One of the most important skills to know before you go kayaking is how to recover if you capsize. Many beginners start with a sit-on-top kayak which is very easy to right once capsized. Since you aren’t sitting inside of the kayak itself, when the kayak tips, you go into the water completely unattached to the kayak. If, however you are using a recreational or touring kayak you might find yourself upsidedown underwater with your body still in the kayak.
As with just about anything, practice makes perfect so make sure to take your time and learn the right technique. If you’re on a still lake or river capsizing might have little to no danger, however in the ocean or in fast-moving water recovery time is critical. The number one cause of death while kayaking in the ocean is exposure to the elements. Just think about it, if you are kayaking in cold ocean water being in the water for 5 seconds or 25 seconds makes a big difference. Your body temperature can change quickly while you are underwater so it’s important to recover from a capsize as quickly as possible.
Okay, now that you understand why capsize recover is so important, let’s cover the basics of how to recover from capsizing. There are many different ways to right a kayak, to keep things simple recommend learning the kayak roll (often called an Eskimo Roll) first.
Kayak Roll (Eskimo Roll)
The basic idea behind an Eskimo Roll is to right the kayak using only your body. In some cases a paddle can be used to assist as well however the mechanics of an eskimo roll are all about body movement. The basic movement needed for a kayak roll is to try to bring your torso up towards the surface of the water. This can be done by quickly kicking your hips and/or using a paddle to help right the kayak. Below is a video showing the correct way to complete an Eskimo Roll:
Pawlata Kayak Roll
A popular variation of the Eskimo Roll is the Pawata Roll also known as the extended kayak roll. This technique involves changing your hand position on the paddle so you are holding it from one side. The hip kicking motion is still applied but this time the paddle can provide even more leverage given your hand position. Take a look at the video below to see a Pawlata Roll in action:
Sweep Roll (Screw Roll)
Another common kayak roll is the sweep roll, sometimes called the screw roll given it’s screw-like motion. Like the Pawlata Roll this is similar to the Eskimo Roll however the use of the paddle and motion are a bit different. In a Sweep Roll the paddle is held on the side of the kayak and then, using a sweeping motion, the leading edge of the paddle slices throught the water. To complete the roll, a very strong hip flick is needed to finish righting the kayak. The video below shows the five steps to completing a successful sweep roll: