Why did you capsize?

There seems to be more than the usual level of treads on safety lately (which is not a bad thing), maybe it has to do with the change of seasons. I was thinking about this the other night after reading different ideas on rescue techniques. I got to thinking…what caused these fine folks to capsize in the first place? I am not talking about the botched launch/landing that happened in front of your friends in ankle deep water. But, rather what caused in unexpected turn of events while out on the water. Was it an unexpected wave that caught you or turning around to look over your shoulder at the wrong time etc. etc. etc.

It doesn’t matter if a paddler is a newbie or with 1000’s of miles under their seat…something happened to turn things upside down. Also, since this may have happened once, did you learn from your experience?

I’ll get it started by saying that I’ve had 1 unexpected capsize in 5 years. It happened while in a Scupperpro (SOT) of all things. I was fishing a seawall along the beach in Sarasota with a fair sized on shore swell that was being bounced back off the seawall. Well, I kept moving in closer to the seawall knowing that there had to be some nice sized snook against the seawall. I was right, I got a hook-up & did a hard hookset while positioned sideways to the swell and did my hookset just as a wave crested under me and I got caught with my weight on the wrong side while on the backside of the swell. Before I could say OH SHI…over I went. Luckly, I was only in chest deep water, so the story ends with a happy ending. I got back in my Scupperpro & landed that snook.

I’ve had plenty of planned capsizes while playing in the surf and was already mentally ready for my wipeouts so the “thrill” was not the same as being upside down in a heartbeat. But, what did you do & how did you handle it?

It’s Never A Surprise…
since I like it best when there are waves and/or chops. In those conditions, I expect to go over, especially if I am surfing. Going over doesn’t bother me. The only thing I am almost paranoid about these days is getting sucked out of the boat. It’s happened and I really hate that.


I have never had a unplanned one…
…in my yak, but several in the canoe.

The last one was in the Adirondack Festival in Browns tract which is a narrow twisting river.

We “usually” do switch back rivers as good or better than others, and had just past about five other boats.

We were just completing a sharp turn to the right, with me in the stern leaning like hell to the left, and as we rounded the blind bend there was a canoe directly in front of us, I yelled for my wife (the bow paddler) to do a cross draw, and she did it perfectly. The only problem was I was still leaning like hell and we immediately dumped.

The water was deep, but we managed to get the boat into the bank, and get everything squared away, and with the help of Bald paddler and Randy who was one of the boats we passed got the boat uprighted and emptied.

Naturally it happened a hundred yards or so before a bridge where we had a big audience.

They did give us a rousing cheer when we finally passed under them

We estimated that we lost about twelve minutes, and in the three day event, we were fourth eleven minutes behind the third boat.

Thank goodness we had everything including the portage cart, PFD’s and our water stash tethered in since there was a pretty strong current, and I am sure we would have lost some stuff if we didn’t.

Boats don’t capsize. it is the people who tip them over.



All kinds of reasons
But outside of the surf, it’s almost always a matter of misplacing the paddle stroke or brace that I needed to deal with what the ocean was doing, not a balance or waves issue per se.

Was in class 1-2 rapids and was
watching the “new guy” in front of me to make sure he was ok. I looked down in front of me to see that a collision w/a rock was imminent. I tried to steer away, hit the rock broadside and went over in a flash. Upside down in less than 2 feet of water being drug along the rocks. I couldn’t get the paddle around to set up a roll, so I just let go of the paddle. At that point I thought ‘wet exit’ but as I was flailing about under water, I felt a rock, grabbed it and pushed… and up I went.

Lesson learned: PAY ATTENTION

I use to go over all the time

– Last Updated: Nov-30-04 9:54 PM EST –

and still do so with occasional frequency.

Working on maximum lean, working on pushing the edge, paddling in ever harder conditions, paddling with a cockpit full of water, surfing, leaning into a breaking 1 foot wave three feet from shore. I used to swim three miles per day, was an advanced SCUBA diver, used to free dive over 50 feet etc. I am not afraid of the water

Glad my roll is working pretty good these days, unless I'm around rocks andcarried by a wave.

Almost getting cool enough to handle that.

Every time I go out
about 99% of my paddling lately is surfing, sooner or later every day I’m going to crash.

Only unexpected capsize was when I took an introductory kayaking class, a woman had a Hobie Maui or some such SOT and she tried to back paddle and flipped. I could not believe her boat was so tippy and so I borrowed the boat I tried the same thing and thuuuunk-kerplosh!

