At some point in your paddling career you will paddle into or through rough water: rough for your skill set and equipment. Even if you don’t intend to paddle in rough water, conditions may change; tide or waves may carry you where you don’t want to be. Rough water paddling, and surfing or playing in the ocean's rock gardens can be an exciting, demanding activity that will open new dimensions to your paddling. It is not without exposure, but can be done safely, especially if you prepare for what will happen. So Prepare, Plan, Practice and Play.

In sea kayaking you don’t swim ashore. You must be able to rescue yourself and your friends in any conditions you find yourself paddling in.

You need understand the effects of and limits to your kayak’s design, outfitting, and safety equipment. Know the rescue/reentry limitations of your kayak. Some kayaks are nearly impossible to self-rescue. Others are very difficult even for an assisted rescue. Think of the volume of water that must be removed and the rate that it is continuing to enter in a rough sea. What’s the integrity of your bulkheads (or airbags), what are they made of? How are they attached? What happens when heavy moving water hits them?

You should recognize the differences in the varieties of rough water rescues, and be able to maneuver to and affect the needed rescue quickly, efficiently and smoothly. 

You are both the physical and psychological rescuer.

Rescue Planning & Prep:

Analyze where a rescue may be necessary, type of rescue to use, risk of the venue to non-victims both before trip begins and immediately upon need for the rescue.  Have necessary tools ready.

Basic Rescue Practice

There are only 2 steps in rescues:

Get the water out and the person in…in whatever order.

  • Take your pick. Just make it quick.
  • Be positive and in control.
  • You are the physical and psychological rescuer.
  • Analyze the site and conditions before racing in. Don’t become the next victim. 
Emptying the Boat

Boat construction is critical here. Properly positioned bulkheads or buoyancy make life easier and safer.

  • X Rescue. X - necessary for boats without bulkheads. The ‘no lifting required’ method. (Ipswich that is in some books uses the paddles across 2 boats as the support X)
  • T Rescue. T - bow lift with/out victim assistance the “don’t damage your boat but mind your back” method.
  • Pump. The “pump or bail” method. Turn the kayak upright, get the victim in the boat and pump it out.
Rescuing your partner. Getting the victim back in the boat.

Know the differences of victim and rescuer kayak facing same vs. opposite directions. Focus on holding onto the boat with both hands on cockpit coaming or deck lines. Use your whole body weight on the deck of the victim’s kayak. Get your partner back into the boat, between the boats, across the back deck, or across your bow. Do what works.

  • Hold on until the victim is fully stabilized and ready to paddle.
  • Work together to avoid injury.
  • Protect victim from rudders, etc.
  • Practice, practice…practice: in the conditions you paddle in and with the people you paddle with.
  • Work out how to stow or hold paddles and extra gear.
Solo Rescues
  • How you get back in without another paddler’s assistance?
  • Eskimo Roll and its many variations.
  • Paddle float rescue variations.
  • Paddle float re-entry & roll variations.
  • Cowboy climb upon.
  • Sling.
Assisted Rescues

Decide whether you should get water out or person in first, then:

  • Bow to stern or boats parallel.
  • Scoop rescue.
  • Hand of God.
  • Multi boat rescues – Falconeri shuffle.
  • All-in rescues.
Eskimo Rolling

Commit to trying to learn this skill. You will acquire a set of tools that will make needing to roll less likely. Learn several rolls – on both sides. Very important to try.

  • Sweep or Combat roll variations.
  • C to C rolls.
  • Pawlata or extended paddle.

This form of self-rescue is very achievable these days.  If you are not able to roll, what changes must be made to your safety and risk analysis of what you can and cannot do with your group?

Rolling problems generally arise from:

  • Wrong attitude.
  • Poor setup and poor paddle angle.
  • Reliance on the paddle blade.
  • Failure to hip-flick.
  • Lifting your head or pulling your body up first.
  • Rough water rolling requires appropriate timing, coming up on the correct (wave) side, and use of the wave’s energy to increase the ease and success.
 Eskimo Rescue

Useful primarily as a training exercise for bracing and practice rescues.

  • Minimize the work done by your arms and torso.
  • Try grabbing onto different parts of the kayak or paddle. Mind your head and fingers.

Effective, quick towing of paddlers and equipment is a crucial kayak skill: getting someone out of danger or exposure, moving rescue to deep water, holding longer rescue off a danger spot.

  • Contact tows.
  • Rafted tows.
  • Tandem or line tows, and fan or husky tows.
  • Anchored tows.
  • Check all boats for proper flotation, bulkhead integrity, loose lines, possible snags, outfitting, and its effect on rescue methods.
  • Paddle leashes, contact tows, helmets, gloves, spare clothing, PFD thickness.

Additional Thoughts on Rescues

  • Assess risk to yourself from the environment and the victim. Don’t become another victim.
  • Take control of the situation. Be calm, decisive and positive.
  • Use victim’s boat to stabilize yourself while rescuing.
  • Use your weight and boat to avoid strain or injury.
  • If in waves or wind keep tight hold of victims boat to avoid loosing it or being hit by it.
  • Assess: empty boat and then retrieve victim OR retrieve victim and empty boat.
  • Fast and efficient, not rushed and sloppy.
  • Scoop rescue for tired or injured victim.
  • Eskimo rescues bow and paddle presentation.
  • Practice, practice…practice. Practice in the conditions you paddle in and with the people you paddle with.
  • How many rescues are too many to practice: 300?
  • Dress up and go swim in the rough water and waves.
  • Think about connecting with your boat. Remember the 4 B’s: Body, Blade, Boat, Brain.

Finally, lets not be too judgmental of others; remember…

There are only 2 kinds of boaters.

Those that have swum...

and those that are going to…

Thanks for listening. Be Safe, Have Fun… until we get a paddle wet.