot to have lessons, or to have someone who can assist you learning. And it’s easier if you use a Greenland paddle.


About any kayak is rollable, even if it is not suitable for rolling. Here is an old video of me, rolling a Pungo 140. It is rollable in a controlled environment, like a pool session. But it is not practical or realistic to roll one, if flipped unexpectedly.


Rolling is a skill, not a boat feature. But, yes, most “touring” kayaks will enable a kayaker to learn how to roll it back upright.

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Same pilot, same river, same videographer. Different boats. I still have the Aleut. It needs werk.
Peace J


Many sit on tops with thigh braces or seatbelts can be rolled by experienced paddlers. It all depends on the design and dimensions of the boat.


Using knee straps, I once rolled an Ocean Kayak Prowler 15 fishing kayak at 29" wide, just to see if it could be done… :slightly_smiling_face: My back wasn’t happy about it, though.


“Rastacuta” — love the name!

Just as a side note with humor.
To answer the original question “do all kayaks roll”?

My dad and my Uncle were both WW2 vets from the Navy and were engaged against the Japanese many time in that war. They told me something I still remember.
All US Navy ship can act as mine sweepers…Once"

So yes, all kayaks can roll.

It’s just that you may not want to----- in some of them.

may not want to HAVE to ROLL the Aleut for “damn” sure. That video only has the clean? take. I used bilge pump thwartships to brace my knee/thi on finally. I tried knees on the deck sides
first, came right out. I rolled a lot and always wanted to try to get one in that tub.

Peace J


I am sure there is someone out there that can roll almost anything. I also know that it isn’t me.

I just feel like rolling is unnatural for me. I paddle a surfski in big water so I don’t have to roll. In flat water I don’t expect to be under the boat, it is supposed to be under me.


ASSUMING the paddler knows how to roll - Sing’s point is the starting one - kayaks that are designed to be taken into difficult conditions are generally better designed for rolling. For the simple reason that challenging conditions are more likely to cause a capsize hence the need to roll. The point of a roll is that it is the fastest way to get out of the water should you capsize.

So whitewater kayaks and serious sea kayaks - not always the ones they call “touring” - tend to be be designed in a way that makes them easier rollers. Recreational boats, for example Pungos, are not remotely designed or friendly for rolling.

There is someone somewhere who can roll the most impossible boats. Like the Pungo above. That does not mean these boats are appropriate for paddling in more serious conditions. Just that some people have gotten really, really good at rolling.


I Have Only Had Some Basic Paddling Instruction So Next Year I Will See Where I can Find Instruction. I was A Scuba Diver At One Time So Being In Water Submerged And Upside Down Is Not New To Me.
The Canoe Roll Was Great, Thanks For Excellent Advice. :grin:

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HAHA Good Point !

Sit On Top Not Being Considered But A Seat belt. I Don’t See That Some How As A Good Idea . Gets Rusted And Won’t Release At Wrong Time.