Kayak adaptability

I have a general question(s) concerning kayaking. After many years as a canoeist I am seriously thinking of buying my first kayak for use on big, slow rivers. I’m seeking opinions as to the time it will take me to adjust to this new craft, if I will adjust at all, what to do if I flip in mid-river (I’m 62 and an Eskimo roll is out of the question), and general views on adaptability/stability. Thank you. Mark

hopefully others will reply

– Last Updated: Aug-17-13 9:24 AM EST –

that have more experience than I do! However, I would say that how quickly you adapt to being really comfortable in your kayak depends on a few factors such as fitness, natural ability, ability to use lower and upper body independently and loosely, and lack of fear! If you have some fear of capsizing, which is very common for beginners - or even if you don't - taking even a few lessons would be very beneficial. It'll get you off on the right foot. Most people capsize at least once in awhile, and it is best to learn how to deal with it so it isn't a big deal.

If you do flip and you don't know how to roll, you do what is called a wet exit(you basically push yourself out of your kayak and swim to the surface). Then there are a couple of common options for getting back in that you can google for for details: you can use a paddle float, do a cowboy rescue, or a ladder rescue(cowboy and ladder are quite similar). There are probably other options too; these are the ones I'm familiar with and that are done alone. You should really practice using these(or one of them at least) so that when you NEED to do it you aren't trying to remember what to do.

I would also strongly suggest that you try renting some different kayaks to get a feel for what you like, there are so many different lengths, widths, shapes, uses, brands blah blah blah out there. And when you are actually looking at buying one, paddle it first! Different boats have wildly different "feels" when it comes to stability, and they'll feel different to different people. The only way you'll know is if you paddle it yourself. Most (all?) paddle shops will let you demo their boats, and any second hand sale should allow for you to try it first.

Have no idea
I have had students start learning canoeing with a strong kayaking background. Usually they catch on faster than someone who has never paddled before.

Boat behavior in response to a paddling stroke is basically the same. Paddlecraft are paddlecraft. If you have an understanding of hydrodynamics in a canoe kayaks are subject to the same principles.

I give you about two hours. Take lessons. You could catch on without but I sense a bit of apprehension re a wet exit. You need someone to force you to do it. Later you will wonder why all the worry. But get it over with and go on to learn other ways to actually get back in the boat!

I’m wondering
why an eskimo roll is out of the question? I’m a few years younger than you but otherwise making some progress towards learning to roll my kayak.

Two points

– Last Updated: Aug-17-13 9:50 AM EST –

1) If you have that kind of time in a canoe, and includes a spritely solo, you could find a kayak boringly stable.

2) While learning a roll in a well-fitting craft is not at all out of range due to your age - I have seen people missing limbs as well as people more than a decade older than you learn one - doing a roll is not the only on-water self-rescue option in a kayak for moderate, not white, water. (And I was no spring chicken when I got my roll.) It is motion, not muscle - people get overly concerned about this.

If as above the wet exit is your real issue, take kayakmedic's advice. Otherwise you are buying tons of time of being apprehensive rather than enjoying paddling. You'll find the first time you try that gravity work upside down.

The other options are more tiring and take longer, like 3 to 8 minutes versus maybe 8 seconds, so there is a good reason to prefer the roll. But there are a variety of on-water rescue options and at least one of them should work for you as long as the kayak is self-rescue friendly. By that I mean two bulkheads or at least float bags at each end, and perimeter rigging.

I learned to roll at your age. I also have a fused lower back. It took awhile and is not classically pretty, but it works. You can do it.

Some answers from some one…
quite a bit older than you.

First; don’t worry about flipping over. You will just slide right out of the cockpit, unless you are so big that you have yourself stuffed in. (that is called a wet exit)

Second: You didn’t say how wide the river is, but if it is only a few hundred feet wide, just swim it into shore.

Third: if the river is too wide to swim it to shore you need to know how to do a self rescue. Which is fairly easy after you practice it a few times in shallow water. If you want some instructions, either pick up a book or e-mail me and I’ll describe it.

