Whenever I go out kayaking, I always plan for what to do in case I fall victim to a capsized kayak. If it’s your first time going out with your inflatable kayak, having a plan is even more important to ensure your safety.
While inflatable kayaks are pretty darn stable there is still always that risk of being capsized.
I remember paddling the Nicomekl river, I was leaning the wrong way and capsized it. The tide was sweeping out towards the ocean so I had to make some quick decisions.
Thankfully I followed some of my outlined steps below and got back in without being sweeped to far along and made it back to shore safely.
In this guide, I’ll tell you how to flip a kayak back over after you capsized. Righting your kayak will take some practice. It’s a lot like a bike—once you know how to right a capsized kayak, you never forget. So let’s get right into teaching you what to do when your kayak capsizes.
Going down the tumultuous rivers of British Columbia has taught me a few things—many of them about wet exits. Getting out of the water after capsizing your kayak is an art that you can only master with practice. Once you get enough experience, getting in your kayak after falling in the water will feel like a breeze.
Whenever I capsize my kayak, I always go through a mental checklist of what I need to do. Here are my first thoughts when I capsize:
- Remain calm
- Locate your kayak and paddle
- Flip the kayak over
- Swim to the middle of the kayak
- Put your arms inside the boat (the cockpit, or where you sit)
- Haul yourself in
- Safely position yourself in the boat
Although these steps may seem simple, they do take some practice to master. I’ll break down the best methods for achieving each of these steps, with a special focus on how to haul yourself back inside the cockpit.
Once you’re comfortable trying it out, I recommend visiting a calm lake where you can practice without waves or interruption. After you’ve mastered these steps, you can test your mettle in a river or the ocean!
Things to Remember Before Going Out
I always ensure I have a few items with me before I go out on a kayaking excursion. Whenever my kayak flips over, I’m always incredibly thankful to my past self for remembering to bring everything. It’s better to be thankful than regretful!
I always bring a personal flotation device (PFD), a whistle, and an extra paddle. I also keep a mental note to remain calm at all times.
A PFD isn’t only necessary for a capsized kayak, but in general as well. Every time you head out for a kayak trip, you need to bring a PFD with you and wear it while you’re out on the water. A PFD certified by the government is the only way to ensure your safety if your kayak capsizes.
Not only will PFDs help you stay safe, but in many states, wearing one is the law. In Connecticut, for example, all kayakers must wear a PFD from October until May since that’s when the water is most choppy.
Each state has different regulations depending on the bodies of water within their state. You can find these regulations on each state’s boating and fishing department websites.
Although less obviously needed than the PFD, a whistle is among the most essential items you should bring along with you while kayaking. You can use it to alert others in your group that you may need assistance. You can use the whistle to project sound over greater distances, meaning you can get people’s attention much easier.
Aside from when your kayak tips over, a whistle has many other uses. You can use it to alert other vessels in your vicinity to your presence. Whistles can also signal things like “slow down” or “speed up” to other members of your group as well.
Although you may think it’s redundant to tell you to take a paddle, what I mean is bring a spare paddle. You can store the spare in front or behind you on the deck of the kayak under the nylon cord you find on most kayaks. That way, if the kayak capsizes, the paddle should still be there. Many double inflatable kayaks come with two paddles so just bring the second paddle!
A spare paddle is also advantageous if your paddle breaks or you lose it somehow.
One day while I was out on a river, I used my paddle to reorient myself. Unluckily for me, my paddle’s blade snapped (it was a cheap one that came with the kayak). Luckily, I had a spare and could continue kayaking after I collected the pieces of the blade. This experience also made me realize that it’s best to have a good quality paddle available!
You don’t need to remember to pack calmness like a spare paddle, but it’s one of the most useful things to keep in mind while kayaking. Let’s revise that—remaining calm is one of the best attributes you can have, no matter the circumstance.
Essentially, by remaining calm, you’ll keep your mind sharp, which makes stressful tasks like righting a flipped kayak easier.
Step by Step Guide
Now that I’ve gone through all the items you need to bring with you for a kayak trip; I can now give you a step-by-step guide on what to do when your kayak capsizes. If your kayak is tipping over, the first thing to remember is to remain calm.
(Yes I’m repeating myself like a broken record but hopefully if I mention it enough times it gets implanted into your brain!)
How to get back into a kayak after falling out isn’t too difficult, but some people can’t learn without visual cues. If a visual representation is better for you, here’s a video to help explain. Let’s go through the guide now.
