While an Eskimo roll is the classic and ultimate recovery move after a capsize in a traditional, standard sit-in kayak, there are situations where that maneuver is no longer an option. Oftentimes a capsize means an exist from your boat, and often in conditions that remain unfavorable while you try to right your craft and regain entry into your cockpit.
Some experienced paddlers can re-enter their overturned boat underwater, and use a roll stroke to bring the deck back to the surface. Most likely you’ll have to re-enter your kayak from the water without any assistance and as quickly as possible.
There are three basic methods of getting back in your kayak:
Cowboy-style—This method requires the paddler to climb up from the stern and straddle the aft deck like you are atop a horse. Your legs and feet are extended down along each side of the boat to help steady yourself in the water as you nudge yourself forward. Using your hands to push up as you scoot towards the bow, you slide yourself forward until you can drop your butt down into the cockpit. Of course, the key challenge is anything on your aft deck that obstructs your path towards the boat seat.
Paddle Float—Using an inflatable flotation pouch or solid foam block secured over a paddle blade, the paddle is extended out perpendicular to your boat to serve as an outrigger. With one blade secured under rear deck bungees (installed on deck just behind the cockpit), the paddle is positioned at a right angle to the boat and the paddle float is attached to the outward, ‘outrigger’ blade.
The paddle now serves as an outstretched rail you can use to support your effort to climb/swim back up onto the back deck/cockpit area and swing your legs around to re-entry the cockpit.
Stirrup-Step Up Assist —Basically a strap step (stirrup) is attached to your paddle while it is in the Paddle Float position cited above. A long nylon strap loop is configured to wrap down and across the hull, from its anchor point on the far end of the paddle, down under the boat and then wound several times around the shaft to the desired length hanging at the paddler’s foot.
The stirrup can be used to support some of the paddler’s weight as well as an assist in stepping upward and forward as you climb onto the deck and into the kayak. This method can also be used when being assisted by a second paddler to give the capsized kayaker a boost during re-entry maneuvers. A looped strap can be kept in your cockpit for your own self rescue or to assist others.
With the popularity of fishing kayaks, it could be a lifesaver to make sure you have a cleared area along your side rails to enable you to crawl back up onto your platform after a capsize. Most fishing platform kayaks have too many obstacles and aft deck clutter to make the “cowboy” re-entry possible.
One last tip on trying to re-enter your kayak: Get your body as parallel to the surface as possible, kick your legs/feet and try to swim up and scoot forward onto the boat rather than attempt to jump/pull up from a vertical water position. Be safe, be smart and have fun out there!