How to Get Back in a Kayak & Safety Precautions

If you’ve been kayaking for a while and you’ve never fallen off your boat, then you are one special human being.

It’s definitely not rare to flip off a kayak, it happens all the time; however, you also shouldn’t be falling off your kayak every five minutes (unless, of course, you enjoy fishing in harsh weather and deep water).

If you’re a beginner, you may not have experienced being flipped off your kayak yet, which means that this tutorial is for you for when (not if) the time comes.

Before proceeding with how to get back in a kayak after a flip, there’s one thing you should keep in mind – falling off a kayak is not that big a deal. 

This applies even to those fishing in a sea kayak in stormy weather. It’s likely you wouldn’t be kayaking in such conditions if you didn’t have experience navigating in rough water and unpredictable weather.

But if you don’t have experience, you shouldn’t worry either—panicking is your worst enemy in such conditions. Stay calm and follow the self-rescue steps.

To understand how to get back in your kayak after a flip, you first need to be aware of how each kayak is designed.

Types of Kayaks

Though similar in a broad manner, the techniques of re-entering your kayak depend on the type of kayak you fell off from. There are two types of kayaks: sit-on kayaks and sit-in kayaks.

As per their names, a sit-on kayak requires you to sit on the hull while a sit-in kayak is enclosed, requiring you to sit inside it. Both are available in singles or doubles.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

A sit-on kayak is the most beginner-friendly. Because it’s not enclosed, the lack of confinement gives a beginner a sense of control as it’s quite easy to re-enter such boats.

Most kayaks designed for recreational use have a flat hull, which provides better stability and also means that you may get flipped less often.

A sit-on-top kayak also has scupper holes on the surface that allow water to flow out. This means that even when the kayak flips and you manage to get back on it, you won’t have to start manually draining the water off your boat.

Because of how open a sit-on-top kayak is, you’re prone to get wet when paddling in deep water. That said, it’s not something you should worry about as if you’re into the sport, you will know that deep-water swimming is an essential skill to have.

A sit-on-top kayak is characterized by a wide beam that provides balance. However, because your sitting position in this boat is higher than in a sit-inside kayak, you raise your center of gravity making it super easy for you to topple off the boat.

It also doesn’t help that the kayak doesn’t have braces to secure your position as it does in a sit-inside kayak. This is why these types of boats are only suitable for beginners if they’re paddling in a calm lake or river that’s not prone to sudden weather changes.

It’s easy to get back on a sit-on-top kayak if you flip, but it’s also easy to fall off again.

Sit-Inside Kayaks

After graduating from the sit-on kayak, you’ll move on to a sit-inside kayak. 

This boat is a bit more complex to function and perform a self-rescue if you’re a beginner. However, intermediate and expert kayak anglers usually appreciate the level of control that comes with this type of kayak.

A sit-in kayak also keeps the center of gravity low, ensuring more stability.

These boats keep you secured inside the hull where you’ll have access to a seat and some adjustable foot supports. 

Keep in mind that you’ll need to put a spray skirt (a pliable waterproof cover) on the cockpit. A spray skirt protects excess water from entering the vessel.

This is one of the features that make this kayak seem complex; if you’re not used to it, it takes a lifetime for you to get in or out of the spray skirt, especially in deep water.

This is also why the process of getting back onto the kayak seat when completely flipped is a bit detailed, even though the kayak has braces to help you control your kayak.

A sit-inside kayak also fills up with water when you fall off, so you’ll have to clear it after getting back on. 

This type of kayak is more appropriate when paddling in colder waters and waters prone to an unexpected change in weather.

It’s not as easy to fall off a sit-in kayak, but when you do, make sure that you know how to get back on your kayak. It’s a good idea to practice often.

Safety Precautions – How to Get Back in a Kayak

A kayak capsize is inevitable. Because of this, it’s best that you have the right equipment to ensure your safety.

Put on a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

This is very important – don’t go kayaking (sea kayaking especially) without wearing a life jacket or PFD. Yes, it doesn’t make you look as cool as you’d like, but hey, it’s kayaking.

The life jacket works by adding buoyancy in case your kayak flips on you and you’re stuck in the water. Although you’ll need to swim your way back to your kayak, you won’t need to worry about staying above the water.

It’s also a lifesaver (literally) if you’re still sharpening up your swimming skills. Even if you’re an experienced swimmer, if the weather changes and you find yourself in rainy, choppy conditions, you’ll be grateful to have a life jacket on.

