Swim with a Kayak
By Wayne Horodowich
Reducing exposure time and not having to do a wet exit and recovery are excellent reasons for perfecting the skill of swimming with your kayak. If the circumstances are right you can save yourself a great deal of time. If you can swim or even dog paddle you can master this technique.
OOPS, you are on your way over. Take a quick look around before your head hits the water. Was there a solid object nearby? In this case the kayaker fell over near to the edge of a pool (could also be a dock). Instead of wet exiting the kayaker decides to swim to the wall and right herself.
In this case the paddle was on the side of the swim because the kayaker took it with her as she went over. If you can get your paddle on the side of the swim (as seen in the picture) it usually stays with you as you move along.
The top hand reaches above the water when stroking. The lower hand stays under water while stroking. Alternate the stroke so there is always one arm moving.
It is important to keep you head in the water as you do this skill. The higher you try to bring your head above the water the more you have to work to make it possible. I only bring my head up for a breath of air and then my head goes back in the water.
In fact, I exhale while I am swimming so I only have to inhale when my head does come up for air which minimizes my head up time.
Since the water clarity varies in the places I paddle I usually don't open my eyes when I go over. When I come up for air I check to see if I am on course and how much farther I need to swim to get to my destination. My goal is that solid object that will allow me to right my kayak. As soon as I get up I check for my paddle.
Using the bow or stern of a nearby kayak is an excellent target for your kayak swim. If you do go for the stern be very careful around rudders, especially if conditions are rough.
I have seen novice paddlers just look at a capsized kayaker and do nothing because they didn't know what to do. If that is the case you need to be proactive in getting yourself upright, thus the kayak swim.
During a novice class I had one of the students assist me in demonstrating the Eskimo Bow Recovery. I thought I had chosen a student who could steer their kayak. Since I was under the water for longer than I thought reasonable for the six feet that had to be covered by my new assistant, I knew I had to roll, wet exit or find out what was going on. I cautiously popped my head up for air and a quick look around. I said cautiously because you can end up with a face full of bow. I was ready to use my hand to protect my face.
I saw the bow nearby and the student trying to maneuver his kayak to help. I decided to swim to his bow and right myself so I could give better instructions. This is an excellent skill to use if you capsize while helping during assisted recoveries. You can even come up parallel to the kayak and use it for support as long as you are careful to press down toward the center of the deck to avoid capsizing the other kayak. Using the hull of an overturned kayak works great for support.
A wonderful exercise for those of you who know how to roll is tossing your paddle off to the side, capsize, swim to your paddle and then do your roll. If you can do this drill you will definitely add credibility to your "bomb proof" roll statement.
When I first attempted this masochistic maneuver the paddle kept moving away from me. I realized I was pushing water toward the paddle with poor technique. You really need to get your top hand out of the water and reach far. When you reach don't push the water in the direction of the paddle.
When you get to the paddle, reach up in the air and then come down on the paddleshaft. Once you have the paddle, set up into your favorite rolling position and perform your roll. If you cannot execute your roll then you may think about executing the "brain trust" who suggested you try this exercise. Seriously, this is an excellent drill for developing control, hang time, breathing skills, confidence and paddle awareness.
I can tell you from experience, don't be in a hurry to roll up when you get the paddle. Take the proper time to correctly orient your paddle and then roll up.
Another point to keep in mind is making sure you are properly in your seat before you attempt the roll. I have seen some paddlers forget to re-situate themselves with the result being a failed roll. When you are swimming, you need to keep yourself braced into the kayak with you lower body. If you let your lower body go limp, while swimming with your kayak, you can slip out of the cockpit.
If your roll is a bit shaky, put a paddle float onto the paddle so you can practice the swim portion and have the float for extra support for the roll.
You can also try a re-enter, swim to the paddle and roll. When you first try the re-enter and roll it is not uncommon to loose contact with your paddle and then you need to reach or swim to get it. Another good reason to develop this skill.
It is very common to be anxious and tense when first trying swimming with your kayak. The breathing seems to be the hardest skill to master. Staying relaxed is a key to easier breathing. I like to think of this drill as a "hermit crab swim stroke" because of this giant shell attached to my backside.
As always, it is good to have more skills in your bag of tricks than you think you need. This technique is not used often, but when you need it you will find it was worth the practice time.
"I don't need to get out of my stinking kayak!!!"
Permission to use this article must be obtained from Wayne Horodowich at the University of Sea Kayaking (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pictures seen above were taken from the USK Video "Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures".
Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.
DVD's Available from Paddling.net
- Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures
- Beyond the Cockpit - featuring Derek Hutchinson
- ABCs Of The Surf Zone
From the University of Sea Kayaking
Directed by Wayne Horodowich