How to Climb Back Into a Kayak in Deep Water

How to Climb Back Into a Kayak in Deep Water
After exiting from your kayak in deep water, getting back without knowing proper techniques can be challenging. The scramble, sometimes called the cowboy, is one of the quickest kayak reentry techniques. In moderate to calm conditions, the scramble will allow you to climb back into your kayak while in deep water using only your kayak and possibly your paddle. Because the technique depends almost entirely on balance, practice first in calm water to master the balance. After you refine the technique in calm water, move your practice sessions to increasingly rough water.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • Bilge pump
  • Sprayskirt
Step 1
Swim to the bow of the kayak to position yourself to drain the kayak of water. While swimming hold onto the kayak's deck lines and don't let go of your paddle. If you let go of either, they could blow away faster than you can swim.
Step 2
Keep the kayak upside down and grab the bow. Simultaneously do a strong swim kick push the kayak's bow into the air. This should free the cockpit from the water and drain some of the water out of the boat. Before the cockpit splashes back into the water, spin the kayak in the air so it lands hull down.
Step 3
Swim to the rear of the kayak. Don't let go of the boat or your paddle.
Step 4
Climb onto the back deck of the kayak. The farther back you start, the easier it is to climb onto the kayak. For the reentry to work, you must balance your body perfectly across the stern deck to prevent the kayak from rolling.
Step 5
Swing one leg over the kayak so you end up straddling the boat. Keep your chest touching the boat---this keeps your center of gravity low and helps prevent the kayak from flipping.
Step 6
Work your way up the kayak towards the cockpit by sliding along the deck until your butt clears the seat's back band. Move slowly and keep your paddle in front of you. If you start to tip, use the paddle to brace. To brace, slap the paddle's blade onto the surface of the water on the side your kayak is leaning toward.
Step 7
Sit into the kayak and prepare to brace. This is the hardest move of the reentry, because you move from a balanced position lying down on the kayak to an unbalanced one with your torso upright in the air. Prepare for the unbalance by having your paddle ready to brace. When you sit into the boat slightly lean toward your dominant paddle side and brace on that side.
Step 8
Pull your legs into the boat one at a time while sculling with your paddle. To scull, move your paddle blade across the surface of the water like you're buttering a piece of toast. When the paddle moves forward, slightly raise the forward edge of the paddle's blade into the air and do the opposite when you move the paddle backward. The sculling motion creates lift, like an airplane wing does. The lift provides you with support, which helps prevent the kayak from tipping over.
Step 9
Use your bilge pump to pump any remaining water out of the kayak and attach your sprayskirt, the piece of kayaking equipment you wear around your waist to seal the cockpit of the kayak, to the cockpit's coaming, the lip that runs around the cockpit.

Tips & Warnings

When paddling in deep water, use a kayak with fore and aft bulkheads or floatation bags. The bulkheads or floatation bags prevent the entire kayak from flooding during a wet exit.
During the scramble, objects attached to your life jacket, like your rescue knife, can snag on deck lines. Be careful to avoid snags when first mounting the kayak and while crawling forward to the cockpit.
Rudders can cause injuries during a scramble reentry. If your kayak has a rudder, be careful when mounting the boat.

Article Written By Bryan Hansel

Bryan Hansel is a freelance photographer and kayaking guide who began writing in 1993. His outdoors articles appear on various websites. Hansel holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and religion from the University of Iowa.

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