What To Do If Your Kayak Capsizes

What To Do If Your Kayak Capsizes

If there’s one part of kayaking that’s not fun, it’s when your kayak flips over.

There's many ways your kayak can flip, but the most common ones are big waves, strong currents and excessive weight.

Although kayaks are designed for maximum stability no matter the conditions, accidents happen and knowing what to do can help you avoid an unpleasant experience.

There are three things to take into consideration in the event your kayak flips:

The first thing is to remain calm. Kayaks float and with the right technique, it’s possible to right and re-enter your kayak within minutes.

The second thing is to wear a PFD (personal flotation device). A PFD is an essential piece of gear regardless of your destination or experience level. Your kayak floats but how about you?

The third thing is to practice flipping and re-entering your kayak in calm, shallow water. There’s no reason to wait until an emergency. You should know exactly what you’re doing ahead of time in order to build confidence and make the process fast and simple.


Here’s the correct way to re-enter the two main types of kayaks:

Sit-on-top kayaks. The advantage of this type of kayak is that it’s easy to enter and exit, making it nearly impossible to get stuck in the event that you capsize.

To flip your sit-on-top kayak back upright, position yourself on the side of your kayak directly in the middle. Boost your body over the top of your overturned kayak and grab the opposite side/edge with your hands. Slowly pull the kayak towards your body and roll (or flip) the kayak right-side up as you slide back into the water.

To re-enter, position yourself on the side of your kayak directly in the middle and boost yourself up until you’re your body is lying across the seat. Ensure you’re stable and twist your body around until you’re back in the seated position.

Because there’s no cockpit, you should have very little water inside your kayak.

Sit-inside kayaks. This style of kayak can be a little more challenging, but is still easily doable with practice and the correct accessories. Although the thought of flipping over in a sit-in kayak is scary for some, there is little chance you’d ever get trapped.

To achieve a wet exit, start by placing your hands on opposite sides of your cockpit rim and pushing your body out. If you wear a spray skirt, lean forward and pull the grab loop up and back to release it first.

There’s two ways to right your capsized sit-inside kayak. 

The first way is to follow the same method as a sit-on-top kayak.  Position yourself on the side of your kayak directly in the middle. Boost your body over the top of your overturned kayak and grab the opposite side/edge with your hands. Slowly pull the kayak towards your body and roll (or flip) the kayak right-side up as you slide back into the water.

The other option is to swim underneath your kayak, and quickly push the kayak up and over in one smooth motion. This technique requires more strength and can be a little more challenging for certain people.

To re-enter, place yourself at the rear of the kayak. Use both hands to push/pull your body up on top of the kayak while aggressively kicking your legs. Once your body is lying on top of the rear of the kayak, move into a sitting position with your legs spread apart, hanging over each side of the kayak. Slowly scoot forward until you position yourself back in the cockpit seat. Balance is key. 

With sit-inside kayaks, it’s inevitable that water will get inside. This is where a bilge pump and sponge will come in handy. Simply remove as much water as possible with the pump and use the sponge to absorb anything the pump cannot remove.


As we mentioned earlier in the article, it’s best to see and practice these recovery methods, not just read about them. Take lessons, watch videos, and rehearse on calm waters.

Here’s a list of accessories that all kayakers should own in the event your kayak capsizes.

Paddle Float – A small inflatable tube/ cushion that attaches to the blade of your paddle. It keeps your paddle blade afloat and gives you something to push off of when lifting your body to re-enter your kayak.

Bilge Pump – A small portable hand pump that allows you to remove excess water from your kayak cockpit.

Kayak Sponge – A large sponge used to soak up excess water from inside your cockpit. It’s best to use a bilge pump to remove the majority of water and then use a sponge to remove what the bilge pump couldn’t

PFD (Personal Flotation Device) – Otherwise known as a life jacket, a PFD is recommended for all kayakers. You never know when an emergency can present itself and keeping yourself buoyant and safe is highly recommended.

We hope you found this article helpful.

If there’s anything you’d like to add, please share in the comments below.


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