I threw the paddle in the air
Was in new conditions for me tide against the wind, 3 ft. swells every 13 seconds, 25 knots wind, steepening waves, developed a headache from new glasses that didn’t work super glare, super horrible headache making me dizzy, next thing I knew boat going over and I for God knows what reason threw my paddle in the air, and I ended up NOT going over, and my paddle came down beside me, picked it up. It settled me down as it made me laugh, I realized that I simply had to practice rolling in severe conditions and each time I went out for the next whole season rolling, leaning, sculling, bracing, being upside down, throwing myself over from every position in all kinds of conditions.

Now I know in my own small way what Duff and others mean by having the visceral mind image knowledge that will work when all else is a scramble, you are exhausted, mind locked in fear, and there is this place inside of calm that knows what to do. It is part of why I love kayaking and why folks in the club don’t understand what I am doing each and every outing.

My so called “friends” tipped me over
and there was alcohol involved. For Gods sake dont drink in a canoe. Bad things happen.

Cant say I have ever tipped over in a kayak outside of relatively pushy breaking waves. In the surf I regularly get pummeled.

Rapids & surf
Hmm Reasons? In order of frequency.

1 Screwing around in rapids.

2 Standing in the canoe screwing around in rapids aka poling.

3 Swamping the canoe while screwing around in rapids.

4 Surfing aka screwing around in the surf.

5 Misreading a rapid aka getting in over my head.

6 Kids aka “Hey! Let’s see if we can dump daddy!”

7 Beer.

The more you flip in (semi) controled conditions the less likely you are to panic in unplanned dumps. Learning to roll, doing self and asisted rescues, and even intentionaly swimming in rapids and surf will give you the confidence to push your limits and stretch your abilities.

Paddling is a wet sport :slight_smile:

Only once, was trying to Jump a log at high speed, Got High centerd, then Got wet…

trying to steer my greenland boat
down the face of a breaking wave, the paddle on the shore side, and the wave became so steep the paddle lost its bite-

Sweepers & Strainers
Less than a dozen in about 25 years paddling, but ALL unplanned dumps have involved a sweeper or strainer. Some that were pretty benign looking, but reached out and bit. Have also dumped a few times testing the “Limits” on boats, but knew that was a possibility. Only time a wood wasn’t involved was once got pinned against a bluff on Current River. But, come to think of it, I had to take a bad line going into that run because of a STRAINER. Almost drowned on one about 25 years ago, long story. Strainers always pucker my, well, you get the idea. WW

a few
well, lots on the ski. usually it involves missing a stroke and finding the wing at the wrong angle- try to take a stroke, no resistance, and oops, over i go. very rarely these days just because of rough water.

haven’t in a long time in a kayak. usually it was something fairly similar. surfing downwind, messing around with a bow rudder or something, and finding myself in the soup. did that once in march in 40F water while wearing shorts and a t shirt (warm air, i know, i know)- did the fastest cowboy re-entry in history, i think. my roll is a lot better these days, but i don’t get to use it much, since my balance and braces have gotten so much better from paddling a tippy ski.


Um, once or twice . . .
At first all I could think of was the one time when I was on a night time full-moon paddle. We were somewhere in the Jersey Pine Barrens on this river (more like a small windy creek). Came around this one bend and the current kept on pushing me toward the outside curve toward a strainer. Thought that I had safely negotiated it but then got clotheslined by a branch that I didn’t see in the darkness. OIL WELL!!! And over I went. It was shallow water so I could just stand up in the water and get back in relatively easily. The same can NOT be said for the very first time that I ever unexpectedly tipped over.

Went down to Salisbury, MD for a demo day about two Summers ago. I had yet to buy my very first kayak. Took my two teen-age kids with me who were VERY patient with my trying out as many boats as I could that day. I think it was my third boat that I demo’d. The rep said that it was a little tender for my level of experience at the time. I take it out and am enjoying my paddle so I thought let me see how it does when I edge the boat to make a turn. WELLLL, over I went. The water was a little cool but I was dressed for it. Then the two “lifeguards” for the event came over to assist my re-entry. I had never practiced any kind of rescue/re-entry. I had watched a DVD on the topic so at least I was familiar with the theory. Had a PFD on but no paddle float.

I asked the two lifeguards what I should do and in unison they replied that they had NO idea. Then the one guy said that he had usually cowboy’d up on his little 9 footer. I tried to do as he suggested on my 18 foot demo boat. I could have been on America’s Funniest Home Videos!!! After several attempts at getting back in like a cowboy (and using up a lot of my energy in doing it), we then decided to have the one guy hold the boat and have the other guy try to help me get into it. I am “not graceful” when trying to climb back in and I am getting weaker and weaker with each failed attempt. Finally got back in and meekly paddled back to the put-in. Very embarrassed and took a lot of good-natured ribbing from the folks onshore that were watching. The rep suggested that I try a different boat with more stability.

BTW, my own kids gave me a real good ribbing too, but it provided us with a whole bunch of good ole belly-laughs.

Oh, I forgot one part. Right after I capsized, some middle-aged lady paddled over to me and asked, “so, did you tip over on purpose?” Talk about baptism under fire!!

Hasn’t Happened In a While But
There were two that I can recall:

I went on a tour group when I had no skills at all. A good sized boat “buzzed” us causing the group to take a sizable wake from the side. The tour guide instructed me to not turn into the wake, but, to keep on paddling straight (i.e. take the wave on the side). This might have been okay for someone more experienced, but for me it meant an introduction to assisted rescue.

The other time was some time later while practicing high braces (I went straight to pool class after the first encounter), my paddle was at the wrong angle and it “dove” rather than providing the support of a brace. No problem, as I needed practice with paddle float rescue as well.

I usually paddle in pretty calm conditions.


Just once…
A large bunch of friends and I took a 16 mile trip down the Conastoga river near Lancaster,Pa last year. Lots of rapids and everyone was havng a lot of fun when we came upon a fast rapid. I was leading and had picked out a great tongue when forsome unknown reason,something pulled me over toward a tree that was laying 3/4 down. My kayak rode up the tree ad dumped me in less than a foot of cold,cold 52 degree water trapping me under the kayak.

Thanks to the bravery of Meredith,she was right behind me and bailed out of her kayak and lifting my head out of the water and kicked the kayak loose from the tree.We both tried to stand up but the water was so fast,we ended up putting our feet out in front of us and floating to the end of the tongue. I also need to thank all the others, especially Mindyy for gathering up and savng all our lunch,water,paddles etc.

I am still afraid to run the Conastoga but hopefully, I’ll get over it.

Things happen so fast you would never believe it .



– Last Updated: Dec-01-04 10:38 AM EST –

Hey buddy! I think the pin on the rock wall was on the Jack's Fork, and if I remember correctly; you were trying out a boat you'd never paddled (one of mine). My spray skirt is probably still on the bottom of that river somewhere! Thanks again for sharing the contents of the thermos you had. I remember enjoying it's contents, and I wasn't even wet! If I remember correctly you were wet, and the temp. was about 45 degrees...... or less! And the river was "cooking" pretty good that day too!
Ah! memories!


PS. About 99% of my "fish counts" have occured on whitewater in an OC1. They usually involve playing around in the surf, attempting new routes, attempts at one boat eddies, and generally being overly aggressive when the adrenaline is pumping.

small breaking beam wave
only got flipped once in a small dumping wave in about 4 feet of water and only 30 yards from the beach. It got my heart going. I came out and stood right up…didn’t even get my hair wet. It was my second time in a 21" beamed covered deck kayak and first time in fast coming breakers.

I posted a breif description of the experience and got reamed here by several posters who aparently considered the topic unworthy of their time (even though they took the time to respond)

These days, I am having close calls when I come under bridges as the tide is moving and the wind is over 10 MPH…extremely confused chop and simultaneous current…i do more bracing than paddling on those waters. (specifically Powel bridge. any kayakers who paddle Virginia key will know what I refer to)

I do not fear water, rather some of the animals

who might be there.

what’s life without a few unexpected

I must have had dozens if not many dozens over the last few years in surf on Lake Michigan. I dealt with them mainly by rolling back up! Before I could roll reliably I swam and then either re-entered and rolled. Or before that I let the waves push me into the beach and then I got back in.

Outside of surf, I may have accidentally capsized once or twice?

I think bracing though is a great skill to fine tune, the low brace especially which comes a little awkwardly to sea paddlers but very naturally to white water paddlers. But I have actually pulled out of a few waves this season with a low brace where I would have used a high brace before. I remember a particularly fun one, where I was trying to paddle out past some breakers and didn’t quite make it over the last crest.The wave seemed to detonate right on my lap. I quickly low braced and then the foam piled about my ears like a fur collar.The wave rocketed me backwards towards the beach. I slowly broached and I held on, still upright, and finally it let me go, spitting me out onto the sand.