Questions on self rescue and kayak type

I’m somewhat experienced with canoes, but I’m looking to buy a kayak. I want it (as opposed to a canoe) for the ability to use solo on open water. Once I have it I’m sure I’ll find myself out alone on less than perfect days or in cold water.

Now I know from canoeing that you don’t just tip over for no reason, but I’m also fairly confident that with 1 other person I could recover from a canoe capsize. With a kayak I plan on learning to roll and also praticing recovery from an exit, but I do have some questions.

How concerned should I be with being able to recover from a capsize?

How difficult is it to recover from a capsize after an exit from the kayak?

Also my only experience with kayaks comes for fairly cheap recreation ones. To me it seems that once these kayak are completely swamped they would be almost impossible to recover in deep water, as the kayak would basically sit underwater as soon as you put your weight on/in it.

Then I think about the touring style kayaks with water tight bulkheads. It seems to me that the bouancy this provides would keep the kayak from getting completely swamped. I think the kayak should float fairly high in the water so just being upside down would get or keep much of the water out. It should also help keep the kayak afloat making re-entry and bailing or pumping easier.

So I’m thinking that despite not really planning on multiday trips I really should be leaning toward this type of kayak if I plan on being far from shore alone. Of course my thinking could be way off so I’d like the opinions of people with more experience.

Thanks for any input you can give.


answer to many of your questions is yes
There are many considerations and many alternatives regarding rescue with a kayak. Most are easier with a touring (sea) kayak than a rec boat.

For a start take a look at Atlantic Kayaks Tours ‘Expert’ pages, especially:

capsize recovery
"How concerned should I be with being able to recover from a capsize?"

Very. While most folks just about never capsize outside of surf situations it only takes once. Also knowing you can recover easily makes you relax and enjoy the trip so much more.

“How difficult is it to recover from a capsize after an exit from the kayak?”

Not too hard for most in mild to moderate conditions IF you practice (a lot at first and then a bit now and then). Some of the methods you will be taught first don’t work so well in very rough water. You’ll want to avoid too rough of waters at first and when you do have a buddy. Eventually a re-enter and roll will be your best bet in rough water as it avoid any top heavy issues.

If you really do plan trips far from shore in the ocean then a “real” touring kayak is your best bet. A small rec boat will be a pain and possibly dangerous if no bulkheads (or suitable buoyancy bags).

Not ocean kayaking
Just to clarify, I am not planning on ocean kayaking, just smaller lakes and small to large rivers. So far from shore means that if the water wasn’t too cold it might be possible to swim to shore, but it would take a while and it would involve giving up the kayak.

then better rec boats may be okay
personally I think you still want the bulkheads as you already seemed to realize. I helped a kayaker recently that had no bulkheads – what a pain. Learning to get back into a kayak on fairly calm, small lakes will be easy though still practice now and then and practice exactly as you normally paddle (i.e. all the same gear, etc.) – I find most hassles getting back in had more to do with my boat setup (where stuff was on deck, etc.) than my own skills.

Re-enter and roll is not best bet.
It’s second best. :wink:

Actually (assuming unintentional capsize), R&R would be third best. First best is to avoid the capsize*, second best is to roll, then R&R.

  • Even seasoned rollers can find them selves swimming, but it’s still best to avoid it (except for fun and cooling purposes). Fortunately, the process of leaning the skills the OP has already laid out will allow you to recover, but the level of feel/control/confidence picked up along the way also make you a LOT harder to tip in the first place. This secondary benefit is huge, and should be a primary reason to learn these things.

but when a sea monster sucks me out of my boat then spits me out cuz I don’t taste good then I reenter and roll :slight_smile:

yes, I tell many beginners (here in So Cal) that the best reason to roll is to play in the surf and the best reason to play in the surf is to get comfy in rough water (bracing, edging, relaxing, etc.). They may never need to roll on a normal tour, but oh the fun of the derived skills!

But still the OP will be fine on a small lake with most basic skills if practiced often.

Another option
is to look at the nicer SOT models where self rescue requires that you pull yourself back on and sit down.

If you want to learn all the other stuff about rolling and paddle floats, that’s fine. But, you don’t really have to do that to paddle around the lake…


A 12-14ft touring or “transitional” touring kayak that has water tight bulkheads in the front and back would probably work well for you. A 14ft touring kayak was my first style of kayak and I used it for river kayaking and some overnight camping. The water tight bulkheads in the front and back keep the kayak afloat when it’s upside down and allow you to roll it back over and bail it out when you fall out.

Also mentioned earlier, a sit on top kayak is also great for getting in and out of easily, but they’re often a wet ride. While that’s fine where I live in Florida, if you’re paddling in colder water you’ll probably enjoy a sit inside more. Get a spray skirt and it’ll keep you even drier/warmer.

I’m an advanced beginner, paddling mostly small lakes and rivers seldom far from shore. But I have twice in-advertently upset. I don’t know why either roll occurred, the conditions were not rough. I either missed the grab on a stroke or was inattentive. Fortunately I was close to shore each time and pushed the kayak to the bank.

I mention this to point out that you can upset in good conditions. Oh and I learned try putting your feet on the bottom before doing too much swimming.

everything mmealman said
except we don’t know your height and weight.

12 footers are sometimes not enough boat under a big person, and can make self rescue harder.

Random thoughts
You live in the northeast - if by cold you mean winter temp water, part of your kit needs to be something like a dry suit regardless of self-rescue skills.

You would probably get the fastest answer to your questions by spending a day in a kayak with someone who could run you thru the basic self-rescues. Coach or friend, doesn’t matter, as long as you have a couple of basic experiences to understand concretely what you’ll need.

It might be a plan to do that before buying a kayak, so you know what features you need. There’s more than bulkheads - perimeter line, boat fit etc.

Thanks for all the input. I was thinking along the lines of a 12 or 14 ft touring type with front and rear bulkheads. If I have a kayak, there’s no reason why I won’t do long day trips up and down the rivers around here and possibly some overnighters.

There’s a store not to far away that lets you try kayaks and also offers instruction. They should be pretty knowledgeable.

I just wanted to make sure my thinking wasn’t way out of line and I sort of new what I was looking for.

Not out of line

– Last Updated: Aug-13-09 12:48 PM EST –

It's just that it tasks practice with kayaks, as with any other vessel.

We took a paddler who was new to things like assisted rescues, and was not fresh on anything solo, out on a lake last weekend for a not-huge paddle. Over the course of the paddle they got a crash course in assisted rescues etc - somehow we kept falling out of boats and needing their help. Then we encouraged them to fall out of theirs.

It was perfect weather, the water felt great and by the end we had greatly ramped up the group comfort level about capsizing. The newer paddler had also found the practical use for perimeter rigging and a clean deck, why the rest of us had neo skirts that we always kept on, and why I live in a dry suit. So it doesn't take a lot to get the basics down - just some time splashing around on a hot day with someone there to walk you thru the steps.

Rolling is another matter - for some it is very easy, for others it can take quite a while. You won't know which you are until the first time you are upside down under the boat. But if that is a goal, a well-fitting boat with thigh braces and somewhat lower volume will make it easier in the learning stages. (That's the reason that instructors keep old school WW boats around.)

As to the scale of your paddling environments - in western PA you aren't so far from the Great Lakes. May as well think about that as ocean paddling, except water up your nose is less comfortable.