In a standard kayaking class, you're taught solo self-rescues using a paddle float and assisted rescues using another kayak. Then there are eskimo rolls. But I've also heard about other self-rescue techniques after a wet exit without a paddle float (ladder, cowboy, scamble). What options are there for kayak self-rescues without a paddle float or a friend, and in what conditions would each be used?
Being without a sold "roll", partner, or paddle float can make it quite challenging for a novice to re-enter their kayak after a capsize. However there are techniques which will make it easier to get back in your boat safely.
Note: All of these should first be practiced in mildly shallow water, in flat water. Don't practice in rough water until you can achieve these in flat water. However no self rescue can be called confident until you can reliably perform it in conditions rougher than you like to paddle in. You are most likely to capsize in rough conditions, not flat water, so work up to the challenging stuff. With a partner or group.
Second note: No amount of reading or self study is substitute for a good teacher, and practical experience. Don't think that because you read this article that you now are competent in self rescue. You can only get that from practice. Join a paddle club, and get face to face assistance.
Now that's out of the way...
From easiest to most challenging...
Note: All except the wet entrance and roll should be attempted with a partially empty boat. Do this by tipping the boat from the bow with your body weight and using a quick flip.
Beginning from the back of the boat:
Side-entry without float
Re-entry and Roll
Note: This is a move usually only achievable by someone with a semi-consistent roll. Also, do not worry about the water in the cockpit unless it is completely full. Water can actually help, because the boat will sit lower in the water.
Next time paddle with a buddy, and a paddle float.
Please see these excellent videos
You can usually lay the paddle across the kayak as if you had a paddle float and use it for stability to climb in. It's not as stable as a paddle float, but it's better than nothing. If there is another kayaker with you, they can pull up along side you and hold the floatless end of your paddle on their cockpit.
You can also climb in over the side without anything for stability if you grab the far side of the cockpit and are careful.