When I teach I find it very frustrating to watch my students struggle while trying to get back into their kayak. The ones that have good upper body strength and a higher degree of agility make the re-entry process look easy. Then a mere mortal, who is also fatigued tries the same technique and it is anything but easy.
Getting back into your kayak is simple in concept. However, your success is dependant upon many factors such as: kayak design, strength, agility, clothing, PFD size, energy level, self confidence, water conditions, equipment available and your skill (knowledge base.) Difficulty in any one of these factors can inhibit your ability to get back into your kayak. Therefore, the more ways you know how to re-enter a kayak the greater your potential success.
My reflections will focus on the idea of getting back into your kayak while it is still overturned. There are numerous methods for climbing out of the water onto a kayak. You can visit our re-entries page for the full list. It is a fact that it takes a lot more energy to climb out of the water onto a kayak compared to letting the water float you while you slip into a cockpit. The perceived problem is "now what do I do in my kayak when I am underwater?" There are a number of alternatives at your disposal. Some that are not very difficult. As long as you can maintain relaxed when underwater you will learn at least one of the techniques.
When getting into your kayak while it is overturned we call it a wet re-entry. When I demonstrate wet re-entries at clinics many folks look and admire but they also say that the skill is too advanced for them. I can tell you the skill is lot easier than it looks. The biggest challenge is getting over the idea of going underwater to get into your kayak. If you can do a wet exit (which is a necessity for anyone in a closed deck boat) then you only need to reverse the process to get back in.
Once back into your overturned kayak you need to find a way to right yourself. There are a number of alternatives to chose from depending on the equipment available, your location, your skill and your paddling partners. Regardless of the method you use to right yourself or being righted by your partner the wet re-entry is the same. The greatest down side to a wet re-entry is the extra water in the cockpit, but pumping is easier for many compared to climbing onto their kayak. In cold water, submersion of the head can be disorienting with increased heat loss if a hood is not used.
Here are a number of ways to get right side up after a wet re-entry:
Roll up using a paddle
Hand roll (if you are very good)
Roll up using a paddle with a paddle float
Roll up with a Roll-Aid/Back-Up floatation device
Use your partners bow (Eskimo bow recovery)
Use your partners paddle (Eskimo parallel recovery)
Swim with kayak to a nearby solid object (dock, buoy, etc.) and right yourself
Your partner rights you in the hand-up recovery ("Hand of God")
I encourage you to try practicing wet re-entries. It will improve your wet exits and give you more options to choose from as you learn more recovery skills. Those who have practiced some of these options have told me it is so much easier than climbing up out of the water and crawling over their back deck. Get out and practice. The worse that can happen is you get wet.
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