Self Rescue

Self rescue is a method of getting yourself back into the kayak after capsizing.  This is essential if you plan to paddle alone.

Scramble or 'cowboy' self rescue

After your wet exit, the scramble rescue can be broken into the following stages:

Flip the kayak upright

  • Put one hand either side of the cockpit coaming.
  • Flip the kayak quickly, pulling with the away-side hand, and pushing upwards with the near-side hand. This minimises the amount of water retained. 
  • If an electric pump is fitted, turn it on as soon as the kayak is upright (water in the cockpit destabilises the kayak).
  • Hold onto your kayak at all times and ensure your paddle is secured.


  • Position yourself between the cockpit and the stern.
  • Hold onto the decklines on the far side of the kayak and float your legs behind you so that you are at 90 degrees to your kayak, forming a T-shape.
  • Push the kayak down and seal launch yourself with a strong kick of the legs to get your tummy lying across the back deck.


  • Swivel around so that you face forward with your legs straddling the kayak for stability.
  • Pull yourself forward until you are in a position to re-enter the cockpit.
  • Stay low.


  • Get into the seat quickly (to keep your centre of gravity low). Your size, balance, flexibility, the size of your cockpit opening, etc. will influence how you do this.
  • Once you are in a position to re-enter the cockpit, sit up with your legs straddling the kayak.
  • If your cockpit is big enough, slide your backside into the seat, then your legs, one at a time.
  • If this is not possible, sit on your back deck, put your feet in and then slide into the seat.
  • Move as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
  • You can use your paddle for additional support during the re-entry stage.
  • Once back in your seat, re-attach your spray skirt, and retrieve your paddle.
  • If you don't have an electric pump you may need to hand pump to minimise the risk of re-capsize. During this time you will be vulnerable, with the skirt off and your hands on the pump rather than the paddle.


Flipping the kayak 

  • The quicker this is done, the less water you will have sloshing about and contributing to your instability.

Remounting the kayak

  • The point you remount the kayak will depend on your strength, agility and the design of your kayak. Remount as close to the cockpit as you can to make the rescue quicker. Mounting further towards the stern is easier but the re-entry will take longer.
  • You may want to place the grab handle of your skirt in your mouth, or  tuck your skirt under your PFD, to prevent it catching on deck fittings while scrambling. 


  • You can use your paddle for additional support during the re-entry. Extend it immediately behind you at right angles to the kayak with the back of the blade flat on the water acting as an outrigger. You’ll need to use both hands to hold the paddle in place.
  • Alternatively, you can gain support from the paddle by sculling during the re-entry.

Safety risks

Paddle security is very important.  However, if you are separated from your paddle in windy conditions do not let go of your kayak in order to retrieve the paddle.


Whichever method of re-entry you use, keep practising. If you have to do a self-rescue in rough conditions, it will be a lot harder than your practice sessions.

Most paddlers find that the paddle float rescue is time-consuming and may not be appropriate for all conditions - for example if the water is particularly cold or rough.

Beyond the scope of basic skills, the roll and the re-enter roll are seen as more reliable self-rescues. These are skills we teach and practice for Sea Skills level. Something to aspire to!

Common mistakes


  • Flipping too slowly will scoop more water into the kayak, causing problems with balance at a later stage of the rescue.


  • A common mistake is not keeping your legs near the surface of the water until you complete your remount.  Sinking your legs will result in the kayak being overturned (and thus taking on more water).


  • A common mistake is lifting the head and upper body too high during the scramble, raising the centre of gravity.

Practice drills

  • Practise your remount. Work on getting your remount position as close to the cockpit as possible, to speed up the process.
  • Practise your scramble, and expect to get bruised inner thighs!
  • To improve your balance, practise this in shallow water: sit behind your cockpit with your legs astride and try paddling. Progress to paddling while sitting in the same position with your legs inside the cockpit.
  • For additional support try sculling strokes while you get your legs and backside into your kayak.



Paddle float rescue

Another technique you can use for a self-rescue is a paddle-float re-entry. The paddle-float acts as an outrigger to stabilise the kayak.

  • Ideally, stay on the downwind side of the kayak while you inflate the float.
  • Leave the kayak upside down and put your foot in the cockpit to keep contact with your kayak.
  • Put the float over the paddle blade, clip it around the shaft of the paddle, and then inflate it.
  • Flip the kayak upright quickly to minimise the water getting in.
  • Position yourself between the cockpit and the stern.


  • Place the paddle behind the coaming and yourself on the stern side of the paddle.
  • Some kayaks allow you to secure the paddle to the kayak.  In the photo Rae holds the shaft and coaming.

  • Launch yourself to get your tummy onto the back deck of the kayak.  If you need to, you can hook the ankle closest to the cockpit around the paddle shaft for extra leverage.


  • Put your second foot on the paddle shaft. Take the first foot off and swing it into the cockpit as you swivel your body around. 
  • Keep your outer leg on the paddle shaft.


  • Bring the stern hand under your thigh and place it on the shaft (Rae's left hand).
  • Keep your weight on that hand as you swing the second leg into the kayak.  


  • Stay low, you will now be facing the stern of the kayak.
  • Rotate towards the paddle float, switching hands until you are seated in the kayak.
  • Maintain weight on the paddle float at all times.


  • You can continue to use the paddle float for support as you pump out the water and put on your skirt.  If it is attached, it can stay on the rear deck. If not, bring it to the front and support the shaft under your elbows.



Paddle float tips


  • Keep weight on the paddle float at all times.  A common mistake is taking the weight off, causing you to roll over and capsize away from the support of the float.
  • You risk breaking your paddle if only the blade is on the back deck.
  • Keep the paddle float at a right angle to your kayak throughout the rescue for the best support.
  • Some kayaks have systems for securing the paddle at 90 degrees during the rescue. You may need to re-enter from the bow side of the paddle.