rough water rescues

There has been some debate as to whether or not rough water rescues could be done.

I managed to perform a t-rescue last friday with 4-5 foot breaking waves. Granted they were slow spillers. But it was definitely doable. The victim was back in their kayak in less than a minute.

But the unfortunate part was the victim had a subsequent capsize and I was forced to tow them as a swimmer through a strong shore rip current.

Keep practicing those t-rescues and towing folks.

Also as a side note I was in a ww kayak while rescuing a sea kayak so that was interesting too. Very doable, but interesting.

Cowabunga, Dude!
There were a couple of nice reports about your Great Lake surfing session. Someone reported the capsize and the subsequent tow in (with a rope).

Definitely can T and flip another boat over while in a low volume surf and ww boat. However, if the other boat is also a low volume boat, than the issue is whether the other person can get back in without submerging their coaming. Thus, most times, the focus to to get the swimmer ASAP and safely in with a toggle tow. In white water, you can flip a capsized boat over, making the push/tow to shore easier. In surf, I find the effort futile as a closing wave will usually flip the righted boat right back over again.

Question: Why the tow rope and not a stern toggle tow? Generally, a tow rope in the break zone is considered a hazard to those involved with a particular situation as well as to unsuspecting surfers going out and/or surfing in. I ask because we have had a serious incident in the surf group and a subsequent discussion about the pro’s and con’s of a tow rope in the break zone. I have more reasons to not use a tow rope than to use one in that scenario.


From some experience…
I think the assisted rescue is very doable.

I helped a guy in last years Boggy race in pretty rough water and he was back in and on his way in what seemed like less than a minute.

It is a self rescue that I think would be very hard to do in rough water.

Has anyone practiced self rescues or actually done one in rough conditions and how did it go?



Nice job Keith…
Rescues are always more fun afterwards.

We just had one off Cape Flattery a few weeks back. It started out with a Coaster flipped in a rock garden. My group merged with the coaster group as we were headed back to camp. The rescue started off quickly when the coaster paddler bailed out. A Romany paddler in their group started a T rescue and we had everyone not involved point bows out to sea and wait in a cleaner area away from the rescue. Ultimately it became a rafted tow with a set rolling in that made things very dicey. As I was the one clipped on, I headed into the set, then cut to the left to keep them clear of the rocks and me clear of the boomers.

A few things that I’ve learned over the last couple years became bluntly obvious. 1. Anyone not involved with the rescue should find cleaner water close by and point out to sea. Someone should be told to keep them together. 2. If your tow line is not rapidly deployable it may as well be in your hatch underneath your tent poles. 3. A T rescue in bumpy water often wastes precious seconds better used towards getting the person in the boat and out of the water, assuming it has bulkheads or float bags. The boat just fills back full of water once set back down. It’s a judgement call best made on race day. 4. I prefer short, 15-20 foot tow lines in rock gardens as anything else would have been too long there. It’s easy to daisy a long one down to there. 5. A contact tow deployed on a rafted kayak should be quickly releasable under strain.6. Debrief the rescue to figure out what went on in some peoples heads.


we practice rolling, reentry and rolling and assisted rescues in tidal rapids and coastal headlands once in a while. I’m not as fanatical about it as I used to, but do it often enough to try to stay sharp.

Rob G

Good Job!!!
Just 2 weeks ago, I was hosting a rescue practice when one of our more experienced paddlers wound up capsizing in the outer edges of the surf zone. His roll failed and he wet exited.

Another paddler paddled up and started an assisted rescue. I clipped my 17 foot Northwater quick tow on to the bow of the rescuer’s boat and pulled them out of the surf line.

I wear a rescue pfd and always have the short line attached to it. For long distance towing, I have an additional 30 foot line in my day hatch which can be hooked to the short line very easily.

I agree completely with Rob G - if you don’t have the tow line immediately available, you might as well not even have it.

A T rescue can be made in rough conditions, even by beginners. My girlfriend and I have practiced T rescues several times starting in a pool then progressing into open water.

We were paddling in Topsail Sound near the Inlet about a month ago and were dealing with multiple power boat wakes, a bit of chop, and swells coming in from offshore. I suspect that the swells were in the three foot range and the other stuff just made it confusing. My girlfriend got her paddle stuck and went over. It took me a couple of tries to get into position because of the current but I was able to get her boat emptied and into a brace position. She uses a sling and was able to re-enter without much of an issue.

The biggest issues that I saw involved attempting to grab the bow of the capsized boat while the boats were going up and down about three feet. And, I think we could practice timing the actual re-entry to use the swell rather than fight it.

