What's your "oh crap" kayaking moment?

I have had a few before but I thought this recent is worth sharing.

Kayak floated away at the beach at my usual launch point at 6:15AM. I have done many kayak launches at this exact spot. I thought I had left it on land and just a little bit in the waters while I went to get the rest of my gear.

Not a wonderful feeling when I see my kayak floating in the water and its winter like weather here on Long Island. Wearing Kokatat Hydrus 3.0 drysuit, I swam out to retrieve the kayak. I was completely dry aside my bare hands. I used my Werner paddle to help keep my hands above the water slightly. As I got closer to the kayak, I kept pushing it forward more because of the splashes from my swimming strokes. Not a fun way to start but was happy to continue the trip in full comfort. If this happened during the summer, no big deal but the ice-cold water and swimming in a drysuit adds a small level of panic.


78° but the water is 49° and my cushion on my recliner is taking a set.

Got waked by three huge (50’) powerboats in a very narrow section of the ICW just south of the “ditch” in Venice FL in the Everglades Challenge last year. I had nowhere to go - shallows to my right, no time to turn into the wakes that were over my head and breaking. Just had to take them on the beam and hope I stayed upright. Waves washed over the whole kayak multiple times but otherwise I emerged upright. I don’t think the first two boats even saw me; the third gave me a quick glance and then looked at his enormous wake and kept going.

This year in the EC I was offshore of Bonita Beach on Sunday evening. Sunset approaching, it’s pretty rough, dumping surf on the condo lined beaches and I’m definitely not going to make Gordon pass before it gets dark. I’m also definitely not running Gordon pass in the dark, as that can be a very nasty inlet. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure how this was going to end - what was my way out? Ended up getting to Wiggins pass and while at first the pass didn’t look runnable, once I went out past it a bit I could look in and it was clear and well marked. Paddled in and found three other Tribers already on the beach to camp for the night. What a relief!


Paddling down a narrow channel lined with corrugated metal on both sides (it’s lovingly called “The Iron Channel”). An oncoming pontoon boat comes around the bend heading right down the middle, operator isn’t paying any attention to what’s in front of her. I waved my paddle, blew a horn but operator doesn’t respond. Fortunately, and she saw me at the last minute and veered slightly. Then she gave me a look as if she was highly inconvenienced at having to control her boat. I think it was one of those power boaters who believe it’s a kayakers responsibility to stay out of the way.


I was not kayaking, but it did involve my kayak. I was in my driveway prepping for an organized trash pickup paddle in Beaufort SC. I had my VCP Q boat on its “wheelchair reduced to a kayak cart rig” at the top of the drive. I walked away to get my paddle and skirt as I heard the sound of accelerating fiberglass on gravel. Spinning around I saw it all rolling down the drive toward the street. I sprinted and was almost able to grab the rear toggle when a speeding, passing car t-boned my lovely kayak square at the front hatch with sufficient force to hurl it corkscrewing airborne. The car never touched the brakes. Thank goodness no injuries or damage to parked cars. A local boat guy fixed the fiberglass and gel coat to reasonable standards the following week. Since then I never leave my cart without setting the wheelchair’s parking brakes.


OMG! That is the best! Well, actually worst but what a great account!

I went under a fallen tree trunk on the river 5 miles from my house. My height estimation was wrong. My head scraped the trunk, peeling off my hat, and then my shoulders hit and I pinned against the trunk with the current behind me and my face planted on the deck. I spent about one second thinking how badly I just screwed up before I was standing in shockingly cold waist deep ice water next to the overturned kayak. Fortunately I had dry clothes.

Watched a video of a guy camping up in Canada who discovered his carbon paddle had blown into the water during the night. He had a spare and searched across the bay downwind but couldn’t find it. Next video he had brightly-colored tape on the shaft of his new paddle. I did the same to mine.


I can think of three:

During a particularly cold winter on Cape Cod, we went paddling on a day when the temp got above freezing. The tide was low and rising, with an onshore wind, and there was a lot of sea ice on the shores. When we came back a couple of hours later, the tide had risen enough to float the ice on the shore and the wind had packed it into the harbor. We couldn’t get within 100 yards of the shore! I tried to push through it for a way, but that was monumentally stupid. Don’t do it!
We paddled a mile and a half down the shore until we found a small stretch of open land, on private property, of course. Fortunately, the owner was a kayaker and let us leave our boats while we walked back to our cars.

