One of the most common questions posed to Dave and I at the kayak shop is “what if the kayak flips over, won’t I get stuck?” This is a reasonable question, and a one that deserves a clear explanation from the standpoint of both safety and practice.
The truth is, a person in a capsized kayak will rarely get stuck in the cockpit. While the cockpit may seem rather enclosed on many kayak models, the fact is that most individuals will fall out of the kayak before they even hit the water. Humans are biologically hardwired to keep their head above water. Even the slightest stimulus (such as a capsizing kayak) will cause an automatic response to lurch one’s body above the water. While this is the typical outcome for the majority of kayakers, there is a simple procedure one can follow in that instance that they don’t immediately exit the kayak.
This article gives an overview of the wet exit, a self-rescue procedure intended for kayakers to safely exit an overturned kayak.
Step #1: You are cruising along on a beautiful day, enjoying the fresh air, and making your way through the harbor!
Step #2: An unexpected boat speeds by and throws a monster wake your way. You miss your low brace and capsize your kayak.
Step #3: Begin the wet exit by leaning forward close to the froward deck. “Kiss the deck” to avoid hitting your head on rocks, logs, treasure chests, etc…
Step #4: If you are wearing a spray skirt, locate the spray skirt grab loop and pull it away from the cockpit rim to release the spray skirt.
Step #5: Place both hands on opposite sides of the cockpit rim by your hips and push your body out of the kayak. Your life jacket will help pull you towards the surface
Step #6: After you are out of the kayak, bang the hull of the kayak three times to alert others in your group or passers-by that you have capsized. Make sure to hold on to the deck lines or toggles so that the wind and waves do not separate you from your kayak! Do not climb on top of your kayak as this will cause the cockpit to fill with water.
While this tutorial is designed to give an informational demonstration, nothing beats being prepared for a capsize like taking a self-rescue class with a certified instructor. Before going into unpredictable conditions, all new paddlers should take a proper safety course to learn the “wet exit.” For more information on kayaking safety and rescue courses check out the American Canoe Association website or check out our Course Schedule tab to book a lesson with us!