Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kayaking Self Rescue 101: Turtle Time

Scenario X:

You just bought a brand spankin' new dry top, waders, and all the layers to wear underneath. You try on everything in your living room and you feel like the abominable snowman. You even go as far as adjusting your PFD to fit, sit on the floor, and "air" paddle to make sure you're comfortable. During the next trip on the water, the air temp is in the mid 40's and the water temp is in the low 50's. You turn around to grab a rod and at the same time a wave hits you and you're swimming before you know it! As panic immediately sets it, you can't get back in your kayak...Now what?

As crazy as that scenario sounds, it happens more often than most people think. You can have the right clothing and gear, but not wearing it properly or not being able to re-enter your kayak can make the difference between life or death. Do yourself and your family a favor and practice exiting your kayak along with re-entry as if your life depended on it.

Treat this as if you were really going fishing and not as a joke! Before I put on all of my outer garments, I do a quick inspection to look for tears, broken zippers or snaps, seam integrity, etc. Something that many people overlook is wearing all of their gear correctly. Let's take a dry top and waders combination for example:
  • Always make sure you seal off the top of your waders with a wading belt if it's not already built in. This will keep the water from pouring into your legs which would prevent you from re-entering your kayak. I wear Kokatat Whirlpool bibs which has a neoprene belt that's built into the material. Wearing an additional wading belt would not hurt.
  • The dry top is pretty self-explanatory as far as wear is concerned. Make sure both the neck and wrist gaskets are not folded over and that they provide a good seal to your skin. I recently upgraded to a Gore-Tex Kokatat Rogue dry top which is leaps and bounds above my previous one. 
  • Another important factor is the fit of your PFD. You want to make sure that your PFD is loose enough not to feel constrained, but tight enough that it won't slide up your torso and get in the way if you're in the water. Now that you're wearing your gear correctly, it's time to go swimming!

Before you actually flip your kayak, have a little fun and jump out of it. This will get you wet without having to worry about flipping your kayak over before you re-enter. This tactic would be used if you fell out and your kayak was still upright:
  • Approach your kayak from the side, either port or starboard
  • Take a couple of deep breaths to calm down and gather your composure
  • Try and make this a one shot deal, you don't want to make multiple attempts which wastes precious energy
  • Brace yourself with your hands on the deck and try to explode over the kayak using both your upper body to push and your lower body to kick
  • Once your laying across your kayak, maneuver yourself back into the seated position

Alright, that is the best case scenario. If you're going in, it's ideal to try to make sure your kayak stays upright. I know, that is not always the case. But if you can help it, try and keep it upright! Let's say in the blink of an eye, you flipped your kayak upside down and you're swimming next to it, you just "turtled". A couple of helpful techniques to remember when trying to upright your kayak.
  • Just as re-entry, approach your kayak from either the port or starboard side
  • Position your body where the side handle is hitting you in the chest (you'll grab the handle on the opposite side)
  • Locate your scupper holes in your seatwell and cockpit deck (you will use them as grips)
  • Grab a hold of the scupper holes and just like the technique you used earlier for re-entry, explode up to the point your stomach is laying over the middle of the kayak and that you can reach across to the side handle
  • While lying on the kayak and holding the handle, slide back off the kayak towards where you started. Make sure you don't lose grip of the handle!
  • Your kayak should now be upright for you to re-enter

Practice this as many times as it takes for you to feel comfortable. As you practice, you may find a certain way works better for you, AWESOME! Whatever it takes for you to re-enter your kayak as fast and safe as possible. Remember, the more you comfortable and confident you are in self-rescue techniques, the greater your chances are in surviving a deadly situation.

~See ya on the water!


  1. Richie I have to tell you, that was one of the best articles that I have seen you write. Trying to keep your fellow man/woman safe is what you do best. You are a great man and I am proud you are my son. Fantastic work!!!

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