I am sure there is some point in terms of degree of sea state that we will not be able to cope with. I was encouraged that we were both able to complete the rescue in the conditions that we did.


Rescue or Recovery
Just to be clear are we talking about recoveries from capsize or rescues? Some of the situations are recoveries, in other words, skilled paddlers who went over and who can self recover. For example, a person’s roll fails and they wet exit. Can they put on a float and get back in or wet entry float and roll up?

IMO, if a person cannot get back in there boat in the conditions then it is a rescue. This sounds harsh on a board like this, but my and other instructor’s thinking here is the reality that regardless of how expert your mates are, there will be conditions where it is every person for themselves and NO assisted rescues occur because each and every person is taken up with recovering and staying up afterwards.

When I take out a group I ask each person to assess, “would you go out in the worst conditions possible today by yourself and would you be able to recover from repeated capsizes and get back home on your own?” If not, then the trip plan is too ambitious.

Yes, rough water assisted rescues are possible but NEVER a certainty for the reasons stated above. Let’s not fool ourselves and each other with the “sexiness” of assorted t-rescues etc. As several people already stated, people capsize over and over, and what happens when all are capsizing and only some can self-recover? They call that a tragedy. I call it less than full respect for the sea.

A Bad Day…
One day in the period of 1.5 hours I had to rescue the same boat three times. Weather had deteriorated and the paddler was not up to it. The last time the boat went over was on tow and the quick release came in very handy. This was the first time I had to do this in rough conditions.

Practice… practice…

A friend indeed!
many thanks to Mr. Kwikle for his assitance during my time of need!

I was the “victim” in question. On reflection, I don’t have a problem with that terminology either. It was a VERY freaky thing to have happen, with several complicating factors. It was not the first (or even the thirty first) time that I had gone over in surf, but was most definitely one of the worst experiences I’ve had in (ok - out of) a kayak! It was the first time in a long time that I didn’t come up on my own accord and even longer that I didn’t get back in boat unassisted.

After the initial maytaging, I came out of the boat for want of air, at exactly the wrong time (is there ever a right time), and was unable to keep hold of the boat when a subsequent wave maytagged me once more. I was able to swim to the boat (now several yards away) and grab onto the rear toggle before the next “set” had it’s way with me.

Holding onto the toggle while the boat was getting knocked around was not easy, and I was very quickly becoming naseous whilst working my way to the (foam) paddle float on the back deck. At that time, Mr. Kwikle was already on his way over.

After a very efficient (on Keith’s part) T-rescue I was back in the boat putting the skirt on in just a few seconds, when yet another wave rolled both of us. Keith popped up, while I popped out (again).

By this time, I was gasping for breath and choking on a mouthfull of puke/lakewater. Keith correctly noted that the surf was pushing the boat to the beach anyway and so clipped my tow to his waist and hauled me in. The whole episode probly lasted lasted under 10 minutes.

Some thoughts for reflection -

A short tow (pigtail) would have probly been fine for ‘swimmer rescue’ but would be kinda freaky for towing in a kayak. There were several times when I went from being pulled, to body surfing right up to Keith’s boat. That was on a 30ft line. The thought of my boat on a 3’pigtail surfing into his kidnies is scary!

T-rescue was very close to succes. I initially asked for him to hold the boat while I grabbed the float for reentry and pump, but I had no problem with accepting his decision to T my boat to drain it. He was very quick and efficient, as expected. In the shape I was in, it was the quicker option.

The Surf Zone Is…

– Last Updated: Jul-08-05 6:49 AM EST –

good place to find the answer to your question:

"When I take out a group I ask each person to assess, "would you go out in the worst conditions possible today by yourself and would you be able to recover from repeated capsizes and get back home on your own?" If not, then the trip plan is too ambitious."

The futility of asking this question of a group, of disparate individuals and possible varying skill levels being led out on a trip is that you will get honest and accurate answers from some, along with postulations that are not necessarily tested by reality.

In the surf zone, depending on the conditions (size of waves, type, wind, rip currents, etc), the person who doesn't have the requisite boat handling and recovery skills (and endurance/strength) will generally find out before they get too far out, if they get past the break zone at all in the first place. There is is no speculation here. Just pretty immediate honest feedback.

I have surfed with a bunch of different folks in the past several years. Most surf kayakers (or folks who surf fairly regularly along with other types of paddling) are pretty on and accurate with their self assessments. Surf kayakers tend to go out on our own more often than most folks. The "pick up and go" is very much part of the game because waves are here today and gone tomorrow. There are others, surf dapplers, whom I have ran into who talk about surfing 3-5' waves as if this is casual thing with them. Then when I paddle with them and see them having a hard time getting through a 2-3' break zone... I don't think they intentionally lie about their abilities. I think they simply have a misperception about their abilities because they don't often test this by themselves. Most are used to being in and surrounded by the perceived safety of a group.


i did a reenter and roll in surf a few
times, that is very doable. No question.

paddle floats are dicey at best, but also doable.