Step 1: Locate Your Kayak and Paddle
The first step you need to make after your kayak flipped is to locate the kayak and your paddle. Most of the time, you’ll be holding onto your paddle when your kayak flips. If that’s the case, try to hold on. If you can’t hold on while the kayak capsizes, don’t worry. Swim over to it and retrieve it if you can. If you can’t, use the spare paddle for the remainder of your trip.
When an inflatable kayak flips over, it’s unlikely that the kayak will travel far from you if in flatwater conditions. If it’s close, swim over to it after you retrieve your paddle.
Make sure you can tread water while holding on to the paddle. If you can’t, hold on to the inflatable kayak for buoyancy. Once you secure both the paddle and the kayak, you can move on to step 2.
Step 2: Flip it Over
When an inflatable kayak tips over and dumps you out, more times than not, it flips itself back over. That means the cockpit is facing the water. Since you need to sit in the cockpit, you need to right the kayak so you can jump back in.
To right the kayak, swim to the front or rear of the kayak. It’s easier to maneuver the kayak from the ends rather than the center. To right the kayak, grab onto both sides and flip the kayak. To do this, use your arm to push one side into the air while the other arm controls the flipping motion.
Once you right your kayak, put your paddle in a spot where it won’t fall out easily. It’s much easier to enter a kayak when your hands are free.
Step 3: Swim to the Middle of the Kayak
Once you right the kayak, the next step is the simplest. Swim over to the middle of the kayak. By the middle of the kayak, I mean the center of the boat. You don’t want to climb on near either end because the kayak may tip again.
The middle of the kayak also tends to be where the cockpit resides. You need to enter the kayak and sit in that spot, so it’s better to jump in there rather than move yourself when you get on the kayak.
Step 4: Put Your Arms Inside of the Boat
Like the previous step, putting your arms inside the boat sounds easy. Finding the best spot on your kayak to hold onto can be a challenge. Since each kayak is unique, I can’t give you an exact guide on where to place your hands, but I’ll give you the general idea.
Find a spot inside the kayak where you can reach from the water. The spot should be sturdy, but it doesn’t need to support your whole weight. When you lift yourself from the water, you’ll use your legs in a kicking motion. This puts less of your weight on the kayak
From my experience, the best place to grab on inside the kayak is where the cockpit floor meets the inflated ring around my Advanced Elements kayak. The spot doesn’t have anything to hold onto, but the curve from the inflated ring gives you sturdy support to wrap your arms around.
Step 5: Haul Yourself In
Hauling yourself inside the kayak is the most complicated part of a capsized kayak. You need to use your arms to pull yourself up and your legs to propel yourself forward. After I explain, you’ll see why I recommend practicing this in calm water before venturing into the rougher territory.
Now that you swam to the middle of the kayak and put your arms inside the boat, you can start getting in. To do this, you want to perform a “scissor kick” with your legs while using your arms to pull your chest into the kayak.
A scissor kick requires you to position one leg in front of you and one behind you while in the water. The next step is to drive the leg in front of you behind you while doing the opposite motion with the rear leg. The kicks create a scissor motion in the water, which propels you in an upward movement.
The scissor kick is integral to a smooth exit from the water. Without it, you would have to use your arms to pull yourself in. Not only is that tiring, but it can cause the kayak to capsize again. By performing the scissor kick, you’ll use less energy and have more control.
So, while doing the scissor kick, you want to lift yourself into the kayak with your arms. At this point, you want to ensure that your entire chest/torso is inside the boat. If it is, flip yourself over and kick your legs inside the cockpit. If your chest isn’t in the boat, go back in the water and perform the scissor kick until your chest is in the cockpit.
Step 5: Get Safely in the Boat and Continue Like Nothing Happened
Once your legs are inside the kayak, you can reposition yourself until you’re comfortable. It may take a minute or two to reorient yourself once you get back on the kayak. Take this time to gather your paddle and put your legs in a comfortable position.
At this point, you can whistle to let your kayaking buddies know that you’re ready to continue. Now that you’re back in your boat, albeit a little wetter than before, you can continue on your kayaking trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that I’ve explained how to get back in a kayak after a kayak flipping, I can answer some of your other questions about capsized kayaks. Here are the most common questions I get asked about inflatable kayaks.
Do Inflatable Kayaks Tip Easily?
