How does a solo paddler empty the water

from a 55-lb. capsized kayak when the water is over one’s head? There’s nothing to push your feet/body against to get some leverage. I am not-so-young female and don’t have a great deal of upper-body strengh. I can flip the boat over, but I can’t lift any part of it out of the water first–I just end up with a right-side-up submerged kayak.

Related question: If I can get at least enough water out so that the level in the kayak is below the level of the lake/river, does it make sense to re-enter and then pump the living daylights out of it? I do have a decent pump, but an almost-full kayak would take a lot of pumping.

I know a kayak is much less stable when filled with water, but if I can’t get a decent amount out before re-entering, what’s the solution? Thanks!

As long as you have float bags…
Or sealed compartment hatches then it is not that bad. You roll over the kayak and a lot of water spills out.

You use your float and paddle to re enter and pump the water out.

What they don’t tell you is that the kayaks without sealed hatches or flotation bags are not for taking in water over your head. When those flip it is just like a canoe. You swim it to shore and dump out the water.

There are more advanced skills for emptying the water out of a canoe or open kayak without flotation but they are intermediate or advanced techniques that usually only work well in calm water. That’s why open canoes use in white water almost always have float bags and usually have an electric pump.

an article on this…

If you first inflate and put your paddle float on then you can leverage that to reach higher.

Personally I don’t normally go to the bow, but rather take my two hands and grab the near and far side of the combing, then first push up a bit with the far hand followed quickly by turning the boat upright with the near hand. This normally gets it dry enough to reenter then pump out what remains.

Paddle float
When solo, if you blow your roll or can’t roll, your paddle float is your best friend. Provided your boat has bulkheads it will make it easier for you to empty your cockpit, because of the lesser volume of water. Rec boats without bulkheads are almost impossible to right once capsized.

In calmer conditions you can do a paddle float re-entry, a back deck cowboy re-entry, a re-enter and roll with the paddle float.

There is a ton of info on the internet or youtube,

Once back in your boat you’d use the paddle float like a kick-stand while you pump out your boat with a hand pump.

rec kayak?
Sounds like you might be talking about a rec kayak without any bulkheads or flotation bags. Is that right?

The short answer is you can’t empty a boat like that in deep water. You need to add as much flotation as you have room for, to minimize the water that can fill the boat. After you do that, flipping the boat back upright will remove all but a couple inches of water in the bottom of the cockpit. You can reenter and pump it out without much trouble.

Actually no, I was talking about
a 12-ft. Tsunami (2 bulkheads). Maybe I just need to try again–I had tried lifting one end up (which is what I do in shallow water or on land) but couldn’t get it to budge. I can’t remember whether I tried from the side, but I do remember thinking, “Why the hell is this so hard when I did it so easily (from the side) 2 years ago?” I later concluded that 2 years ago, I was in shallower water.

I will try each of the methods in the article jcbikeski directed me to, as well as your personal suggestions. I will also try adding some floatation to see if that helps. Thanks, all–I was so discouraged when I failed; I feel much more hopeful now!

Take a day and practice in
a pool or a local lake where you can try reentering in shallow and deep water.


While hanging on to the kayak
and semi treading water, inflate your paddle float.

-Place it over the end of the paddle.

  • put the other end of the paddle under the bungees and behind your cockpit coaming, so that it is at right angles to the kayak.
  • Now with you beside the kayak and behind the paddle shaft and facing the rear of the kayak kick your feet and swim/kick your self up over the paddle shaft and angle yourself onto the rear side of the kayak over the paddle shaft.
  • When your butt is almost overthe back of the coaming roll yourself over into the yak, but make sure you keep pressure with one hand on the paddle shaft so that your weight is on the paddle float side, (otherwise you will roll right back over the opposite side)

    Once you are in the cockpit, grab your pump and pump it out, but all the while keep a lean toward the paddle float side, until it is empty.

    It is much harder for a female since their upper body strength for pulling themselves up onto the yak is not nearly as strong as a males, ( uless you are a female Russian weight lifter).

    I try to make “the bride” practice it at least once a year, but her stock answer is: Why should I when you can do an assisted rescue with me, so when I finish doing my practice we do an assisted one.



You’re correct
It is much harder for women to get the boat emptied of water with that darned one-hand-lift-and-flip-it-over-while swimming move that guys do. At least I can’t. I get by because my boats don’t tend to acquire much water in a capsize.

Try flipping it upright by going to the back and dropping your weight over the stern. Not sure how well it’ll work with a Tsunami with a bigger cockpit than my boats, but worth a shot.

yup-hard to empty out over your head
but try these tips. First make sure your PFD is cinched snug especially the shoulder strap. When you go to lift the bow, you will no doubt be pushed under and a loose fitting life jacket makes it worse.Take a deep breath and use both hand to stiff arm the bow directly over your head while kicking your feet to avoid sinking down any further than you have to. The higher you get the bow, the more the water can run to the rear bulkhead and then run out of the cockpit while you flip it. Keep practicing and you can do it!!