I’ve Tried It

– Last Updated: Jul-08-05 10:57 AM EST –

the time I got sucked out and was swimming alone. I reentered and roll and promptly got windowshaded by the next breaking wave. I almost sprained my knee trying to get back out of the boat again. Somewhere in the process I also cut my hand. What's doable is very dependent on the size and type of waves for the day.

It was a loooonnnnng swim back in that day.


(That one prompted the seat belt in my surf boat.)

Poor little East Coast surfers…
“The “pick up and go” is very much part of the game because waves are here today and gone tomorrow. There are others, surf dapplers, whom I have ran into who talk about surfing 3-5’ waves as if this is casual thing with them. Then when I paddle with them and see them having a hard time getting through a 2-3’ break zone…”

I’m not sure I’d get out of bed for that! ; )


You Know I Am Envious Of You
surfers on the left coast… Big waves, long periods…

For us long period is anywhere from 9-12 seconds. If we want to surf waves 6’ and up, then one had better be confident ‘cause it’ll be storm ridin’ in the middle of a nor’easter. :slight_smile: The funny thing is that I held myself okay against some of the surf kayakers out west with the same amount of time in the hull. I thought I was going to get blown awya since these folks have more surf opportunities on consistent, clean waves. Turned out my experience surfing crappier waves in challenging conditions really made surfing those clean swells that much easier.


What do you think would have happened
if you guys did not drain the boat, but merely got back in and went to shore? Not every assisted rescue needs to have the kayak drained before entry. Sometimes they just fill up again and waste 5 seconds better spent preparing for a brace. One of the things I admire about you guys is that you kept your heads and continued to innovate.


Just curious
When your boat is swamped or half-filled with water in the cockpit and have two bulkheads, are most boats very unstable? I ask this b/c this one time I was out in surf heading out toward the ocean and my skirt popped open, water gushed into the cockpit. My kayak suddenly became VERY unstable. I was able to get out past the surf zone with it being in this swamped condition but I had to do a whole lot of bracing in between each forward stroke. Even as I waited to raft up with my partner so that I could stabilize and pump out I found it very hard to not almost capsize. And this was just outside the surf zone in relatively gentle rollers. So are most boats unstable when they get swamped?

Most of the time, yes,…
The boat is a lot less stable, but I think you should plan on it happening and make it part of your skill set to paddle, edge and roll a kayak loaded with water. It does happen “in the wild” and is something I plan on being able to deal with when it does.

When I was in Costa Rica my seasock completely filled with water and the boat was pretty squirrely. The wave broke over me and flooded through my sunshirt, in addition to punching through my spraydeck. It was normal to have a gallon or two in the sock as a result of the water flood through my shirt but this was a full sock because of the spray deck. I had to paddle through the last few breaks with a tippy boat, punching through the crest rather than over the crest.

The reason I mention this is that there is a little dogma associated with the T part of the T Rescue. If you were in a rock garden would you insist on dumping a victim’s boat despite breaking waves? Sometimes it’s better to get in the boat the fastest way and get sorted out in cleaner water. I’m not trying to set myself up as some authoritah here, but it’s painfully obvious when you set the boat back down and it starts to fill with water again that precious seconds were wasted. Even if most of the water was still out when dumped AND one remounted successfully will you still have enough time to maneuver into the ideal position, brace or paddle like hell? Everytime it happens it’s a judgement call and to me there is no one answer. Dogma can be good or bad, but it never hurts to challenge some assumptions in certain areas.


This is what I’m surfing in this…






7 FT.



Not the best, I know, but it’ll do. 8 feet at 8 seconds is rough. I was out at La Push a few weeks ago when it was 6 feet at 7 seconds and we had a hell of a time surfing our sea kayaks in the standing waves at the river mouth. It was really pretty crappy conditions, though, and the day was not a long one.

I agree with you that when guys work hard to get what they get, they often excel in environments that produce better stuff. Play hard, have fun!


Good Stuff! Sounds Like NE!!!
actually some of us are hoping to find 4-6’ tomorrow with 6 second intervals as Cindy passes the south coast of NE tonight-tomorrow. Some of us are pretty excited that we may get chest to head sets after a long dearth of waves bigger than waist or so. Kinda sad… I’ll drive anywhere upto 2 hours to surf these kinds of waves with a smile. :frowning: