Self Rescue Practice

I am going out Sat for self rescue practice. Last session did not go well so I wanted to ask a couple of questions before Sat.

  1. Paddle-float reentry without bugee or deckline paddle holders.

    I get up on the kayak fine and slide back in on my stomach ok. When I try to roll over into the seat I seem to loose the connection between the paddle and the kayak. The paddle remains in my hand and apparently in the right orientation, but the kayak just rolls underneath the paddle shaft. Obviously I am loosing the grip on the kayak coaming, but I am not sure why or what I could be doing differently to help me keep the grip.

    Should I rotate so I am facing the float or so I am facing away from the float as I twist from my stomach back into the seated position?

    When climbing up on the kayak my grip hand has fingers inside the cockpit and thumb outside. Should I keep it this way or change it to thumb inside before starting to twist around?

    Should the grip hand be in the center of the coaming, out to the side I rotate toward, or out to the side I am rotating away from when I start my twist into the seated position.

  2. Sommersault reenter and roll.

    When setting up for the sommersault should my head be forward near the front of the coaming, more centered, or more or less under the seat?

  3. Side entry reenter and roll

    Should I lift the kayak up on its side or leave it upside down when I slide my feet into the cockpit?

    Should I cross the legs before sliding them in to get the correct foot on the correct side before twisting into the kayaK?

    Any other special details you might want to suggest on the various self rescues would be appreciated.


Disclaimer: I might not know what I’m talking about.

So anyway, I’ve recently learned both ways, and I feel fairly confident in the reentry and roll, and not as confident that the paddle float would work in rougher water, but I have yet to try it in rougher water.

I try to keep my weight on the paddle, not on the boat, so I maintain a long lever to the float and as long as the boats under the paddle it doesn’t seem to try to roll at all. I’m sure it would if you don’t keep the paddle with weight on it for as long as possible. My .02 on that one.

As for the re-entry and roll, I go from the side, and keep it simple. I want to be upsidedown in the kayak, so I climb in upsidedown just like I would right side up. I don’t know about the crossed legs thing- just seems to be complicating. Stick your feet in with it a little tipped towards you, crawl under it, wedge in as you need to, and up you go!


Overthinking it?
1. (I prefer to do the PF re-entry by getting on the deck in back of the paddle instead of over the coaming.) I twist TOWARD the PF side. I’m not sure if it makes much difference, but since the idea is to avoid the dreaded yellow rainbow, twisting toward it (so you can see it) may be helpful. Some coamings are just hard to clamp a hand and the paddle to; maybe yours is one of these.

2. The only times I have done a R&R, I did the reverse somersault, placing myself roughly under the seat (facing the rear of the coaming). Hardest part was doing the somersault with a hard enough shove into the water to overcome the buoyancy of the PFD.

Caveat: it’s been a very long time since I practiced any type of re-entry other than cowboy re-entry.

Do not believe overthinking
I have been through two practice sessions where I was unable to get back in the kayak with any of these techniques. Have done these in the past without much of a problem. Obviously I am doing something different than before. I just do not want to go through several more sessions of trial and error without getting back in the kayak. I do not have anyone experienced with these self rescues to watch and make comments so I am pretty much having to figure it out on my own.


Can you get instruction?
I admire your persistence and commitment! However, as you’ve experienced, kayak re-entry is NOT intuitive! The techniques are pretty straightforward once you understand them, but if you’re really serious, getting some instruction will save you the time and frustration of trying to figure it out for yourself.

As an instructor, I see a lot of folks who are self-taught and have developed inefficient, ineffective or even downright risky coping techniques, who if they’d gotten some proper instruction early on, would have learned better techniques and be safer paddlers. When they finally break down and come for a class (often because a concerned family member got them a gift certificate), they’re often amazed at how much they learn in just a few hours and how much easier it is with someone showing and coaching them.

The other benefit to taking a class is getting hooked up with other paddlers and becoming a part of the paddling community. Much safer, plus you meet some really great folks! Good luck!


Not unless I drive

– Last Updated: Nov-06-08 11:49 PM EST –

250 miles one way to the nearest instructor I know about. Should be someone in Houston (200 miles) but I am not familiar with who it might be.


