Arguably, the next most important piece of sea kayaking safety gear aside from the PFD is the trusty paddle float. Paddle floats come in many shapes and sizes from rectangular blocks of foam to vinyl pillow-case-like contraptions with hoses to fill inflatable bladders. Regardless of the design, all paddle floats serve the same function: as a critical aid to assist in self-rescue. A paddle float slides over one of the paddle blades thus converting your paddle into a buoyant, outrigger-like device. This article aims to explore the amazing paddle float from top to bottom.
There are clear pros and cons to both styles of paddle float. The inflatable type allows for convenient stowage and you can choose how much to inflate it giving you some control over the buoyancy of the float. However, blowing up the bladders takes precious time that could slow the process of your recovery, especially in cold water. The foam block type takes up more space on deck and has fixed buoyancy. The upside is that you don’t have to take the time to inflating it. It is important that your paddle float be assessable from a position in the water. This means that the paddle float should be stowed somewhere on the deck and not in a water-tight hatch. I like to weave the inflatable type-floats into my front bungees while the foam-block-type fits better on the back deck.
The paddle float is an important tool in many self-rescue techniques and can be utilized in almost every aspect of a recovery. Using a paddle float can accelerate the re-entry and greatly decrease the number of re-entry attempts needed to get back into your kayak. First, the paddle float can be used as part of the pump-and-dump method to empty your kayak of as much water as possible before attempting re-entry. It can be set up as an outrigger during the re-entry in order to stabilize the kayak as you attempt to climb in. For anyone who has attempted a re-entry in rougher water they know how tricky and frustrating this can be. The paddle float can greatly improve stability during this process and ensure that you get back into your kayak when it would be otherwise challenging or impossible. Finally, the paddle float can be used once you have re-entered your kayak for increased buoyancy while pumping out the remaining water and re-fitting your skirt.
The paddle float (especially the inflatable type) has many other uses as well. It is a great tool to aid in the development of the Eskimo roll and the added buoyancy can provide a lot of confidence at the beginning. Use a fully inflated paddle float to develop your hip snap during practice sessions. Add a half-inflated paddle float to your paddle to help develop proper set-up and brace positions. The trick is to not develop any bad habits and slowly wean yourself off the paddle float as your roll gets more reliable. Finally, a paddle float can be used as a rescue aid for towing an unconscious, sea sick or otherwise balance-challenged paddler when limited to a single-person tow. Attach a fully inflated paddle float to each side of the victim’s cockpit to act as a sort of “training wheels” to keep the boat upright during the tow.
I hope this post provides some insight into the many uses of the paddle float. As an instructor, I have come to carry two paddle floats whenever I’m on the water. They’re lightweight, inexpensive, highly versatile and should therefore be considered standard safety gear on any sea kayaking excusion.
Happy and Safe Paddling!