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Classes, research, and technique practice:
There are many methods to re-enter your swamped kayak with no assist if the unexpected capsize arises. If you spend time in a kayak, learning a couple options is valuable knowledge to have. Taking a class is time well spent if you have classes available to you with most classes happening at annual early spring Paddle Expos, Fests or winter pool sessions. Another option is to conduct some YouTube research, then practice your new knowledge. New techniques and videos are surfacing each year showing several variations of the one person side re-entry and the back scramble along with the two person rescue.
Spend some time acquainting yourself with the assorted techniques. Then, go rent a pool for a couple of hours or if the water is warm enough to avoid hypothermia, go with friends to a small lake (with permission, if needed) to provide you the practice you need to learn the skill.
Remember to have one to two people in support kayaks that can help assist if you need some help during your practice. Staying close to shore in water just over your head is best. Wear your PFD and zip up and tighten all the straps so if someone pulls on it, it can not go over your head.
Self-rescue requires some gear:
Common side re-entry techniques require the use of a “paddle float” with two options available; the inflatable type or fully padded option. Either can be used as an outrigger when strapped to your paddle end, then placed under your coaming on your kayak, near your seat. The padded type does not require inflation and can assist quicker if hypothermia or busy speed boat activity makes minutes count for re-entry. Climbing onto, then up your paddle float applied paddle shaft for support, works easily, especially if the water is not rough. Climb onto your kayak cockpit facing backward with your belly facing down, then corkscrew yourself around, keeping your balance to right yourself. Remove water by baling or bilging is the final step. Keeping the paddle float on a bit longer will help until you empty the water out.
For added success in climbing back in your cockpit, having a “stirrup” can aid your ability to re-enter quickly. Especially if your are not strong, agile or are overweight. It can be as simple as getting a clothes line or nylon rope, measuring for the circumference of your cockpit size, then add about four more feet so the rope extends just under your kayak so you can use it to step on. The kayak stirrup can be purchased inexpensively from suppliers.
A “bilge pump” is also an important asset to remove water quickly once you re-enter. Having some type of “baler” can be a huge time saver when it counts, especially for those one hull kayaks. A gallon milk jug with the lid on, then cut in half is a free option.
The “Cowboy” back scramble method is climbing onto the stern from either side, then staying low for balance and scrambling slowly toward your cockpit with legs extended out on either side for balance. Staying low is key. Then let your bottom drop into your seat once you get past your cockpit.
A two-person “t-rescue” is a much easier undertaking. Remove water by placing your filled boat upside down over the bow just above their cockpit to drain. Then have them come parallel along your boat, as they hold your boat firmly, almost laying on it, just above the cockpit as you climb in. Having the outrigger with your paddle and paddle float attached is helpful.
Practice with your personal kayak:
It is wise to practice with each person’s own kayak and the gear. When you know how your kayak handles being filled with water, you gain new perspectives on your and your boats abilities on the water in case of unexpected capsize. A two hull boat will be much easier to re-enter due to the increased flotation. One hull boat’s flotation is limited, but re-entry can be done, but it is most important to get most of the water out before you try to re-enter.
Let me know how your research and practice goes at firstname.lastname@example.org