Paddle float rescues in breaking waves?

-- Last Updated: May-29-14 10:28 AM EST --

Paddle float rescues in breaking waves?

Someone wants to buy my Caribou sea kayak (yay), but wants to be sure he could learn to do a paddle float re-entry in it under rough water conditions. I don't want to give him with the mis-impression that is possible if it isn't - and maybe he shouldn't worry about getting a boat with a big enough cockpit for easy re-entries in the first place.

A lot of emphasis is often placed on carrying a paddle float. I've seen one work (with help) after a novice flipped at a current boundary, and was told by an instructor that that was quite common, so it clearly makes sense on beginner trips, for others if not one's self.

But since he is asking about this, I assume he is not a novice and knows how to balance his boat with his hips, and to let the water orient his paddle, so the only conditions in which he could flip are where waves are high and rough enough to break across the top of the boat with significant force.

So are paddle floats practical in breaking waves? I'm too much of a coward to try it. Lots of people have posted saying they aren't sure it is, and left it at that, but I was wondering if some of you have tried? Does it require serious strength or expertise to succeed, so is irrelevant to the rest of us?

I've not done serious rough water - just once in 4' wind waves, with an occaisional 4.5' wave. Nothing broke across my deck with significant force, so I would guess you need 5' or 6' waves before the problem arises, unless you are talking shore break, where I assume paddle float rescues are completely impractical. That sound right?

So those are the waves I am asking about.

You all know that in flat water, paddle float re-entries are a lot easier if someone brings their boat to the opposite side of your boat from you, and you grab onto their deck lines while they try to haul you in. But can that be done in breaking waves without tearing arms out of their sockets?

(I've moved to a low volume SOF which is roll-or-die, and can't even give T-rescues, so this is for my tentative buyer's benefit, not mine.)

I doubt it
But I certainly haven’t tried it.

I would expect that it would work fine in smooth swells, but I think anybody good enough to do it in sizable breaking waves would be good enough to reenter and roll.

It can be done
but not easily nor reliably. If there is water breaking over the deck, the boat will gather quite a bit of water, if not fill, before you can attach, inflate, re-enter, and button up. That’s a lot to do in the short amount of time that nature allows you between wave crests.

The paddle float isn’t always a practical rescue. In calm or moderate conditions, it works reasonably well, but one is much better off with a solid skill set than any device assisted rescue.

The more modern method of float rescue works much better than the one I was taught many years ago, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Note that any rescue where the paddle is compromised (ie. the attached float has to be removed, stowed, and the skirt must be reattached, in the same conditions where you capsized and there may simply be no time between waves to execute all this without the ability to brace at will. During this time, the cockpit is exposed to the elements and there will be significant water introduced to the boat and stability may be compromised because of this.

Snell rated helmets state that (paraphrasing) reasonably predictable impacts may exceed this capacity of this helmet to protect the wearer. Something similar should probably be printed on paddle floats as well.

I’ve always carried a float and I’ve tried to use it in a variety of conditions. It can be effective, but would be one of my least favored methods of rescues. Even the dreaded spon***s are a better solution, because at the end of the rescue, the paddle is available for use and the additional floatation does not need to be removed after the rescue. My most creative uses for the float are to:

-create a double outrigger for changing into (and out of) dive gear (attach one to each end of a paddle and lash the paddle across the boat). I’ve done this in a 22" wide hull, in less than calm ocean conditions and it works well. Also can be done for fishing if one wishes, and allows the use of a 2nd paddle for propulsion.

-emergency floatation device for paddlers who become separated from their boat. I did this when, in decent wind and chop, a boat was blown away from a paddler about a mile from shore (someone not with me, by the way). I deployed the float, threw it to the paddler and retrieved the boat (bringing that boat back wasn’t fun at all). Had the paddler not been dressed for immersion, the situation would have been quite unpleasant.

-cheap bouy for marking a location, though this leaves one without a potentially useful device. One reason I have two in the boat.

I can’t comment about this individual nor their skills, but for the most part, the float isn’t hull dependent. If the user can make it work, the boat design should not much matter, although adding hardware to the hull to provide a more reliable connection between the paddle and hull isn’t an awful idea.


It really depends

– Last Updated: May-29-14 3:56 PM EST –

I'll assume we are talking waves - things with sharp or breaking tops and close period. If you are talking long ocean swells that is a whole different story.

I think it gets challenging for most people to do the usual paddle float self rescue long before the waves are 5-6 ft high. Many people who have that as their only solution find it between very hard and impossible at 2 to 2.5 feet. Whether it is because this population doesn't spend that much time in wet practice or it is the nature of the beast doesn't much matter.

