My First Capsizing

I’ve only been kayaking a month or so and have only been out three times. Last weekend I took a beginner’s class on the Chattahoochee river in Atlanta with a rental kayak.

The all day class was great, the teacher very experienced in paddling (and river rescue) and it was well worth the money. However, later in the day I capsized in some class two rapids. The river was deep and strong and I got banged up a bit on the rocks. Ultimately I made it most of the way to shore with a submerged kayak and the paddle and the leader pulled me in the rest of the way. I’m not sure what the outcome would have been w/o the PFD because things felt touch and go there for a few seconds. The one thing that made everything else very difficult was the temperature of the water at an even 50 degrees.

I swim and am reasonably athletic, but with just shorts and a poly t-shirt the water temperature all but incapacitated me. I don’t have much body fat at 130 lbs so maybe that was part of it?

Other than working on my technique and skills is there any thing else I should have done or should do the next time? While my life did not pass before my eyes…I do remember thinking, “I should be riding my bike instead”. :slight_smile:


Wear neoprene…
It’s protective as well as warmer, also a good helmet. Other than that, WW and rocks and capsizes go together.

what you can do

– Last Updated: Sep-21-10 4:55 PM EST –

Start working on a roll.

Keep capsizing until it becomes routine and your subsequent action becomes routine. Which it will.

Don't give up, you've only capsized once!

capsize on purpose
and get used to wet exiting, self rescue, swimming in currents… after a few times it can be fun :slight_smile: In my experience falling off a bike usually has worse consequences than falling out of a kayak.

I like the NRS Little John shorty wetsuit for paddling in cool water on warm days.

So …

– Last Updated: Sep-21-10 6:00 PM EST –

Did you get an accurate fish count during your "out of boat" experience, and did you do a report of your fish count to the Georgia Department of Conservation there?

Help them help the fish............turn in your report asap.


Dress for the water temperature,
Get gear good enough for you to bet your life on and wear it (there’s plenty of good used gear around)

Practice your rescue techniques until you’ve got them down cold…that’s when you’ll need them.

Learn and practice with others. It gets easier and you will keep learning new things.

Lessons always help and can save years in developing skills.

Enjoy your kayaking.

No instruction on cold water protection?
It’s surprising that an instructor would not recommend a wet suit for water that cold. 50f is more than a bit chilly.

If your not turned of by the experience then it’s a good lesson learned. Good luck with more paddling and consider more appropriate cold-water attire.


Oh Man! This is what’s called…
“GREAT FUN”. 50 was too cold to be in the water without a wetsuit but otherwise it’s the dumps and rescues in moving water that are the greatest times. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when the current is taking you and all your stuff down river. I do it all the time for practice and realized that I enjoy being IN the river as much as being ON the river. Some tips: 1. tie everything in the boat before you launch 2. make sure your pfd fits correctly by jumping in the water with it on. It should not rise up under your neck. 3. Don’t tie anything with long ropes or hang anything around your neck that could get you tangled up. 4. Wear a knife on your pfd 5. Practice with all your gear on, booties, gloves, hood, pfd, whatever you got. 6. Don’t leave your cold water gear in the truck, “if you got it, wear it”. 7. Sunglass strap, pulled tight. 8. The rescue is not complete until you retrieve all your gear. 9. Keep dry clothes in a drybag and take it with you. Tie it in even in the storage compartment, bungie it in becuse Class II can pull the cover off. (glue an eyehook inside the compartment). 10. Blow that whistle 3 long blasts as loud as you can to let people know you’re in the water. 11. If you got it under control, give the okay signal by holding your paddle perpendicular and pumping it up and down. 12. Get warm and dry, dry out your boat and get a rest. Then do it all over again just for fun this time.

I have to ask the obvious question…
Why would a beginner in a beginner class be introduced to kayaking on a class 2 river? Flat water may be the place to start especially if you have never done a wet exit. Always wear a PDF and when near rocks or obstacles, a helmet.

I for one don’t usually find swimming in rapids to be “great fun” having taken my fair share of “bad swims” and having seen enough friends injured. But your experience was not all bad.

You are to be congratulated if you held on to both your boat and your paddle, although you should be aware that there may come a time when it would be more appropriate to let go of one or both. And you have been made aware of the truly debilitating effect of cold water, even on the young and fit.

I hear Class II whitewater talked about on this forum as if it is nothing. You have learned otherwise.

If you continue paddling whitewater you will learn that swimming is part of the sport. And it is far better to start off swimming Class II rapids than Class IV or V rapids. These days, some people progress so quickly in the sport of whitewater kayaking that they are paddling Class IV water without ever having taken a “significant” swim. And I think they have no idea of the consequences of what they are undertaking.

In my kayaking class 30 years ago, we went from pool sessions directly to a class 2-3 section of the American River. I dumped four times in a Hollowform kayak in the class 3 rapid. I swam the first three times and managed to roll on the fourth dump, but only because I pushed off the bottom with my kayak paddle.

Three years later I could toy with that rapid.

In a canoe.

No sense persisting in foolish things.

50 degrees? Really?
I can hardly believe the water temp was 50 degrees this time of year. The Yough in PA is running between 60 and 67 (night vs. day) and it’s a notoriously cold river. I’m really surprised the water is that cold that far south at this time of year.

Dress for water temperature!
If I’m told the water is 50 degrees, I would have been wearing a dry top at the minimum, even with a solid roll!

In water of higher temperature, I still wear a fuzzy rubber (or wetsuit). What a lot of people don’t realize, is the water splash cools you down enough even 65 degree water can feel really cold after a couple of hours on the river. Worse when it’s a cloudy day.

As others pointed out, the water may not be 50 degrees. But you were clearly under-dressed. Your lean body probably lacks insulation than average. I’d err on the over-dress side the next time out.

"dress for the swim"
as they say

Water Temperature?

– Last Updated: Sep-22-10 12:57 AM EST –

Data for the water temperature on that river at Helen, Ga, can be found at

This indicates a temperature of about 20 degrees Celcius (~68 degrees F.) It seems possible that a beginning ww paddler could be unfamiliar with water temperatures. 50 degrees is quite cold and seems unlikely in late summer. I doubt an instructor would allow a beginner to paddle in a t shirt in 50 degree water - that is quite cold.

But even at 68 degrees, I would want at least a shorty dry top. With a couple more lessons, it won't seem quite so daunting. I am surprised that stuff that use to scare me silly, and seem quite difficult, are now almost easy. Just keep at it.

As somebody above said, capsizing is part of ww kayaking. Keep up the lessons, and work hard on the roll. Once you are rolling, the capsizing is actually fun and just part of the sport.

that’s far upstream
now check the gauge at Buford Dam where the water flows out of a huge reservoir just north of Atlanta

You are too polite …

Try upper sixties
Lowest recent temperature at night 17 C = 62 F …

was he paddling at the dam outlet ?
Sure water coming out the bottom of the dam is cold - will warm to ambient pretty quickly in a river …

Water Temp
Well, the water coming out of the dam is indeed about 50 degrees. Is that white water there? - I don’t know. Couldn’t see anything that looked like it from google maps, but I really don’t have a clue to that area. Is that where people do whitewater lessons - right out of the dam?

My point is that something is wrong. In my experience, qualified instructors don’t take lightly dressed beginners into 50 degree class II water. I wouldn’t want to swim or roll practice that way. I did a roll session this spring in ~48 degree water and it was not pleasant. And I had insulation and a full dry suit.

I’m not saying the poster is wrong, but at least where I live, beginners would not be taken to class II waters at 50 degrees in a T shirt. Without knowing more, it just does not sound right.