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A Capsized Kayak and Rescues

Most kayakers have capsized at some point in their kayaking career, whether it be on purpose during a practice or unintentionally while out paddling. An important skill for every kayaker is to learn how to return to an upright position in an emptied kayak. There are several ways to do this. Before moving on to those, let me explain how to plan a paddling route if you do not know how to recover from a capsize.

For those who do not know how to perform any kind of rescues the safest routes to choose are the ones with land close by. Climbing back into a kayak (especially if there are waves) is often a challenging task for beginners. Therefore paddling close to the shore allows the paddler to swim to shore, empty the kayak and relaunch, in case he/ she capsizes. Paddling close to the shore is especially important in the beginning and in the end of the kayaking season when the water temperature is low.

An assisted rescue

When you want to paddle further away from the shores, rescues are essential. Imagine that you are paddling and there is 5 km of open water between two islands, you are halfway when your friend capsizes. Here swimming to the closest shore is not a very good solution, learning how to do assisted deep-sea rescues is in this case much more helpful. Very often when we go out paddling, we go out paddling together with a friend or with friends. When you learn the assisted rescue, you are able to empty your friend’s kayak and help your friend back into the kayak. Assisted rescues are part of our Beginners sea kayak course. With further training it is possible to do an assisted rescue in less than a minute.


Sometimes you may choose to go kayaking on your own. On these days you cannot rely on your friend to help out if something would happen to you. This is when self rescues come in handy. There are different ways in which you can climb back into your kayak, either with or without a paddle float. You can even remove some water from the kayak, if you flip it around in a certain way. However, a bilge pump is normally needed to remove the water from the cockpit. Although self rescues may feel demanding at first, they become easier the more you practise them.

So far the assumption has been that the paddler in the capsized kayak has popped the spray skirt, done a wet exit and is in the water holding on to his/her kayak and paddle, when the rescue is performed. This leads to some extra hassle, since the kayak needs to be emptied before or after the paddler has re-entered the kayak. There is a final option for self rescues, which is the most efficient way to return the kayak to an upright position. Experienced kayakers may know how to roll themselves back to the surface after a capsize. Rolling a kayak is an advanced technique, but it can be learned by everyone with enough practice. When rolling a kayak, the spray skirt is left in place and therefore only minimal amounts of water may enter the cockpit and therefore the paddler can continue paddling as soon as he/ she has rolled the kayak back into an upright position.

If you want to learn more about sea kayak rescues, we offer a “Pelastautumisharjoitus” (rescue practice) on several Wednesdays during the kayaking season. To participate in the practice, you need to have done a beginners course or otherwise have the equivalent skills. The practice covers assisted rescues and self rescues after exiting the kayak. Rolling techniques are not part of this course.

Paddling regards,