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Home > Boats > Kayaking > Wet Exit

Kayak Wet Exit

The wet exit is part of paddling just like paddle and boat. Get used to a good soaking. Soon you will enjoy it, not merely at the end of a session, but also as a fun way to cool off.

There are a few simple steps that can help to calmly slide out of your capsized kayak and keep hold of your paddle while you are doing it. It is natural for you to feel some apprehension and excitement before your first wet exit. As you read through this page you'll get an idea that the thrill of a sudden swim is actually huge fun.

canoeing wet exit capsize
Have a friend to help out when needed or to empty the boat. Getting wet together is twice the joy!
canoeing wet exit capsize

Getting Out

If exiting an overturned kayak has not been practiced it can be a scary experience. Some people feel somewhat concerend about getting stuck in the cockpit. This is not a problem. When a kayak capsizes you are automatically dumped from the boat into the water.

The trick is actually staying in the cockpit. Without thigh braces you will simply fall out of the boat. It is difficult to convince beginners of this. Removing yourself from the overturned kayak actually only takes a few seconds and you certainly do not need to be an expert.


When you practice a wet exit so that you know what to do if your kayak ever overturns, have a friend with you that can help. Also make sure you are in water deep enough that you won’t be banging your head on the bottom!

If you are recreational kayaking in flat water, wearing a lifejacket, then you do not need to be too concerned about being an excellent swimmer. Hopefully you will know a little swimming and be able to keep yourself moving until someone can help you back into your kayak.

Wet Exit Without Spray Deck

Without a spray skirt it is much easier to practice the wet exit for beginners. You simply fall out of the overturned boat once it is fully upside down. Don't try to struggle out while it is still on its side, that can cause problems. Practice rolling over and falling out of your kayak many times. Get used to the sudden feeling of water going everywhere when you go under, including all your clothes.

canoeing wet exit capsize
canoeing wet exit capsize

Wet Exit With Spray Deck

The wet exit is important. For when you capsize in a sit-in type kayak, you want to learn how to do a wet exit, even fully clothed. Below we will go through how to exit your kayak while wearing a spray skirt as this tends to be the most difficult.

Let's do a Dry Run

Make sure you get your posture and seating right. Firmly place your butt, knees and feet at the given contact points in the boat. This will give you greater control, which is particularly useful in rough water and can help with easier maneuvering.

Sit upright in a good kayaking position in your kayak on poolside. Place your hands on the cockpit side by your hips. Let your legs relax in the boat and your knees release slightly from the thigh grips. Push your hands down on the boat near your hips and slide backwards out of the boat.

Canoe kayak capsize wet exit
Pull off the spray deck with the quick release strap and slide out.
Canoe kayak capsize wet exit

Poolside Tilt

This poolside exercise lets you find the point where the boat tips over. Hold on to the side and lean over slowly until your head is underwater. Notice how your clothes feel when they fill up with water, form air pockets and collect water in the sleeves or hood.

Canoe kayak capsize wet exit
Lean over until you get wet.
Canoe kayak capsize wet exit
Submerge completely.

First Wet Exit

This is exciting fun because you don't quite know when you hit the water. The thrill comes when you try to find out how far you can lean over before you capsize and get soaked. Paddle away from the pool edge to avoid injury.

Locate the quick release strap

Before you do anything else make sure the release strap for the spray skirt is on the outside of the boat. Make sure you are able to reach your spray skirt’s handle. If its tucked into the boat it will be very hard to pull off the spray skirt.

Get a feel for the boat

Sit inside and lean over slowly to get feel for the boat's stability. Wiggle about and tilt the boat. Take a deep breath each time your lean over a bit more until you capsize. Suddenly you roll over into the water.

Sit still until you are completely upside-down

When you capsize, let the boat turn all the way upside down. Underwater you may feel disorientated for a moment. Get used to it and take time to get your bearings. Keep calm while the water rushes into your clothes. Hanging upside-down for these few added seconds will give you confidence so that you will not panic before you remove the spray skirt.

Bang three times on the upturned hull

Hit it with your hands before getting out. This will also be a signal to your friend that you are in complete control of the situation. Next use the same technique to slide out of the boat as you did on the poolside.

Pull the quick release strap

Now that you are turned over and underwater, reach forward until you find the release strap on your spray skirt. It doesn't matter whether or not you can open your eyes. Most people find the strap by groping for it. Pull it toward the front of the boat and then up to make sure it clears the coaming. Once you do this and let go, the whole skirt should come off by itself.

Lean forwards and straighten your legs

The first thing you want to do is lean forward to help keep your body from hitting things in the water. Next you take your hands and place them on the boat behind your hips either side of the boat where you can get a good grip.

Push out and backwards

Push yourself out of the seat towards the back of the boat. The first movement of your exit is like taking off a pair of trousers, you lean forwards. Nobody leans backwards when they remove their pants.

Time to surface

Next you straighten out your legs and push back with your arms. This will move you out of the boat. After you get your arms straightened out, you then push yourself out towards the back of the boat and surface beside your boat.

Grab your boat

Once on the surface, grab the boat's toggle and then retrieve the paddle, taking the boat with you. Hold on to the nearest lifting toggle while you swim to the paddle and you will find the boat easy to tow; it will also help to support your weight.

Hold on to your boat

If you let go of the boat even for an instant the wind may blow it away faster than you can swim after it. In a river stay at the upstream end of the canoe so that if the canoe becomes pinned, you don't. Try and keep a foot inside your cockpit so as not to lose your kayak.

Swimming with your Capsized Kayak

Keep the kayak upside down if you must swim with it and keep a firm grip on your paddle. Most important is your grip on your kayak and secondly the hold you have on your paddle. Take your kayak from its bow with the same hand that holds your paddle. Pull it as you swim keeping your other arm free.

It is not easy to swim fully clothed with an overturned kayak even in good weather conditions. This needs frequent practice and training in the pool. Hopefully you won’t be kayaking alone and have a friend who can help out.

Rinse and Repeat

Now turn the boat upright in a way that it doesn't take on too much water. A quick flip over usually does it.

Empty the canoe and get back in. Repeat until you know how far your can lean over before you capsize. As you gain more confidence wear more clothes to add weight and make it more difficult. You'll find this an interesting challenge as it adds more realism to your training.

Important Tips

Remember these tips for your next wet exit:

Always keep a hold on your kayak. Even if your kayak is half sunk it will still keep you afloat on the water. Also it is much easier to spot a half sunken kayak as opposed to one lone swimmer in the open water.

Since many inflatable kayaks do not use spray skirts, when they overturn it is much easier to remove yourself from your kayak, but make sure you you still keep a good hold on your boat and your paddle.

Always go with a friend or at least tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to be back.

Always wear your lifejacket in open water, that is a given. Keep a whistle on you at all times.

Dress for immersion. Check the water temperature, not the air. If you get too hot in your canoeing kit you can always roll your boat or do wet exit to soak your clothes and keep cool.

Wet exits and swimming with a kayak are a lot of fun. It is good to practice them often so that you have confidence that you can do it calmly and safely if the day should come.

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