Of course to it being possible is yes. I have paddled with newbies who have fantastic agility and balance, a great attitude and have done pretty amazing things in a boat. I admire them hugely when I am not envious because it wasn't so instinctive for me.

But for a given person off the street... probably not reliable.

As to someone helping by bringing their boat alongside, it again is possible. But it takes some practice in those conditions to make it possible without harm to the paddlers involved. It doesn't sound like you you know if that is present in this case.

This may be someone who is working on a roll but it thinking of a backup, and that is likely OK (though I would argue for Cowboy or re-enter and roll). But it also may be someone who has decided to go further in their paddling activities than their skill level supports. Personally, I'd like that person to live further away from me than the regional news media cover.

Frankly, I think this is a lot to put on the seller of a boat too. Someone buying a boat like the Caribou to paddle in for real waves should know that answer before they plop down money. I'd be a little hesitant to deal with this person unless you get some more comforting info than what you have right now.

I agree, weird buyer question
I guess my reply would be, “not particularly more difficult or easier than most other sea kayaks”.

I remember trying to do cowboy re-entries in rough conditions, just for the fun of it. But once you learn to R&R there’s really no practical use. Personally I think if you can’t do a cowboy re-entry without paddle float, you ought to either stay in calm conditions or learn to roll. Futzing with a paddle float in conditions could get dicey.

surf rescues that work
re-enter and roll

cowboy (if you are fast)

Swim in. I broke my finger swimming my boat in when the toggle rope wrapped around my finger and the boat got hit by a wave.

Solo rescues are the only safe option in breaking waves. If you need a paddle float you should not be in the surf zone. On an average day you are getting hammered every

10 seconds.

The only assisted rescue that is safe is the back deck tow into shore. Or the toggle tow out of the break zone.

I’ve surfed in with a rider on the back deck and towed an injured paddler with a dislocated shoulder out through small surf to get to a calm spot. I’d never get near a swimmer and their boat in the impact zone.

Or paddle with a group. eom

Not your responsibility
to educate the buyer about safety. Even if you knew that a paddle-float rescue was possible in certain conditions, you would have no way of knowing the buyer’s ability to do this. I would just tell him that he should take a safety class if he’s concerned. This discussion shouldn’t be part of selling your kayak. It’s up him to research your kayak, know what it’s suitable for, and know his own skills.

I’ve always believed that my chances of getting back into my kayak in conditions that tossed me out are minimal. I can do a paddle-float reentry in calm water. I have no faith that I could do it in rough water, so I try to avoid places and conditions that exceed my abilities. But this question depends on factors like a person’s fitness and size, the characteristics of the kayak, cockpit size, etc. My previous kayak was quite stable for reentry from the side using a stirrup. My current kayak easily flips with a stirrup.

You can’t predict these factors for the buyer. But this whole thread is a good wake-up call for people who are planning on relying on paddle-float reentry.

tough situation
Since you’re specifically talking about non-surf zone open water whitecaps that have become pushy, the wind and short period waves would make the little things very important.

I would view a paddle float assisted re-entry in these conditions as an assisted re-enter and roll. Lock into the cockpit with the fear of losing the boat in mind, paddle blade with float on it upwind to some degree. Don’t leave the boat in a position to just push right over the top of yourself and paddle. That wouldn’t be fun. Quickly pick your timing, relax for a split second, and sit up. My biggest fear would be my boat getting away from me in the process, as would be my biggest fear with any re-enter and roll in the rough.

I’ve grabbed the bow of another kayak and quickly sat up in such conditions. I would try to use the paddle float in a method more resembling that sort of thing.

With the pushing and twisting of the kayak from the waves and wind, some of the more traditional flatwater paddle float assists would become trickier. Short period whitecaps would fill your boat probably in 5 - 7 second intervals or thereabouts in 4 - 6’ windblown whitecapped seas. So I might not spend time and energy trying to empty a cockpit, and be in and sealed in under that amount of time in rough conditions.

More likely than not
if you can’t re-enter and roll you will be swimming the boat in through breaking waves unless you are super agile, which if you are more likely than not you will just roll up.

Instructors should teach paddlers how to ride in on the back deck, and how to keep their kayak from becoming a missile in the surf zone. And as noted above, when to let go. I too have broken a finger in the surf.

Pinning the paddle under the deck rigging and scramblign around leaves you very vulnerable if the waves are breaking less than 15 seconds.

