Capsize Drill or the Wet Exit

I tell everyone that kayaking on the sea is a dry sport - and, unless you are involved in surfing or some such pursuit, it usually is. You should, however, resign yourself to a couple of capsizes during your learning period. I remember that I was somewhat apprehensive before my first capsize, upset by the thought of getting stuck in the cockpit. In fact, this turned out to be a groundless fear: the big problem is actually staying in the cockpit. Without thigh braces and padding you will fall out of the boat. It is difficult to convince novices of this.

Preparation For your first attempt choose a piece of calm, sheltered water and enlist a friend for moral support. Unless you are lucky enough to practice this in a swimming pool you should wear some kind of flotation device. You should not be eating. Remember, chewing-gum and water sports do not mix! To prevent water from getting up their nose, some people prefer to wear a nose clip. Without a nose clip you will soon discover that breathing out slowly through your nose will prevent the water from going in.

The exit

  1. Make sure that the spray-skirt release-strap is on the outside.
  2. Take a breath and capsize. Now let go of the paddle.
  3. Sit still until you are completely upside-down.
  4. Locate the release-strap on your spray skirt. It doesn't matter whether or not you can open your eyes; most people find the strap by groping for it.
  5. Pull the strap forward towards the bows, then upwards to clear the coaming.
  6. Lean forwards. Place both hands behind you on either side of the boat.
  7. Straighten your legs, then push up and away in the direction of the small arrow .

Once on the surface, grab the boat's toggle and then retrieve the paddle. Take the boat with you while you do this. If you hold on to the nearest lifting toggle while you swim to the paddle you will find the boat easy to tow; it will also help to support your weight. Remember: if you leave the boat even for an instant the wind may blow it away faster than you can swim after it.

It is natural for you to feel some slight lack of confidence prior to your first wet exit. By all means do the first one without the spray skirt in place. In this case, bang three times on the upturned hull with your hands before allowing yourself to make the exit. Hanging upside-down for these few added seconds will give you confidence so that you will not panic when you need to remove the spray deck. It will also be a signal to your friendly onlooker that you have not expired and are in fact in complete control of the situation.

Remember: the first movement of your exit is like taking off a pair of trousers - you lean forwards. (Nobody leans backwards when they remove their pants!)

Excerpted from Complete Book of Sea Kayaking by Derek C. Hutchinson with permission from Falcon Publishing.

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