@2018 Robert Aylesworth

bobaylesworthoutdoors@gmail.com             WIndsor, Ontario Canada

Being Upright

Wet Exits, Spray Skirts and Braces

Most kayaks are very stable when we are siting in them on flat water. But stuff can happen, and before you know it you are upside down. So you need to learn how to deal with that before doing anything too adventurous.

If you should happen to accidentally roll over you will simply fall out of your boat. Because you always wear your PFD this should not be very dangerous. Unless you are wearing a tight spray skirt.

A lot of leisurely paddling can be done without a spray skirt or with a light fabric skirt that will easily pop off. Tighter skirts are used if we want to paddle in large waves or do fancy things like edging. These skirts will hold you in the boat if it flips over so you need to learn how to do a "wet exit" before using them. This is a significant safety issue. Knowing that you can do this will also boast your confidence.

Even better than knowing how to deal with a flipped kayak is knowing how to keep it upright. If you are feeling unstable you can use a brace stroke to right yourself. Once you have learned to do a wet exit you will be comfortable leaning over a bit so you can really practice bracing.

The Wet Exit

YouTube is full of videos illustrating how to do a wet exit. I have chosen two cover it fairly well.

The first is by Mike Aronoff. It illustrates the risks of using a tight spray skirt as well as the basic mechanics of the wet exit. I like the fact that he encourages us to practice in a safe environment with qualified person on hand. One thing he does not include is to have the student tap both hands on the side of the boat after rolling over.

Some people will have no difficulty doing a full wet exit right from the start. Others need a gentler introduction. Having a safe, pleasant location such as a pool or beach will help calm the nerves. I will often have people start by going through the motions without the attaching the skirt to the boat. Only when they are comfortable with that will we attach the skirt to the boat. (Using a loose skirt to start can also help.)

I also encourage people to wear a nose plug. It will not make any difference during the exit, but it will be more comfortable afterwards.

The second video shows much of the same technique from the perspective of a white water paddler. It also includes swimming the boat to the shore which is what generally happens after our first wet exits.

Preventing a Capsize By Bracing

If we are knocked off balance by a wave or a dumb move you will likely have no more than a moment to right yourself. You can do this by using a low or high brace.

The low brace is taught first because it works best when you are not leaning very far over. As described here is is also considered safer for our shoulders.

This is one of MIke Aronoff's older videos. It does not have the clarity or production values of the newer ones, but it is a good overview and makes a few important points.

I like to practice braces right after wet exits because we are all wet and not worried about flipping again. If you don't flip then you haven't learned where the limit is. (And you aren't having enough fun!)

The Low Brace


At the left is another good video from Mike Aronoff. It does a great job of showing how to position your arms and paddle. He also mentions the fact that we need to use our hips as well. I think that needs to be emphasized a bit more.

The video on the right shows the same technique in a play boat. It puts a lot more emphasis on the hip action.

Neither video mentions how we remove the paddle from the water by flipping it forward and twisting our wrists. But if you watch closely you will see that they are doing it.

The High Brace

We do not teach the high brace in introductory ORCKA courses partly because of possible shoulder injury but also because you need to have a tight spray skirt. We want our Flatwater Kayaking courses to be available to casual paddlers.

Mike Aronoff is signing from my song book in this video. Keep you elbow bent and do not reach out. I spent two years in physio because multiple instructors urged me to push on despite the debilitating pain I was experiencing in my arm. Listen to your body! (And your students!)

Putting on a Spray Skirt

This video shows how to put on a tunnel style skirt and then shows how to attach it to the boat.

In this case they are doing it on land. In some cases such as a beach or "seal" launch we might actually put the skirt on before launching. However, we will usually launch first, paddle out a bit from shore and then attach the skirt. It is very common to end up sitting on the back of the skirt, so pulling it out from under your but adds an extra step.

And don't forget to leave the loop out!