Sit-On-Top Scramble Recovery

It is always good to have a few different ways to perform a capsize recovery. The main solo recovery method used by those paddling sit-on-tops is the BBF Recovery. However, many sit-on-tops sit high above the water which makes it more difficult to climb back into your seat after a capsize. A nice alternative solo recovery method is the scramble recovery for sit-on-tops. Since one doesn't have to empty water from a sit-on-top the Scramble Recovery is a bit easier because the sit-on-top's stability is not compromised by a flooded cockpit.

Let's look at the step by step details for performing a Scramble Recovery for sit-on-tops.

After a capsize remember to keep in contact with your boat. Outfitting your sit-on-top with thigh straps, backrests and/or deck lines is an excellent idea. Keep in mind a sit-on-top can shoot away from you very quickly on a windy day if the boat doesn't flip over when you fall off. I have seen sit-on-tops rocket away from the paddler. Train yourself to grab one of the straps or lines I suggested to add to your boat. A paddle leash that connects to your sit-on-top is another alternative but you need to hold your paddle.

When you are ready to get back on your sit-on-top move the boat so you find yourself at the stern (back end). Since the stern has less buoyancy than the middle of the boat it is easier to climb on in this location. If there is a rudder this method really has little advantage since you will end up doing a BBF behind the seat well. The Scramble Recovery as shown here will not be very practical if you have your sit-on-top outfitted for fishing because the boat rigging will most likely block your legs when trying to get back into your seat.

When ready, push down on the stern so you can get your upper body over the back end. Some chose to hold their paddle during the recovery while others secure their paddle to the boat before climbing on. Again, a paddle leash gives you options as long as you untether them when going through surf.

Your goal in the Scramble Recovery is to get your body out of the water and over the back deck of your boat. I like to think of this maneuver as pulling the kayak underneath me rather than me climbing up onto the back deck.

Once I am over the back deck I keep my legs spread out to the sides to give me balance. Do NOT hug the boat with your legs. If you wrap your legs around the bottom of the boat you lose a good deal of your stability with a possible rollover in your future.

Slide yourself up the boat until you get to a position where you can sit up on the back deck. Remember to keep those legs out to the sides.

Your goal is to work yourself along the length of your sit-on-top until you have your backside in your seat. This is done by leaning forward and putting your weight on your arms while you slide your backside forward towards your hands. Then reach farther forward with your hands and repeat the process of working yourself towards your new hand placement.

If you have a backrest you will have to get over it. Most backrests are soft and you can push them down so you can slide over it. If you have a rigid backrest that does not fold down then this technique is not worth it. If you try to climb over a rigid backrest your stability is severely compromised and you will most likely capsize again. The BBF Recovery will probably be your technique of choice if you have a rigid backrest.

After you slide past your backrest lean forward so you can reach under your backside and pull the backrest into its proper position. When the backrest is properly positioned sit back into your seat and take a breather.

During this whole process I recommend you keep your focus on the horizon especially if the sea is moving you up and down. It is easy to lose your balance if you focus on your boat instead of the horizon line.

When you are seated and stable it is time to bring your legs back in. Those that rush to get their legs back in before they are centered in their seats sometimes capsize. I train my students to bring in one leg at a time which adds to their stability.

As in all recovery techniques your goal is to minimize immersion time. Therefore the more you practice the more efficient you will become and your time in the water will decrease.

Before you paddle off make sure you are feeling physically and mentally ready to go. If you need to take a little rest to compose yourself this is the time to do it. If you are alone, using a paddle float outrigger can add to your stability. If you are with friends have one or two come over and keep you steady while you rest. This is also a good time to change clothes if needed. Of course your clothes are in a dry bag on your deck. It is NOT recommended to open forward or rear hatches while on the water (except small day hatches).

You are ready to paddle off after you have rested, secured all lines and adjusted all straps.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, it is nice to have a few different techniques at your disposal for recovering after a capsize. For sit-on-tops the Scramble Recovery and the BBF are the two most widely used solo recovery methods.

The main draw back for the Scramble Recovery are obstacles from outfitting your sit-on-top. I have seen some boats with four fishing rods mounted and there would be no way a Scramble Recovery could work. That is why it is good to know a variety of techniques. 

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

Photos from: 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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