Paddle Float Rescue

I first practiced the paddle float rescue as I read it described. Inflate (if necessary) and attach, empty the cockpit, upright the kayak, climb on top, and in. It works fine in many situations. But in practice, it always left me wondering about rough water situations, where emptying the cockpit would be useless, as waves would fill it back up while trying to climb on top and in. And where disorientation and roughness might leave too much room for error only having support on one side. Quite honestly, if it’s rough enough that I end up swimming, is there really much wisdom in my attempting to climb on top of my kayak? I’ve tried and failed rough water traditional paddle float rescues, where I’ve given up and just reentered and rolled.

I recently read an article in Sea Kayaker magazine about a pair kayaking in Alaska. One had what seemed a lot of rough water experience, and the other some, not as much, but clearly physically able-bodied. They found themselves in 45 mph winds and 10 foot seas. It got to the point where the more experienced person got knocked over a couple times, and the less experienced one went for a swim, and they ended up deciding that rafting up was the best option to hold out for rescue.

This got me to thinking about all my solo paddling, and why in the world I have never done some playing around with two paddle floats. I’ve already all but abandoned the traditionally described method of self paddle float rescue in favor of re-enter and right myself methods. So I went out to see what would happen with two paddle floats.

When I weigh the extra time of inflating and securing that extra paddle float on the other paddle blade against the added security, it seems a no-brainer. Of all the safety stuff often carried, an extra paddle float secured behind my backband takes up almost no space and doesn’t add significant weight. I now would really question myself not having it should a situation arise where I even thought it might prove useful. It does catch more wind, but if I’m just hanging on for my life in hope of rescue, feeling disoriented, maybe seasick, whatever, it sure seems it would be a huge help. And as far as getting back in and righting myself, it is nice having the entire length of the paddle shaft stable and floating on the water next to the kayak. I can easily enough right myself with just my hand inside a single paddle float with my normal strength and wits about me, but this felt as easy as having my hand on the edge of the swimming pool. It seems a key practice would be to keep both ends of the paddle as low as possible, even when landing on a paddle float as a brace on either side, to avoid the wind ripping it out of your hands. And of course, you have to have figured out how to nearly effortlessly right yourself with your hand on something supportive.

Have others had good or bad experiences using two paddle floats as an aid to righting themselves (vs adding stability for climbing on top) or for outrigger support while situating yourself after? I can see in the traditional method where only one float would work best, but outside of that method, it seems like a potentially useful and even life-saving tool. Yet I almost never hear or see this use discussed. Maybe there’s a reason?

probably because there are easier ways
Yes, I did say easier.

If you are equipped with a paddle float, the only other component you need to add is an understanding of the mechanics of a roll. You don’t have to actually have a roll to get started.

Practicing rolls can be made easier with a paddle float. So don’t toss it just yet!

2 paddle floats
While I would use a reenter and roll if I came out of my boat, when touring in remote places, I always carry 2 inflatable paddle floats for the reasons you describe. I think it is very cheap insurance. On a prior boat,I even had a drogue to keep the bow pointed into the waves. With the drogue and 2 paddle floats, it would take an awful lot to knock you down and keep you down. Its drawback is if you had to maneuver or advance to keep off rocks.


already have a solid roll
Probably necessary to have the mechanics down to make any of this work effectively.

What is your method
of emptying the cockpit?

One huge paddle float
When I used to solo paddle in cold weather I had a huge home made foam paddle float on my back deck. I could just push myself up with it without needing a paddle. I only used it in cold weather.

Now I don’t paddle solo in cold weather and I don’t carry the big wind drag float.

So if you see me hull up drumming on the boat to get your attention, please point you bow my way quickly.

Maybe this winter I could learn to roll.

emptying the cockpit
Swim to the bow of your upside-down kayak. Put your paddle under your left armpit, blades flat on the surface. Right hand under the bow, elbow pointing down. Count to three, then scissor kick, and push the bow up as high as you can. (your head should go under water if you’re putting your heart into it). When the boat is at the top, relax your grip on the bow, and the boat will flip over in your hand, to land upright (and nearly empty) on the water.

