paddle float rescue

I’ve been carrying a paddle float for a couple of seasons now and never even tried to use it…useless really. So yesterday, while out on the water, I decided to learn how to use it to scramble back into the boat. The “outrigger” method. It took 3 tries and I made it in fine. The tricky part was the final turn around in the seat. Twice I didn’t put enough weight on the paddle, while turning, and went over. Good enough. I feel satisfied that (with a little more practice) I can get myself back into the boat by myself reliably. I should mention that I was out in an open bay with wind waves - so this wasn’t simulated in a calm pond. My success made me feel even better. I was out with another paddler, I should say, who was watching, commenting and helping out. We also did a T-rescue - just to refresh our skills. That went very well.

I came home and went looking for the procedure for paddlefloat rescues in John Lull’s excellent book “Seakayaking Safety & Rescues”. I notices that I had followed his procedure almost completely with one main difference - and here is my question to you:

According to Lull, you should place the paddle (with float on it’s end) perpendicular to the boat behind the seat and then stand behind the paddle, meaning that your starting position should be between the paddle and the bow. He recommends to swim onto the boat, hooking your leg onto the paddle and then move over to the cockpit area, switching legs on the paddle.

Thinking about what I did yesterday - I placed myself on the other side of the paddle - meaning between the paddle and the bow - right where the seat is. I swam onto the boat, and hooked my leg on to the paddle for support. I never had to switch legs on the paddle.

What is the rational behind starting aft of the paddle and then having to switch legs on the paddle as you get into the cockpit. Is it supposed to be more stable?

Of course one could say that any method is fine as long as it accomplishes what you set out to do. Still - I’d like to know if there is something that I’m missing here. I’ll try it this way next time out but here is an opportunity to discuss.

By the way - we were out on Horseshoe Cove at Sandy Hook NJ and it was glorious!



Bow or stern?
I put my paddle behind the cockpit and my body in the water behind the paddle to the right rear of the boat. Then I swim up on the rear deck. I then put my right foot, then left foot on the shaft as I am pivoting my head to the stern. My feet go in the kayak cockpit as I scoot down and twist my body up, keeping my weight on the float side of the boat. Now, I am in the boat, remove and stow the float, attach the deck and paddle on.

bow or stren?
Exactly. That’s the method that was in the book. I did the same except that I started on the bow side of the paddle. I was wondering on the difference.



Bow side
I’ve always done it on the bow side of the paddle.

Coming in over the stern might be easier if the boat has a high aft deck – the stern would sink a bit more.

Paddle Float Rescue
I Googled “paddle float self rescue” and found not only step by step pictures but video footage of self rescues.


Stern side vs bow side
I have found that how and where your paddle is secured is the deciding factor in determining whether to come up from the stern side of the paddle or from the bow side of the paddle.

If I am holding the paddle against the back of the cockpit (not secured to the kayak) I find that the only way I can get up is to come up from the stern side of the paddle.

If the paddle is secured about 8"-12" aft of the cockpit (as my Mariner is rigged) I find it much easier to come up on the bow side of the paddle.

If the paddle is secured right against the cockpit I find I can come up from either side. Rear deck shape is probably the deciding factor on which is easier in this case.

Try it from both sides of the paddle and see if one is easier for you. Try some re-entrys where you hold the paddle with your hand against the cockpit rather than securing it under bungees or rope. Different people find that different methods are easiest for them.


Good tips
I am using an Avocet and the paddle was held against the boat by hand. I’ll try it on both sides and see which is easier. I don’t know why I didn’t try to put the paddle under the deck lines behind the cockpit but I’ll try that too.



If you are holding the paddle in your hand, clamped to the coaming, it is easier IMO to come up from behind the paddle. This method is faster than slipping the paddle into the bungies.

When using the bungies or straps to hold the paddle, either way works but I prefer to start in front of the paddle, That gives you a natural slide toward the back of the boat so your feet end up in the cockpit. This method leaves the paddle in a position to use as an outrigger while you pump out the boat.

Which is better? It depends on you and on conditions. I think in rougher conditions it is probably better to keep you paddle in hand. In significantly rough conditions, I wouldn’t trust either method but the more options you know, the better.

It’s the last thing you do
before you die if you can’t roll and are alone in big water.

working on it
I’m working on my roll too but I didn’t understand your comment. Can you please explain?


How long are your legs?
The diff for me is that my legs are too long to swing into the coaming if I come up in front of the paddle.


leng length
I agree - I have short legs ( 5’ 2") and enter bow side. I watched a 6’4" instructor attempt a bow side re-entry and it was very difficult for him to bend his legs to get them into the cockpit.

The quickest rescue using a paddle
float is the reentry and roll. Even if you do not have a solid roll almost anyone can use an extended paddle with a float at the end as an outrigger to right themselves. You can do this unassisted rescues even in big conditions, since you are not getting up on your deck thereby creating a high center of gravity. You should practice bow presentation rescues, to help you learn the reentry and roll with a paddle float. My .02 worth.

Aim your belly towards the back of the boat. Slide over top of the paddle shaft. It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where your navel ends up. If you have long legs, you need to slide farther back, that’s all.

And yeah, learn the paddlefloat reentry & roll, too. Blanket statement: learn all the rescue options you can.

I think what he’s saying is…
…that a paddle float rescue is least effective when you need it most. Although your success in moderately textured water is encouraging, you can NEVER rely on a paddle float rescue in truly rough water/high winds, as it simply won’t work. While it’s certainly a worthwhile skill to have, it’s no substitute for learning to roll. Unfortunately, many beginners learn to struggle through a paddle float rescue or two and assume they’re safe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The most effective use for a paddle float is in the paddle float assisted re-enter and roll. That technique will get you back in your boat on rough water.

The best bet is to never come out of your boat in the first place and never paddle alone, so there’s the option of an assisted rescue. Speaking of which, a well executed T-rescue should have the paddler back in their boat in under a minute. If it takes you longer than that, you need more practice.

Atlantic Kayak tours…
has a great site with a lot of good articles.

Here’s the paddle float article

You can also use the paddle float to hop on the back deck cowboy style and get in that way too.

paddle under deck lines
You can try this but be sure to also “try” getting them out yourself if they are secured under the lines. Harder to do in the seat facing forward w/o a paddle to balance. Now you also need to pump out your boat or paddle it with the water in it. This tends to be difficult in conditions that might have put you over in the first place.


makes sense
Thanks. This makes a lot of sense. I didn’t mean to imply that this is the only rescue skill that I’m working on , or that I plan to work on. It was a specific question. I’ve done a bunch of T-rescues and they worked pretty well so far. I definitely want to master a paddle-float re-entry and roll and started working on it during this outing. I haven’t spent enough time on it though to get over the confusion of turning upside down to re-enter the boat. I’ll work on it more next time.

Thanks again for the good advise


great site
Oh yeah - that’s a great site and a great organization as well. I’ve taken a couple of BCU courses and gone on trips with them.



What about the tether cord?
My inflatable paddle float came with a tether cord that can be used to attach it to the boat. I store the paddle float behind the seat and clip the cord to a ring in that area. The cord is long - maybe more than 8 feet. It seems useful in keeping the paddle float from escaping after a capsize. I kept it attached while I was inflating and putting the float on the paddle, just in case the float decide to blow out of my hands. It was windy. For the recovery, I unclipped the cord from the float but it was floating all around and seemed like an entrapment hazard or at least it was in the way. What do you people do with it? I have not seen any pictures of a recovery where the cord remained attached to the float during the whole thing although it’s probably long enough.