How many sea kayakers roll?

“Read somewhere that only 20% of sea kayakers can roll.” - from a 2003 thread.

I recall coming across a figure closer to 10% somewhere.

What is people’s sense of percentage of sea kayakers who can roll. Percentage who have a roll?

The rest are not “sea kayakers”.

Owning a sea kayak doesn’t make one a sea kayak any more than owning a firearm makes you a skilled marksman or responsible rangemaster.

In this type of kayak - I consider rolling a BASIC skill that’s just part of the package. I will never be persuaded otherwise. Anyone putting to sea with only a paddle float rescue (likely only rarely practiced on flat water), or relying totally on others, to rescue them from something as minor as a capsize is inviting trouble unnecessarily. Sea kayaks are designed to go 360. Doing so should not require you to exit the kayak. Things can go downhill fast from there…

I roll, I paddle sea kayaks, I even paddle them on the sea. I would not call myself a sea kayaker.

I may eventually call myself a “sea kayaker” - but feel I have a bit more to learn before claiming such a title. More navigation, more practice with assisting others, more time in more textured waters, more surf zone time, broadening and deepening my general paddling skills, etc.

OK - now soemone post a thread on what % of WW kayakers roll! L

What’s in a roll? Only being able to roll in a pool or similar controlled environment doesn’t really count.

My guess is that less than 10% of the sea kayaking community is able to roll after a capsize. At least I think this holds true for my own (sea) kayak club here in semi cold scandinavian waters.

Currently I mostly paddle unrollable kayaks. As a result I stay close to the shore.


Never saw this one before:

100% of sea kayakers

– Last Updated: May-15-06 7:11 AM EST –

Greyak says: "Owning a sea kayak doesn't make one a sea kayak [sic] any more than owning a firearm makes you a skilled marksman ..."

Owning a gun makes you a gun owner. If you fire it at a target as a hobby, that makes you a marksman. If you shoot well (e.g. hitting the target with regularity), that makes you a skilled marksman.

By analogy, if you own a sea kayak, that makes you an owner. If you use a sea kayak as a hobby, presumably that would make you a sea kayaker. If you used it well (e.g. hitting a roll with regularity), that would make you a skilled sea kayaker.

Crappy marksmen are crappy, but marksmen nontheless. Rather than saying that people who can't roll aren't sea kayakers, it would be more accurate to say that they (we/I) are simply unskilled. Within your narrow definition, of course.

I Don’t Know
What percentage of paddlers who paddle sea kayaks can roll. I have a hard time disagreeing with Greyak as he was one of the keys in my learning a roll and some other paddling things. However, I paddle on occation with friends who are much more accomplished paddlers than I who can not roll. These paddle friends are fully capable of getting back in their boat following a knock down or assisting me should I get knocked down and not get my roll.

Forgetting what the definition of a sea kayaker is, (whatever that is), I would place the percentage higher than 10-20% and lower than half if you are just looking at folk who paddle sea kayaks in open waters.


Not nearly enough…
…assuming that you define “sea kayaker” as someone who paddles a sea kayak. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it’s 10% or less. Why people think that rolling is not important - especially up here where the water is cold - is beyond me. I think a lot of it has to do with the emphasis that’s placed on wet exits and paddle float re-entries in most books and basic training courses. Unfortunately, people are being taught that their first resort is a technique that should be their LAST resort.

Perhaps it all boils down to our “instant gratification” society. Anyone can be taught how to get out of their kayak in a few minutes. Learning a paddle float re-entry takes a few minutes more. Rolling can take considerable time to learn, which would mean that the paddler would be able to go out on the water RIGHT NOW.

IMO, heading out on open water without good rolling and bracing skills is foolhardy, but thousands of people do it every year. A few don’t come back.

I can, but
I learned to roll early on but have never turned over accidently. For me it was something I learned just so I could say I could. I have paddled all over the southeast and Florida and have never turned over accidently. I don’t enjoy conditions that are so rough this would happen anyway. In reality, if I turned over by accident I would probably just bail out and climb back in. It is not worth all the water up my nose.

