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Do Kayaks Flip Easily? How To Avoid It & What To Do If It Happens

Kayaking is a fantastic activity that’s becoming increasingly popular as a hobby and sport. From paddling gently on calm waters to taking place on river rapid, white waters, and even the ocean, there are several ways to have fun on a kayak. There is some essential gear you need to pack when going on a kayaking trip to stay safe and have fun on the water.

Beginner paddlers are always concerned about the possibility of their kayak capsizing, something that can be extremely frightening for first-timers. In this article, we look into how easy it is for kayaks to flip, the causes, and what to do when your kayak flips. Here we go.

Do Kayaks Flip Easily?

Generally, kayaks don’t flip easily as they are designed with stability in mind. However, extreme water/wind conditions as well as the inexperience of the paddlers are two main reasons why kayaks flip over.

If you are a beginner paddler, you should stick to flat waters like lakes or gentle flowing rivers as your kayak is unlikely to flip over in such conditions. You can then take on rapids and whitewater as you gain more experience.

The type of kayak you use also has an effect on how easy it’ll be for the vessel to capsize. River rapids and ocean conditions require specialized sit-in and sea kayaks respectively. Continue reading to learn more about what can cause a kayak to capsize.

Kayaking in Vietnam

What Can Cause A Kayak To Capsize?

Below, you’ll find the top reasons that can make a kayak flip over. Here they are:

Poor Boat Control/Inexperience of the Paddler

Kayaking requires skills. It’s more than just paddling around. There’s a technique to properly paddle your vessel and it’s a worthy challenge for kayakers to perfect their paddling technique. Every stroke you make affects the kayak’s balance, something you’ll come to understand with time.

Unsurprisingly, beginner paddlers tend to have their kayaks flip over due to inexperience. But this isn’t a major concern as far as the paddler is wearing a properly fitted life jacket, paddling on flat waters, or paddling in the company of others.

A kayak may also flip if the paddler is paddling in unfamiliar circumstances such as paddling upstream which requires different techniques compared to paddling downstream.

Rough waters

Rough water conditions are another reason why a kayak can capsize. Unlike calm waters, hydraulic force is more active in rough waters and can push or pull your vessel in unexpected directions. If you can’t properly take control of your kayak by padding right, you are bound to go for an unplanned swim.

Even experienced paddlers can fall off their kayaks if the waves hit their vessels at the right angle. So, there’s a learning curve to paddling in rough waters. Start on smooth waters like a quiet river, lake, or pond and transition to slow-moving waters with time. Eventually, you’ll be able to take on faster currents and paddle your way through like a pro.

Type of Kayak

If you are familiar with kayaks, you’ll know different types. There are sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, surf kayaks, recreational kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks, touring kayaks, tandem kayaks, fishing kayaks, folding kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and sail kayaks.

These kayaks have distinct characteristics that make them suitable for a particular purpose. Beginner and recreational kayaks are usually wide and very stable which makes them more difficult to capsize. Sea kayaks are narrower and faster. However, they aren’t as stable and are more to capsizing.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions have a significant impact on your safety when paddling. So, it’s important to check weather conditions before you start your kayaking expedition. Strong wind increases the likelihood of your kayak flipping. So, it’s important to always paddle in fair weather. There’s always a next time so don’t risk your life unnecessarily.

Kayaking on a lake

How to Prevent a Kayak From Capsizing

Unless you intentionally capsize your vessel, you’ll want to do everything to prevent your yak from flipping over. Below are ways you can prevent a kayak from capsizing:

Use A Kayak Suitable For Your Experience Level And Water Conditions

One of the best ways to prevent a kayak from capsizing is to use a kayak appropriate for your level of experience and the water conditions you are paddling in. Beginner paddlers will do well paddling in wider and more stable kayaks. Wide sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for learning and as you gain more experience, you can decide to opt for longer and narrower vessels.

