Monday, June 14, 2010

Paddle float re-entry

The paddle float reentry is a great fall back unassisted rescue technique. It is important to have a plan in place for when things go wrong. Planning for a failure in the roll is important, Because as we will discuss, so many things can disrupt a good solid roll.

Every video on this blog has had a paddle float and bilge pump on the deck of my kayak, in front of the cockpit. It is always there because that is how I was taught by my sifu. In fact he taught me so well, that despite the fact that today I feel that they are on the wrong side - left, I think they should be on the right - I leave them where they are, because when instinct takes over, my body knows where the paddle float is. If I switched it to the right side, my body would have to look for it, and I am not willing to take that risk.

The Paddle float reentry is not the fastest way back into a kayak, but it works, and it works well. It doesn't take great strength, I think it takes patience more than anything. Particularly when the water is cold, the instinct is to rush. Which leads to nothing good. I am a big fan of the expression 'slow is fast'. It is never more true than in the water on a cold day.

An explanation of 'slow is fast' is that if you rush something, you will invariably make a mistake, and the correction will take longer than if you took your time, and did the correct thing first, slower. I was also taught early in my instruction in martial arts, that if you can do something slowly, keeping in balance, it prepares you to do the same movements quickly. But to do something quickly, doesn't prepare you to do it slowly. You can cheat balance, and precision, with speed.

The process for the paddle float re-entry is this. Starting in the water next to your kayak. While holding onto the paddle, and the kayak, remove the paddle float from under the bungies on the deck of the kayak. I wrap my arm around the paddle, holding it next to my body to free up both hands. Place the paddle float on the blade of the paddle, and inflate. Flip your kayak over and insert the blade of the paddle - the one without the float on it - into the bungies the behind the cockpit. Your kayak now has the equivalent of an outrigger to support you. Place one hand on the shaft of the paddle, and one hand on the far side of the cockpit coaming. You should be in front of the paddle, with the cockpit on your side, facing the back of the kayak.

You now have two options.

Method #1. Press with your hands while giving a kick with your feet, and launch yourself onto the back deck of your kayak.

Method #2. While holding the paddle shaft and cockpit coaming, put a leg over the paddle that is acting as an outrigger, and use your leg, and arms to get yourself on the back deck of the kayak.

You are now on the back deck of your kayak, Your chest, is pressing down on the back deck, and this is where it should stay, as you slide on foot, then the other into the cockpit. Once both feet are in the cockpit slide your whole body towards the bow, keeping your chest on the deck - and therefore your center of gravity low. When your bottom is in the cockpit, roll your body towards the paddle that is supporting you. Placing your bottom in the seat.

If the sea conditions are pretty flat, and you are in no danger of being blown into a situation of danger, you can now take your bilge pump, and pump out the water in your cockpit.

If the sea conditions are rough. re-attach your spray skirt, leaving an opening for your bilge pump, pump out the water with the cockpit mostly covered, leaning towards the paddle float.

When the cockpit is dry, Stow the bilge pump, secure the spray skirt the remainder of the way, retrieve your paddle, and do a couple of forward strokes, then remove the paddle float, stow it, and be on your way

If the water is very cold, climb onto your over turned boat getting as much of your body out of the water as possible while you attach and inflate the paddle float. I learned to do the paddle float reentry in Alaska, and this was the procedure we used because of the coldness of the water.

If you position yourself behind the paddle, you have to swing your legs much further to get them in the cockpit, as opposed to entering from in front of the paddle.

If you roll away from the paddle, when you are getting back in the seat, you risk rolling the boat, as there is nothing supporting it.

This is something I practice twice a year. Once at the beginning of the season, and once at the end of the season. I demonstrate it when I teach it as well. The only time I have ever used it in a 'combat' situation was in the story in the last of this post.

I apologize that I don't have a video of myself doing a paddle float re-entry. I may be able to shoot one this week. In the meantime check out this animation.

I don't think this is the best version of the paddle float re-entry. It shows the paddler getting on the kayak from behind the paddle - which as I mentioned forces a bigger turn than if you are in front of the paddle. It shows the paddle being held in place, instead of under the bungies - which makes for something more to deal with, particularly as you slide over it. And finally it shows the paddler rolling away from the paddle float. I don't think it is ideal, but until I find - or make - a better version it will have to do.


  1. Hi PO

    As you will see from sitemeter I am one of those mentioned who have read every post, and watched every video clip along the way. I really wish that either you lived in the UK or I in the States; I feel that just paddling, chatting and watching you would teach me so much about the art of kayaking. I've only been paddling just over a year (I have a Dagger Charleston 14'), but already I have become engrossed in the layers of skill, like an onion skin, which surround this most pleasurable and fascinating of pastimes.
    You mention how quickly you relax when paddling; I too find that after only a couple of dozen strokes I am breathing more deeply, and the rhythm of the paddling helps me to unwind.
    I will follow your blog with the utmost interest - please don't stop posting, as I now want to know more about your experiences and skills!
    Best regards

  2. Andyb,

    thanks for the very kind words. I would love to paddle with you, but the important thing is that you ARE paddling. When I get grump my wife sends me paddling - as I tend to get grumpy when I get busy, and don't have time to put a boat on the water.

    I like the visual of paddle skills being like an onion skin. I may steal that. Very accurate.

    I will continue to post, though I probably wont be able to maintain my three days a week schedule. I will take the wraps off the trip I am planning when in probably a month or two. As I still have some topics to cover.

    I will say this. concentrate on the diamond I posted. That is the gateway. When I started shooting the video for the blog, it was really the first time I started watching myself, and I learned a lot about the way I paddled. Put a little video camera on your boat to watch your forward stroke. you will see what you are doing, and what you are not doing. Actually. I think this will be wednesdays post.

    Keep Paddling, paddle safe.

    And thank you again. Comments like that are what make the work worth while.