Generally, sea kayaking is a dry sport, and unless you do a lot of surfing, you can expect to stay on top of the water the vast majority of the time. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the possibility of a capsize, however. As the bumper sticker says, stuff happens, and it’s a lot better to train and be prepared for the worst before it happens out on the water.
One of the big fears that most new paddlers have is being trapped in the kayak during a roll. It’s more likely, however, that the novice kayaker will fall out of the cockpit, especially if you’re not using thigh braces or other padding.
Before performing your first roll, you’ll want to plan and prepare. If possible, find a swimming pool where you can practice. If not, locate a shallow, relatively calm body of water. You’ll need a friend or fellow paddler to assist you, at least for the first few rolls. Dress for immersion, of course. A nose clip is a good idea if you’re concerned about getting water up your nose (slowly exhaling through your nose will serve the same purpose). And always wear proper flotation.
First, remove the spray skirt from your kayak. You’ll want to make it as easy to exit the cockpit as possible, especially on the first few attempts. Also try the first few exits without a paddle. Then have your assistant roll you over, with the agreement that if you bang on the hull, you’ll need help getting out. Once under the water, hold your breath and count to five. This will give you the confidence that you’ll have time to release the spray skirt and escape when the time comes.
Then, when it’s time to escape, lean forward and place your hands behind you on either side of the boat. Straighten out your legs, then use them to push up and out of the cockpit. A few of these dry runs will show you how easy it is to escape before giving it a try with the spray skirt attached.
Then try it will all your gear:
- Attach the spray skirt, and make sure the release strap is on the outside and accessable.
- Holding your paddle, take a deep breath and have your assistant roll you over.
- Release the paddle, and hold your breath to a count of five again.
- Then reach out and locate the spray-skirt’s release strap; most people can do this by feel with their eyes closed.
- Yank the strap forward, then up to clear the coaming.
- Now lean forward and exit as before.
Once on the surface, grab one of the boat’s toggles and pull it along before swimming after your paddle. A boat can drift away quickly–especially in the wind–and you’re better off with a boat (and hopefully a spare paddle) than a paddle and no boat.
This will all seem quite awkward at first, but will become routine with practice, and give you the confidence that you can always escape your kayak, no matter what the situation.