I’m learning kayaking skills after paddling a solo canoe for a few years. Last Fall I took an assisted wet entry class where I learned to get rescued and be rescued using the heel hook reentry. I wasn’t wearing a dry suit and I wore a Kokatat Orbit PFD. I’m 6’-3" and I weighed 245lbs.

Last weekend I went out to practice unassisted reentries wearing a dry suit and a Lotus Designs LO23 PFD. I was able to get back in my boat using a dual chamber paddle float but I struggled. I now weight just 215 lbs but the weight reduction didn’t seem to make things easier. After thrashing around in the cold water for ten minutes or so and cinching the PFD so tight that it restricted my breathing I was done.

The whole time in the water it seemed that the PFD was riding up into my face and I was struggling with it as much as practicing reenty skills.

Do I need a more floaty PFD? Any suggestions? I don’t consider myself excessively unfit but I worry what would happen in rough conditions if I had to self-rescue.


Sounds like the PFD was floating fine
I’m no expert on rescues, but I have noticed that many people wear their PFD’s much to loose. I find that I need to wear mine really snug or it will ride up. Was the PFD tight enough?

Not always easy

– Last Updated: Mar-27-12 7:55 AM EST –

Congratulation on loosing the 30 lbs.

If your boat is high with a rounded back deck, the paddle float reentry can be challenging. Tough to get your body up over the height.

PDFs are not meant as items that you work in but a floatation device to keep your head above water. They all ride up a bit on everyone. If you had the pfd on and floated in a slightly back leaning position, it would probably do it's job perfectly. I think there's a happy medium degree that you can have the PFD snug enough without squeezing you. It's a tough call to make a recommendation without seeing you in action. What I'm saying is that it happens to everyone but after a while you get more athletic with doing a paddle float self rescue and you seem to execute it easily.

Are the arm openings too large for your body ??

Use the Orbit
You describe a PFD that doesn’t fit you well. If you didn’t have these problems with the PFD you used last fall, then use that one. PFDs do not always ride up, in my experience. I wear an Astral PFD, and without cinching it tightly, I can float on it without riding up at all.

I’d also say the size of the armholes is irrelevant to riding up. For paddling, a PFD should be nowhere near your armpits.

I suspect
you are having the same problem that men have when they have a “beer belly”. In which case you need to get the life jacket to tighten below your stomach. You should be able to lengthen the shoulder straps to accomplish that. If not, get a larger size. I had the same problem until I lost weight.

Four things

– Last Updated: Mar-27-12 10:35 AM EST –

I agree with Nate - it sounds like the Lotus PFD is not fitting right for kayaking purposes.

It takes time and practice to get solid with a paddle float self-rescue. I had a conflict on the dates this year, but for the last several I have done demos in a pool at a local sports expo in April. I have to get into a pool four weeks ahead of that to do the demo without showing how NOT to do it. Even with that time, I have still had years where I did it all wrong once I got to the cold water in the (unheated) pool. Don't underestimate the effect of the cold water you were in on your hands and calm.

You should still try to master the paddle float re-entry, but at your size you may want to spend some time on the cowboy scramble. You have enough weight to sink the back of the boat to sink it easily (unlike me). If you can learn to balance back there, it may be a better solo re-entry for you.

Much of the problem people have with solo re-entries in a kayak comes down to balance. They start getting over or into the boat and re-capsize because they can't stay balanced. Rather than tire yourself out with full re-entries to try and improve this part, I would suggest that you practice balance alone. Stay relatively near shore so it is not big effort to get back into the boat at first, and start climbing around on the top of the kayak. Slide from the rear of the cockpit to the stern, then back forward. Do the same thing to the bow and back, turn around while you are up there... spend some less exhausting time doing that and you'll find you self-rescues get a lot better.

