Safe in a kayak


Are you scared of oveturning the kayak? Would you like to learn how to get back in? This post is about becoming more confident and safer in the kayak. About rescue techniques, some safety practices on the water and while we're on it - we'll also put a couple of myths about kayaking on the bottom of the sea among the fossils where they belong. 

The photos in this post is shot by Peter Wibjörk, if nothing else has been stated. You can find more of Peters' photos at his instagram @pwi_nature

Apart from my job as a canoe guide and nature guide, I volounteer as a kayak leader with Friluftsfrämjandet (Swedish Outdoor Association). I mean everyone needs a hobby, right? It's fun and fulfilling in many ways, but best of all is to see people grow, while paddling, over time. From stiff and nervous newbies to confident paddlers surfing on the waves all smiles and performing rescues without second thought.

Often the jitters in new paddlers is founded in not knowing, since it's new. They don't know how far they can tip the boat before it overturns, or they are scared that they will be stuck in the kayak. Spoiler alert: most kayaks for rental has a huge cockpit and loose gallon spray decks. This means, that whn you overturn, the spray deck will go off by itself and you'll fall in before you've even realized that you do. Also, all spray decks have a handle at the front, which you want to keep visible on deck. If the spray deck for some reason wouldn't come off, pull the handle or the sides of the spray deck and you're free as a seal in seconds. So, now we've sunk the myth of being stuck in the kayak. Now we're getting closer to what happens once you're swimming.

Basic kayak safety

For starters - Be several kayaks on the water and keep the group together so that you can talk to one another without having to raise your voices. Always use a PFD. Go close to shore when it's windy and if you feel insecure. If it doesn't feel good at all, take a break on land, have som snacks and coffee. Wait until the wind has decreased. Dress according to water temperature rather than the temperature of the air and bring a complete set of clothes packed in a drybag. Those clothes are also nice for when taking lunch break on an island, kayaking is a wet sport even above the water surface. 

If you're out with an organisation or guides and someone overturns, do as you're told by the guides. Often one of the guides goes in and perform the rescue, while the rest of the group stays put with the other guide out of the way, but with a view on what's happening. If you're out on a weekend tour with friends, practice rescue techniques in a sheltered bay. Sooner or later, you'll need it.

Comrade rescue 

To practice comrade rescue is fun and excellent team building for the group. An effective rescue is done within 3 minutes. There are many different variations of theses rescues, below I'll describe a T-rescue with heel hook re-entry. The most important thing is to get the swimmer back into an empty cockpit. Most of the non involuntary baths do occur on shallow water while getting in and out of the kayak. But we'll leave those techniques for another post. 

Once you're swimming, hang on to the kayak and your paddle. If you're forced to choose - catch the kayak first, it will drift away faster than you can swim otherwise. It's also more common to bring an extra paddle than an extra kayak for some reason ... If no one has noticed your plunge, blow your whistle and drum on the kayak samba style, to get the groups attention. Now, when you've got your kayak, flip it ont he right keel and use the cordage along the deck to get to the bow (front end). There you'll find a nice little handle to hang on to. If there's no handle, hang on to the cordage. 

The salvor is now by your side and positions their kayak as the upper part of a T in relation to your kayak. They will now ask you to cling along their kayak to their bow. Once by the bow, cling your legs around it like a coala bear. With you by the bow, you can have eye contact and it's easier to communicate. You can also squeeze your paddle against the salvors' kayak with a leg to keep it in place. It's important though that the salvor keeps track of their own paddle and keeps it within reach. 

From now on, we'll take a look at what the salvor is doing. Heave the other kayak across your cockpit with the bow first. If it's heavy, turn it on the side to spill out the water. If it's too heavy, ask a friend to line up next to you and help pulling the bow.

When almost by the cockpit, turn the kayak over with the cockpit towards you. This way you'll see when it's empty. Then, flip it on its' keel, and put it along side your kayak bow to stern, stern to bow. Gripping the cordage on the empty kayaks' front deck, lay down on the front deck. OBS! No hands or fingers in the cockpit, there will soon be feet belonging to a person in a adrenaline rush, trying to get up.