With both of the above methods, you will need a good bilge pump. Don’t get one with only a inch discharge. Get a good Harmony one with a large discharge and discharges on both the push and pull.

For the self rescue method, you will also need a good paddle float, (blow up type unless you are paddling in frigid water in which case a sold one would be better).

Lastly if you do flip over you will be quite surprised at how little water will be in the cockpit if your kayak has both front and rear water tight compartments.

All of this is based on a decent length kayak. If you get a little nine foot long one with just a tad of floatation in the bow and the stern, forget about the self rescue, and swim the boat to shore

Hope this helps a bit.

You’ll will find that when you are in the canoe you’ll like that the best, but then when you are in the kayak you’ll like that the best.

Jack L

I Have a Canoe Question
As a long-time kayaker with very little canoe experience… how do you deal with a canoe that turns over far from shore? Is it easy to get back in?

Float bags make things easier
and we have encountered individuals who could roll a canoe, usually a WW canoe with more outfitting than the usual. But on-water recovery is possible in a canoe, depending on its flotation.

Details on a broader scale best left to long time canoeists.

My guess is
It will probably take you longer to get used to the seating position and the paddling technique than the stability of a kayak. I will warn you that if you get the right kayak/kayaks, your canoeing days are very likely done.

Unless you are in pretty good physical shape, you might be surprised how long it will take for your legs to be comfortable for long periods in the saddle. You might find it necessary to roll up a towel and place it under your thighs for support. In time that will go away.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to learn a proper paddling technique and learn of the pitfalls and injuries that can occur if you don’t.

The first thing you will learn about kayaks is that it takes awhile and considerable practice to get really good at getting in and out of them (sit inside). It is quite normal to get dumped a few times getting in and getting out, but you’ll get the knack and it will be a point of pride when you can do it with grace. I would highly recommend in-the-water entries and exits for many of the same reasons that you most likely do in a canoe.

As for rolling a kayak, that might come in time, but you will find that kayaks are far more stable and can deal with unbelievable bumpy water–probably better than the paddler. Some sea kayaks are almost self rescuing in the event of a capsize, but that depends a lot on your physical shape (body weight proportioning) and condition. Think about how you and your pfd become an outrigger if you remain seated in the boat–especially if you relax and let the water support your head. A little brace, or leaning toward the stern of the boat and up she comes–maybe.

Just a word about equipment: Kayaks are not just decked canoes and you will most likely need a different pfd and for sure different paddles. And unless you are a high-end canoer, expect paddles and a few other things to be more costly. You will not be sorry for getting really good equipment; trying to go cheap will be a losing proposition.

my personal opinion is that there are
no good ways, but others will surely disagree. Canoe over canoe rescues work great on calm water and when there are multiple boats.

It is possible to climb back in a swamped canoe, which is easier done tandem, with someone acting as a counterbalance as you climb in, and then paddle it back to shore, sitting on the bottom, using an exhausting dumbbell stroke. Unfortunately, swamped canoes without additional flotation like to rollover a lot, since the water shifts.

So if the conditions are rough enough to capsize you to begin with then you’re probably SOL with either of those techniques. When everything fails, be prepared to hang on to the boat, and let the wind and waves carry you to shore. That is why it is so important to understand where the wind and waves will take you, in the event of a capsize.

Often the safest option is not the easiest option. Paddling in a windward position where the wind will carry you into shore is often more work but safer from a swimming/what if everything goes wrong point of view. It really comes down to judgement and avoiding the big swim to begin with.

With a group of canoes, I like to raft up if the wind and waves are taking me where I want to go. You are more stable tied or lashed together, and less likely to get spread out or have individual canoes tipped over.

No time at all
I paddled a canoe for about 20 years and then got a kayak. Since then I’ve never been able to go back to a canoe—it just feels too slow. At the beginner’s level it takes about 5 minutes to get the hang of a kayak.

