How to Safely Wet Exit and Swim with your Kayak

When a kayak capsizes we are automatically dumped from our kayak. If exiting an overturned kayak has not been practiced it can be a scary experience.

There are a few simple steps that can help to calmly slide out of your capsized kayak and keep hold of your paddle while you are doing it.

If you are recreational kayaking in flat water and are wearing your lifejacket then you do not need to be too concerned about being an excellent swimmer. Hopefully you will know a little swimming and be able to keep yourself moving until someone can help you back into your kayak.

Practicing the Wet Exit

Removing yourself from the overturned kayak actually only takes a few seconds and you certainly do not need to be an expert. If you would like to practice a wet exit so that you know what to do if your kayak ever does overturn I would recommend having a friend with you that can help. Also make sure you are in water deep enough that you won’t be banging your head on the rocks!

Many inflatable kayaks do not use a spray skirt and it is much easier to practice the exit without one. However here we will go through how to exit your kayak while wearing a spray skirt as this tends to be the most difficult. If your kayak has no spray skirt then still follow most of the steps below while ignoring the part about pulling off the skirt.

Wet Exit with Spray Skirt

Make sure you are able to reach your spray skirt’s handle. Hold the paddle with your normal paddling grip and push your knees against the deck of your kayak. Now take a deep breath and lean slowly to the side until you tip over. The trick here and the reason you are practicing is to stay calm and to keep your mind focused on what needs to be done. Once you have tipped into the water follow these steps:

  • Place your paddle between your arm and your stomach so that it does not float away.
  • Wave your arms above water and bang the bottom of your kayak to try and get the attention of your friend.
  • If your friend notices that you have tipped he may be able to get to you fast enough so that you can hold unto his kayak and pull yourself back up – this would be the easiest and best rescue.

However in all likelihood your friend will not be able to get to you fast enough and you will need to completely exit your kayak. Follow the steps below:

  • Place your paddle in your lap and grab the spray skirt’s handle so that you can pull it off. If you are not able to get to the handle you can remove the skirt by pulling the edges at the side.
  • Keep the paddle between your hands and grab the cockpit coaming and lift yourself out of your kayak.
  • It is important that you keep your head as close to the surface as you can and to the side of your kayak…. you do not want to risk banging your head.
  • Try and keep your feet inside your cockpit so as not to lose your kayak.
Swimming with your Capsized Kayak
  • Keep the kayak upside down if you must swim with it and keep a firm grip on your paddle. Most important is your grip on your kayak and secondly the hold you have on your paddle.
  • Take your kayak from its bow with the same hand that holds your paddle. Pull it as you swim keeping your other arm free.
  • It is not easy to swim with an overturned kayak even in good weather conditions so I would highly suggest learning other rescue methods as well, and hopefully you won’t be kayaking alone and have a friend who can help out.
Important Tips

Remember these important tips when having to use a wet exit:

  1. Always keep a hold on your kayak. Even if your kayak is half sunk it will still keep you afloat on the water. Also it is much easier to spot a half sunken kayak as opposed to one lone swimmer in the open water.
  2. Always wear your lifejacket – that is a given.
  3. Keep a whistle on you at all times.
  4. Kayak with a friend or at least tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back.

Since many inflatable kayaks do not use spray skirts, if they should overturn it is much easier to remove yourself from your kayak… but make sure you you still keep a good hold on your boat and your paddle.

Wet exits and swimming with a kayak are not a lot of fun but it is good to practice them so that you have confidence that you can do it calmly and safely if the day should come.

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