Rolling as a Rescue option

with all the hubbub about paddle float rescues, as an sea kayaker’s rescue option, I think it needs to be clear that rolling ones kayak back up is THE BEST option recovering from a capsize.

Soooo many newbies (NOVICE level) think it’s only something that is needed at the advanced level.

In reality this technique is useful at all levels and learning it can hugely steepen your learning curve. it ain’t just for experts.

It teaches us so much about

  1. paddle blade support and articulation
  2. shaft leverage
  3. body posture and balance
  4. boat characteristics
  5. cool, relaxed composure whilst underwater

    go find a good roll instructor and pay your dues. it’s TOTALLY worh it.

    fwiw- I spent 4 years learning whitewater kayaking w/o a roll. 4 YEARS. It sucked.


at the end of a BASICII lesson (breaking the ACA 8hr course into two parts) I’d tell folks they had to practice the pf rescue six times in flat water then practice it six times in rougher conditions with friends to get an idea on it’s utility and whether they could rely on it for their safety. And then confessing that I didn’t do it more than six times in four years and that it took two weekends to get as good as it took four years just because I did it a lot with other people in more challenging conditions.

By the time they get to the sixth time in rough water they could also be learning how to roll. And the best thing about learning to roll is that was where I learned to brace.

What you call paddle blade support and articulation I was calling “discovering the transition” between catch and power, power and release, release and catch. As that transition is what a beginner learns in draw strokes or other blade handling so that they don’t “whooops” when paddling in waves.

AND furthermore !
Even if you don’t get a bombproof %100 roll, working on it, learning it, kayak or canoe,

will do wonders for your brace, ballance and composure.

So go for it!

I rarely have to roll my touring boat(whitewater is another story), but I end up rolling a lot to cool off when I get warm. It’s the only way I can dress proprly on those warm air/cold water days without overheating.

The other thing that’s fun in shallow water is putting on a mask, flipping, looking around at what’s on the bottom, and then rolling up. That’s one reason my next goal is a back-deck roll – the setup position is also a good bottom-viewing position.

Rolling IS for beginners
As someone whose just recently learned to roll(and will always be learning), on my own with just a few practice sessions, and has only been paddling a SINK for about 18 months, I totally agree with Flatpick’s comments about rolling not being an advanced skill. As far as rescues go - rolling is by far the easiest and fastest to execute once learned.

The pervasive attitude that rolling is an advanced skill, difficult, just a trick, or is only needed for WW/, surf, touring in the cold or rough - is a huge disservice to new paddlers.

Rolling should be thought of as another stroke(or several) - and one that is a basic skill for (closed deck) kayaking.

Not being able to roll should not prohibit people from paddling, but they should not be discouraged from learning it either. If it’s taught as “optional” - then it should also be clear that opting out imposes limitations and increases general risk. Those who do not want to learn should choose craft and waters that suit that choice (SOT/Rec).

Like it or not, not being able to roll a closed deck kayak is a handicap, and the oceans and rivers do not understand equal access or adhere to ADA guidelines.

Rolling Is A "Basic Skill"
and a gateway to many other skills.

Steve, I think you’re unusual if you did white water for 4 years without a roll. I have not come across a white water paddler who is not working on a roll from the git go, or has not learned a roll within a year or two (max) after taking up paddling.

Once the roll is down, all other skills progress in much quicker succession.


at last… must be repeated
at each tread on rescue, especially paddle float

rescue. I assume that the people who always speak about paddle float don’t have always and alone pumped their boat after the capsize.

Me too, in the past, I was like on the other side

and thinking I was good at reentering my kayak, but come on, pumping is a hazardous thing, tiring, boring, and put you in weak position.

Come on, get a life. If you have the money for a kayak and want to do kayaking when there’s some waves, current, wind, unpredictable weather(on planet Earth that’s about it) go and try real hard to learn to roll with good instructors. You will never regret it. In a certain point you will envoy rolling and in the meantime you learn a lot, a real lot things about kayaking and the meaning of real safety:

a head and skills.