With a paddlefloat reentry, you need to
keep your boat slightly edged toward the float so you are keeping weight on it. That way the float won’t lose contact with the water.

I don’t know about the somersault…I can’t think of a single time it would be more efficient that the side entry, especially while wearing a pfd.

Self Rescue
Self Rescue–Thats the first thing I did when I got my kayak–I used the paddle float which works great for me, I’m 64, -I keep a low profile when I shift my body around to sit in the cockpit and keep my balance weight always on the paddle float, if not, you will see the “Yellow Rainbow”, My 40 yr old son had minor problems with the paddle rescue and he does a “Cowboy Mount”, pushes down on the back of the kayak and then he leans forward and grabs the cockpit and pulls him self on–

Rough water re-entries
Neither a paddle float re-entry or a cowboy is reliable in rough conditions. The re-enter and roll, with or without a paddle float assist, is much more reliable. The downside is that you have a lot of water to pump out afterward and the boat will be less stable until you pump it out. If the conditions permit and you can hold your breath long enough, attaching the skirt underwater reduces the amount of water in the cockpit, but it’s not always an easy thing to do.

self rescue
Are you confident in bracing/rolling your kayak?

If you have access to an indoor swimming pool, winter is a great time to refine these skills in a safe/warm environment.

I prefer the somersault. I find it quite simple. I’ve never actually given much thought to exactly where I was positioned. I bring my head up in the cockpit facing the seat, somewhere in the middle of the cockpit I imagine. I straighten my arms above my head with my knees and feet tucked up, straighten my legs to slide right into the cockpit. I guess that just evolved as what worked easiest for me. I probably would look at where my hands would best be holding onto the coaming just sitting, floating upright in my kayak. Everything revolves around where your hands grasped the coaming, as that grip remains until you’re seated up-side-down in your boat.

I feel your pain
I have successfully done paddle float rescues in several different kayaks.

Yesterday I test paddled a potential new kayak. After about 1:20 of paddling, I decided to do a quicky rescue practice. Didn’t quite make the scramble, so I inflated the float, and much to my surprise, flopped over getting the second leg in the kayak. The next two attempts worked the same way. By then I was flustered, getting cold. I was alone in unfamiliar waters, and the remainder of the ebb current was taking me where I didn’t want to go.

I realized I had to focus and concentrate and do the right stuff.

The way I do a paddle float entry is once the float is on the paddle, I grab the coaming and the paddle shaft with my left hand. Swim up on the back deck. Hook my left leg on the paddle shaft near the float, load it with my weight. Move my right leg onto the float, then move my left leg into the cockpit, while still holding the shaft and coaming with the left hand.

This next part is where I screw it up, I need to grab the shaft with my right hand, down by my right knee, and load my weight on my hand, before I move my right leg into the cockpit. If I am able to continue to hold the cockpit coaming and shaft with the left hand, while I keep my weight onto the right arm, then the motion into the seat goes successfully. If not, then the paddle shaft shifts away from perpendicular to the kayak, and I lose it’s support, and I dump.

As the butt settles into the seat, you lose your grip with the left hand on the coaming. This is OK if you’ve kept your weight on your right arm. As the butt hits the seat, I grab the shaft with the ‘now free’ left arm, and load it as I release my right arm from the shaft. I take a couple second to accept I’ve made it, then while keeping the left arm loaded, I use the right arm to help transfer the paddle from behind me to in front of me.

So far, If I am able to keep the paddle perpendicular to the kayak, and keep the weight on that side, I always get back in the seat without capsizing. Those are the two things I must always keep in mind. Even if I have to think about the next step somewhere in the process, I can make it work if I remember to always do those two things.

So I focused on those two things and got back into the kayak yesterday. Hopefully these ideas will help you perfect your paddle float re-entry.

Side entree reentry and roll

– Last Updated: Nov-10-08 9:10 AM EST –

I like leaving the boat on it's side for that. The reason is that I can grab the far side of the coaming while holding the paddle and get the blade (euro) in proper blade position for the roll (power face up) up while I'm breathing and relaxed. The reentry and roll is not about going under water again, It's about getting into the cockpit and rolling up. I have actually seen very light and small women do a side entree for a reentry and roll and not go under water when they pulled themselves into the cockpit.

