Elegant 30-second rescue

For me, the elegance about this rescue is the edging to help empty the kayak. Last summer I learned to edge towards the oncoming bow to get it on to my boat. Edging away to help lift and empty the kayak looks like a fine idea. That, plus having the wet-one participate in the rescue. Obviously the paddlers in this video are well practiced (and ACA L5s) so I wonder how long it would take the average paddler.

Quite sure it would take me longer than 120 seconds…but it’s something I’d like to practice. If I can’t talk anyone into getting wet using my 14-foot kayak, would it be worthwhile to practice with a paddler-less kayak?


Hi Rookie. Yeah, particularly as a smaller person it is well worth your spending time getting comfortable hauling boats over your own. You will need to rely on the other boat as an outrigger more so than a big buy who can muscle some of this.

The biggest thing I see happening in this video that impacts how well it works is the level of skill of the swimmer in re-entry. My personal experience even in planned rescue practice is that a decent of the folks you are working with will be a lot less adept at getting over and into their boat than the folks pictured here. A group doing rescue practice usually involves people who are in need of practice - it is certainly true for me at the start of each season. There will be rough edges.

When you are in that situation, I have seen at least one thing happen that I didn’t see pictured here, unless I missed it. That is the swimmer reaching over their boat to grab the perimeter line of the rescuer’s boat, to give them more boost to get into their own boat. Or going to the heel hook entry, which will help someone who is functioning kinesthetically well to get back in the cockpit faster. Not always so good with someone who is having issues focusing on what they need to do, the left foot/right foot spinning thing tends to confound them.

When you are the rescuer in either of those situation, you will find the 50 pound disadvantage you have against most of the people you are rescuing will impact your own sense of security doing it. You have to really commit your weight to the other boat, using its volume as part of your balance against the person suddenly dropping weight into your hands if they are slow at getting in. Between their being in the water and in the cockpit that balancing that weight is all on you.

One other thing, it is a good idea to mess around with a rescue by going to the stern. I haven’t had to do this is a real rescue, but I have had friends who laid in rescue practice on the way home dump themselves in the water such that my fastest way to get to them was to paddle backwards and grab their stern. At least in calmer water, with someone who was already pretty good at getting back into their own boat it worked fine, though I can’t recall if it meant I was facing the wrong way or what. But it worked, and the last time was on a guy who outweighed me by 90 pounds. In messy water, it matters to grab any part of the other boat, hopefully with swimmer attached, as quickly as you can. The part you can first grab may not be the bow. Same for a boat that is loose in something like a surf situation - gotta get the boat before it becomes a projectile regardless of the perfection of your form.

In my experience, the rescue itself tends to be quite fast even for beginners. But as you say, it can of course be tuned by a number of small details.

There are two task which can really slow down a rescue and can be trained “dry”:

  1. Getting in position to reach the other kayak.
  2. Stowing away paddles.

Re. 1. Getting in position to reach the other kayak:
It is extremely easy to “overshoot” when you paddle at an angle towards the other kayak, so you end up passing it at a distance just outside reach. Then you start doing some sculling draws which seem to take for ever. Perhaps you even give up, paddle backwards, turn the kayak a bit and paddle forward for another try. Very time consuming.

This part takes a lot of practice to get right. Partly because the two kayaks are in different relative positions and angles (and wind direction) every time you do it, so it is never exactly the same scenario.

It could be practiced without anyone getting wet. I have thought of an exercise that I have not yet tested:

  1. The paddlers pair up in teams of two and position themselves with a distance of 10 meter between the kayaks.
  2. Each pair agree who is the rescuer and who is the victim.
  3. All paddlers start practicing 360° turns with sweep strokes.
  4. After a random time, the instructor says “Stop”, and the rescuer must now as fast as possible get his hands on the decklines of the victim’s kayak.
  5. Rescuer and victim switch roles, and the exercise is repeated.

This exercise will ensure that rescues are attempted from a lot of different start positions. And perhaps some paddlers will do their 360° with more confidence and lean out on their paddle when they know that they have their rescuer standing by…

Re. 2. Stowing away paddles.
There is a lot of fumbling involved with paddles during an rescue. Often, people will let go of the other kayak while stowing the paddles with both hands, and the kayak may drift away. Or they will try to stow their own paddle and the victim’s paddle at the same time, lose one of them, etc.

If you can stow away your paddle using only one hand, and then take another paddle and stow it away using only one hand, this will help immensely. This can be practiced without a partner. This is not only a matter of training, but also of thinking through how you have placed other stuff on your deck, and how you bungees are arranged. Perhaps having a spacer ball on some bungees makes it easier to stow a paddle without using the other hand to lift the bungee.

I wrote the above without watching the video first. A few additions after watching the video:

The video shows how a quite competent paddler can rescue a quite competent victim. My comments were aimed towards two less competent paddlers, and I only considered the rescuer’s training. But as the video shows, you can also train towards being an efficient victim.

