Stay Safe in Your Kayak — What to Do When You Get in Trouble

By Lori Janeson

No matter how well you’ve prepared for your paddle, there’s always a chance that something will go wrong.

What that “something” is, and how perilous it becomes, depends on a slew of factors: where you are, what kind of craft you’re in, weather conditions, water conditions, and much more.

What follows is a look at what to do in a specific type of situation: a “wet exit.”

When to Use the Wet Exit Technique

A wet exit is necessary when your kayak capsizes with the spray skirt in place, trapping you underwater. It’s a scary moment, even for veterans of kayak emergencies. Every second counts, so it’s incumbent upon you to think quickly and follow the wet exit procedure. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the first skills taught in kayaking courses.

There are two main ways to execute a wet exit: by yourself and with the assistance of another kayaker.

How to Execute a Wet Exit By Yourself

If you’re by yourself, you’ll have no choice but to do it all yourself. Don’t worry — kayaks and spray skirts are designed to accommodate you here. Just make sure your spray skirt’s grab loop is within arm’s reach before you leave shore. If you wait to check until you’ve capsized, you’ll be too late.

Follow these steps to execute a solo wet exit:

  • Drop your paddle away from the kayak so you have your hands free.
  • Take a full breath.
  • Tuck your head toward your chest to reduce your chances of striking submerged objects.
  • Reach along the sides of the kayak’s cockpit until you find the grab loop.
  • Take the loop in your hands and push your arms forward to pop off the skirt.
  • Try to lift the skirt behind you, so that your route out of the cockpit is unobstructed.
  • Place your hands on the back half of the boat (behind you) without straining your shoulders, if possible.
  • Push down on the boat and lift up your knees to launch yourself out of the cockpit. You’ll need to clear the thigh braces.


“This maneuver should be sufficient to get your head above water. If you’re still upside down, remain calm and try to orient yourself, then swim in the correct direction away from the boat.”—Lori Janeson


If you’ve lost contact with your boat during the wet exit, you’ll need to find it (and your paddle) as soon as you’re safe. Then:

  • Secure your boat with your foot in the cockpit. Yes, this is awkward, but it’s better than using your hands, as you’ll see.
  • Grab your paddle float and inflate it.
  • Put one of the paddle’s blades into the float’s sleeve and secure it.
  • Remove your foot from the cockpit and grab the far side of the cockpit opening border (coaming).
  • Pull the far side toward you while pushing the near side away, rotating the boat 180 degrees on the x axis.
  • Place the floated blade into the water and move the paddle perpendicular to the boat’s cockpit.
  • Holding tight to the paddle, use a frog kick to launch yourself out of the water and into the boat. This requires some core strength.
  • Drain excess water from the cockpit and reattach the spray skirt.

How to Execute a Wet Exit With Assistance

If you’re in a group, your wet exit will be a little less dramatic. However, it’ll require some teamwork. Here’s how to do it.

The exiting portion of the maneuver is basically the same. If another paddler is close enough to reach your boat, they should tap loudly on the bottom of your capsized craft to alert others that you need help.

Next, follow this procedure:

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Are You Prepared for a Long-Distance Paddle? 12 Things to Bring

By Lori Janeson

Prepping for a long-distance paddle in a canoe or kayak isn’t quite the same as getting ready for a weekend of camping. Sure, there’s some overlap in your packing and to-do lists, but you’ll be sorely under-prepared if you treat your paddle like just another jaunt into the woods or a quick day paddle around your local beach.

That’s not to say you need to be intimidated by the prospect of a few days — or even longer — on the water. Like the old adage says, you just need to “always be prepared.”

Here’s a look at 12 of the most important things you’ll need to bring on your long-distance paddle, plus a few additional items to remember before you head out on river, lake, or sea.

1. A Sturdy, Appropriate Watercraft

Your ideal watercraft will depend on the size of your party and the type of trip you’re planning.


“On a leisurely trip with your partner or a couple friends, an aluminum or fiberglass canoe might be your best bet.”—Lori Janeson


If you prefer your own craft, opt for freshwater kayaks — you can find two-seaters if you and your partner are inseparable. On open water prone to swells, sea kayaks are ideal, as freshwater kayaks capsize easier in rough water.

