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Sea Kayaking Safety Rescues

How to Perform Sea Kayak Safety Rescues


Almost anyone can get into a kayak and begin to paddle around. It is a shame that most people who own kayaks leave there skill development there. Many kayakers don’t know the proper way to execute kayak strokes. And even more sea kayakers almost never learn the different safety rescues. While being able to properly do a forward stroke or a draw stroke has probably never killed anyone, not knowing these sea kayak safety rescues can definitely have dire consequences. Here is a skill progression of the different kayak safety rescues sea kayakers should learn.

Know How to Wet-Exit a Sea Kayak

A Kayak Flips Over on Lower Coliseum on the Cheat River Canyon
Photo © by George E. Sayour
While learning to wet-exit a kayak is one of the first thing whitewater kayakers practice and learn, sea and recreational kayakers rarely learn or practice this. Being able to wet-exit your kayak whether on river or sea is a crucial “skill” to know. Waiting until it is too late is not a good plan when it comes to this basic of maneuver.

Buddy-Roll Sea Kayak Safety Rescue

Photo © by George E. Sayour
If you capsize while out to sea and you can’t roll your kayak, the next best bet will be to try to execute a buddy-roll with your fellow sea kayakers. The success of this sea kayak rescue depends on the kayaker knowing how far their partners are from them when they flipped and if they are with a group of paddlers who have it as part of their plan to do buddy-rolls when the opportunity arises. In short, it requires patience and confidence in your group to be able to buddy –roll your kayak. Practice the proper procedure for using another kayakers boat as leverage to be able to roll back up and have it as part of your group plan to perform this sea kayak rescue when needed.

Hand of God Sea Kayaking Safety Rescue

The "Hand of God" Kayak Rescue
Photo © by George E. Sayour
The “hand-of-God” sea kayak rescue is a maneuver to use when the buddy-roll doesn’t work or when the downed kayaker is unresponsive and still in the boat. This maneuver is basically one of brute force and body leverage. The rescuing kayaker pulls alongside the upside-down kayaker, reaches over the hull of the boat and pulls the kayaker back around. This takes practice but you’d be surprised at how effective this is even to the smallest of paddlers trying to roll back over the heaviest.

Sea Kayaking T-Rescue

Kayak T-Rescue
Photo © by George E. Sayour
The kayak T-Rescue is the main mechanism sea kayakers have at their disposal to rescue and aid one another when a member of the group capsizes. The gist of the kayak t-rescue is that the rescueing kayaker helps to empty and stabilize the flipped kayak so the downed kayaker can reenter the kayak. This sea kayak rescue should be practiced in calm shallow water.

Sea Kayaking Paddle Float Rescue

© by George E. Sayour
While it is best to kayak in groups and to stay close to other kayakers, the truth is that people do get separated or they even kayak alone. In these cases it is not prudent to wait for a kayak T-rescue. This is where a paddle float comes in handy. When self-rescuing using a paddle float the paddle float acts as an outrigger stabilizing the kayak and acting as a platform for the kayaker to climb back into the kayak. Every sea and touring kayak should be equipped with a paddle float and a bilge pump.

Sea Kayaking Paddle Float Roll

© by George E. Sayour
A paddle float can also be used to aid in rolling the kayak after the kayaker has already wet-exited the kayak. In this technique the kayaker gets into the kayak when it is on its side or upside down. Then, with the paddle float to brace against, the kayaker rolls the kayak back up. Once upright, the kayak is then bilged out of the water.

Learn to Roll Your Sea Kayak

A step-by-step tutorial on how to Eskimo roll a kayak. (2 of 4)
Photo © by George E. Sayour
Ultimately, the goal for every kayaker is to get to the point that if and when they end up upside-down that they can roll back up and not have to wet-exit their kayak. Rolling a kayak is a skill that takes time to develop. Its lots of fun to practice. So get to it.
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