As your question suggests, there are many ways to do all of these things and ultimately you will gravitate to those methods that work well for you. Not taking lessons does not mean you are living in a cave. Many of my best skilled paddling friends never took lessons but learned from books, videos, and demonstrations as well as talking to other paddlers as you are now.

Someone finally said the magic word
It is reaching across to the far side of the coaming that finally made the side reentry work for me yesterday. I was trying to twist into the cockpit with both hands on the “paddle side” so that I would be ready to roll. With the PFD holding me up I could not get the leverage to get into the kayak. Once I accidentally stumbled into reaching across and pulling on the far side of the coaming it was a snap to get back in. Either this detail was ommitted in all the descriptions given to me or I just missed hearing it. I went back and looked at several of the videos and it is obvious now, but I just did not see it when I was not looking for it.

I think I learned a few other tricks/details in my practice session. I am going to do another practice to confirm my thinking and then post some of what I figured out.

As the old saying goes “The devil is in the details”.


Re-enter and roll
After I come out of my kayak, the first thing I do is empty out as much water as possible. Then I start my re-entry from the side. As I settle my butt back into the seat, I settle upside down. Then roll up.

If I get up first try, there is not too much water in the boat.

Next, I’m going to try to learn to put my skirt back on under water.

Re-Enter and Roll

– Last Updated: Nov-10-08 6:15 PM EST –

I started with a summersault but was introduced to an easier, better (for me) method. Keep the boat upright, put your feet in, then pull the boat on like a pair of pants. I find the Greenland paddle a much better tool, also. No thinking about which end should be up or which face is the power face.

When doing the paddle float entry:

Once face down on the deck, roll facing the paddle float. This gives you a visual fix on what is happening. If you roll towards the other side, there is a much greater possibility of rolling over.

When doing the re-enter & roll, I find it easiest if I enter the upside down kayak and place my nose almost touching the rear of the cockpit. Then grasping the cockpit rim (one hand holding the paddle)

Do the somersault and lock into the seated position.

re. weight placement

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 11:31 AM EST –

the kayak is rolling underneath you because you have unweighted the paddle shaft at the coaming and outboard too much as you rotate over. You have to release your hand from the coaming/shaft as you get onto the back deck and what makes that possible is your body weight resting on the shaft at the back of the coaming, NOT your other hand resting on the shaft outboard and lifting your weight off the shaft where it rests on the deck. So your outboard hand will still hold the shaft but it's not bearing much weight, as you slide into the cockpit you press the shaft onto the center of the aft deck keeping your weight low and centered, NOT shifting to your outboard hand or to hands and knees.

sorry on reading that's not too clear. Basically the windmill happens when your center of mass rises up off the deck and makes a little circle above the kayak instead of rotating on axis. When your center rises up,, your weight takes pressure off the shaft at the deck there's nothing to keep the kayak from rolling underneath you. If you keep your weight low and the rotation in line there's less to compensate for with grip on the shaft.

The skill and effort it takes to pull off a pf self-rescue quickly is much greater than what it takes to roll. My $.02 is that the pf is primarily a sales aid for solo paddling than a practical self-rescue aid in the conditions that will dump you. Rolling requires learning a non-instinctual whole body movement but the pf self-rescue has too many unrealistic assumptions to be the main self-rescue skill. I think of the pf more as a useful outrigger for assisting another person or doing somekind of household duty on the water. Learning the re-entry and roll is as worthwhile as climbing on the back deck.

Need clarification Lee
Generally speaking I do pretty well getting up on the back deck, rotating legs into cockpit, and sliding forward until my waist is forward of the backband. I have the paddle shaft trapped with my body weight and can remove both hands from the shaft without tipping.

The problem starts as I begin to rotate and drop my butt into the seat. As my butt drops into the seat my upper torso is levered up off the deck by the coaming (as in coaming not allowing flat layback on rear deck during roll). There is a short period of time when I do not have body weight on the shaft and my hands are changing sides of the kayak. That is when the kayak tended to roll.

Are you saying there is a way to roll over and drop into the seat while still keeping body weight on the shaft all the time? If so can you give me more of a hint of how to keep weight on the shaft with my body. Should I not be dropping into the seat until I have made the full roll (keep the butt up high as I roll)? Could I be sliding too far forward before starting to roll over?