What To Do If You Flip Your Fishing Kayak

Photo Credit: Spencer Jones
     Sooner or later it's going to happen regardless of how good you are as a paddler.  Whether due to a lapse in judgement, a rogue wave, or a large and unruly fish, eventually you're gonna flip (turtle) your kayak.  It happens to everybody, it sort of comes with the territory.  Instead of worrying about when it will happen, take the time to put a little thought into what you'll do to right the boat and continue your outing.  I recently went through this myself on the Wolf River in northern Wisconsin.  It was my first time to encounter true whitewater on a fishing trip and I survived just fine because I planned ahead.
     The first thing you need to do is pack your parachute.  Make sure you follow the basics.  Dress for the water temperature, wear your PFD, leash everything (I know it's a pain in the ass), strap down your crate/cooler, ALWAYS have a knife, and carry a bailing aide.  For many of us kayak anglers in SOT kayaks a bailing aide such as a pump seems pointless, but it doesn't hurt to have one stored in the front hatch or on the side of your crate.
     Now that we've covered the basics, let's take a look at the steps needed to get back inside your boat when you flip.
  • Don't Panic-This part can be hard since most of us don't plan to flip on a regular basis.  Keep your wits about you and you'll be fine.  Get to the surface, find the kayak, and assess the situation.  In the photo above I flipped in moving whitewater so staying calm was a real test.  Still by not panicking I made it out unscathed. 
  • Flip The Kayak Right Side Up-This can either be a really simple or a real stumbling block.  If you're in shallow water just stand up, laugh a bit, and flip the boat.  Deep water re-entry can be a little more challenging.  Either reach under the kayak to the far side and pull on a seat, handle, or strap, while pushing up on the side closest to you.  On my Native Slayer I've found that pulling the Propel Drive acts as a lever and will flip my kayak right side up easily.  If you have a sit in kayak or a canoe move to the front or rear and roll the kayak from the end.  This step takes some muscle and you may find the use of flipping stirrup very useful.
  • Remove The Water-If you fish from a SOT then just pull the scupper plugs, no big deal.  If you use a canoe or a sit inside kayak then you'll need to start bailing.  I've found that pumps remove the water much better than a small bucket.  You may find that it helps to be in shallow water when you're bailing if possible.  It takes quite awhile to get all that water out of the kayak so pace yourself.
  • Get Back In The Kayak-This part can be a little tricky to get right.  Again if you're in a SOT then pull yourself onto the kayak deck to at least your belly button.  Then lean forward and kick your feet while you pull yourself onto the kayak.  Once on top remember to keep your weight centered and you're good to go.  If you're on a sit inside then the steps are same, just a little more demanding.  You'll need to be careful that you don't flip the kayak or canoe back over.  I've found that it's easiest to re-enter a sit inside from the back of the kayak.  Pull yourself up on the rear of the kayak.  Then once your weight is centered kick your feet until you can straddle the kayak.  Then just work your way up to the seat keeping all your weight centered over the kayak as best as possible.  SBH TIP: Don't worry if the kayak or canoe takes on a little water while getting back in.  Just get yourself inside and bail once you're seated.
  • Enjoy The Rest Of The Trip-After you get the kayak righted and yourself inside start gathering up everything that came free in the process.  This is step is much easier if you keep your gear strapped and leashed at all times.  Do a quick double check to make sure you have everything.  Nothing is worse than realizing later in the day that you left your favorite rod or lunch bobbing in the water.
     If you follow these steps you should be able to continue your trip and enjoy the rest of your day on the water.  Remember though that all of this information is useless if you don't practice.  Find a friend and a nice warm day and go flip your kayak just for fun.  Take turns helping each other learn how to self rescue.  It will be an outing full of learning and laughter.  Put these 5 steps into practice the next time you find yourself next to an upside down kayak.  Work them right and you'll still have time to catch a fish or two.
     Tight Lines.

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