If you want to re-enter in breaking waves buy a sit on top. I do it all the time with no issues.

testimonials ?
are hard to find…

Paddle floats
Paddle float rescues are often the first rescues that people learn and the first one that people stop using. Its pretty straight forward to perform a paddle float in swells, once you move into breaking waves it becomes a challenge. It can be done, but there are far more efficient rescues for use in rough water.

You may also want to ask him how he defines “rough water conditions”. It could all be moot when you realize he is talking about 1 foot chop.

As an aside - you mentioned that paddle float rescues are a lot easier if someone rafts up with you to help stabilize your kayak. This type of assisted rescue is much easier and more practical without a paddle float. A paddle float in this situation becomes more of a liability than an asset. An assisted rescue can be performed in breaking waves - many people consider it the go to rescue in mild to moderate breaking waves.

Why can’t you give T-rescues?

kind of what I was thinking also
If it’s an assisted rescue in conditions it seems, as you said, like an unnecessary step. If you’re by yourself it’s going to be very difficult.

If you’ve gotten so good at it that you can pull it off, you’ve likely also learned a r&r.


– Last Updated: May-29-14 8:38 PM EST –

>Why can't you give T-rescues?

Most SOF boats aren't strong enough. No way would I trust laying a boat with a few hundred pounds of water across the deck. And it is low enough volume that my boat would sink beneath the waves - I guess 70 or 80 pounds extra would do it. It's the price of having a 19" x 19' x 30 pound boat. A carbon/kevlar boat could be that light, and might be strong enough, but my SOF isn't. The SOF community has a different view of rescues of necessity than the mainstream sea kayak community.

(Hmm - a SOF with a foam flotation pillar up front, like the old slalom boats had, might just be strong enough...)

BTW, the person's specific concern was that the cockpit wasn't large enough for a paddle float rescue. The hardest part for many people is turning over while your legs are in the boat. (And my Caribou is the older style that takes a 1.4 spray skirt instead of the 1.7.) In that a paddle float re-entry does differ from a re-enter and roll, which can be done inverted, so you don't need to roll your body over inside the boat. But my potential buyer can't roll.

The rescue strap sounds like a good idea; I've never tried it, but it might be less awkward.

the cockpit won’t be the problem
If you’re in conditions like that chances are you’ll have a keyhole or ocean cockpit. Nothing atypical about the caribou cockpit.

I’d be questioning the buyer’s experience.

Many videos, not in rough water. An exercise not a method maybe in the ratio in Utube ? Flat to rough water.

The sit on top shows how.

And the Bridge Cowboy…

The novice un-thought of problem is wind. Wind pulls the kayak away from your motions. While you’re going up and down.

Why the rough water obsession?
The person is interested in the Caribou and is wondering if he can do a paddle float reentry in rough water conditions? Maybe learn to brace, learn to roll, learn the reentry and roll and learn bracing paddle strokes and get experience/training before worrying about using a paddle float in rough water conditions. It’s like buying a used airplane and asking if a parachute will work in the rain.

Just reread the post - say no

– Last Updated: May-30-14 12:10 PM EST –

Here is what I missed before - if this is an accurate repeat of the potential buyer's question - "but wants to be sure he could learn to do a paddle float re-entry in it under rough water conditions".

I missed this before - he wants to be sure he could LEARN to do a paddle float re-entry in rough water?? So he has already indicated that he has a gap here, and in the wrong choice of re-entry technique.

Say no. This is a really asinine and inappropriate question for a (SORRY - had this backwards in first try) buyer to ask a seller.

we have …
Potential buyer structures possible futures with incomplete subject knowledge…

You may Suggest looking for a wider beam design, buying a backup, not running Deception Pass backwards.

Of course, Chuck Yeager did that, how would he learn to fly it otherwise ? sheer talent ?

RE&R Assist
IMHO, the only utility a paddle float would have in breaking waves would be fastened to one blade to assist in a re-entry & roll, and then only with a foam (non-inflatable) float (an inflatable would take too long).

But to try a regular paddle-float re-entry in breaking waves is crazy! Offhand I can think of two fatalities where the empty kayak was found with half the broken-off paddle in place under the decklines - the math teacher who went out of Biddeford Pool, ME for an evening paddle with his buddy and got caught in unexpected breakers, and the guy who did a solo winter paddle from Rye, NH out to Isles of Shoals and disappeared on the way back.

If you’re in conditions rough enough to capsize you, you shouldn’t be paddling alone in the first place.

My $.02.