Wet exit with injured shoulder

As my current interests are tending toward bigger and bigger water, I sometimes wonder what would happen if I got a shoulder injury while paddling. While we all work on proper technique to protect our vulerable shoulder joints, people do make mistakes and freak accidents do happen. I wonder if I blew a brace or blew a roll and injured my shoulder, would I be able to wet exit? It seems like I use both arms in a lifting motion to release the spray skirt, so I don’t know if that is realistic with a shoulder injury.

I’m sure the survival instinct and adrenaline would allow me to power through any pain, but I don’t know if structural damage to a shoulder from a dislocation would make the necessary motion impossible.

I sometimes do wet exits without the grab loop to train me not to panic if I ever screw up and tuck the grab loop under the skirt. Likewise, I wonder if I should practice one-armed wet exits too. I guess I could work on a one-armed roll too, but my two-armed roll is fickle enough.

Does anyone have any experience with a wet exit after a shoulder injury? Is it a potential problem?

skirt release
the first time I learned wet exits I learned to pull

the release strap w. two hands, then with the right and left hand separately. This was an informal session w. another paddler. I had been kayaking for a month and wanted to start wearing a skirt.

In any formal instruction I’ve taken, they always quickly review wet exits. We were always taught to feel for the skirt at the sides of the boat and work our hands up to the release loop which feels to me like less pressure on a shoulder. So what you are doing is good.

Snapdragon will, on request, sew on a strap across the front outside portion of the skirt deck so the paddler can slide one or both hands under the strap and pull the skirt loose that way.They sew the strap ends into the channel that holds the rand.

Thank you for putting up this good post.

Practice is free
Go out and see what you can and can’t do with your boat/skirt. It’s always better to know your limits before you get into a bad situation. Then you know what your options are and you aren’t wasting valuable time trying to do something you physically are unable to do. Or you can compensate with other options or equipment like a modified skirt.

Let us know what you learn…


body mechanics
I’ve got a fairly tight rubber-rand neoprene skirt for whitewater, and practiced to make sure I could release it with either hand. Learned a couple of things:

Pushing forward before pulling up and back made a huge difference. That’s not news, but it becomes more important when you have less muscle to work with.

Play with your body mechincs to find what works best. With my setup, dropping my elbow down to my skirt and using torso rotation with a forward crunch seemed to help with the push, and then I could use an upward curling motion to peel it off.

I tried the “no grab loop” scenario, and had some success pushing the deck up with my knee and then grabbing the fabric and pulling off a side.

Another option is a piece of webbing attached to the boat under the skirt that can be used to pop the skirt off. It works, but creates a small leak when you’re inverted.

One armed re-entry and paddling
Might be the more challenging exercise… A big paddle float might help there, whether you do a reentry and roll or some other type of righting yourslf up again.

Then paddling with one arm might be the biggest challenge after that.

To be honest, I have not tried either of these in anything but calm water and for a short distance. Not sure how practical it would be to paddle with one arm for any considerable distance in conditions. I would imagine a boat with at least some secondary stability would be very handy there as you would have lost your bracing ability for the most part…

my story
I’d been paddling for years. Had a roll in my sea kayak only on the right. Had my boat in the surf at Assateague Island. I was paddling a perception eclipse 17.

Good surf session, but towards the end i high braced into a small wave with a little too much gusto and capsized. I was already in the set-up position but on my left. I was confident so i went for a roll on my left offside even though i’d never practiced it.

Bad idea. I used some poor technique and levered my shoulder right out of joint. Disolcated - upside down - skirt on - in the surf.

Just pulled hard with my right arm and the skirt came off. I dragged my boat up on shore with my left arm hanging limp. A few seconds later the shoulder popped itself back in, but i was in pain for days.

So now i often practice a one hand skirt release, even neoprene on my composite combing will come undone. This is not the preferred method. Two hands are better than one.

On the bright side…
Having dislocated a shoulder swimming (a week before it was due to be operated on, anyway) the buoyancy helps support the arm and it isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as when you get out of the water.