Takes practice, but very effective if you can do it.

If you do paddle float rescue, inflate that first on your paddle. Then tuck the inflated float under your left armpit, and lift up the bow with right hand. That makes it easier.

You’re right
Two would be a much better way. The paddle float reentry takes a lot of skill and in rough conditions even more skill.

Try to learn to roll. Even if you’re not great at it, you can learn to do a reentry and roll with a paddle float. You will be out of the water and back in your boat in seconds. Then you can use that paddle float as a sponson while you pump your boat out. Or paddle it with water in it to a quiet spot etc. You can put the paddle across your cockpit and hold it with your forearms while you pump - holding the pump between your legs.

To deflate it, many paddlers just open the valve and put it under water. This way you still can use if for a brace if needed.

It’s good you’re thinking about realities because the paddle float recovery can be tough in rough water - but doable. But the reentry and roll is the way to go if possible.

Keep air bags in the yak and stay close to shore in windy conditions.

and once you get good at that…
…you can hold the paddle in your hand, with the blade flat on the surface, and use the tension to help push the bow upward with your other hand.

I have a friend who can empty his by pushing down on the stern but it won’t work with my kayak.

Order of operations
As I read this, I questioned first your order of operation and then why you were mucking about with the floats when you have a roll.

In the ACA we teach to empty the boat AFTER you’re in it. the reason for this is that you’re safer in your boat than in the water. Also, learn to paddle your boat with a cockpit full of water.

When you capsize in the real world where are you? Surf? Tide race or tidal rapids? bad weather? Are you really in a position to not be in your boat and under control?

Simply put, get in your boat and get your situation under control, that may not allow emptying right away.

From the BCU perspective there is no paddle float, they don’t teach it or recognize it.

So, get your self-rescue house in order! Learn how to paddle full of water, tighten up the Reentry and roll so that it works every time and GO OUT IN PRACTICE IT IN CONDITIONS! It won’t work in real life if you can’t do it in practice!

Agree with this.
But, two paddle floats can be useful if you are helping someone else who is sea sick or otherwise disabled and there are only two of you. Of course paddling alone or with only one other companion has risks and I don’t recommend it. Your choice.

You may have missed the point a bit
I roll in rough conditions, in surf, very occasionally in whitewater rivers. It’s not what I would consider hit or miss, and it is regularly done in rough water without trepidation. Mostly for fun, practice, and keeping cool, but occasionally it’s unexpected. I’m probably one that doesn’t need encouragement to get out and practice in rough conditions. I’ve never done a paddle float rescue other than practice, so the whole point for me here is preparation and getting the “what ifs” in order. Fortunately, I’m not speaking of experiences, and like everyone else, I’m always trying to keep it that way.

This would be the case where circumstances somehow lead me to a bad decision. Where I find myself in a situation, for whatever reason, that I’m no longer in control. Could even be a completely unforseen physical or health issue. No one has to point out that they’re above these things and why. We all can find stories where it can and does happen, even - as in the article that got me thinking - with BCU 5 star trained paddlers.

So BCU doesn’t practice paddle floats? I know there’s reasoning, and I can think of several possibilities, but nothing that removes all usefullness in thoughtful, prepared hands in my mind. Am I missing something?

Seems cowboy instead
It’s not equipment-dependent and is a self-rescue that normally is considered practical in the same conditions as paddle float. Next in sequence for rougher conditions would be re-enter and roll. And yes, any advancement in BCU training means you have to get used to paddling with a cockpit of water at some point. I expect to find out this coming season, but I’d be surprised if the ACA didn’t go the same way.

I believe the limitations and added equipment fuss is at the heart of organizations that recommend against paddle float self-rescue, also the consideration that ideally you would never be out in those kinds of conditions alone. And that the paddle float self-rescue can be pretty exhausting as things get rougher… anything that chews up less energy is preferable.

