Rescue techniques for kayakers

Räddningstekniker för kajakpaddlare

If you have capsized with your kayak, there are a number of different rescue techniques to use. What they all have in common is that you should practice using these so that you know what to do and what you can handle if it happens to be a sharp situation. If you have capsized, you should first assess whether you can get ashore without major problems. If you sink or stand on land, you easily solve the problems. If you cannot do this, you can use one of the examples of rescue techniques described below.


The type of self-rescue that most people have heard of is the Eskimo turn, or as it is more commonly known, the roll. It is spectacular and fun to master but requires a lot of practice. The Inuit in Greenland, often called Eskimos, used it to survive a capsize without falling out of the kayak, as this was life-threatening due to the icy water. Their kayaks have a very small cockpit tailored to the person using the kayak with very little clearance between the cockpit edge and the paddler's body to prevent water intrusion. With a whipping semi-circular motion from front to stern, preferably with the paddle above the surface of the water, while bending your upper body strongly backwards as close and parallel to the kayak's stern deck as possible, you can quickly return to the starting position without getting out of the kayak. It is for the most part a technique maneuver without particularly much force being required. But it must therefore be practiced well and sit in the spinal cord if you are to be able to rely on it.

Use of float

A significantly simpler variant of self-rescue technique is to use a so-called paddle float. It is an inflatable cushion that you can have lying on the aft deck easily attached to the deck lines so that you can easily get it off after a capsize. It can be filled with air from the start or inflated when needed. After the capsize, where you float next to the kayak, turn it right and detach the float from the kayak. When inflated, it is pulled over one paddle blade. You stick the other end of the paddle under the deck lines on the aft deck just behind the cockpit. The paddle then sticks out at a right angle from the upright kayak where the float rests on the water. You have then created an unrigged canoe. Slide/cling onto your stomach between the paddle and the kayak so that you come up on the aft deck with your upper body facing the stern and your body weight slightly out towards the outrigger. Otherwise, you easily topple in the other direction. Stick your feet and legs into the cockpit and screw yourself around and down to the correct position in the cockpit. Empty the cockpit of water using a pump or bucket that you should have readily available. If there are several of you, a friend with his kayak can support the crew by lying on the opposite side of your kayak and holding on to your cockpit. A float can also be used if you practice the Eskimo turn. The float is then placed on your paddle, which is thereby given extra lifting power. On some kayaks, there are sockets on the sides for attaching so-called Seawings. These are long, narrow floats that are attached behind the cockpit next to the hull of the kayak, which then gains increased stability. However, most kayaks lack this option.

Mate rescue

If several paddlers help each other when someone capsizes, the simplest variant of the rescue maneuver is the so-called buddy rescue, which in turn can be performed in different variants. In its simplest form, where you as a paddler have fallen out of the kayak, your friend comes to the rescue and together you overturn the capsized kayak right while trying to empty it of as much water as possible when it is turned right. The mate places his kayak close by and parallel but with his bow facing the stern of the capsized kayak. He leans over the cockpit of the empty kayak and takes a firm grip with both hands on the front edge of the cockpit. Together, the kayaks then form a kind of raft that is stable and does not tip over so easily. You rise out of the water on your belly on the opposite side of the kayak with your head towards the stern and your weight towards your partner's kayak. Lying on the aft deck, you stick your feet and legs into your cockpit, slide down with your body while turning to the right position. Any remaining water in the cockpit is drained out with a pump or bucket while the mate is still holding your kayak. . If you have several kayaks, more can join the raft so that stability increases.

Room rescue is available in several variants, e.g. where the comrade pulls the capsized kayak upside down over the foredeck of his own kayak to thereby empty the overturned kayak of water. Then the overturned kayak is placed next to the comrade's and you pass over his foredeck and crawl into your kayak. This is more complicated than the simple variant and requires a lot of practice. An advantage can be that the overturned kayak is quickly emptied of water.

(Buddy Rescue)

T rescue

A technique that requires practice beforehand and must be done quickly is the T-rescue. If you have capsized, you remain in the kayak upside down and alert your comrade that you want to do a T-rescue in cooperation with him by pounding on your hull or giving another agreed signal. Provided that the mate is close and can quickly notice your position, he places his kayak at right angles to the center of your kayak with the bow close to it. You yourself search for and grab your partner's pole and lift yourself into the right position. Hold onto the tiller until you have good balance so you don't spin over to the other side, which is easily done. The advantage of this technique is that it goes quickly, you have to hold your breath under the water, and that you don't have to leave the kayak and can calmly paddle on. But the maneuver has to be quick, you have to be trained together, and in bumpy seas it's easy to get hurt and maybe hard to get close enough to each other.

Course in Eskimo swing

(Erik demonstrates T-rescue)


When towing, the overturned kayak is first turned right and a line is attached to the bow of it. This can be prepared by everyone in the group having a float line rolled up and attached to the bow of the respective kayak. The person who is towing fastens the rope around his body (or in some hook or rope centrally and close to him), however, so that the rope can be easily unhooked. Whoever is in the water grabs the stern of their kayak and the entire crew is towed to the beach or calm water. It is important that the line is easy to disconnect and that it floats so that it is easily caught.

The paddle should be attached to the kayak

If you capsize, it's easy for your paddle to float away and it can be difficult to catch. Secure your paddle with a lanyard fitted with a carabiner to the kayak's deck lines on the foredeck. It may also be an idea to have a spare paddle with you in case someone loses their paddle or it simply breaks and cannot be used. Without a paddle, you are very exposed to the elements.