We have seen the enemy and it’s us

– Last Updated: May-15-06 11:56 PM EST –

I think we, the community of kayakers may contribute to this by sounding elitist, jock like, and dramatizing the skills necessary to be confident and have recovery skills.

How? In actual practice it is not a roll per se that gives us the competence to stay upright in rough weather and conditions but the dynamic balance of support strokes, bracing, sculling, a greenland type brace, and a half roll if THESE SKILLS FAIL.

For example, I coordinate our club's mentoring program, with the active help of a core group of great people. We don't hold ourselves out as experts, there is no pressure, we have fun, and novice paddlers get super motivated to see how much excitement there is in learning skills.

We so far have managed to NOT EMPHASIZE "The Roll". Rather we build towards having the brace strokes, greenland brace, and sculling, all of which educates about boat control, rotation, and using the body which floats to stop the boat from going over in the first place.

People can see that basically a roll is a failure to use all these support strokes correctly, and paradoxically will rarely need a roll.

By that time it is straight forward and intuitive to then teach a roll that will actually work for them in conditions, since it is a roll that has ALL the components working, full hip and torso rotation, modified leading edge up sweep, forward or lay back positioning, full boat rotation, leaving the body in the water until the last moment, etc.

What is so great to see is that by teaching in progressive steps folks who are not jocks, even with little strength or athletic ability routinely are performing all the brace and sculling strokes beautifully and going on to several styles of rolling too.

They have come to see by us showing them capsize recovery skills that sea kayaks are not really meant to be easily gotten back into once you leave them. This gives the motivation to learn the far more econmomical brace and sculling up skills.

We call this, "Thursday Rock n Roll Rescue", a series of 8 weeks of free mentoring. It also then encourages further private instructiion too. People start freaked by the idea of rolling, but by the time they get to it, it has its proper perspective.

Rolling, BCU etc…
Rolling is a gateway skill. It enables a paddler to persue deeper skills with confidence.

The BCU star sysytem attempts to evaluate competance overall at certain levels.

Few 3 star BCU paddlers do not have a roll, none I’ve met personally are unable to roll.

Making it through a 3 star assessment without a roll would result in a lot of swimming.

From 3 Star syllabus:

Demonstrate satisfactory beginnings in:

  1. Rolling. The candidate should come up within three attempts, during each of which

    the assessor may guide or hold the blade of the paddle, but not touch the boat or paddler. A half roll is acceptable (i.e. down and up on the same side).

    From 4 Star syllabus:

  2. Rolling. Where the kayak is of appropriate design the candidate should be able to demonstrate a roll. It is permissible to allow the candidate to set him or herself up before capsizing. A roll on one side only is required. Provided the rest of the candidate’s performance is sound, an inability to roll is not a fail factor in itself.

Gray area
I can roll . . . most of the time . . . when I don’t have to . . . and I am expecting the flip.

I count myself, then, in the 80% who can’t roll, because I don’t rely on it as a legitimate self rescue. I want to perfect my roll, mostly just for the challenge of it, though.

I don’t see why everyone would need to roll, either. Many paddlers will happily tour their whole lives without being knocked down by conditions, simply because they avoid the big stuff, and take trips in sheltered waters. They may not meet someone’s rigourous definiton of “Sea Kayakers” (though literally, they of course are), but as long as they enjoy their time, who cares?

BCU etc. make money off lessons

– Last Updated: May-14-06 10:50 AM EST –

and want maximum membership. Of course they don't "require" rolling. It is generally encouraged, or even assumed to some extent.

True? So what…
It’s still sad. Sort of like the 350lb man wearing top of the line running shoes to walk 30 feet a day.

Important to not get elitist

– Last Updated: May-15-06 11:56 PM EST –

I understand and in part agree with your response. Too much attitude about this can amount to a discount to you and others who don't have a roll, or other support strokes. Not everyone goes out in locations, cold water, or open crossings.

I think that is why our program works we don't do a one size fits no one approach.

