Between the Kayaks Re-entry

After you wet exit from your kayak you have numerous methods to choose from for getting back in to your cockpit. One of these methods has its share of critics aside from its supporters. This re-entry method needs to be performed during an assisted recovery. The re-entry takes place from between the two kayaks instead of coming in from the outside of the kayak. The critics feel there is a vulnerability to the paddler in the water between the two boats. The concern about getting crushed between the two kayaks is a reasonable one when you think about the two kayaks being bounced around in rough seas.

Like any other skill, there are some who can do it and others who have difficulty. I personally found it very difficult to do this re-entry technique because I am so tall. I was also concerned about doing it in rough seas. I have to say I changed my opinion after I went out in a winter storm to test my skills. While between the kayaks, wearing my PFD, immersion clothing and my helmet, I was not crushed between the boats. The two kayaks seemed to move in unison when I was between them while my partner was holding them together. I still had difficulty due to my size but I didn't get crushed.

Let's take a close look at this re-entry technique so you can decide if you would like to give it a try the next time you practice.

Once you are ready to get back into your kayak I recommend your partner hold your kayak steady in the bow to stern position. You have given your paddle to your partner if it is not on a leash. You need to be between the two kayaks by the back of your cockpit. You want to put one arm up on each kayak (shoulder concerns will be discussed later.)

Your goal is to place both of your feet into your cockpit. Tilting your head back makes it easier to get your feet up.

As you can see the partner trying to hold your kayak needs to be able to stabilize your boat and still leave space for you to get between them. I have seen this as a challenge for shorter paddlers.

When ready, press down with both arms, arch your back and slip into your cockpit. I have to say it is a beautiful sight to see when it is done correctly. It is also very painful to watch when someone cannot arch their back to slip in. The idea is to slip your backside into the seat by going over the back coaming and the seat back. That is why arching the back is the key to the skill. Once your backside is in the seat the rest of the body follows.

Due to my long legs (I am 6'7") this is not my re-entry of choice. During my teachings I have seen this skill more difficult for larger paddlers (statistically speaking.) Yet, I have many paddling friends who love this method.

I have personally witnessed a shoulder dislocation when a student tried to perform this skill. They admitted to having a chronic shoulder problem. Therefore, I tell my students not to attempt this skill if they have shoulder problems. Any time you put your arms up at shoulder height and press down you are in a vulnerable position for a possible shoulder injury.

As with any other re-entry, your partner needs to hold onto you kayak until you tell them you are ready for them to let go.

If you have another paddler to assist, they can come alongside the kayak and help the person during the re-entry by reaching over and pulling on the PFD to help them in. That is if they need the help.

The second assistant could also offer a helping hand and forearm to the paddler trying to re-enter. They can also help stabilize the kayak if needed. Remember, it can become difficult to stabilize the kayak when there is someone in between them.

Having extra hands can help, but these alternatives need to be practiced before the real scenario happens. Get out and try the different options the next time you practice your recovery skills.

As I said at the beginning, there are many ways to re-enter your kayak. Even though you will have your favorites it is good to have options. In addition, your weakness could be another paddler's strength.

I recommend you give this a try first in calm water and if you do not have any shoulder concerns. If you like it and it works for you, try it the next time on some rolling seas. Also ask your paddling partner what they think about it. Your partner needs to be able to stabilize your kayak while you get in, so how much work it takes is an important factor.

My concerns about having my body crushed between the kayaks in rough water were eased after I tried it. I will admit that my hands an fingers were in greater risk in rough waters regardless of what re-entry method my partner used. I worked harder trying to hold the kayaks together than doing the re-entry. Watch those finger when the kayaks are slapping together and don't forget your helmet on rough days.

As always, the USK motto is "do what works best for you."

Permission to use this article must be obtained from Wayne Horodowich at the University of Sea Kayaking (

Pictures seen above were taken from the USK Video "Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures".

Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.

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