A moderate width and length—meaning a good balance between stability and speed, neither too tippy nor too slow—would be about 24" x 14’. Those dimensions with a moderate V hull should give you good stability as a beginner.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to roll a kayak. It’s not essential. Here’s a video that shows one way of getting back in your kayak alone:


Maybe you’re thinking of a kayak as a highly unstable craft? That’s actually not true. Although a canoe is much wider, a kayak can handle significantly rougher conditions than a canoe. Start off in calm waters and get a sense of the kayak’s handling and tipping point (how far you can lean it before it goes over). I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the stability of the low seating position and the hull of the kayak recommended above. You will love the efficiency of a double-bladed paddle.

The average person(s) can’t and …
has to swim it to shore.

Some can do it, but mostly with light weight solos.

Now let the arguments start ! I’ll keep out of them

Jack L

Probably not long
Kayaking is really pretty intuitive and less complicated than paddling with a single blade because the strokes on either side of the craft are symmetrical. One can generally maintain course without having to use steering or corrections strokes, such as the J stroke, Candian stroke, or pitch stroke that you might be familiar with.

I have seen two issues pose significant obstacles for paddlers going from canoe to kayak.

The first is fear of capsizing in a decked boat, especially a sit in kayak with a spray skirt. As was said, exit is really pretty easy, but I have seen some seemingly level-headed folks, even those who had spent a lot of time in the water swimming, scuba diving, etc., absolutely freak out the first time they were upside down. I would suggest that you practice wet exits in warm water, with experienced companions in a safe environment until you are comfortable with them.

The second issue is that some people simply can’t adjust to the sitting position and get severe back pain or hip pain. Sometimes this can be corrected by tweaking outfitting but sometimes it can’t.

As for the rescue issue, lacking a roll you would probably be no worse off in a kayak than a canoe if you capsized mid-river. I agree with those who feel that you should not rule out the possibility of learning to roll. But even if a roll escapes you, you may well be able to accomplish a bow rescue or “Eskimo rescue” by utilizing the bow of a companion’s kayak to support your upper body while you roll the boat back up. This is another exercise you should practice with experienced companions in a safe place.

62 doesn’t mean out of the question

– Last Updated: Aug-18-13 7:20 AM EST –

I'm 60 and went for rolling practice in the James today. My rolls (which I haven't practiced in over a year) were fine. You dont' have to have any special athletic ability or be in super shape. If you want to learn to roll, then find a class and join in.

That being said, you don't have to roll to enjoy flat water or sea kayaking (white water is another matter) Learn how to do a wet exit (its the first half of a roll)and how to do assisted rescues with a partner (again classes are useful) Also learn how to do a self rescue with a paddle float. Then develope some judgement about where and when you should go and have fun--Hint if you don't have a roll, self rescue skills, or capable partners for assisted rescue, don't go any further than you would care to swim.

Then why post the start to the argument?

Seriously, I have been in a whole class full of people all of whom could manage it in a canoe equipped with large float bags. The majority of the class was kayakers who had never tried any of this before.

But if you look at the cost of really robust float bags and the weight of the boat to carry or portage with these installed, it becomes clear why many canoeists forgo that purchase. Without that kind of outfitting, things get much tougher. I figured to leave it to the long time canoe folks to speak to the likelihood of boats being so equipped.

"…I will warn you that if you get the right kayak/kayaks, your canoeing days are very likely done…"

Perhaps in your reality but not for everyone.

I have the right kayaks and the right canoes. Love 'em both and would never consider giving up one for the other. They serve different purposes and different moods.

I paddled
with a guy who is canoeing the length of the Ohio River. He and his dog both jumped into the water, mid river, to cool off and then both got back into the canoe from mid river. Neither had any difficulty.

Kayak adaptability
Thank you to all for very thoughful advice.

Have you thought about a SOT?
No roll needed, easier to get off and on in deep water than a canoe or SINK, allows more freedom of movement than a SINK.

I’m loving my Hurricane Skimmer 128, and I see they now have a 14 ft version of it, too.

As one who does not EVER want to be upside down in the water, I find SOTs are a good fit for me.