2. Waterproof Containers

Bring a dry bag big enough to hold any possessions you don’t want to get wet: electronics, clothing, cooking equipment, sleeping gear. Make sure it seals tightly, especially if you plan to travel on rough water. And don’t forget a “waterproof container” for yourself — i.e., a spray skirt that covers your cockpit opening.

3. Local Maps

Bring local water and land maps with as much detail as possible. Your water maps should be official navigation maps, if possible — i.e., maps that show actual distances to scale and detailed depth readings. Look for topographical land maps — though they’re more expensive, they provide valuable insight into the local terrain and can help you plan your put-out sites ahead of time.

4. Signal Whistle

Your signal whistle alerts others that you’re in distress. Hopefully you won’t have to use it, but you’ll be thankful you brought it if and when you do.

5. Bilge Pump

Bilge pumps force excess water out of your cockpit, keeping your feet dry and your boat sitting high in the water. Even if you don’t capsize or hit a wave, your bilge pump will help keep excessive spray under control.

6. Spray Skirt

A spray skirt deflects excess water away from your cockpit in the first place. With a spray skirt, you’ll still want to use a bilge pump, but it won’t need to work as hard.

7. Reliable Lights

If you plan to paddle after sunset or in the early morning, you’ll need a headlamp and reliable flashlight. You’ll need a flashlight in any case, if only to move safely about your campsite.

8. Paddle Leash and Floats

A paddle leash keeps your paddle within easy reach. A paddle float is useful for spotting an errant paddle in open water, and for helping you back into your boat without necessitating a trip to shore.

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Which Kayak Is Right for You? How to Choose Your Next Craft

By Lori Janeson

In the market for a new kayak?

Sorry to say, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all kayak. Kayaks come in several different forms, and it’s critical that you choose the right one for your needs.

What follows is a general overview of the major types of kayaks and their suitability. Use it as the basis for further research as you work toward what’s hopefully the most gratifying purchase of your recreational career.

Calm-water Kayaks

More popularly known as “recreational kayaks,” calm-water kayaks are what most people picture when prompted to imagine a kayak. They’re usually at least 10-feet long and relatively heavy, so they’re not great for portaging.

However, they’re quite wide, and therefore stable in calm water. That makes them ideal for laid-back paddles and for excursions on which the kayak is a means to an end — for instance, fishing trips. With generous cockpit openings, they’re also fairly easy to enter and exit without assistance. Their biggest weakness is poor tracking: It takes a lot of effort to keep them moving on an efficient heading.

Modular Kayaks

Modular kayaks are great for mobile paddlers. If you don’t have a large vehicle with roof or rear racks adequate for safe kayak transport, opt for a modular kayak.


“Most separate into two or three pieces small enough to fit into a large trunk (or seat-down cargo area). They’re ideal for paddlers with limited storage space at home as well.”—Lori Janeson


Modular kayaks are more easily customized than other types of kayaks. For instance, if you sometimes paddle solo and sometimes paddle with a partner, you can buy an extra cockpit section and turn your boat into a tandem at will.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are even more space-efficient than modular kayaks. Despite the flimsy-sounding name, they’re nearly as sturdy as fixed-frame kayaks. The major downside: They’re harder to paddle. Some do have rigid skeletons or floor bars that help them move through the water, but those only go so far.

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks blend the space-efficiency of inflatable kayaks with the sturdiness of modular kayaks and the reliability of touring kayaks (see below.) They have rigid frames, which means they’re easier to paddle in open water, but they can fit into a bag small enough to sling over your shoulders for storage.

Folding kayaks’ portability makes them ideal for excursions on remote bodies of water that are difficult or impossible to access with your passenger car or truck. If you’re planning to do a lot of kayak camping, this type of kayak should be at or near the top of your list. Plus, as long as you’re not in a rush, folding kayaks are great for portaging — you can assemble and disassemble them in less than 15 minutes.

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