What To Do If Your Kayak Capsizes [Step-By-Step Guide]

One of the most devastating things which can happen during a kayaking trip is the event of your kayak flipping. Though it doesn’t happen very often, it’s always possible. Generally, kayaks are built for maximum stability, and to be able to withstand harsh conditions. Regardless, the water can be a very unforgiving

Certain types of kayaks are more prone to flipping than others. Some are close to impossible to flip unless done so purposely.

I’ve written a guide in which I talk about which kayaks are more likely to flip than others. If you think this is something you’d be interested in, then feel free to give it a read. You can find it by Clicking Here.

Depending on your skill level, your equipment, and your environment this could be a funny situation, or it could be a life-threatening situation.  Therefore, it’s important that you do what you can to prevent your kayak capsizing and understand how to handle this situation if it were to happen.

In this article I will be explaining exactly what you should do if your kayak capsizes as well as some tips. Please do read on and spread the word to your friends and family who participate in kayaking as it could save their lives.

capsized kayak

What To Do If Your Kayak Capsizes

Remain Calm

It’s important that you keep your cool in the event of your kayak capsizing. As we all know, panicking in a dangerous situation is never good. Panicking can lead to you making mistakes and wasting valuable time. Though we don’t choose to panic and it’s more instant, it’s important to try your absolute best to calm yourself down.

If you have time to, learn forward and take a deep breath before you go under the water. It’s been proven that deep breathing can reduce the symptoms of a panic attack. Controlling your breathing makes it less likely for you to experience hyperventilating which makes a panic attack worsen. Source. Though, this will not help you if you’re already upside down and under the water – in which case it’s all a mental game.

Keep yourself focused on the goal. The goal being to flip your kayak back over and to get back on top or inside of it. If you panic and start thinking about a worst-case scenario, then you lose sight of the goal and you begin to work against progress. Examples of this are flailing your hands in the air, tiring yourself out and making it harder for yourself to swim and pull yourself up onto your kayak.

Kayak Roll

The first thing which you should consider after your kayak has flipped is the Kayak Roll technique.

This won’t be possible with all kayaks however it can be done with most.

It’s also worth mentioning that you’ll need a strong paddle to pull this off. I’ve written a review of the best kayaking paddles. If you don’t already have a high-quality paddle, then I’d recommend you check it out by clicking here.

There are numerous types of kayak rolls. For example, the Eskimo roll is a very commonly known technique which involves a combination of body movement, focusing on the hips and paddle support. Essentially, you’re bracing your paddle for support and rolling yourself upright using a hip snap and a paddle stroke.

There are also other kayak rolls such as the C-To-C Roll in which you’re creating two C-shaped arcs with your paddle. Also, there is the Sweep Roll in which you sweep your paddle from the bow towards the stern of your kayak and perform a hip snap to roll upright.

Explaining how to pull off a kayak roll is extremely difficult to do without demonstration. Therefore, I’d recommend you check out the video below in which a professional will demonstrate the technique to you.

Wet Exit

In the case that your kayak roll isn’t successful, or your kayak isn’t capable of being rolled then your next best action is a wet exit. This only applies to those with sea or touring kayaks as you’d most likely just fall out of a recreational kayak.

For those with touring/sea kayaks, learning how to perform a wet exit should be a top priority.

Essentially how a wet exit works is when your kayak flips, you’ll learn forward and find your kayaks rip cord to pop off the spray skirt, slide your hands back towards your hips and roll forwards out of your kayak. Whilst doing so you’ll want to keep your paddle in your freehand, though you can also tuck it under your arm if you need to do so.

For a demonstration of how to perform a wet exit, I recommend you checkout the video below. PaddleTV does a great job at explaining exactly how to recover after a kayak capsizing.

How To Prevent Your Kayak from Capsizing


Preparing for your kayak capsizing can be vital to your survival. Being prepared gives you the best chances at survival.

Practicing flipping and re-entering your kayak in safe conditions is a great way to prepare yourself for such a situation. Just like with anything, practice makes perfect. If you’ve already dealt with the situation numerous times, then you would have already built up the muscle memory and skills you need to deal with the real situation. Also, being more confident in your ability to recover will prevent you from panicking.

It’s important that you practice in calm waters where you won’t be pushed around by the water. You should also do this in shallow waters where you’ll be safe and won’t rely on your swimming ability. Sure, this may not completely replicate a real event, but you’ll still improve your recovery skills whilst doing so safely.

Purchase Sufficient Gear

You should always ensure your kayaking with the right gear.

I’ve written a Kayaking Checklist in which I detail all the gear and equipment you should bring on your trips. If you think this is something you’d be interested in, then feel free to give it a read. You can find it by Clicking Here.

I recommend you give the link above a read. Though, I’ll list the most important items you should bring here. These include:

PFD (Personal Floatation Device): Also known as a life jacket or vest. There are numerous available however my favourite is this Stohlquist Fit Adult Life Jacket from Amazon. It provides maximum mobility, easy entry, a stylish design and most importantly the safety you need whilst kayaking.

Floatation bags: To keep the amount of water accumulated in your kayak to a minimum and keep your kayak from sinking, you should consider using a flotation bag. This will essentially provide your kayak with more stability and therefore reduce the chances of your kayak capsizing.

Wet Shoes: Wet shoes are made with rubber bottoms which provide good traction in slippery conditions. Having better grip could help you pull yourself back onto your kayak. Wearing ordinary sneakers will soak in water and become heavy, pulling you down and making it harder to get onto your kayak after it tips.

First Aid Kit: An obvious one yet one of the most important. If your kayak capsizes then its possible you could have been hurt in the process. Especially when panic kicks in, we can be more likely to harm ourselves. Therefore, we should keep a first aid kit handy.

Kayak Sponge: You can purchase Kayak/Canoe sponges which will soak up water from the cockpit of your kayak. After your kayak has flipped, no doubt it will be filled with a lot of water. This is where a kayak sponge can really come in handy. Though, you can also use a bilge pump to drain any accumulated water.

Vanessa Hopkins

Hi, I'm Vanessa. Long-time kayaker who's proud to be part of this community. I strive to provide our visitors with insightful guides with the aim to improve their kayaking experience. I've been working with SunshineKayaking for over 5 years, providing world-class services.

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