What do you do if your kayak capsizes? First, don’t panic. Panicking will do nothing to help the situation and will distract you from making decisions that could save your life. You’re wearing a PFD, so you’re not likely to drown. However, you’ll need to determine how best to keep hold of your equipment and continue paddling after righting the boat.
Are you wearing a spray skirt? If so, you might have the opportunity to perform a kayak roll to bring yourself upright. Assuming you have a boat capable of a roll and you’ve learned the technique, the first step in a roll is determining which direction is downstream (a roll doesn’t work well against the current), which can be challenging when your head is underwater and you’re disoriented. Take a moment to identify the downstream side by recognizing which way your boat is moving. Now, pull your paddle parallel to the deck of the kayak, lean forward, and twist your hips upward. With practice, you’ll be able to right yourself and continue paddling without interruption.
If your roll fails or your boat is not designed for one, you can exit the cockpit by pulling back on the spray skirt’s grab loop, which will release it from the boat. Be sure to hold on to your paddle as you do this; you’ll be getting back into the boat at some point, and you’ll still need a paddle to get you to the take-out point. Once you’re out of the boat, roll on to your back so that your PFD is providing buoyancy and you’re not struggling to stay above water. Now, locate the kayak, swim towards it, and either drag it to shore for re-entry or perform a self-rescue.
1) Shore Swim
If you’ve been paddling down a river or are near the shore of a lake, the easiest solution after a wet exit will simply be to swim to shore with the paddle and boat. Hold the boat with one hand and the paddle with the other, and start kicking your legs until your reach the shore. Once you’re there, remove the drain plug and tip the kayak upwards to remove any water from the cockpit. Afterwards, climb back in and start paddling again.
2) Self Rescue
What if you’re not near the shore, though? If you’ve done a wet exit in open water and have no shore to swim towards, you still need to get back into the boat. It can be a bit challenging to climb out of the water and into the cockpit, and it’s much easier if you carry a paddle float. The float makes the paddle buoyant so it can be used as a brace between the water and the boat, allowing you to climb back in. The best place to keep the float for quick access is attached to the deck rigging. Remove the float from its storage sleeve, attach it to the paddle end, and blow into the valve to inflate it. Now you can use the paddle like an outrigger. Like the kayak roll, it’s a good idea to practice the self-rescue in calm water a few times so you’ll know how to do it when the time comes.
Signal for Help
If all else fails, like if you lose your paddle or kayak in open water, you’ll need to signal other boats for help. The easiest way is with a whistle: three short toots, a brief pause, and then three more. If you have no signaling equipment, wave your arms back and forth above your head. Boats have trouble seeing things that are close to the water’s surface, so get them as high as possible, or better yet, use your paddle if you still have it. Again, don’t panic, and don’t waste energy treading water; your PFD will keep you afloat.