Sharing a story on wet exit practice

This is for the benefit of new members here wondering if taking lessons is important, and also so I can unload my own experience and let go….

I’m coming back to kayaking after starting a family. I had solid average skills, my own sea kayak and took safety seriously. My roll was novice level: always with someone else just in case. I want to get back into paddling and arranged a lesson to brush up my skills (spoiler: they sort of suck after ten years) and get over the capsize apprehension by doing some self rescues.

If you’re new and don’t think about capsizing or needing help, please start to do so now. It’s inevitable.

We spent the first minutes of the lesson standing in the water practicing the steps to wet exit. Check water depth and sea bed. Check PFD, skirt. Deep breath, lean forward, control paddle, roll. Tap on hull, wave, hands to hips > locate grab loop, pull, slide out. Finish with feet hooked onto coaming. Got it. Demonstration by coach. Got it. Time to go.

As I set up, I mentioned “ I wasn’t initially taught to wave my hands.” Let me read it back to you. ( some people may see the foreshadowing).

Ready to go, I took my breaths, leaned and rolled. Tap. Wave. Wave. What happens next? It’s dark down here and I can see the bottom. I forgot the next step! The whole purpose of the drill… I forgot it. Froze. I waved my one hand as if to say “ hey I’m still down here” and my coach rolled me up.

As you can imagine I was upset, panicked and mostly disappointed. I had one job! A job I’ve actually done successfully before. As we debriefed the only thing I could focus on was the waving, and how that was new to me and I think I got fixated on it, to the point I forgot to bring my hands down to the pull loop and exit. I eventually got it on the next spin but my head was fouled up for the rest of the morning knowing how close real failure would have been if I were alone or not having had some instruction.

I’m still upset with myself and, if I close my eyes, I can see the water and instantly be transported back to that fear. I was at a training session and I’m glad it happened there in front of an experienced coach and that we could debrief and correct the situation. I hope someone, even one person, reads this before throwing the boat in the water and heading out without any safety training. This is an activity where you should expect and be prepared for an emergency. Don’t let it be your first and potentially last time.


Why people need to practice wet exits, rescues and other safety protocols. When you need it, you have to have some experience, muscle memory and confidence so you don’t freeze up or panic. Don’t paddle with people that ignore this kind of advice. They will never be able to rescue you.

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On a related note, we took well over 30 mins to gear up just to walk out into the water. There was a LEO watching us the entire time and asked why it took us so long when most people just get out of their cars and paddle. And then he told us some harrowing stories.

I realize my origInal post (a) makes me look like a boob and (b) comes across as preachy. I’m ok with that if someone takes a pause before heading out.


I shared that I almost drown this past winter in what I consider to be benign conditions because of a botched wet exit:

Need to refresh safety procedures with whatever changes in seasons, equipment, gear, immersion wear, etc.

Complacency can kill.


My first wet exit practice set the tone of safety for me.
Took a kayak class near Jim Thorpe PA back in the late '80s. We were using old Dancers, witht he foam between your legs. The instructor had us get familiar with the boats on dry land, get our boats set up to fit us nice and snug. Then the first thing the instructor had us do on water was to push out deep enough to wet exit. He told us to hang out upside-down for a few seconds, get familiar with the feeling, then pop our spray skirts and exit. I wasn’t aware of how snug I had fit in the kayak. After 5 seconds upside-down I popped my skirt and pushed off the coaming to exit, only to find my size 11 Chuck Taylors firmly wedged into the kayak. My memory says it was a good 30 to 45 seconds of struggle to extricate my sneakered feet (more like 10 seconds realistically). When I got my head above water I saw everyone else was already dragging thier boats up to drain, no one had noticed me being slow to get out. Spent the rest of the class that day barefooted with the realization that safety was up to me, not those around me.


We did a wet exit drill this summer at Land Between the lakes. Air was hot. Water was cool. It was a good thing.

One of the first things I do with a new group of canoeists, is have them turn the boats over and get wet. They can play chicken to see how far the boats can lean without going over. They learn how to do deep water rescues. Then we throw some rescue lines. It helps their confidence a lot.

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