Use Kayak Bulkheads

Kayak bulkheads are for when you’re paddling in a sit-in kayak.

Bulkheads are airtight, watertight internal walls. They help to maintain a dry, water-free environment in the kayak, meaning you won’t have to work so hard to clear water from your boat.

Due to the slow accumulation of water, the kayak is able to maintain some level of buoyancy. The fact that you won’t have to clear water (for the most part) helps save precious time when you get back in your kayak.

Keep a Paddle Float

A paddle float is an inflatable cushion-like material that, once again, helps in adding some extra stability when you topple or are about to topple off your kayak.

This device is recommended for beginners. If you’re an experienced kayaker, a PFD/life vest is enough for the same functionality.

Getting Back on a Sit-On Kayak

On a sit-on boat, you’re likely to make a “wet exit” off the side of the kayak. When you do, grab hold of your paddle—don’t let it float away. 

Pull your paddle close to you and keep it by your side or secure the paddle onto the kayak while you’re floating on the water.

To right the kayak, some experienced kayakers use an Eskimo roll, but that’s more complex if you’re starting out (and is more suited to a sit-in kayak).

If you’re some distance away from your kayak, swim to it. The combination of your paddle and the PFD helps add buoyancy to keep you afloat throughout this process.

Once you’re where your boat is positioned, flip it upright so you can get back in your kayak. To do this, push forward with the top part of your body onto the hull of the flipped kayak. 

Reach underneath, grab hold of the edge, and pull it towards you. To make this more effective, do this by exerting more weight on one arm and at the center of the flipped kayak i.e., close to where your seat is positioned.

When done well, the kayak will start moving into position on its own. Once you flip your kayak upright, the next step is getting onto the boat and into your seat.

Position one hand (or both) on the opposite side of the kayak and let your legs float to the surface of the water. Don’t force it, just let the water lift you up.

Once you’re level with the kayak, lunge forward onto it. Your upper body should be the only part of your body on the kayak—keep your legs floating (a good measure is to make sure you don’t go past your belly button).

Do this in such a way that you’re exerting gravity onto the center of the kayak, ensuring stability. If you feel like you’re stable enough, roll onto your back, lift your legs off the water and swing your whole body onto the kayak and into the seat.

Once the kayak is in the correct position, you’re ready to start paddling again and enjoy your open-water fishing adventure.

Getting Back on a Sit-Inside Kayak

When a sit-in kayak flips, it will easily fill up with water. The spray skirt also makes repositioning yourself back in the kayak seat more difficult.

Experienced anglers might cut off the spray skirt or use an Eskimo roll, but making a wet exit is simpler for beginners. You’ll also need some patience, so it’s worth reminding you that you should stay calm; once again, falling off a kayak is not that big a deal.

Similar to if you’ve fallen off a sit-on-top kayak, pull your paddle close to you so that you don’t lose it. You can secure it onto your kayak or just let it float right beside you while you keep an eye on it.

Grab hold of the edge of your hull and maintain a good grip. Do this on the side of the kayak closest to the cockpit so that you’re at the center of your kayak.

Position one hand onto the side next to you, and one hand on the other side. Make sure to grab onto the sides very firmly.

Lean your body weight onto the kayak and push it so that it will flip over to the upright side. Midway through the flip, the momentum will make your kayak almost take over the movement and finish turning over.

Similar to when you re-enter the sit-on kayak, grab the opposite side of your hull and let the water float your legs and knees up. Keep your legs closer to the surface and follow this up by pushing your abdomen onto the kayak.

From here, you need to be quick in your movement. Turn your body and re-enter into the spray skirt. Swing one leg inside the cockpit opening and follow up with the other.

You’ll feel a pool of water at your feet. While you can drain it out then and there using a bilge pump, the best option for beginners is to paddle to shore and drain the kayak on shore.

If your kayak flipped, don’t let it ruin your day.  A flip is inevitable, so just follow the steps above, get back on, and keep on kayaking.

Conclusion

As with any sport, you can’t get good if you’ve never experienced some sort of misfortune. And similar to falling off when paddle boarding, a flip off a kayak is something that is likely to happen over and over again; so you’d better get used to it.

Though prevention is always better, knowing how to get back in a kayak after a flip is crucial. Go through this tutorial again if you need to and make sure you’re aware of the steps to take before you head off on your next fishing or paddling trip.