Reflections from the Cockpit "New Ways"
January 2002

With the start of the new year my theme for this month's reflections will be developing the "New." However, I am going to ask you to create it from the "OLD." Many of us have learned to do capsize recoveries in a particular manner. We are usually taught how to do the skill in its entirety. I would like to offer a different approach.

Instead of looking at a capsize recovery as one complete skill, let's look at it as a composition of different components. When a capsize recovery is done a number of pieces are put together to make the whole. Since there can be so many variations I believe you should find ways that work best for you. I believe thinking of the recovery as one whole skill limits our possibilities and alternatives.

As an example, during the filming of our capsize recovery video, my wife asked me "instead of trying to climb up onto your kayak why couldn't you do a wet re-entry and then put a hand up for an Eskimo assist?" I looked at her in awe because in all of my years of teaching I had not thought of that combination. I had never seen it done nor read about it. Her question opened a number of other alternatives. Mixing and matching the components of a recovery can give you alternatives that may suit you better than what you are currently doing. The only way to know is to get out and play with the pieces.

Here are the components for assisted recoveries given only one partner to help.

Components of an assisted recovery:

Wet Exit
Holding your equipment
Where to stay when you are in the water
Which part of the kayak to grab for emptying water
Emptying water
Righting the kayak
Stabilizing a Kayak
Re-entering the kayak

Each of these components have different alternatives. These alternatives can be put together in a number of different ways. The more alternatives you know for each component the more options you will have. Your goal is to put these components together in a way that works best for you, your abilities, your equipment and the conditions in which you find yourself. Let's review some of the different alternatives for these components.

Wet Exit
Get out of the cockpit
Stay in cockpit until breath runs out(exploring possibilities and waiting for help)
Stay in cockpit and come to the surface for air as needed(exploring possibilities)
Stay in the cockpit and swim to a solid object to right yourself.

How much thought have you given to your wet exit? Why did you wet exit in the first place? There are other options for you. Explore your options before automatically getting out.

When you do decide to wet exit I recommend that you do it the same way each time. Once you know how you prefer to get out, then you can set up your recovery equipment accordingly. Which hand will grab the loop? Which hand will hold the paddle? What position will the paddle be in when you exit? Which hand or foot will grab the kayak? I wet exit the same way every time if I choose to get out of my kayak. My recovery equipment is stored so I can get to it as quickly as possible from my position in the water.

Holding your equipment
Hold coaming, bunggee cords or deck lines
Grab the bow or stern loops (grabbing the bow loop is recommended in a surf zone)
Attach kayak to PFD cowtail
Lay over your kayak
Put foot or feet into cockpit when kayak is overturned
Hold the paddle
Put it under bungee or deck lines
Use a paddle leash
Attach paddle to PFD cowtail

Put the paddle in the cockpit

My goal is to have both hands free, if I need two hands, and still know where my paddle is and know that I have contact with my kayak. I recommend keeping the kayak overturned until you are ready to re-enter or drain the water. After a typical wet exit, there is the least amount of water in the cockpit. More water enters the cockpit as it is righted.

Where to stay when you are in the water
By the cockpit
By the stern
By the Bow
Where you can help the most
At a location designated by the person assisting if they need you out of the way.

I stay by my cockpit until I decide what I am going to do. If I am in the surf zone I immediately get to the bow of the kayak and pull it towards the oncoming surf (to be discussed in surf zone protocol page.) Remember, pulling the kayak through the water is usually faster than swimming along the side of it. (See "Walking a Kayak.")

My overall goal during a capsize recovery is to minimize my exposure time. Therefore, I only move when needed and I try not to waste time or energy even though I dress for immersion. If you are going to help with the draining process then move as needed. If not I recommend you stay near your kayak in the spot you will re-enter.

Which part of the kayak to grab for emptying water
As the assisting kayaker, I recommend you paddle toward the bow of the capsized kayak as your primary destination. Draining methods are usually quicker from the bow and there is less chance of injury if a rudder is present on the stern. Since most sea kayaks (nowadays) have at least a rear bulkhead, lifting the bow will drain the necessary water without having to orchestrate a full TX type of drain. I also find that starting at the bow puts me into a better position for my preferred stabilizing position.

Emptying water
In water bow lift
In water stern drop
Quick flips (not a drain, but it reduces the amount of water scooped by the cockpit)

Remember, if you take the time to drain the water the paddler in the water should be dressed for immersion. If not, then get them in there kayak and pump out the water.

Righting the kayak
Push up on the coaming (the faster you flip the less water the cockpit scoops)
Jump over the kayak and roll it up as you fall back (scoops more water)
Get underneath the cockpit and push up and flip (scoops very little water)
Bow lift and flip
Stern drop and flip
Leave it overturned waiting for an assisted drain

I leave my kayak overturned until I know with I am planning to do. It is easier for me to hold when it is upside down.

Stabilizing a Kayak
Grabbing cockpit coaming while facing each other (with or without paddle bridges)
Grabbing cockpit coaming while facing the same way (with or without paddle bridges)
Grabbing around the kayak
Paddle bridge immediately behind the coaming

Regardless of the method your primary goal is to make sure your partner has a stable platform for their re-entry method. Hopefully the method you choose will keep the water from coming over into the cockpit, especially if you have just drained it. Your method should not block your partner during re-entry. Also ask, is there a method where I help my partner and stabilize the kayak simultaneously?

Remember, never let go of your partner's kayak until they tell you to do so. They are depending on that stability. I have seen to many re-capsizes do to the stabilizer thinking their partner was ready.

Re-entering the kayak
Over the back deck, feet first into the cockpit and rotate up as you slide into the cockpit
Over the back deck and straddle up to the cockpit.
Enter cockpit feet first from between the kayaks and press on both kayaks as you arch into the cockpit.
Over the cockpit using the BBF method
(Belly button, backside, feet)
Stirrup assisted re-entry
Scoop re-entry (usually used for injured paddlers)
Wet re-entry (underwater re-entry into cockpit)

My experience as an instructor has convinced me that climbing up onto the kayak is the most difficult part of the capsize recovery process. I believe kayakers work a lot harder than they need too.

Now that you have the pieces how will you put them together?

The new year is here so let's try some new methods. I recommend that you go out and do your favorite assisted recovery method. Then try changing one component at a time. See if you can find a more user friendly and efficient way of doing that recovery. Remember, your goal is to have efficient and reliable recovery techniques that will work when the going gets rough. The "wet re-entry and Eskimo bow assist" mentioned earlier is just one example of using the components in different ways.


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