Wet Exiting: Is there a "Best" Practice?

This is a follow-on question related to my post last month about a practice session where I failed miserably at doing something I’ve done successfully before. I’m still debriefing (beating myself up) to see why I had difficulty. Part of it, for sure, is that I hadn’t done it in years. Another part is that I’m not exactly an underwater enthusiast so that messed with my ability to focus. Over-analysis, I know.

In an attempt to educate myself further, I went looking for reading/watching material and it seems there’s some variance on how people teach this skill. Two examples:


And, http://www.seakayak.ws/kayak/kayak.nsf/0/B24ED0BFCCA9BB6385256B45007E922F

The noticeable difference is the drumming and waving steps in the second method. So…

How do you you wet exit and why that method?

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The drumming and waving thing is in the hope that your paddling companions come over and rescue you by bringing their boat’s bow within reach of your hands so you can grab on and right yourself. That’s an assisted rescue, and you do not wet exit. A wet exit is when you remove your spray skirt and, well, exit.

The second method tells you to put the paddle under your arm so you can hang onto it once you are out of the boat this is very important. It also says to keep a foot in the boat so you can pull it towards you so you have both your paddle and boat in hand, and they won’t be blown away. In practice, it’s good to know how to get out the boat in very rough conditions. Most times I have had to wet exit the paddle has been blasted out of my hand by a huge breaking wave. Once I had my foot inside the kayak in a very small cockpit in a surf kayak, the next wave over extended by knee joint. I also experienced my skirt ripping on a fiberglass rim from behind when I was pitchpoled onto a rock, essentially keeping my skirt from coming off, I had to search with my hands while being maytagged to get the skirt off of the rim in back. So in other words be prepared and practice in rough conditions because that is when you are most likely to come out of your boat.


Agreeing with @Doggy_Paddler , the drumming & hand waving stuff is to get a Bow Rescue. Honestly, in most cases by the time someone actually notices you and then puts together what to do, you are (or think you are) out of air and are about to pull the cord. I’d say that the best practice is to have practiced a wet exit often enough so that when you do find yourself unexpectedly upside down wearing a kayak you are familiar with the feeling and can then proceed to the next appropriate steps.

The actual exit may be a bit different depending on cockpit size and your fit in the kayak. In my Arctic Tern 17 with a fairly large cockpit gravity would pull me out unless I deliberately stayed locked into the thigh braces. In a low volume SOF Sea Rider with a (near) ocean cockpit it would take an effort, once the skirt was released, to push myself out far enough that my knees would clear the masik. I do make a point to practice wet exits in kayaks new to me and to also practice releasing the spray deck at my hips and not by using the pull loop.

If someone can get to you fast enough you should not need to wet exit.

In more difficult conditions that is less likely to work out. Mostly you need to know how to stay calm enough to handle a more difficult wet exit. Including being able to release the skirt without being able to see, instead find your way around the coaming by feel.

Your best “practice” for wet exit, as SeaDart cited, is to do so where you are in constant constant contact with both your paddle and the boat. You do this in increasing conditions that challenge your ability to hang onto both paddle and blade. This is the hard part.

Wet exiting really is not hard in itself. This brings me to the “best” pre-wet exit practice – make sure your skirt loop is outside of the boat! (Learned this the hard way, especially since I paddle and practice alone). This brings me to saying, with help around, practice wet exiting with your skirt loop INSIDE the kayak. Stuff happens. Figure what to do in that case.


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so different things may get emphasized for different environments but steps are basically the same
in ww:

  1. hitting your head is a real possibility so I really emphasize tucking tightly, protect the head! You can even use the paddle blade to protect the head!
  2. when you want out of your boat expediency is important (think about bouncing over a rocky riverbed upside down) so pushing out hard is important, some folks say “pull down your pants” and “rolling forward” helps (rather than pushing yourself out the back of the boat)
  3. so after someone has successfully practiced wet exiting then you can add additional layers (make it a progression)- try pulling the skirt with just one hand and holding onto the paddle the entire time (we lose a lot paddles in riverbeds), have the participant wet exit in current and swim with their boat and paddle back to shore, also running your hands up and down the sides for a bow assisted rescue is one of those steps that can be added, as is exiting without the grab loop
  4. in ww less emphasis on staying connected to the boat but strong emphasis on staying on the upstream end of the boat, reading the water and using ferry angles swimming to shore, and of course keep feet up near the surface of the water in all swim positions
  5. finally no newbie should go out on any ww until they have demonstrated a wet exit and understands safe swim positions, I really like to swim folks in a small rapid before I put them on ww in a boat but this is often a hard sell

One of the wet exits I’m most proud of is one that I did when I flipped in the base of an 8’ falls . I experienced an impact shoulder dislocation when I flipped and hit the riverbed. I used my nondominant hand to pull the skirt and side stroke to shore. I wasn’t a bit worried about the boat or paddle. I let my buds take care of that. I didn 't even notice that it was Feb and the chilly water temp. Lots of adrenalin kicking in. I’ve also pulled when I’ve gotten stuck in hole and got worn out trying to exit the corners after several times rolling successfully in a hole, and I’ve pushed out hard when a squirt boat got lodged under an undercut and everything went dark and still. Not trying to scare and despair- point is, do a wet exit like you mean it. Stuff happens. Your life can depend on it.

