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Kayaking Skills: How to Wet Exit a Kayak

Kayaking Skills: How To Wet Exit A Kayak

When exiting a kayak, you’d ideally remain dry. However, sometimes a wet exit is unavoidable.

What Is A Wet Exit?

A wet exit is when you capsize your kayak. Unless you know how to roll or if you are in a shallow or rocky area, you will have to wet exit the boat. Wet exits are a crucial sill new kayakers should master before their first paddle.  Knowing what to do if you tip your boat in the middle of a lake or river will give you the confidence to handle it like a pro.

How To Wet Exit A Kayak?

A wet exit involves three steps:

  1. As your kayak begins to tip,  stabilize yourself by placing one hand on each side of the kayak. At the same time, make every effort to hang on to your paddle.
  2. Once the boat has flipped and you’re underwater, release your spray skirt if you’re wearing one. Locate the release rope (usually at the front of the compartment). Pull the rope and the skirt will detach.
  3. Once the spray skirt is removed, bring your knees to your chest and push yourself out of the kayak. Once free from your kayak, your life jacket will take you to the surface.

Saving You Gear

Prevention is the key to saving your gear if you flip your kayak. Stash your stuff in your kayak’s compartment bin, or secure it in a dry bag tied-down to your kayak with rope or carabiners. If you haven’t taken these precautions, there is a good chance you will lose items as they float away. This is especially true in rivers with a moderate to swift current.  Saving equipment takes priority above all other belonging. Be sure to hold on to your kayak and your paddle. If you haven’t secured your belongings before launching, attempt to grab what you can without letting go of your kayak and paddle.

Getting Back In Your Kayak

If you are alone and capsize your kayak, you have two options:

  • Swim to shore with your kayak and paddle:

Swimming to shore with your paddle and boat in tow is not easy. Identify the closest shoreline and head there, even if it isn’t where you put in. It will be less exhausting to walk your boat in shallow water to your put-in point than to swim the extra distance.

  • Perform a self-rescue in the water:

The goal of a self-rescue is to right your boat and get back in. Righting your kayak is usually not difficult. Simply grab one side and turn it over. Once your kayak is facing up, either stow your paddle inside the compartment or lay it along the top of the compartment to use for balance.

A paddle float is a small flotation device that you slip over one of your paddle blades. In calmer waters, you may choose to use a paddle float for leverage as you work to get back into your kayak.

Swim to the back of your kayak and grab the far side of the boat. If you have a paddle float, try wrapping your feet around the paddle and use it to climb on top of the boat. If you don’t have a paddle float, use your arms to pull yourself on top of the kayak. In either case, be sure to stow your paddle when not in use. Swing your legs around and into the compartment, and then lower yourself onto the seat.

If you are paddling with a partner, have them stabilize your kayak with both paddles, keeping your boat steady as you climb up onto the back of your kayak. Then, bring your legs around and into the compartment and move forward until you are able to lower yourself onto the seat.

Kayak On!

Be prepared and practice wet exits and re-entries before taking to the open water. When you flip your kayak, you’ll be glad you figured it all out beforehand.

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I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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