The ultimate solution
If you get sick enough of all the self-rescue complexity, klutziness and near impossibility for the weak, old and out of shape …

If you get sick enough of the culture of rolling or, more commonly, attempted rolling …

If you get sick enough of paddle floats, waterlogged boats, pumps and air bags …

If you would like to have a boat that is EASY to flip upright …

If you would like a boat that has NO WATER in it after it is flipped upright …

If you would like a boat that is EASY to climb back on after it is flipped upright …

If you would like to feel physically and mentally safe …

And …

If you would like to go faster than any paddle craft other than a surf ski …

If you would like to surf bigger open water waves than BCU kayakers …

Then … you may consider making the decision I did. Leave your kayak at home and paddle this:

Poor video quality, and there is an easier ama-side way to get back on after a huli than the two methods the woman paddler demonstrates, but you can get the idea.

The final blessing is that you can use the elegant single blade.

Take a class
We’re talking safety here. Take a class from a qualified instructor instead of learning by trial & error.

love the boat and
love the boat, have tried them, totally fun and wonderful. shows there are different strokes for different folks, no accounting for individual taste, and not one is superior to anyone else. so many ways to have adventure and find what suits one does not necessarily suit others. good for YOU and good FOR you.

in the real world
in the real world the same conditions that dumped you the first time are present the second time. And, these things usually happen after you are tired, no food, dehydrated, and get cold from immersion, and unnerved by the whole thing.

That is why bracing, rolling (a failed roll) and wet reentry are massively less energy than emptying a cockpit of water and climbing back in.

So, make sure you can wet reentry at least with or without paddle float, and a nice internal one handed bilge 13 gallon per minute job is great too.

Better yet have all this and a group of mutually skilled folks who can all do this too along with assisted recoveries if conditions allow for group efforts, but don’t count on them either even if all have skills, God loves the child who has his own. : > )

the voluntary dependence argument
"I try to make “the bride” practice it at least once a year, but her stock answer is: Why should I when you can do an assisted rescue with me?"

Yeah that can be hard to argue, and you may not even want to try due to consequences elsewhere in life, but if you do want to try, I’d start with “What if I’m temporarily separated from you, and I need you to bring me my boat?” and “What if I’m injured and need you to tow me to shore?” She really should learn how to do it on her own.

bail instead of pump
You can get rid of lots of water much faster by bailing than by pumping. A plastic container with one flat edge and fairly stiff works great. I just cut off the bottom of an Arizona tea gallon jug.

If you are paddling solo
You had better not tip over in that kayak! Is it the Tsunami 120: Length: 12’ Width: 25.5" Depth: 14.75" Weight: 53 lbs. Max Capacity: 275 lbs? Even if you did somehow manage to get most of the water out of the kayak, the height of the deck above the water would offer quite a challenge for climbing back in with limited upper body strength. In fact, I doubt you could do it in water over your head. Your best bet would be to learn a re-enter and roll and then pump out the water.

If your level of kayaking skills cause you to tip over in a 25.5" wide kayak (that’s a wide kayak and should be very stable), you might want to take some lessons. Or, perhaps your fears are unfounded. What type of conditions do you expect to be paddling in solo to expect a capsize? It sounds like you should avoid those situations until you can assess the risks and your skill level better.

for now
best bet might be, if you are only on rivers, not class three and above, and are able to get to shore without strainers, holes, etc.

AND you are clothed properly for cold water, i.e., wet suit or dry suit, dry top and so on

Is to understand you are NOT getting back in that boat, but instead have plans to always be able to get yourself and the boat to shore. Have partners who know and practice WW rescue and recovery. Better yet, take the class and do simulations so you actually know how cold water affects ability, etc.

You mention lung capacity problems. Make sure to learn and experience how your condition may be made worse by panic exhaustion and sudden max efforts in cold water.

Not to scare you, on the side of knowledge is power and leads to positive critical decision making.

Lessons and paddle float
If you have no money, see if there’s a kayak club around. Many paddlers would be happy to demonstrate a few things for you. Some people use a paddle float and rig a sling that you can step on to get back into the boat. You can bucket bail out a large cockpit before having to pump. There;s so many variables to all of this that it will save you a lot of frustration to get some personal help. You’re on the right track addressing the ability to reenter the kayak. Good move!

Break the 'seal’
Just a thought. You mentioned being unable to even budge the boat when trying to lift it up. I seem to remember an instructor telling me that sometimes there is suction created and before you can lift the end of the boat up, you need to rock it slightly to the side to break the seal.