Evenly Distribute Weight

Uneven weight distribution can make a kayak flip over. Evenly distribute all your gear from front to back. Sit in the middle of the vessel while ensuring your arms and legs are evenly spread out. This ensures that both your weight and that of your gear are evenly distributed. If one end or side carries more weight, the chances of the kayak capsizing increase.

Paddle Perpendicular to The Waves

This advice particularly applies to people paddling in open waters or water bodies that have waves. Paddling parallel to the waves increases the chances of the waves hitting the side of the kayak and capsizing. Paddling perpendicular to the waves significantly reduces the chances of your yak flipping. I don’t think I have to say that beginner paddlers should stay away from waves.

Use Outriggers

Outriggers are essentially two small pontoons that are connected to a kayak by a pole. The pontoons increase the yak’s point of contact with water to three instead of one and this makes a kayak incredibly stable. It’s difficult for a kayak fitted with outriggers to capsize even if you are actively trying to flip the kayak.

Kayak outriggers are especially useful for beginners who are trying to learn the correction paddling techniques without fear of their kayak capsizing. Fishing enthusiasts also benefit from using an outrigger as the increased stability allows them to stand up and cast their fishing lines without any issues.

Learn The Low And High Brace

The low and high brace are techniques you can use to recover your balance when your kayak is losing balance and on the verge of capsizing.  Both techniques require you to brace yourself against the water. Doing this allows you to push against the water to generate enough momentum to snap your hips in the opposite direction, allowing you to regain your balance.

To execute the low brace, you push your paddle down on the water as you are losing balance or tipping. For the high brace, you pull your paddle down on the water as you lose balance. How you hold the paddle will determine the technique you’ll execute when tipping.

Kayak capsizing

What to Do if Your Kayak Capsizes?

It can be very terrifying when your kayak capsizes, especially if it’s the first time you are experiencing it. The most important thing in this situation is to stay calm. This is easier said than done but keeping your wits means you can take the appropriate steps.

Your kayak is designed to float on water so there’s concern or worry about the chances of your yak sinking when it capsizes. You also should have no concern about drowning you should have a well-fitted personal floatation device (PFD) on. You have no business kayaking without wearing a PFD.

With your composure on, do the following when your kayak capsizes:

Flip Your Kayak Upright

You may be able to simply flip your kayak back upright depending on the depth of the water you are paddling in. You may also be able to swim the kayak back to shore and flip it upright if you aren’t far from the shore.

If you are in deep water, you may not be able to flip the kayak over as it may quickly fill up with water. It’s still possible for strong paddlers to manage to flip their kayaks upright in deep water by floating on the side and attempting to push the side up.

Re-entering the Kayak

After getting your kayak back into an upright position, the next thing is to re-enter the kayak. If you are in shallow water or back at shore, this is easy. You can simply step into your kayak and start paddling. It’s also a lot easier to re-enter a sit-on-top kayak than a sit-in kayak.

To re-enter a sit-in kayak, reach over the cockpit and hold onto the other side, then pull yourself inside the kayak. When you are in the cockpit, slowly reposition yourself into a seating position to keep your balance and prevent the vessel from flipping.

Bilge Pumps Come in Handy

After getting a kayak upright after it capsizes, there is going to be some water in the cockpit. Unless you want water sloshing around or even weighing down the vessel, you need to find a way to remove the water. And this is where the bilge pump comes in.

Signal For Help If Necessary

If you are kayaking as part of a group, other paddlers will come to help you when you capsize. However, if you are alone, you will need to signal for help if you are struggling to flip your kayak back upright or if you lost your paddle. It’s always a good idea to have an extra paddle.

A whistle comes in handy in situations like this and you should endeavor to always carry one. To signal for help, blow the whistle three times (short blows), pause, then blow it three more times. Repeat this until help comes. If you don’t have a whistle, wave your arms or paddle (if you still have it) high in the air to alert people close by.

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