I was reading the "Think Safe"
pamphlet last night on a new infant PFD I just bought and two things leapt out at me since I too have recently lost 20 lbs. First was physically fit people do not float as well someone with more body fat. Fat floats and you have lost some of your natural personal flotation! Second was “A PFD is designed not to ride-up on the body when in the water. But, when a wearer’s stomach is larger than the chest, ride-up may occur. Before use, test this PFD in the water to establish that excessive ride-up does not impair PFD performance” because I had the same problem you described last year when wearing an Astral PFD. I had to cinch the belly straps down very tight to keep it out of my face. PFDs are designed to hold your head out of the water while you float on your back. Not necessarily for the positions you take when attempting re-entry. Still I was able to set mine up where I only had to tighten one strap while in the water to keep it out of my face. Play with the strap adjustments and it probably makes a difference wether your wearing the suit or not.

Oh yeah, skinny people get hypothermia faster too.

PFD riding up = Poor fit
If the PFD rides up on you in the water, it doesn’t fit or is not adjusted properly. I have a Stohlquist that is very solid and comfortable in and out of the water. I’ve also tried several others (Kokatat Orbit is one) that rode up and consider them to be a poor fit for me. PFDs do not ride up on everyone.

It is a fact that some vests fit better than others, it’s up to you to find the right model for your size and shape. Don’t settle for a poor fitting PFD.

Another helpful method for the paddlefloat is the stirrup method. Tie a 6’ (or so) sling (this shold be accessible to you, pre-tied, is a PFD pocket or something.

After you inflate the paddlefloat and lay the shaft across the back deck loop the sling around the far side blade/shaft and bring it around, underneath the hull and turn a few turns of the sling around the nearside shaft, while being sure that the last turn goes between the boat and the sling.

Step into the sling with the foot that will be farthest from the cockpit (if you’re on the right side of the boat this will be the right foot)while putting your weight DOWN AND NOT UNDER the boat and stand up. This will get you high enough to make it through the rest of the slithering around you’ll do while helping you keep the paddlefloat 90 degrees to the boat.

When you’re done getting situated and pumped out remove the sling and away you go.

This, like all other techniques requires a bit of practice to find the method that works best for you and to make it efficient. After you can do this in flat water take it to more dynamic conditions and practice it there until you can do int efficiently there as well, after all, incidents and accidental capsizes don’t generally happen when everything is calm and flat, even if that’s where you prefer to paddle

After you have this all dialed in, learn to roll. This will cut your time being fully immersed to seconds rather than minutes. (Open Fire on the guy that insists people learn to roll!!!)

poor fit

– Last Updated: Mar-27-12 4:05 PM EST –

I also agree with Nate - PFD WASN'T (edited this - at first I mistyped and said "was") fitting right. But it might be able to.

The comment related the PFD just holding your head above water, and not really helping in the rescue, is also true.

On possibly making it fit: You said it was floating up above your head - it should not do that. When I teach a basic kayaking class, one thing I do is take each student's PFD and pull it upwards (what the water does when you are swimming). If the shoulders can get above their ears, it is not tight enough. The solution is usually to tighten the straps that go around their chests. You want these tight enough that it won't allow the PFD to be pulled above their ears. If making it tight enough to keep from going above your ear also makes it so it is uncomfortable or you cant breath, then the PFD won't fit right.

heel hook self rescue.
If you are having trouble getting back up on the back deck, check out the heel hook self rescue.

Your PFD issue sounds like poor fit something of a safety hazard.

The paddle float assisted re-enter and roll is very easy to learn and a good first step to a regular re-enter and roll and rolling.

A few tips
Congratulations on losing the weight. Bear in mind though, that fat is buoyant, so you also lost some natural buoyancy which may be making it harder for you.

As others have pointed out, the pfd model may not be right for your body.

The suggestions above of using a heel-hook or a stirrup are good. I learned the stirrup by wrapping it around the combing.

For the paddlefloat rescue, try holding the side of your kayak, and just let your body relax and float to the surface of the water (like at a beginner swimming lesson in the pool). Once you’re ‘laying’ on the water hook a foot over the paddle. Shimmy your body forward keeping a leg hooked on the paddle. That takes out all the struggle and effort of having to life yourself out of the water.