My little incident

– Last Updated: Aug-07-09 1:38 AM EST –

I dislocated my shoulder in small surf ... it's a long stupid story... I had some help from a SUP surfer.

I could not do much with my injured arm but don't really remember having any difficulty getting out of the boat once I decided to swim. My surf boat is a very tight fit and I practice a lot and in beach landings you learn to get out in a hurry.

You should really practice wet exits where you keep one hand on your paddle and then one hand on the boat once the skirt is free, so doing it with one hand is not a problem.

Swimming through the surf zone was a bit interesting ... did not realize how bad I was hurt until I walked out of the water and gravity got a pull on it and the arm more or less popped back into place on it's own. While I was swimming it did not hurt too bad in the water. Two or three hours later it was not fun.

One Arm Technique After Dislocation:
when out there on a solo: grab the VHF with the good arm/hand and press transmitt with the thumb.


I can tell you this much…
I dislocated my shoulder while on a river trip a week ago- I don’t know how the others were provided with such a miracle that their arm just happened to pop back in- All I know is mine was stuck in a position like you had your arm out and were hitch-hiking.

Panick or adrenaline were not making this thing move- the muscles around the shoulder were locked up so tight I could barely move my arm at all. I happened to be in a canoe with my wife, so luckily she paddled us in.

It was over 2 hours from the time it happened to the time I got to the ER- even then, the Doc could not get it in place until they medicated me.

Overall- scary experience… my fear is on my next solo trip, it will pop-out and then I’m screwed!!

"You should really practice wet exits where you keep one hand on your paddle and then one hand on the boat once the skirt is free, so doing it with one hand is not a problem."

I agree.

Until reading this thread it hadn’t occured to me that so many people used both hands to pop the skirt. Is this typical training? Are those of you who use 2 hands able to grip your paddle at the same time that you’re using two hands to grab the skirt loop, or do you tuck it under an arm or something?

I wonder if needing two hands on the loop calls for a better-designed skirt. One with the webbing across the lap, or a pull loop that goes all the way under the rand so it peels the rand off the rim better. Or making sure you’re buying a kayak with a cockpit no bigger than you require. (popping a skirt 2 feet in front of you will take much more strength than 1 foot in front of you.) One way or another, I’d encourage everyone to just make a habit of wet exiting with one hand on the skirt, and one hand on the paddle.

That would be my first choice too -:wink:

Yes, two hands is typical training. Once you’re out, you’re taught to grab you boat first and paddle second. Obviously if you can successfully wet exit while holding on to everything, that helps.

The fear for alot of people starting out and instructors teaching wet exits is that a paddler would get stuck in the cockpit. This is very rare i think.

Anybody have this happen or hear of it?

typical training ?
Good points Nate.

hard to say what is typical out there.

the way I have seen it taught (as participant and spectator)

Step one: a two handed release visualization on land, with skirt on, in the boat, with eyes open, then eyes closed. Big emphasis on “up and out” strap handling.

Step two: move that to water (without any paddle involved) Person assisting is right next to student in water and remains so throughout all steps.

Three: moves straight to a one handed release, w. either hand, again without the paddle.

Four: keeping the paddle tucked under an armpit while capsizing, allowing about 7 seconds at least for settle time before doing the rest of the exercise.

Five : upon capsize and paddle tuck, embrace the boat and do a controlled 3x tap and 3x sideways hand motion in practice for the bow rescue.

In all cases do the forward crunch which automatically keeps the student from being disoriented and leads their hands naturally to crawl up the front coaming to the release strap.


There are a lot of people paddling (and this board is >i>not representative of that much larger sampling) who think it stops at step 2.

They say a wet exit means to yank the skirt and fall out as fast as possible. Period.

Needless to say, I’ve never seen any certified instructor say or teach that. I’m NOT saying someone must PAY for a lesson to learn to wet exit. I didn’t, unless a six pack of his favorite beverage counts.

I’m saying only that there is a lot of variation in technique getting passed on, and not all of it the best way w. the most options for the person learning.

just practice wet exiting one handed NM