I would add that there are times that one goofs and finds oneself in condtions one did not plan for, so then, these skills can be handy, so that is why we encourage in a fun way to learn some of the support skills even for lake and rec folks.

OK maybe 90%

– Last Updated: May-14-06 11:02 AM EST –

are lazy, or overconfident, and/or just like trusting to luck. Maybe they like it taking more time and work to re-enter (adding much more risk), like being destabilized by flooded cockpits, trying to pump out in whatever conditions flipped them? Makes no sense.

Rollers are 9 times less likely to capsize in the first place - since every roll is a brace and they have practiced theirs...

"Don't need to roll" is a VERY lame mantra to chant. It's called enabling I think...

"Elitist" also has nothing to do with it. Just more enabling from the "misery loves company" school. Dragging others down with them by insisting rolling is not BASIC and elite or advanced and so not needed! Very sad. Their loss. It think some folks just need to new paddling partners who don't think this way.

I cannot think of a single reason NOT to learn beyond some major physical disability (which would logically limit when and where that paddler goes out). Why handicap yourself?

chill out a little

– Last Updated: May-15-06 11:56 PM EST –

ease up a little. no need to alienate each other to make a point. you have tons to say, I listen and respect your posts.

I will start with myself. I didn't mean you or I or anyone is deliberately trying to be elitist, just that we can come off that way.

When the sea kayak came to my town
I asked a friend who was getting into it about rolling. He said that, in the beginning, there were two camps. People got into sea kayaking from WW kayaking, and had narroow boats and super-solid rolling instincts, or, they came from canoeing, had somewhat more stable boats, and relied on bracing skills. I have spent a lot of time in a tripping canoe, where rolling isn’t an option, so I brace.

As a side note - I think the industry changed the name “sea kayak” to “touring kayak” so they could expand there markets inland.

Rolling and Being a sea kayaker

– Last Updated: May-14-06 11:34 AM EST –

Here in Maine (where the water is cold and rolling is thus a very important safety skill), I would say that 10% of sea kayakers have what they themselves would describe as "a reliable roll."

As an instructor and member of the paddlesports industry, I would love to see this number closer to 100%.

However, I recognize that the term "sea kayaker" means many different things to different many people. I do not pretend to "own" the term or to be a gatekeeper about who may or may not use the term in reference to themselves. I would never tell someone they are not a sea kayaker because they do not know how to roll. There are many who safely complete a whole sea kayaking lifetime and never need to roll. And, on the other hand, there are conditions in which none of us would be able to roll. Even the most accomplished roller may "swim" at some point.

I would prefer to see being a sea kayaker as a continuum of skills from novice to advanced, with the roll being only one of many points along that continuum.

Interesting to Me
I agree with parts of several of the posts. Greyaks hard line that rolling is a basic technique and really is an extended brace I think is correct. Evans makes a good point that essentially says that sometimes we read that you have to learn a roll in order to be safe. I believe that there is a thread between those two points of thought.

Another reason that fewer people actually learn to roll is a result of an extention of one of Evans thoughts and that is many of us have to work on learning a roll. As for me I learned to do a wet exit, a paddle float rescue, and an assisted rescue by reading about how to do them and then trying each one with a fellow paddler also learning. I managed those four skills in less than an hour not including my reading time. On the other hand, I worked off and on for over six months before getting a reliable flat water planned roll. I now practice letting a boat wake or ocean swell flip me over and roll up. This practice is one step closer to getting a combat roll.

Another comment. Evans, you are part of a much differant club than we have in my area. We do have a couple of very experienced paddlers and at least to accredited instructors in our club but have never had a club oriented practice of any skills. The times I have brought up the idea/need the result has been the schedule of a outfitter sponsered pay for it pool training session. You are lucky.


I think it’s important to get a good
sinuse cleansing from time to time. Some people actually use a little water pot to flush their sinuses. Why go to all that trouble when you can practice your rolling skills and clean your sinuses without the boogery-residue mess? Besides, I think the water goes up your nose when you flip over, not when you roll back up.