As an interesting aside, the annual Great Hudson River Paddle requires that every participant, at least the full-trip folks, practice assisted rescues in the group. They also require that paddlers stay close enough together for that to work (not an easy task when you get to Manhattan) and don’t have any participants carry a paddle-float.

That said, I realize that all good plans will fail sometime. Personally, if I was looking for an off the radar solution for myself paddling solo in rougher stuff it’d be more flotation for sure, just not executed as you did above. I’d either stick the paddle float on the end of my blade to better assure that my first re-enter and roll attempt worked or be carrying (and use) the Back-Up Roll Aid. The latter has been more maligned than I think it deserves - it’s just that we always paddle at least partners so I tend not to carry it.

I agree with that part
I think at the heart of the matter is that a person is not supposed to be out there alone. But solo paddlers are out there, myself included.

I’m not thinking about it as strictly a way back into the boat, although I know it can provide very valuable assistance there. And I’m speaking of situations where I have not found the traditional method very doable. Think about assisted rescues. You raft up with the person until they are prepared to continue. It’s not over once the swimmer is upright. In the case of this article, that was until outside rescue arrived. What do you look to as a solo paddler for assistance during this rafted-up time? What if remaining rafted up would be the best survival tactic, except you’re solo? Paddle floats take up such little space. Could they provide value?

Any piece of safety equipment

– Last Updated: Oct-29-10 12:30 PM EST –

is good. period.

How good depends on the conditions.

I also have a pretty bombproof roll (never say never) but I also carry two paddle floats always for just the same reason.

It can carry water, be a pillow, act as an emergency cast (the two compartment one) be a floor mat for changing, float bag in hatches that are empty, and a myriad of other things. (My favorite and this has happened twice now is that I can use it as an emergency backband. Oh yeah, it can be a paddle float as well and two does give you more stability especially if you have a spare paddle and set it up like an outrigger. (used to pee standing up) :)

(a frisbee has a thousand and one uses as well!)..cutting board, plate, etc

and neither take up a lick of space. so why not carry it?

if you get dependant on any one piece of equipment shame on you ... don't blame the equipment


many don’t carry paddle floats
many in UK especially find our use of paddle floats interesting. I do think they have value (especially having two as was discussed) to outrigger a sick or injured person.

A single float in rough water can help with a re-enter and roll especially if tired or partly injured.

I cowboy when I can because I can get rid of a lot of water and then always punt to a reenter and roll when too rough for a cowboy. So my paddle float is only for injured/sick folks (hopefully not me ;)).

BCU and paddle float
Just because the BCU doesn’t teach the paddle float doesn’t mean it’s a wise decision to not teach it. It seems to me that reentering your boat is one of the first realities that kayakers should learn other than a wet exit.

I paddle some big water solo
and I cary a float, but truthfully, I view it much more as a learning and teaching tool than a practical rescue aid in conditions. It also can serve as an emergency hatch cover.

The two float idea, may work, but before anyone depends on it they should try it in the conditions in which they need it. In waves big enough to surf the kayak, I fear that the down wave float would dig and either flip the kayak or break the paddle. There’s a lot of energy in those waves.

For me, I’m happy counting on a reliable roll, backups in order are re-enter and roll or the same with a float. If those don’t work, I’m in big crashing stuff or I’m hurt. A paddle float reentry won’t help. I either need to conserve my energy and wait till I’m flushed out of the nasty, or Issue a Mayday. Those are the risks that you accept when you paddle solo.

For wat it’s worth, I drink and like both the BCU and ACA Cool Ade.

order of priority
solo rescues

  1. roll
  2. re-entry and roll
  3. paddle float re-entry
  4. cowboy rescue, but assuming the first three don’t work, it’s unlikely that this one would–nice trick to watch though

  5. assisted rescues–assumes you are paddling with a buddy–T,renentry and pump,HOG,scoop–if you are unconscious, and eskimo rescue–this is with HOG rescue–the rescuee has to have the wit to stay in his kayak upside down and wait for the 20-60 seconds for the rescueor (sp) to get in position to execute the rescue. Most people bail out of their boat before this happens.

  6. VHF mayday transmission
  7. Prayer