USK Course of Action Scenario Response(s)
"Borrowed Kayak"

You are new to paddling and anxiously waiting for your new kayak to be delivered to your local kayak shop. In the meantime, you want to take advantage of a club training trip so you post an e-mail that you need to borrow a kayak for the trip. You get a reply from Bob saying he will bring an extra kayak for you. During the trip you practice a number of wet exits and recoveries. On the two-mile return to shore, you are falling behind and your kayak seems unstable. One of the other paddlers says it looks like your stern is lower than your bow. What is your course of action?


Givens from the scenario being presented:

New paddler waiting for a new kayak from local shop
Want to take advantage of club training trip
Solicit kayak via club e-mail
First see kayak at the launching site the day of the trip
Practice a number of capsizes and recoveries
Unstable, falling behind, stern lower than bow
Two miles from shore

Considerations for each given:

New paddler waiting for a new kayak from local shop
Skills and experience in kayaking are little if any
Won’t know the right questions to ask
Many times a kayak shop will let you use a rental until your kayak arrives
Impatience to get on the water since it is a new hobby
Sometimes impatience drives us down the wrong road

Want to take advantage of club training trip
Desire to learn is admirable, keep it up
Club training programs can be great or very loose
Commercial kayaking schools more consistent in content
The cost of proper training should never be an issue of money

Solicit kayak via club e-mail
Utilizing club resources which can be very economical
Don’t know what you will get
Need to know if you will fit
How stable is it for you and your skill level?
How is the floatation, seals, rigging and hatches?
How long has the kayak been sitting around?

First see kayak at the launching site the day of the trip
Not much time to see if the kayak will work for you
Even if kayak is unsuitable your desire may blind you
Can you deal with group judgment if you chose not to go paddling?
Arrangements should have been made before this day to try the kayak

Practice a number of capsizes and recoveries
It is common to get water in hatches during such practice.
Leaking bulkheads and hatch covers are the main culprits

Unstable, falling behind, stern lower than bow
All are indications that you may be talking on water in the rear compartment
Need to confirm if and why water is entering back compartment
How many, if any, stayed with you as you fell behind?
Once the stern lowers water pools towards the rear.

Two miles from shore
Can you make it to shore without dealing with the flooding?
What are your options for solving the flooding two miles out?
Is the group capable of towing you to shore if necessary?

General considerations not mentioned:
Are you properly dressed for immersion?

Courses of Action for borrowed equipment scenario

I can appreciate the enthusiasm when one takes up a new sport. In this case, the paddler really wants to get on the water and learn. I have numerous concerns when it comes to novices. The "ignorance is bliss" concept is a great motto for all of us when we undertake a new sport that involves risk. As novices we don’t know enough to ask the right questions. We don’t even know what can go wrong. This ignorance makes us very dependent upon others to watch out for us. Our desire for participating can over ride common sense. How many of us have the strength of character to walk away from the trip after seeing the kayak and with the group watching you? This is a group you wish to join.

I have to say most clubs do a good job when teaching skills and watching out for the welfare of new paddlers. However, I have seen and heard of very questionable club training sessions. As a novice you will not know the difference until it is too late. While I recommend club training programs I firmly believe you will have a more consistent basic class if you go to a professional kayak shop and take their basic class. I think it is important that one have a good base of skills before going into a training program that can be taught by anyone who shows up. While peer training can be good I believe professional training is better. I would hope your reason for doing club training is not to save a few dollars. Unfortunately I know of a number of paddlers who will spend thousands on new equipment but not pay for lessons.

As for borrowing equipment, it is vital that the equipment you borrow be tested before the day of the trip. You need to know if the kayak will fit, if the bulkheads are present and functional, the deck rigging is adequate, if the spray skirt fits and if the hatches are water tight. Keep in mind that if someone has a boat for you to borrow, it is usually a kayak that is not used as often since this person has another kayak. Their second kayak may be in excellent condition. However, my experience has shown me that the second kayak is one that usually has leaking bulkheads and/or hatch covers.

You should also explore the temporary use of a kayak from the kayak shop that sold you a kayak. Some shops will let you use one from their rental fleet, as you need it, before your new kayak arrives. You can see the kayak and try it before the morning of the trip. In addition many shops take much better care of their rental fleet. A retail shop does not want to deal with the liability issues from poorly maintained in case of an accident.

