01 March 2011

TECHNIQUE: reenter and roll

As my paddling skills advanced my kayaks reduced their beam.
My first boats sported a hefty beam of 62 cm (24"!). These days I mainly paddle kayaks 53 cm (21") wide.
As the width decreased the "tippiness" increased and that started to challenge some of my skills.
While I feel that most kayaks are rather stable when under way I have trouble keeping a kayak stable without having a paddle in my hand. I often take photographs from the cockpit but rarely in calm waters. A boat that does have weak initial stability is sometimes a challenge to keep upright, if I can't hold my paddle.
Consequently my self rescue technique also had to be reexamined.
I can no longer do the "cowboy" recovery when going for a swim. An assisted rescue is necessary if I want to keep the boat upright when reentering it.
Once I learned to roll proficiently, the most efficient self recovery for me is a reenter and roll.
A straight R&R had not been a problem in my beamy Impex Assateague. I would roll back up and empty the flooded cockpit with my electric bilge pump. While the pump was doing its work I would reattach my spray skirt.
Not so in my narrow beam kayaks. Once the cockpit is flooded the boat becomes more unstable to the point that a paddle is necessary to keep myself upright in textured water.
So, if I am recovering with a R&R I have little chance of putting the skirt back in place since I use both hands to do it and I have to let go of the paddle.
I found out that a reenter, skirt attachment underwater and roll was my best solution.

After a few practice runs I improved the technique.
As I roll back up, I now just switch on my pump and brace for a few minutes until the cockpit is empty again.
Sure we all claim to have "bombproof" rolls and a wet exit is not an option but I still manage to take a swim every so often :-)


  1. Nice one!
    Looks like the key to this is having a loose fitting skirt and a good set of lungs.

    As my skirt is on the tight side, I have a hard enough time putting it on upright!

  2. Great video, and nice post, I agree with you on the problems of photographing in rough water, sometimes it can be a real challenge and then you need a good roll.Now try that in rough water and watch out for your paddle leash it looks dangerous. My skirt is also hard to get on underwater and where can I get an electric pump like the one you describe?

  3. Steve, the electric bilge pump install is described here: http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com/2009/04/shop-electric-bilge-pump-in-kayak.html
    It takes a bit of DIY and a few items from a marine chandlery.
    On the leash issue there are opponents and supporters. I know that it might present a risk but so far I never had any trouble but that doesn't mean it's 100% safe. To minimize my risk I made sure it's a quick release type: http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com/2010/04/diy-simple-paddle-leash.html

  4. Great video gives me something to aim for.

    I can see that with kayaks where the cockpit rim is sunken this could be a little tricky but I guess its just practice - nailing getting the skirt on with the minimum fuss and wasted energy being key.

    In regards to the leash, given your taking your hands off the paddle, it would be embarasing (in the least - dangerous even) to lose track of your paddle whilst your getting the skirt back on. As with all things its a risk balance. The is task is made safer with experiance and familarity, practice, an engineering control (quick release) and your PPE (knife).

  5. I've tried this in a pool and can barely make it on one breath. How realistic do you think this is in rough water, surf?

    Second, did you find that there is any appreciable difference in the amount of water that enters the cockpit with and without the sprayskirt on? In theory, the spray deck should eliminate some scooping but I can't say that I saw that in practice.

    For myself I concluded that rolling up and working on the skirt once I am up works better. I just need to make a mental adjustment and allow for the possibility of re-capsize. If I go back in while putting the skirt on, I don't go for the paddle right away. First finish with the skirt and then roll up.

    Where I paddle, I usually capsize into cold water and I want to be out of the elements ASAP. What I also found is that I can finish the job 90% of the time even though my round-hulled 20.5"-wide Nordkapp HS is far from confidence inspiring as far as stability goes.

    Finally, still related to breath holding duration, what do you think about (1) re-enter, (2) scull for breath, (3) put the skirt on, and then (4) roll up?

  6. Haris, I know what you mean: running out of air before the skirt is on the coaming rim.
    I use Reed skirts that are not as tight as some neo ones. On the other hand the skirt is a bit "floppy" and it takes a bit more time to slip it over the rim evenly.
    I can reenter and roll without putting my skirt over the rim in my beamy Impex but I tend to loose my balance in narrower kayaks in bumpy waters with cockpit full of water if I don't hold my paddle.
    To increase the time holding my breath underwater I hyperventilate before I start the job. Your idea of sculling before attaching the skirt has merit; will test next time I'm practicing.

  7. Re: holding breath & kayak fitness
    I thought myself to be fit until I began learning to kayak surf. The thrills and spills highlighted the need to be able to relax and hold my breath for undefined periods of time in fizzy water. I can swim but would not call myself a strong swimmer, so to improve my underwater chances I try to include swimming and cross training in my fitness regime.
    Eric Soares had a good post on kayaker cross training recently http://tsunamirangers.com/2011/01/18/cross-training-for-sea-kayakers/
    Mark Visser is not a sea kayaker, his pleasure comes from surfing big waves. Through training he can now hold his breath underwater for 6 minutes. Mark’s sport may be more extreme than ours, but his goal is the same – to survive the swim. http://vimeo.com/18452945 and http://www.markvisser.net/home-8

  8. Nice ! I've never tried that. I can do your basic re-enter & roll but I don't think I can hold my breath long enough nowadays to manage getting the skirt back on underwater. Maybe I'll try practicing 1. capsize 2. skirt off (but no wet-exit) 3. skirt on 4. skirt-off etc etc to increase my time underwater.

  9. "I hyperventilate before I start the job" But in real accidental capsize we won't have time for preparatory hyperventilation ?

  10. There is no time to hyperventilate if accidentally I get tossed over and want to roll back up but I can't see why there is no time to do it once I am out of the kayak. It's not like I have to rush to get back into the kayak immediately. A few deep breaths before putting my head underwater and re-entering are sufficient for me.

  11. I tried rolling up with and without the spray skirt in the pool.

    The objective: to see if the amount of water in the cockpit can be reduced by closing it with the spray deck before rolling up.

    Rationale: rolling up involves some scooping. Closed cockpit would prevent scooping and reduce the amount of water in the cockpit.

    Result: no appreciable difference in the amount of water with and without spray skirt.

    Conclusions: I was not able to see any difference in the amount of water in the cockpit. I talked to a another paddler about this and he pointed out to me that I need to keep the cockpit pointing to the bottom at all times. He also swore that he gets less water that way. I tried it with the somersault rather than sideways entry -- no difference again. We speculated that the size of the thighs may make a difference. I am 6', my friend is just over 5'. Maybe my thighs cover the cockpit enough so that no water enters when I roll.


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