Rocks are hard and breathing air is good. I’m not a big believer in “hanging out” upside down unless you know the rapid is deep and you are close to a pool at the bottom. You need physicality, timing, and lungs to do big water rolls. Now I’m a one and done kind a guy on roll attempts. I need to save some energy for the swim. Hanging out upside down is the last place I want to be. Be decisive with the roll attempt and the wet exit. Do either like you mean it. Newbies tend to pull the plug before they even get set up but I always compliment them on their decisiveness.

I ain’t gonna lie, I should be out paddlin’ the gauley today, on the last scheduled release (I’ve still got the paddling skills to do the lower) but my faith in my combat roll just ain’t there. Need to practice rolling some more. I gots to keep it real. The thought of wet exiting and swimming at Mash or Pure Screamin’ just ain’t appealin’. Odds are I’d have a clean run but I just don’t like the potential downside. I need to train more- that means more rolls, more wet exits, and swimming- all the foundation skills. Maybe next year.


Load your pockets with lead sinkers or west a weight vest. Out you’ll come.

Then you can got to the bottom and run to shore.

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I would second practicing with one hand. I had a shoulder injury from a board surfer who thought he was trying to help me when I was rolling in the surf . One handed can be dicey if there is also an issue with a bomb proof skirt rand.

The best safety practices are the ones you practice and develp a routine, so that you will react in the right way under duress.

As an example, it might help to attach a small ball like a wiffle golf ball on the edge of your spray skirt so it is easy to find by feel when you are under water.

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I’ve never tried this one-handed, and I’ve had to do some dicey wet exits in white water. My skirt - IR Klingon - really lives up to its name and takes a lot of effort to pull. I’ll have to work on the one-handed release when I have the new boat.

Thank you hard core paddlers for reminding me to avoid places like rapids over class two and places with rocks and waves.
When I had a sea kayak, I practiced wet exiting and had to do it once in surf.
Those days are over for me.

so all of this discussion makes me think of a few more things

I get why extreme hair boaters, play boaters, squirt boaters and folks that play in big surf want randed sprayskirts. They make a tighter seal and make for a drier boat. On the other hand do most of us need a skirt on a boat that can withstand those extreme forces or need to stay completely dry? Wouldn’t using a skirt that is easier to get on and off make more sense in terms of everday usage and wet exits? I and several others I know have had negative experiences with randed skirts on deep lipped play boats when it comes to wet exiting.

The only time I really need or want a very dry boat is in the winter when I don’t want cold water sloshing around on my feet and legs.

As far as wiffle balls go, if you paddle around wood that is a no no. The wiffle ball was considered a contributing factor to a ww fatality. Even nose plug cords, drain plug cordage, and a whistle can become hazardous and can lead to entanglement. The grab loop on the sprayskirt stays out for obvious reasons but tuck everything else in when paddling on heavily wooded streams.


The chin strap on my Tilly almost pulled me off the boat when a branch caught the hat. Now the strap stays tucked anywhere near hat grabbing objects, even in wind.

After my nasty experience with a heavy duty rand one handed I sold my Aquarius surf kayak and have only surfed wave skis and whitewater boats since then. For a while I was into getting into bigger and bigger surf, and more radical designed boats for contests. I’m getting older now and it seems it is much easier to get injured and injuries don’t get better very fast so I don’t do surf contests and I don’t go out if the waves are higher than overhead any more. I linked to a surf contest that my son filmed a long time ago where the waves were something like 20 second period coming from the gulf of alaska and the biggest sets were triple overhead. I just have video from the waveski part of the contest. Guys in kayaks were getting sucked out their boats if they did not have suicide seat belts inside, and even heavy randed skirts were imploding like crazy. You don’t want your skirt blown and your boat to be full of water with triple overhead closeouts landing on top of you.

The skirt wasn’t the issue at all. Nor was keeping control of the paddle. The drumming (and more specifically waving) parts were new to me. I didn’t recall learning to do that way back when and when I went searching realized that there isn’t really a standard set of steps that everyone follows. I’m okay with that and I understand the purpose of drumming and waving……just odd to me that there isn’t a standard for a thing taught so often.

Although as I type this I realize i didn’t search for the BCU curriculum to see if it’s covered there.

so i think it is pretty standard when someone does their first wet exit to wade out with them into water. Some folks have a fear of getting trapped or will panic as they flip. In some instances I’ve had to do trust building activities like having someone do hip snaps from my hands or encouraging participants to get an ear wet before getting them to flip over. As I mentioned before I emphasize tucking forward which approximates the set up position for a roll.

A calm wet exit is required in one of the lower levels of the BCU protocols for the Star awards.

I think maybe the answer to your original question is that these are really parts of 2 different skills/exercises/rescues.
Slapping the hull loudly and waving the hands are a signal to a nearby paddler saying:
“HELLOOO! I’m capsized over here. I’m trying to remain in my boat, please give me a bow rescue” or stern, paddle shaft, something. “Providing it within reach of my hands would be nice!”.

Failing that, desperate for air, the last resort is the next strategy of wet exit, followed by some type of re-entry.
These are two separate skills, both of which have some variations and should be practiced. I see many folks practice and demo the wet exit beginning with the hull slap & wave. I think for a newbie just learning the wet exit it should omitted. Save it for the bow rescue lesson.

As a side note, what’s the back-up for an accidentally tucked under, trapped grab loop? One solution is to grab & pull the skirt fabric right alongside the hip at the edge of the coming. The long side of the cockpit coming has the least tension and comes off quite easily. It may help to run a hand along the coming to fully release the skirt. If you’re desperate for a breath it will come off! I practice it regularly especially with gloves and mitts.