As in many scenarios one should not have gotten into this situation in the first place. Since we are there with instability and a sinking stern let’s explore options. If you haven’t figured it out yet, a rear compartment full of water will slow you down. There are options for emptying water and repairing kayaks on opened water, but one member of the group needs to know the techniques. Sometimes a supportive tow may be your best solution if the group experience level does not include repair at sea skills. See USK article "One Towing Two."

One of the cardinal rules of paddling on open water is to not open forward and rear hatches while on the water. Since your hatches are your floatation (in kayaks with bulkheads) opening a hatch cover puts that floatation in jeopardy. There are techniques for emptying water from hatches and making repairs at sea while maintaining stability. See USK article "On Water Kayak Repair." If the cause was a leaky bulkhead the water will not drain back out once the stern starts to drop. If you have two paddlers to help you they can stabilize your kayak from each side and open the flooded hatch and pump it out. Be sure not to loose the hatch covers. If you loose a hatch cover be prepared to make one from your repair kit with duct tape and/or plastic bags. I have to say it is not uncommon for paddlers to forget to attach the neoprene hatch cover under the hard cover before they launch. If this is the case your back hatch will fill quickly.

If you cannot find the cause of the leak and it continues to leak, try stuffing the hatch with as many float bags, dry bags, sealed garbage bags, etc., to add buoyancy and volume to the flooding hatch. Water cannot come in if the chamber is full of float bags.

Your choices are limited. Paddle to shore with a flooded rear compartment if you can. Switch kayaks with another because they are experienced in paddling a flooded kayak. Get towed to shore with some support. Empty the water while two miles out and make necessary repairs. If the kayak totally floods and sinks you may be in the water for some time if your paddling partners cannot get you to shore. That is why dressing for immersion is important.

Suggested response to avoid the situation:

Make sure you know the kayak you are using before going off shore. Watertight tests can be made in waist deep water. Simulate the movements in the shallows before going two miles out to see if the borrowed kayak takes on water. You can also test it near shore and on shore with water hoses. When in doubt use very large floatation bags in the compartments as a precaution.

Lessons learned:
Know your equipment
Take basic lessons from professionals
Have towing equipment when going off shore
Learn how to repair kayaks on open water
Dressing for immersion gives you more options

Response(s) from our readers:

Andy from South Carolina writes:

Get to shore and find Bob!  But first have the observant paddler open and examine the rear hatch(es) for evidence of shifted gear or flooding from the rescue practice.  Re-trim boat if gear moved or pump out water if that is cause.  This correctly assumes the loaner boat is a properly constructed sea kayak with bulkheads and fellow paddlers have hand pumps.  Properly reinstall the hatch covers to reduce further flooding.  Plan B might involve a tow.  Again, the well prepared paddler has this stuff onboard. Once ashore, advise Bob and let him deal with his kayak.

Steve from California writes:

It appears that since the stern is lower than the bow and the boat has become unstable, that there is water sloshing around in the stern hatch. The first course of action would be to raft up with another, have him.her open your rear hatch and pump it out. Then stuff it with float bags, inflated dry bags, or anything that will displace water. Then have them put the hatch cover on properly. If the hatch cover just doesn't fit correctly and seal, try duct taping a plastic trash bag from your emergency kit as a temporary hatch cover. The trash bag could also be used as an emergency float bag.

Nancy writes:

Sounds like lots of water made it into the stern during the wet exit/rescue practices. If it's fairly calm, I'd whistle and have all the other kayakers stop and wait for me. We'd raft up, and I'd have people on either side of me whip out their pumps, take off the leaking hatch cover, and pump it dry back there. If someone had a dry bag handy, I'd blow it full of air and stick it back in there to provide a little extra flotation in case of complete hatch failure. Then I'd ask everyone to stay close together for the rest of the crossing home.

Mike from New York writes:

Sounds like you picked up some water in the stern compartment when you were doing wet exits. Could be a loose hatch cover or leaky cowling. Simplest fix would be to get another paddler to use their bilge pump to pump out the hatch. Since it is behind you, it will be pretty hard to do it yourself. Also, mention the problem to the friend who loaned you the kayak, so he can do a permanent fix later.

John writes:

If while paddling a borrowed kayak on a trip where it seemed to become waterlogged in the stern, I would ask a fellow paddler to see if the rear hatch was tight, and if that was OK, I'd ask someone to accompany me to a landing, if available, to inspect the aft section of the kayak, especially if it had a skeg which might have a leak into the hull.


USK Home Page

© Copyright USK