I learn rolling this summer with a greenland paddle in a qajaq. These people with greenland kayaks are real fantastic, always helpful.

thanks to Nicolas Bertrand.

not unusual at all
back in the way ol’ school, early '80’s. very few of us knew how to roll. The dancer wasn’t even invented yet! I wanted to kayak and rolling self instruction wasn’t working so…I went kayaking. I became a pretty decent class III paddler w/o a roll! Man it made my brace something to be-hold! and it kept me off harder water than I was comfortable with. In fact I can say that in my career I never paddled a stream or in conditions that were ‘over my head’ so to speak. (knocking on wood) :wink:

and now I very rarely tip over, whitewater or sea, and when I do it’s quite unusual to have to set up to roll a second time. I swam 3.5 years ago, ww- pinned in between a rock and a hard spot, and it was 11.5 years before that since my last swim.(knocking on more wood!)

now-a-days I teach people to roll from the git-go and it is truely amazing the steepness of their learning curve.


My Apology…
Forgot that what an Ole guy you are! :slight_smile:

Yes. In white water, we can date the really old folks as the “pre-Dancer” paddlers, the semi old folks as pre planing hull paddler, the middle age folks as planing hull paddler, and the newer folks as the “sub six” hull paddler. :slight_smile:


rolling for oldies
My goal this past summer was to learn to roll,

skull and be confortable with the paddle float rescue… I did learn to roll, only after going to

the greenland, sweepback, layback roll…At 51,

I found the C to C roll stressful on the shoulders.

I’m paying for that now…Just my opinion but if your

middle age or older, start with this roll.Very easy

on the body, once you relax underwater and do the

stroke in slow motion.To me that was the key to success. SLOW, diving mask and nose plugs…greenland paddle, clear water to watch what

your doing, stick close to the boat…( that was my

biggest problem)

Hi Pierre. I agree that rolling is a crucial skill that allows one to be much more comfortable on the water in a wider variety of conditions. We have paddled together several times so you know my views on rolling, and with Nicolas (the ninja kayaker) to help, everyone in our area should be rolling. Are you coming to Plattsburg to practice on sunday?



– Last Updated: Nov-10-04 5:06 PM EST –

I love layback rolls. So much easier on middle age bodies. But the boat also determines that. Some deep boats preclude layback rolls.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced rolling difficulty in my new surf kayak. After every capsize, it took me two or three tries to complete a roll in really big surf. That's very tiring. That took my confidence away in the boat and I used discretion and headed back to shore. Instead of surfing with my partner, I stood watch over my partner from the beach. I was very frustrated.

It was several days later before I figured out what the problem was. In my previous surf kayak, I had jacked my seat up by a couple of inches, making layback rolls so much easier (as well as hand rolls). The seat in the new boat, however, was not as high and the coaming was interfering with my layback roll. Realizing this, I went back to a C2C roll the next time I went out with the new boat. Everything became hunky dory again. :)

It helps to develop onside/offside rolls as well as a repetoire of other rolls, and sculling, and balance brace. That's what think is really advantageous about the greenland style equipment and techniques for touring.


The very first time my ww boat was on
the water was in a pool at a roll class. I’ve paddled with people who are afraid to push their skills to the next level because they don’t feel comfortable without the ability to roll. A roll is the paddler’s WMD, once you have it, you’re unstoppable.

Rolling in deep murky water IS scary, but rolling in a crystal clear pool is EASY. If you don’t know how to roll, sign up for a class, you’ll be glad you did.

eyes closed
learn with your eyes closed and it don’t matter what the condition of the H2o.

also learn to roll 360 degrees. tip over right roll on left. left tip/ right roll. that’s right sports fans BOTH sides! from the gitgo. the original ‘screw roll’. this is the way it happens in current. might as well practice.

and REMEMBER: Practice makes PERMANENT. learn the correcty way to roll. don’t practice crappy roll technique.