We were on the paddling vacation of a lifetime in the Shetland Islands, and were exploring a sea cave. On one side, there was a small opening a bit wider than our boats and tall enough to fit through if you ducked a bit, and it led into to another chamber with a low ceiling. While I was sizing it up and planning my timing to paddle through, a wave rolled in. It completely closed off the opening and the air in the chamber came gushing out! I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if I’d been in there…

The last one ironically happened during rescue training. A paddler playing the role of the “victim” capsized in the surf zone along the beach. Two of us rushed in to do an assisted rescue, instead of towing him out to open water, like we should have. I rafted up and the other rescuer went to the ends of our boat to provide a directional tow. He had just clipped into our deck lines when the “victim” blurted out “Oh shit!”. We turned to see a huge wave rising up and bearing down on us! All three boats were pitch-poled by the wave, but miraculously we didn’t land on each other and our boats came down on the back side of the wave, which provided a cushion so we didn’t get slammed into the sand. We were very lucky and learned a valuable lesson about rescue strategy.

I have a few more stories of “stupid kayak tricks”, but we’ll save them for another time.


probably my worst:

  • ‘stuffed’ by incoming surf Vs outgoing current of river I was paddling out into ocean (2am). It must have only lasted seconds, but felt like forever, I was hit by an oncoming wave and the kayak took a very deep dive. After surfacing, the sprayskirt had imploded. I was able to paddle out of the ‘turbulent’ zone to ‘recover’ (pump out kayak, make sure everything else was in order).

runners up:

  • (year 2 of kayaking experience) paddling local (small) river, spring flood conditions. I paddled into an eddy - against a high rock cliff on one side. I flipped - (I had learned the roll (on one side only) the previous year) on the ‘wrong’ side, had to bail, floated down the river for a while (I had that ‘feeling’ of not caring - just let it go). I made one big effort to paddle toward shore and made it. Put on warm (dry) clothing, emptied kayak, returned home.
  • on trip paddling around L Superior - camped for the night on a small island - woke up to discover kayak was not on rock outcropping where I left it (very large waves from storm on opposite shore (L Mich, I was on Canada side) must have washed up and took it away). Luckily, it washed into a nearby ‘lagoon’
  • all day paddling up coast in heavy conditions (about a 15hour day) - a cyclone that had passed me by left calm conditions for paddling (cyclone was headed south as I was going north). The cyclone had turned around (I missed this on my radio check) and came upon me (not a cyclone anymore, but still very active, especially sea-state)
    Did not want to land on an unknown shore through a very heavy surf, paddled on until there was a safe (relatively) place to land. (an added ‘bonus’ to this one: after landing, I carried gear & kayak well above (what I thought) the high tide line. In the middle of the night, woke up to waves lapping at the tent and kayak. Quickly moved all stuff up above on a high shore, only lost one tent stake)
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Had my loaded tripping canoe float off without me.

Where is my boat going

Fortunately, we had one guy with a dry suit.

Oh wait, that’s not a kayak moment - never mind…


A Lesson Learned: Once upon a time, I was launching from a sandy beach with a very strong offshore wind: I placed my paddle blade under the deck line near the bow with it tethered to some rigging near the cockpit. Just as I got in the boat and it was floating, a strong gust of wind caused my paddle to swing out 90 degrees to my boat. I was not able to reach the anchored end of the paddle leash to gather my paddle. I was quickly getting pushed away from shore which has a steep drop off. I had to wet exit to get things under control. I was good entertainment for the people on shore! Now I make sure I can reach my leash.


Like so many others, I’ve had a kayak get blown away while preparing to launch. Left behind two nice paddles where I had finished an overnight out-and-back trip and then drove to a different part of the Curecanti NRA/Blue Mesa reservoir complex. (A park worker found them and was nice enough to bring them down, saving me a 15 mile round trip on awful washboard USFS roads.)

But what I actually remember most were local incidents of forgetting things I could paddle without. Paddled without PFD at WW play park…extra cautiously. Without booties a couple of times.

But without shorts on was the least dangerous yet most memorable. I forgot to bring my paddling shorts. Wanting to have dry shorts when I drove home, I paddled in my underpants, reasoning that nobody could tell either in or out of the kayak, thanks to the sprayskirt.