There is a lot of stuff in the video which will improve anyone’s rescue. But there are perhaps also some things which you should not do unless both paddlers are quite competent:

  • None of the paddlers stow their paddles. They are able of keeping their paddles secure while doing other stuff. Good for them. But two less experienced paddlers may end up missing one or two paddles after the rescue.
  • The victim stays behind the cockpit of the rescuers boat. That is also what we encourage in my club because it is extremely fast, and we know each other well enough to let the victim out of our sight. But you really need to be sure that your victim is on top of things because they will be out of your sight for some seconds. I have received a lot of comments when using this technique in training with (some) external instructors. They want the rescuer to have eye contact with the victim during the rescue and they insist that the victim should be at the front of the rescuer’s kayak.

@Celia said:

When you are in that situation, I have seen at least one thing happen that I didn’t see pictured here, unless I missed it. That is the swimmer reaching over their boat to grab the perimeter line of the rescuer’s boat, to give them more boost to get into their own boat. Or going to the heel hook entry, which will help someone who is functioning kinesthetically well to get back in the cockpit faster.

Exactly! I teach paddlers to grab the rescuer’s decklines, and if possible grab both their own deckline and the rescuer’s deckline. The latter will stabilize the fleet immensely. My daughter is half my weight, but when I grab both lines and do a heel hook reentry, I can get back in my kayak without her doing much effort to stabilize my kayak.

However, making it possible to grab decklines of both kayaks is a task of the rescuer. When he holds the victims’s kayak, he should position it and edge his own kayak in a way so both decklines are as near to each other as possible.

@Allan Oleson I am not sure how tall you are, but at 5 ft 3.5 inches, when my torso is fully over the front of the swimmer’s boat my boat is already tilted quite a bit up. Having to think to tilt the rescue boat that way is only a problem for people taller of torso than me, or likely Rookie. :slight_smile:

To answer your question… no, do not waste your time with a paddlerless boat. Here’s what you do… make the commitment that, as God is your witness, you will never need to be rescued. Then spend lots of time practicing your braces and rolls and re-enter-and-rolls. You may very well enjoy paddling alone. Why not do it safely?

You missed the point. The purpose of this is to be able to rescue others. If someone prefers to be of no use in a group where there is a capsize, it is a democracy and they have that right. But don’t criticize others for wanting to learn how to help.

And speaking as someone of not far off her size, it is absolutely a useful exercise for Rookie to practice wrangling an empty boat if she has one around. That represents a lot more boat to get used to for someone who is smaller than for a bigger guy.

For those who may not have been paying attention, Rookie is disposed to sensible judgement about her own paddling. She has taken training in the skills that are the basis for rolling, and probably already has eyed spots to go for further work on that once her water is not solid.

@Celia said:
If someone prefers to be of no use in a group where there is a capsize, it is a democracy and they have that right. But don’t criticize others for wanting to learn how to help.

Well, if the group is lead by me, I am afraid that there is not that much democracy. If a paddler doesn’t want to do rescues, he is not in my group.

@Allan Oleson
Personally I do not disagree. Paddlers who can’t help are only a good idea if they are outnumbered by those who can. And when Jim and I were putting together paddles we had clothing requirements as it got colder as well. Kokatat sold several dry suits because of those rules.

But there are many casual groups that never even think about this. And there are no kayaking police out there saying they can’t get out on the water.

No no no. I haven’t missed any points. I’m not saying a paddler shouldn’t know how to assist in a rescue. I’m saying this… the vast majority of pool time or practice time should be devoted to making yourself never in need of rescue. The whole spirit of paddling IMHO is independence. You don’t depend on Evinrude or Exxon to get from here to there. Do your best to keep rescuers from having to get you from water to boat.

I’ll say it again. If no one’s around to do rescues with, don’t mess around with an empty boat. Spend the time making yourself safe and independent.

Rookie, I know you are located in the northern realms of the Big Mitten. I highly recommend Lower Herring Lake south of Frankfort (where the August Greenland Training Camps are held) for rolling and rescue practice if you can get a friend or two to join you there in mild weather. The clear sandy-bottomed lake has a shallow weed-free zone that extends as much as 100 feet from shore and is waist to neck deep with both floating and extended docks. (see drone shot and other pics below from last Summer). Perfect for practices where you and “spotters” can relax by just standing in the water while you finesse the steps, then you can move out to deeper water. The lake has an outlet to Lake Michigan too, so you can head out there for practice in surf after practice in the warm calm of Herring.

I’m not sure what the public access situation is for Lower Herring Lake – I would be tempted to provide some bluster about “scouting” for the training school if I was challenged for paddling on it or parking in the neighborhood. I know that there are quite a few cottages for rent around it. I’ve considered planning a trip with a few friends up there in the summer, outside of QTC.

I think you get a better idea from Gordon Brown’s video. This concentration of 30 second rescues is nice if well practiced but haste makes waste in the case of most “average” paddlers. Most paddlers are eager to get out of the water. Note continue the rotation as shown in this video. Your skirt will always end up in the right place. Stopping and turning back can end up in the skirt under a thigh or wedged on the side of the cockpit.


Besides all that I get a kick out of the accent.


