A paddle float re-entry is a rescue technique involving the use of an upside-down kayak and your own body. It can be used to get back into a kayak that has capsized and, provided you have righted it correctly, will usually work even if you are tired or injured – so long as you know what you’re doing.
The first step of any rescue technique is getting out of the water. This means pushing yourself up onto the paddle, then standing up inside the boat before carefully climbing over the cockpit rim and falling in behind your seat. If this sounds simple, don’t lose sight of the fact that everything has to happen quickly enough for you not to drown – especially if’s a risk someone else might drown too.
First of all, you need to get your kayak upright. A lot of people think they should try to climb back in the cockpit first – but this is not usually possible or sensible, because once you are out of the water and standing on the paddle it will be much easier to turn your kayak over. So always go for a paddle float re-entry if at all possible.
If you have lost sight of your boat after capsizing it’s probably worth looking for it as quickly as possible – as long as it hasn’t sunk without trace. If you’re wearing a buoyancy aid it’s going to be hard to miss – just head along the route that takes you across its path.
Once you’ve found it, righting your kayak will normally be a simple matter of getting the bow down by dropping your weight into the cockpit and then tipping the whole thing back up again.
There is one other possibility you need to watch out for: capsizing a second time if you haven’t been able to get all the water out of the boat first.
This can happen even if you have emptied it as best you can – if there was enough force behind the original capsize. So always empty any spare bow and stern water containers before trying to re-enter your boat – because if these fill up, they may prevent you from gaining sufficient leverage from pushing down on them from above as part of regaining an upright position.
Paddle float re-entry technique
The key to the paddle float re-entry is timing. You need to get control of your boat before you capsize again – so that means leaning on the paddle before tipping over. But if you lean too soon, you’ll topple out for a second time. So there needs to be just enough water in the cockpit to give you good purchase when you push down; but not enough that it’s liable to make your kayak turn turtle.
The best way of judging this is by looking straight down at the cockpit rim while someone else tips the boat up and down several times (from its side). When there isn’t enough water in it to tilt it up, you’ll be able to see the rim at all times. When there is just enough water to get a good hold on it, it will seem to appear and disappear steadily.
The best way of avoiding capsizing in the first place is to get your paddle float rescue right. If you know how to do this effectively, so that you can get back into the boat whenever you want – even if you are tired or injured – then nobody dares dunk you again! Your work, therefore, starts before the time comes when someone might need rescuing; by practicing with an upright kayak (and your paddle float) on dry land until you are completely confident that everything goes smoothly every time.
You should start off by getting out safely several times in quick succession, and then work up to something more challenging such as capsizing yourself deliberately, or trying to get out when you have a small wave breaking over the cockpit.
It takes a lot of practice to get your paddle float re-entry just right – but whenever someone does need rescuing from their kayak, it’s well worth going to all that effort beforehand so that you can do it without thinking too much about what you’re doing. In an emergency, panic is probably the greatest danger of all.
Stay safe while kayaking by following these guidelines. Always wear a life jacket when in the water, never paddle alone, and always inform someone of your plans. If you are playing around with the kayak or are on an unfamiliar body of water, it is advisable to attach a line to yourself once you get into the water so that if you tip over, you can pull yourself back up without too much trouble. If possible, bring safety equipment with you such as flares and oars before getting out there.
Keep in mind that boats have more mass than most other objects on land, but far less mass than ones on the sea. Kayaks may be safe for some people to go out on at certain but not others depending on how they feel and their ability to balance.
Some more tips on how to stay safe in a kayak
If you’re ever in a kayak and you’re about to tip over, try these steps: lean on one side of the boat while using your paddle as support; then carefully roll back into an upright position. If you’ve fallen out while the kayak is stationary, place your hands palm-down on either side of it and push up with all your force until it is perpendicular once again. Being proficient at rowing will serve you well if capsizing becomes imminent.
While practicing sharp turns or spins move forward lightly on the far end of the oar – preferably while wearing water shoes – so that when done successfully you are not thrown overboard by centrifugal forces. When capsizing do not throw yourself overboard in a panic. Instead, add extra stability by positioning your body over the kayak and using it as a shield from the wind.
If there is another person nearby, have them go onto their knees on either side of you. Then use your paddle to push yourself back upright. This technique can also save a capsized kayak – with one person in it – from being taken away by the current.