Heel hook. There are several methods of re-entering a kayak, this one is called heel hook. The salvor takes care of both paddles and asks the swimmer to get next to the back deck of their kayak and put themselves on their back with hips by the back of the cockpit. The swimmer then puts their outer leg and tack it into the cockpit, like in the photo above.  Badaren tar sen yttre benet och tråcklar in det i sittbrunnen. Se bilden ovan.

By pushing with the leg in the cockpit and grab the cordage on the kayaks, the swimmer may now roll onto their back deck with little effort, keeping a low profile.

With maintained low profile, preferably the forehead against the back deck, the swimmer can lift in their other leg into the cockpit. With support of the cordage on the salvors' kayak, they can turn around to sitting upright. 

Once the swimmer is back in their cockpit, got the spray deck back on, their paddle in their hands and taken a few deep breathes the salvor can let go of their kayak. If the swimmer doesn't wear a dry suit, get ashore ASAP so they can change into dry clothes. 

Some more safety practices

Keep on paddling, keep on breathing

Did the kayak make a sudden move in the waves? keep on paddling, a paddle blade in the water will always be a good support. if the waves are coming in from the side, grab the wave with the blade and breathe. Breathe deep and consciously all the way down in you belly, legs and toes. The more you relax, the more stabile you will be and you'll get easier to parry when it moves. 


To learn how far you may lean the kayak without overturning it, ask a friend for help and position yourself as the upper part of a T in realtion to their kayak. By holding their bow and squeeze your legs to the inside of your kayak, you may now lean the kayak a little at the time. (OBS! Towards your friends kayak!) By parrying with your head, most people can lean the kayak until they dip the spray deck under water. Most kayaks for rental are very stabile until they finally reach the infamous point of no return ... 


The more we play with our kayaks, bath and test their limits - the more relaxed and more fun it will be to paddle them. Have you tried paddling with your hands? Or with the paddle behind your back? Or just one blade? Could you stand up in the kayak? Or paddle sitting on the back deck with your feet on the seat? could you climb to the bow, kiss it and then climb back into the cockpit without swimming? There's a lot of fun exercises to explore. I'm pretty sure you and your friends will come up with more of them, if only giving yourselves time to do them. 

Photografer: Kersti Beck Larsson
Photografer: Kersti Beck Larsson

More about paddling at lake Vättern and contexts for kayaking there. 

The archipelago of northern Vättern Norra Vätterns skärgård is a nature reserve, please read the rules before going there. For example you may only camp and make fires in certain places. 

Friluftsfrämjandet Örebro (Swedish Outdoor Association Örebro) - are holding day trips and courses at Vättern. To join these, you have to be a member of Friluftsfrämjandet, but you'll also get access to many adventures and courses all over Sweden with them. 

Kajaknätverk Norra Vättern (network for kayaking at Northern Vättern) - is a facebook group where you can look for paddle comrades for trips at lake Vättern. Through this network, together with Friluftsfrämjandet, they also arrange tuesday kayaking. During these events any one is welcome, the tour is for free, but you'll have to bring your own kayak or rent one. Youäll find the events with details in the facebook group. If we're many on the water we split up in 2-3 groups taking different routes towards a common island for having fika (evening snacks). Then we go back all together.

Would you like to attend a beginners course? You can find one through Friluftsfrämjandet, or go with Naturvägledare norra Vätttern, a local and great guide with many years of experience bringing newbies out on the water.

Rent a kayak from Vätternkajak - ready to rock on your own? Vätternkajak have rentals in Olshammar, Granvik, Medevi, Borghamn and Hästholmen. You rent your kayak on the internet and then you'll get a code to the kayak storage. The compartments of the storage has numbers, simply pick your kayaks number, in the same compartment you'll find a PFD, spray deck and a paddle. When you get back from your adventures, sweep the kayak dry on the inside with a sponge, put the lids into the hatches for the hatches to dry, hang the PFD and the spray deck on to the sticks and put the paddle next to your kayak in the compartment. 

Photografer: Kersti Beck Larsson
Photografer: Kersti Beck Larsson

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Plunge in peace!