I’m considering purchasing some recreational kayaks and am wondering about the possibilities of teaching beginners how to self-rescue with those boats – specifically, when the boats do not have perimeter lines and do not have much bow buoyancy.

I already have plenty of experience teaching (beginners) self-rescues with sea kayaks, using paddle floats. Some folks do well, others struggle a lot. Once, I accidentally used old sea kayaks that did not have perimeter lines, and things were much more difficult because there was little to hold the paddle-with-float in place during the self-rescue.

I’m aware that with wide SOT (sit on top) kayaks, a “side-scramble” self-rescue should be quite easy – similar to a self-rescue with a SUP (standup paddleboard) – without even using the paddle. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I also believe that teaching self-rescues with sit-inside recreational kayaks that do have stern perimeter lines, using paddle floats, should be very similar to doing the same with sea kayaks. Correct me if I’m wrong. (Those kayaks are often called light touring kayaks. Please, do not debate where to distinguish between recreational, light touring and sea kayaks, thank you.)

I’m concerned about sit-inside recreational kayaks that do not have any perimeter lines. Complicating matters further is the fact that such kayaks often have little in the way of bow flotation so they get quite full of water when capsized – much more than do sea kayaks. There are a large number of those recreational kayaks types on the market. How does one "easily" self-rescue with those kayaks?

There are a couple of videos out there: One has the kayaker hold the paddle shaft and rear coaming together in one hand (instead of sliding the blade under perimeter lines). Another has the kayaker wedge the paddle blade under the far-side coaming. Are those, or any other techniques, even possible for a beginner?

  • Related, but not addressing my concerns: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/726/…
    – Martin F
    Aug 24, 2022 at 19:48
  • What is SOT, SUP, and are SOT & SUP MECE?
    – gerrit
    Aug 25, 2022 at 8:41
  • 1
    @gerrit - Expansions added. They are are mutually exclusive (ME) but not collectively exhaustive (CE).
    – Martin F
    Aug 25, 2022 at 15:35
  • 1
    Read users.on.net/~pcarter/rescues.html etc... for an opinion on the false security of fair-water paddle-float self rescues. He says you should use a safe low-cockpit-volume kayak and do a reentry and roll.
    – Dave X
    Aug 25, 2022 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


After posting the same question on a private sea kayak instructors' group, and on a forum at paddling.com, there is strong consensus that it is going to be extremely difficult to teach self-rescues with sit-inside, recreational kayaks.

While the lack of proper perimeter lines does play a part in making a paddle-float self-rescue more difficult, the large volume of water that fills a sit-inside, recreational kayak after a capsize is by far the dominant factor making even an assisted rescue very difficult, and self-rescue virtually impossible.

Most sit-inside, recreational kayaks have very large cockpits, making them easy to get in and out of. They are also very wide, making them very stable in flat water. They also have very little buoyancy (floatation) in their bows, just lots of extra open space (and I see no benefit other than it saves the manufacturer money and allows them to sell more cheaply). Those things combine to allow huge amounts of water to flood the boat after a capsize. The boat then becomes unmanageable or "unemptyable".

In contrast, sea (or touring) kayaks generally have much lower cockpit volumes and have bow bulkheads and storage compartments – making the boat more buoyant and easier to empty. (However, read the warnings about even sea kayak cockpit volumes being too large and requiring extra buoyancy: Over...and Still Out?)

Also in contrast are the sit-on-tops (SOTs) which are recreational kayaks that are inherently buoyant, self-draining boats and relatively easy to re-board from deep water.

Best advice to teachers: don't try to teach self-rescues in sit-inside recreational kayaks, unless by way of example on how difficult/impossible it is with such boats.

Best advice to paddlers of sit-inside recreational kayaks: stay in calm waters, stay close (swimming distance) to the shore, and stay with other paddlers.


For the most part, when talking about sit-in kayaks other than sea-kayaks, self-rescue means rolling and only rolling.

There are ranges of mid-sized touring boats with bulkheads where a sea-kayak style 'turn it over and climb back in' style self rescue is viable though such boats won't have deck lines to fix a paddle and float. If you're out of the boat you probably need rescuing by someone else, or you swim to the shore. (Re-entry and roll comes a couple of steps down the chain after roll.)

Teaching rolling is a skill in its own right that I won't go into detail on here, but if you're out in a situation where you expect to have to self rescue, you need to be able to roll. The general guidance on such situations is don't be in one, travel in a group.

If you're just mucking around and trying self rescues in calm waters, climbing along from the stern straddling the boat with your weight low is often viable, though you have to be reasonably agile to actually get into the cockpit from that situation.

  • In whitewater boats on flat water, paddling a nearly swamped boat to the bank is reasonable (and a good exercise in a training session) . They tend to have more flotation than recreational boats. Peer rescue is far more feasible, and that's what we should really practice if we're planning on going far enough out that swimming to the bank isn't an option
    – Chris H
    Aug 3 at 11:34

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