People have different priorities. You are being a bit narrow to think your take is the only one. I know of people who love paddling near shore, in totally quiet places, who will never learn to roll because they paddle involves walking out of the boat. Not everyone is an open water type or white water paddler.

A lot of people engage in outdoor activities as part of a desire to interact with others socially to start with. And newer paddlers usually are better off in a mixed group, with people who are ahead of them on the curve. There is a crucial place for having strong skills to help others.

On your model, which seems to talk about self-rescue skills way way ahead of assistive skills, maybe you and Sing would be the only two people on this board who ever got on the water. It would potentially make anyone who did not have a roll feel inadequate, and could turn what should be a no brainer capsize into an event while everyone tried to recall what they are supposed to do.

Celia, I am not a narrow point misser. Yes, I think a paddler who cares about safety should spend much, much more time preventing the need to be rescued than for rescuing. Look at the other side of the coin… a person who relies on rescuers:

  1. Will likely not feel comfortable paddling alone
  2. Will likely be at higher risk paddling alone
  3. May well develop a lax attitude i.e. “I don’t need self rescue skills, I’ll get the group leader to save me.”
  4. Puts the group at risk.

Rookie asked what to do if no paddlers were around for rescue practice. My answer… practice rescuing yourself.

@Overstreet said:

Besides all that I get a kick out of the accent.

Ha! He does the double deckline grabbing thing too! Another one of my inventions which turned out to have been invented by someone else before me…

@Rex said:

Rookie asked what to do if no paddlers were around for rescue practice. My answer… practice rescuing yourself.

What I wanted to know is if it would be worthwhile to practice an assisted rescue using a kayak only.

Working on skills to avoid being rescued is always sound advice, but I think developing skills to help another paddler in distress is also important. Maybe a paddler whose “bomb proof” roll failed. More likely just someone I may come across who flipped his/her kayak and is having difficulty getting back in. Have never had that happen, but if it does I’d like to have some level of competence. Just as I’d hope for someone of competence to help me, should I need it.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that when doing an actual assisted rescue, the only thing that’s in that kayak is water since the paddler is out of the boat. I have two kayaks and my front yard is water, so why not try? The last time I did a rescue in class, it was a 17-foot kayak. Not sure if it was RM or FG, just that it was heavy. If that edging away technique shown in the video makes it easier for me to lift the kayak to empty it, all the better.

I do practice self-rescues, but probably not as much as I should. In the pool, yes, and each spring here at home once the lake is ice free. I ended last summer working on re-enter and roll and will get back to that when I start my pool sessions and when the water here is liquid again. I paddle solo and am very aware there’s no one to rely on but me.

Lower Herring Lake has a public access located at 44.570850, -86.209040 Paste those coordinates in Google Maps and you’ll be at the spot. Looks like a nice place to paddle but it’s about 100 miles southwest. I wonder what the boat traffic is like in the summer.

I’ve been on Lower Hering at Qajaq camp three times _ late Aughst and once in July (2 days) with Michael Gray & never saw much power boat traffice. a very limited sample though.

@Rex and @Celia - The more tools in each paddler’s toolkit, whether solo rescue, flipping avoidance, or multi-person rescues, the better. You are both right that the skills you are promoting are useful.

@Rookie - I suspect trying to rescue your extra boat would be useful practice. Here is an article in Issue #10 of California Kayaker Magazine on T-rescues and variations (read for free online at http://calkayakermag.com/magazine.html). You can practice both the “bow up” and “Bow down” draining versions talked about there. Perhaps even see if you can do a TX, but that can be challenging solo.

I would also practice getting to the bow as fast as possible from various positions, which is important to start the rescue as a rescuer. And also practice hand walked around the drained boat using its deck lines, which is important as after you drain the boat in the T position, you need to move the boat efficiently to a bow to stern position to brace it for the swimmer to get back in.

If you find someone to practice with (and assuming you both have water and clothing appropriate for your practice), you could work with that person in rescues. A partner that doesn’t know how to do it is particularly useful, as you will learn how to explain the process to someone who has never done it before. That video is quick, but does use experienced rescuer and rescuee - unfortunately, that is rare. It is more likely that you will come across someone who needs rescuing that doesn’t know the process, and will have to talk them through the process.

Thanks for the link to your magazine and your suggestions. That was a great article. I like Roger Schumann’s style of writing. Were I the one in the water, I’d definitely use a heel hook to get back in. That’s the one oddity I found in the Power of Water video as it looks like they use the old school method. Or maybe I missed that leg coming in.

In the Schumann article, he writes: “When you slide their kayak back into the water, spin your kayak parallel to it, forming a raft.” Am guessing he means spinning your kayak while using the drained boat as leverage. Can’t be with a paddle as you’d lose contact with the other boat. My recollection in class was moving the other boat in position using its deck lines.

I’d be game to try the TX with a shorty but not sure I want to put a 14 footer across my lap. I guess it would be a good exercise in boat balance.

By the time the water here is liquid again, I’m going to have a long list of things to work on/practice. My annual refresher course with some new additions.

Have you ever considered resurrecting your magazine in an online version? It’s a wonderful resource.