An off-water “oh crap” moment from the Coulda Been Worse Department:
Driving east on I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home, ID, a blue plastic kayak took flight from the top of an RV I was approaching. I didn’t know whether to move left, right or stay the course because the kayak’s trajectory resembled that of a Phil Neikro knuckleball. Last second evasive action mostly worked, except as the flying yak came in for a landing it took out an empty J-cradle on the rear passenger side of my 4Runner.
F’godsakes, how far is the next rest stop?


Watching my wife take off across Lake Overholser with 15 minutes to go til dark. I was hacked and I made no secret of that. I was trying my best to catch up to her so we could at least paddle together to one of the three boat ramps, she said later she was purposely trying to stay away from me. She finally tired out with half a mile to go. I’m still fairly strong and have a good bit of stamina but I’m disabled. That causes problems in the kayak, and she could well have outrun me had she paced herself better. She chose a boat ramp along the dam between the floodgates and the earthen dam itself. Earlier that year we had someone killed when his boat capsized and he was washed over the floodgate. Lake O isn’t deep, but it’s a good 60 foot drop from the top of that gate to the river below.


Have had more than a handful of “Oh crap!!!” moments.

Here are several caught on camera:

  1. Having my skirt imploded out in the impact zone and realizing i was still a ways off from shore (5:30 of video).
  1. Not paying attention and getting hit by the wave from behind. I was maytagged through several cycles (I rolled, capsized, rolled, capsized, and rolled up again). The camera was flattened to the deck (4:50 of video).
  1. Early in my surf paddling obsession (I was still using a drysuit rather than my preferred wetsuit), I attended the Rhode Island Surf Kayakers’ (RISK) Winter Session. We were getting beautiful, hollowed out waves in the head high range. Lots of a$$ over head capsizes paddling out, as seen in these pics at the bottom of the page: RISK Session Photos. Everyone came out of the water for a lunch break. I ate fast, got antsy and decided to go back out on own. Trying to catch a head plus wave, I dropped into the trough. The wave lip curled over me… For a second or two, I was in the “green room.” Then then the explosion. I got sucked right out of my boat. I was swimming in ice cold water, on my own. Fortunately, another paddler surfer saw me and sent out the calvary. I can be seen getting a towed back in the middle roll of pics here: RISK Session Photos

Since the RISK session, I have had a few, long solo swims back in on winter dawn patrols. Always a bit nerve racking but managed to stay calm enough to get myself back to shore.

The scariest moment was going through a class IV strainer. I hit a boulder and capsized way in front of a strainer sticking out from shore. I rolled up and hit another rock that capsized me again. As I went for another roll, I felt the kayak hit the strainer and stopped dead. Felt the water pressure build on my body. Had a moment of calm clear thought – “Oh, guess this is how I am going to die.” As soon as I was done with that thought, the water pressure sucked me out of my capsized boat and I miraculously passed through the branches of the strainer. I told my partners that I was calling it a day and portaged myself back to the car.

Still alive and paddling,



I had made to the halfway point on the Wekiva race, turned around and started back.

Came around a really tight corner to be faced against a man teaching a young boy to work a outboard motor with a tiller arm. Of course the child twisted the throttle to full when he saw me.

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Oh crap I bought another one.


Ah, but you left out the most intriguing part of the story:

WHY was she trying to get away from you? :thinking:


Mostly I have been in canoes, rafts and drift boats. I built a Pygmy sea kayak some years ago. With practice the three foot plus waves on Pyramid Lake were not that hard to handle. I had growing confidence as the waves washed over the deck and my bracing became second nature.

On a trip in the San Juan Islands with rented Eddyline boats loaded with camping equipment, we were paddling back in open water to Anacortes. The wind came up with some opposing tide. It was the weekend and there were a lot of power boat wakes in the open channel. Some waves were rebounding off some steep island walls. It made for confused seas and very lumpy water. The crossing was a long one and the wind required a lot of effort. Fatigue started to become an issue. I had that moment where it was possible to see some problems. One of the paddlers I was with was very strong but way ahead of us and never looked back. My other friend was a weaker paddler, so I waited for him at times. That was my scariest 2 hours in a sea kayak. The water was 54 degrees.