Wet Exit & Re-entry by Amie Lorisch
Imagine yourself in a kayak merrily paddling along on a bright sunny day. The birds are singing as ripples lap at the hull of your boat. You think to yourself it can't get better than this. You're humming a favorite tune when all of a sudden an unexpected wake from a speeding power boat sends you plunging into the water.
You still haven't attended a rolling class to learn your Eskimo Roll, but do you know your wet exit and reentry? What if the water you're paddling in happens to be located up north where it isn't usually swimming weather? You should know how to get back in very quickly. It only takes minutes for hypothermia to immobilize you. Even in Florida, where I live, after an extended time in the water you are at risk. Not to mention the current and winds beckoning your kayak out to sea.
The following are simplified steps to help you achieve your wet exit and reentry quickly and easily. Let's practice first! Grab your Life Jacket, Paddle Float, a trusted friend, and head to the water. Begin in calm water and work your way into rougher conditions. Your aim should be to complete the whole sequence within the shortest amount of time possible.
Step 1 - Relax
Almost everybody feels uncomfortable being under water the first time they try a wet exit, especially if it was not intentional. Overcoming this natural fear will help you now and in your kayaking future. I suggest intentionally hanging upside down under the water in your kayak for a few seconds. Have a friend nearby for assistance in case you panic. Your friend will probably just stand there, but it's nice to have the peace of mind. Take the time to relax & think. Find the surface of the water, touch it, orient yourself, and smile at a fish. You can hold your breath longer than you might think.
Step 2 - Release your spray skirt (if you have one)
Release your spray skirt by pulling the release loop forward then back toward you (try this on land first). The natural tendency here is to yank it only toward you which usually will not result in the skirt releasing. Remember, forward then back.
Step 3 - Push out.
Easy right? Before you begin tuck your chin to your chest and pitch your body forward, pushing off the rim of the cockpit with your hands. The reason for this is to minimize the chance of you hitting your head on the bottom as you exit. Of course you won't have time to do this if the capsize is accidental, but it's a good way to start. It's more than likely that you've already fallen out of the boat. Most often a kayak's tendency is to spit you out after you capsize. If a great deal of effort is involved here, you're probably in a boat that is too small for you.
Step 4 - Hold onto the boat & paddle
Your first priority is safety. After you assess your scene and determine it to be safe, your next priority is to hold on to your paddle and your boat. At this point you will either be rescued by your friend, swim with your boat to shore, or reenter your kayak using a paddle float. If it is windy, get to the downwind side of your boat and it will come to you in short order.
Often an upside-down kayak will seal or suction to the water making it almost impossible to roll back into an upright position. If you can touch bottom and stand this will be very easy, just walk or swim to the bow and push it up out of the water which should break the seal. If you are standing, lift the bow to let the water drain out, and twist the bow so that your beautiful kayak rolls into a floating upright position. If you aren't standing just roll it over and try to keep as much water out as you can.
The Reentry (with a Paddle Float)
Step 1 - Make an "X"
Place the paddle float over the blade of the paddle and blow it up (hopefully you know how this works because you tried it on land). Let this end float in the water. Place the naked blade behind your kayak's seat creating an "X" shape between the kayak and the paddle. The paddle will be perpendicular to the kayak.
Step 2 Re-entry
Distribute your weight between the paddle and the boat as you crawl back in (the paddle will not sink). Any way you feel comfortable crawling back in is fine. I suggest you try a few different ways especially if you have back injuries, hip injuries, etc..
The following describes the standard way to reenter. Get your stomach over the seat, then wiggle over the back so that your nose could touch the deck behind your seat. At the same time, bring your legs into the cockpit area. Now you are lying face down and backward on top of your kayak. This is when you'll hope that nobody is watching. Carefully and slowly ease your legs and butt into the cockpit and roll over. Now you should be upright and sitting back in your seat.
Step 3 - Pump
There's probably a ton of water in your boat, this is what the bilge pump is for - start pumping.
More than likely, the conditions that knocked you over in the first place were less than perfect. This is when it's even more important to be able to wet exit and reenter your boat quickly. The Eskimo Roll is indeed the preferred method of righting yourself, but if you don't know it, don't let it keep you off the water. Practice the wet exit and reentry until it feels natural and quick. You can then paddle with more confidence until you find time to attend that rolling class.
Amie Lorisch is a Sales Associate and Assistant Guide at Atlantic Coast Kayak in Pompano Beach, Florida.