What to Do if Your Kayak Capsizes – Step by Step Guide

The surest way to fall into the water when kayaking is if your kayak capsizes. While that might seem obvious, capsizing only takes place after you have developed momentum in a forward direction and are attempting to change directions or slow down.

It’s easy to develop bad habits, even with the best of precautions, but by being aware of them you can proactively avoid their consequences. This article will show you what to do if your kayak capsizes so you may help reduce the chance of capsize-related accidents occurring.

Why does capsizing happen

Before we go over the steps involved in righting yourself after a wet exit it is important to know why your boat capsized in the first place. Capsizing mostly occurs because of poor boat control, but there are plenty of other reasons your kayak could be upside down.

Your chances of sinking due to a capsize go up if you do not have a buoyancy aid rescue PFD with an integrated spray skirt, meaning the top half of your body is now exposed to the water.

How to do a wet exit

If your kayak takes on water, a wet exit can save you from sinking and drowning. First, check to make sure the situation is actually an emergency. If you are in a group of other paddlers, shout “man overboard” or anything else that indicates an emergency to your fellow boaters.

Quickly look back over your shoulder towards the rear of the boat for any obstructions behind you such as rods or paddle floats. Pull them out of the way if necessary so they don’t get caught up in your legs while performing a wet exit.

Keep one hand on the paddle shaft near the blade while holding onto the grab loop, then step backward with one leg and place one foot firmly against a part of the boat frame, near the center of the kayak.

If you are wearing a sprayskirt, release it while attempting to get both feet on either side of the cockpit so you can push yourself out over the edge. Pull up on your leg that is closest to the boat frame while pushing down with your other leg against the bottom rear of the kayak very close to where it joins at the seat.

Continue pulling upwards with one arm and pushing downwards on the floor behind you with one foot until you push yourself free from under your deck line.

Quickly follow through by turning around and swimming away from underneath any unoccupied kayaks nearby so they don’t fall back over the top of you as you swim. If you are falling towards the water, try to place your feet down first before hitting the water. This can help prevent injury which can be dangerous if your kayak is still attached.

If you are not wearing a sprayskirt, then once one leg is free of underneath the cockpit rim it should automatically release from its track. Allowing this to happen should cause whatever other foot is inside the boat while trying to get out to fall overtop of the kayak rather than being trapped under because of its weight.

What to Do if Your Kayak Capsizes

What if you stay in the water?

If it’s been at least five minutes since you capsized and still think you’re floating high above the water, then relax. If this crosses one hour mark though, it’s time to do something about it because hypothermia will set in without a life jacket on. Other reasons for capsizing may include bad weather conditions or obstacles that can’t be seen from where you are seated in relation to them (e.g., rocks in shallow water).

To right yourself after a capsize, you should know how to perform the “wet exit.” The process involves rolling your kayak onto its side and pulling your legs up so the lower half of your body goes into the water. Then you can proceed with clambering back in through the same opening through which you left.

If there is not enough room for this due to an ice chest that’s still in place or if it’s too hard to do because of windy conditions, then you may want to consider bailing out and getting back in by moving along the keel line (centerline) instead. There is less chance of capsizing when doing this and also makes it easier to reenter the kayak.

If you can see or feel your boat’s spray skirt, then there is a good chance of reentering your kayak through it. Pull yourself up along the side of the kayak and pull on any part of the skirt that sticks out to help you get back in.

If this fails, let go of whatever holds your craft onto shore and push it away from you before making another attempt at getting back inside. There are some other things you can do should something go really wrong after capsize.


One example is if you lost sight of your PFD during all the excitement. As long as there are no waves surging over the top of your kayak, then you should be able to see your flotation device again by simply turning your kayak upside down.

If you can’t do this, look for a floating object nearby and attract attention using either the strobe or flare from inside. If you think your PFD is drifting away from where you are at, let go of any attachments that may hinder movement in order to get closer to it. The only way to recover a lost PFD is by swimming after it.

In case there was no one else around when your kayak capsized, then don’t panic because staying afloat alone for about an hour is very possible if conditions were stable enough in the first place. If someone does come along though and wants to help, then let them because you won’t be able to paddle back home safely without assistance.

You might want to take this chance to practice your wet exit technique if there are no obstacles in the way of successfully getting back into your kayak.

While being upside-down can be fun for some kayakers who are looking for a thrill, it’s important to know what happens when things go wrong so you can proactively do something about it. Remember these tips should anything bad happen and hope they help reduce the number of capsizing-related accidents that could have happened!