No, inflatable kayaks do not tip easily. In fact, they’re much more difficult to tip over than conventional plastic kayaks. Most inflatable kayaks work by having an inflated ring around the perimeter of the kayak. The ring creates the buoyancy needed for the kayak to float.
But the inflated ring also serves as a sort of stabilizer. Since the inflated sections won’t stay underwater, it takes a large force to tip you over. Even when trying to tip over the kayak, you have to put in a lot of effort to start rocking the boat, not to mention tip it over.
Not only that, but the inflated ring means the kayak is wider than its hardshell counterparts. A wide kayak is much harder to tip than a narrow one.
So overall, inflatable kayaks are a good choice if you’re worried about your kayak flipping over. You’ll only need to worry about a capsized kayak if you’re entering rough waters, like a fast river or a windy day on the ocean.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Easier to Get Back Into?
Yes, inflatable kayaks are much easier to get back into than their hardshell counterparts.
If your kayak flipped and you needed to get back in, you’ll have an easier time with an inflatable kayak. That’s because, in most cases, the inflatable kayak has more space to maneuver and reposition yourself.
As stated before, inflatable kayaks are wider than hardshell kayaks. That means they’re more stable than other varieties. A wider kayak is easier to get into than a thin one because your weight will cause less movement on the kayak and in the water, contributing to tipping.
On most inflatable kayaks, there’s a large lip you need to get over. Once you get over that, you’re essentially back in your seat on the kayak. In contrast, hardshell kayaks often have small cockpits you need to position yourself in. That can be a hard task to do without the kayak flipping over again.
How Safe is it to Paddle an Inflatable Kayak?
Inflatable kayaks are safe to paddle as long as you are in the RIGHT CONDITIONS. On a whole, most inflatable kayaks perform best on flatwater conditions such as lakes and calm bays. Where you run into problems is when you encounter waves, tides and white water.
Only tackle these conditions if you are a) experienced and b) have an inflatable kayak CAPABLE of handling these conditions. Look to manufacturers such as Sea Eagle, Advanced Elements and Aqua Glide to name a few.
Do Inflatable Kayaks Get Punctured?
Of course an inflatable kayak can be punctured, but how likely is that to happen? Under normal use, such as kayaking in an ocean, lake, or river, the chances of you puncturing the kayak are pretty slim. But it does happen. Check out our how to repair a kayak leak guide.
The reason why puncturing a kayak is so difficult is because of the material the manufacturers use in production. Both primary types of material are incredibly strong. Most manufacturers use a double or triple layer of this material to ensure any nicks don’t fully puncture the boat.
What Material Do Inflatable Kayaks Use?
The most common material types in inflatable kayaks are PVC and Hypalon. PVC is a plastic polymer that’s most famous trait is its ability to ‘weld’ to other pieces of PVC.
The welding process means one piece of PVC is heated until it can stick to another piece of PVC without the need for glue. As you can guess, the welding process creates a seal that is extremely difficult to puncture. The only downside to PVC is it reacts to chemicals and sunlight, breaking down the plastic’s strength over time.
The other material often used in inflatable kayaks is Hypalon. Hypalon is a synthetic rubber that doesn’t break down when exposed to harsh conditions. The Hypalon in a kayak will last for decades after you’re gone.
The main reason why Hypalon is such a good inflatable kayak material is because of its strength. Hypalon won’t puncture even when you enter white water. Many kayaks using Hypalon will offer warranties over five years because they know the material won’t break down.
Hypalon kayaks are much more expensive than their PVC counterparts. The construction also utilizes glue because they can’t weld Hypalon like PVC. Both materials are strong enough to withstand normal use, so you shouldn’t worry too much.
What We Learned
In this piece, I went through the main steps you need to know for getting back in your inflatable kayak after flipping over. The first thing you need to remember is to remain calm. A calm person can think clearer than someone frantically searching for their paddle. A way that tends to help me remain calm is knowing kayak capsizing is a common occurrence.
After that, you need to locate your boat and paddle, if you can. Once you’ve located and righted your boat, you can use the scissor kick method to propel yourself into the cockpit. Once you’re in the kayak. You can coolly play it off like nothing ever happened.
But we also learned the most common types of material used in inflatable kayak manufacturing, how easy they are to puncture, and compared inflatable kayaks to their hardshell cousins. All in all, we’ve gained a higher degree of knowledge about inflatable kayaks—the only thing left to do is to go out for a ride!