I checked my log and it was June 16, 1999. so make that 5.5 years ago. Plus 11.5 years = 1 swim in almost 17 years! (knocking heavily on wood!!!)


I was surprised to hear this too…
A couple of months ago I boated with a guy in his 50’s that has boated WW since the late 70’s. He told me that the first 5 years that he kayaked ww, he didn’t have a roll. He said that there was talk among the small group of people that he paddled with that there were “experts” back east that knew how to do it. When I responded with surprise, he went on to say another Local guy (Calif/Nev) that had boated WW since the early 70’s didn’t have a roll for the first 7 years that he boated (this guy went on to boat slalom at an Olympic level).


Encourage Rolling for Beginners
I’m 49++ :frowning: I just completed my first year of kayaking - touring, mostly lakes and rivers. Last week I had my third rolling class and think I successfully rolled once (instructor says he didn’t grab my boat). Last night I had an open pool practice session and was able to roll successfully 14 times, many in a row. Also was able to do a wet re-entry and roll with a boat full of water on my first (and only) try. Last winter I took three kayaking classes in a pool. A two evening introduction to kaying, a rescue class and one of the three rolling classes mentioned above. Then, two more rolling classes in the pool this Fall. I still have a lot of work to do on my roll, but I know what parts need work. I want to take it outside now, but it’s getting a little too cold in NY and I will probably have to wait until warm weather comes around. In the meantime, I will continue to practice in the pool as much as possible.

My point: If I can learn to roll anyone can. Beginners and others without a roll need to be encouraged, motivated. Basic skills classes are very important and should be taken first. Learn to be comfortable with a wet exit and hanging out underwater, but get some instruction in rolling as well - and practice. Just do it!


No Way
The roll is less important than knowing how to re-enter. You can die depending on the roll. That won’t happen if you know re-entry. It’s common sense really. Even experts can get themselves in situations, like cool water, where they can’t perform the roll. I read where that almost killed a man off the coast of Maine. He only knew the roll and capsized in cold water. The water sucked the strength out of him. He passed out holding on to the side of his kayak. Luckily he was washed ashore and was found on the beach, barely alive.

Re-entry first, roll only if you want to. It isn’t neccessary.

Some people try to learn the roll on sit-on-top kayaks. That’s dumb. They’re designed so you don’t have to learn the roll. Eskimos had to learn the roll. They didn’t have the high tech gear that exist today.

Wrong again!
This is the second thread that you’ve posted this nonsense to. It sounds like the typical rhetoric of someone who can’t roll and isn’t willing to learn to do so. If you’re looking for justification for that, you won’t find it by discouraging others from learning to roll.

If you have a reference for the article you elude to I’d love to see it, since I have NEVER met anyone who could ONLY roll and not re-enter their boat. That’s simply ridiculous. It’s far more likely that you either misunderstood or you’re simply selectively filtering the article based on your obvious bias against rolling.

Rolling is ALWAYS, I repeat ALWAYS preferable to wet exiting. A wet exit and re-entry should be the LAST resort in the event of a capsize, not the primary rescue method. The rougher/colder/windier the conditions, the more important it is to avoid exiting the boat. If you believe otherwise, you’d do well to stick to paddling in warm, shallow ponds and streams that you can stand up in.

Plastic does not = high tech
Those “Eskimo” boats you assume are primitive are in fact much better suited to their task than most commercial kayaks. Same goes for their paddles and paddling garments.

As Brian said, EVERYONE who can roll can also preform other re-entry techniques. Usually several. How do you think we get back in while learning to roll?

Your narrow off base opinions are a disservice to the paddling community. Just because you choose not to learn to roll, or paddle a kayak more challenging than a Tupperware SOT, don’t expect the rest of us to stop at that level. Maybe fine for you, definitely not for me.

Thank you for taking over for Jim on the SOT/no roll soapbox though. Seems he’s naturally outgrowing that phase with the help of a great kayak. (BTW - I’m not anti-SOT, just anti stupid illogical bias).