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Mariner outrigger paddle float self-rescue -- Rfpicvrt.gif (9858 bytes)

The kayaker pictured above has inflated the Rescue Float Plus over the paddle blade and has secured the paddle and float to function as a stabilizing outrigger. He is now ready to slide his torso onto the rear deck, put his feet in the cockpit, and twist around into the seat.

PRACTICE IS ESSENTIAL! Experience is necessary to insure success using the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS in an emergency. Kayaks differ so you must practice to make sure which methods work for you using your own kayak (and any other kayak you may paddle).

Maximum flotation in both ends of the kayak is also necessary so the kayak cannot sink (or partially sink) when you try to re-enter. When the kayak is fully swamped the cockpit rim should still have at least two inches of freeboard with you sitting in it. Also the more flotation in the kayak, the less water will have to be removed in the bailing process that follows re-entry.

Do not bail a kayak from the water. Pumping from the water is inefficient, and cold water will also be sapping the strength you may need to complete the rescue. It is possible you might swamp your kayak again during the rescue and have to pump it out again anyway. Furthermore, it is easier to re-enter a swamped kayak using the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS because the deck is easier to climb up on when it is lower to the water.


  1. Insure that the kayak cannot be blown or swept away from you by the wind or waves. If there is any danger of losing the kayak, move to the downwind or downwave side of the kayak, or fasten yourself to the kayak with the bow or stern painter or some other line. (The exception is in surf where being in front of (or tied to) the kayak could be dangerous.) A cord attaching the paddle to the kayak can also serve this function because you need not let go of the paddle at any time to complete the rescue. We prefer about three feet of 3/16 inch shock cord for a paddle leash. Used on a windy day this leash could also prevent losing your paddle to a gust of wind or a moment of inattention.

Paddle Leash -- Rfpadlsh.gif (4727 bytes)

  1. Right the kayak. Do this by lifting the cockpit enough to break the suction and then push violently up and away from you on the near side of the cockpit coaming. Hold on to the far side of the cockpit if there is any danger of having the kayak get away from you. This righting method scoops in less water (compared with laying your body over the kayak and pulling it upright from the far side as suggested in some texts).
  2. Remove the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS from its secure storage place. The buckle or hook should have been be clipped around a line or something else in the cockpit (or on deck) so that the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can not be accidentally lost before or during the capsize. The hook on the end of the line should now be clipped to the kayak, spraydeck, or lifejacket, so that it can't be lost should you let go of it. If the hook is already clipped near the back of the cockpit in may not have to be moved at all.
  3. Inflate the Float. Grasp one of the inflation tubes in your hand. Twist the valve on the end counterclockwise about 1/2 turn to open it. Do not try to pull it open or you could pull it off. Inflate the float by mouth until it is 80 or 90 percent full. Close the valve by turning the end clockwise until it stops. There is no need to over tighten it. (Either chamber is sufficient by itself, but inflating both will hold the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS more securely to the paddle when fully inflated. Two chambers are provided so that in the unlikely event that one chamber is damaged so that it won't hold air for even a short time (such as if you pulled the valve off and then lost it.) the rescue can still succeed.)
  4. Put the Float on the paddle. Grip one side of the open end of the bag so the paddle blade can be inserted as far in as it will go. (The end of the bag has a pocket to protect the inflation chambers from the end of the paddle.)
  5. Finish inflating the air chambers. The air pressure should be enough to hold the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS firmly in place on the blade. For maximum security or long term use the buckles can be wrapped tightly around the shaft and clipped so the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS cannot come off over the paddle blade.
  6. Form the outrigger. The cord connecting the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS to the kayak should be long enough to allow you to fasten the paddle to the back deck without unhooking it. If for some reason it isn't (extra long paddle etc.) detach it now that the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS is firmly attached to your paddle and unlikely to get away from you. If you can easily attach your paddle to the kayak so that it is held perpendicular to the keel line of the kayak and the kayak cannot roll towards the float when the float is in the water--great! Rear deck lines (pictured on the first page) or even hatch hold down straps can sometimes serve this purpose. If nothing is available on your kayak to firmly hold the paddle you should install something. Squares of lines work well and can also serve to hold down gear you want handy on deck. The shock cord found on many kayaks is often too stretchy to hold the paddle firmly enough, however 5/16" (or two strands of 1/4") shock cord is usually sufficient. We recommend 3/16" or 1/4" nylon or polyester cord. If you design your own attachment system suitable for your particular kayak keep in mind that it must be easy to detach the paddle once you’re back in the cockpit as well as easy to attach the paddle when you are up to you neck in water. Make sure the blade of the paddle is pushed under the lines far enough so that the line on the near side of the kayak (which holds the kayak from rolling towards the paddle float) does not go over the blade but rather crosses the shaft. The leverage possible might snap a thin blade. Furthermore, having seen some cheap non-laminated wood shafts broken from just a hard paddling stroke, we don't recommend using one of them for this rescue (or paddling).
  7. Pull yourself up on the back deck. Once the paddle is attached, and you are beside the cockpit (in front of the paddle), place one hand on the paddle shaft near the kayak and the other hand on the nearest cockpit rim. Rest your forearms on the rim and the shaft. Gently kick your legs until they are near the surface like you are swimming. Remember this position. Now push the kayak away from you while maintaining your grip. Quickly pull yourself back into the position and then hunch your shoulders and pull up with your arms while strongly scissor kicking with your legs to lift and slide your torso up on the back deck across the paddle attachment. You should be facing the rear of the kayak.
    NOTE: If you can't lift yourself up in a few attempts, try putting your foot up on the paddle shaft to help. In wind or waves if you can’t get in from the downwind side pivot the kayak around and try from the upwind side. Be careful that the kayak does not get away from you because it might blow away faster than you can swim. Kayaks with especially high and/or peaked back decks often require other methods. With these try crawling up from the back of the kayak and then pivoting around on your belly using the outriggered paddle shaft to keep your legs up.
    Another method for a high kayak requires a short loop of webbing or rope (maybe the stern painter) hung from the cockpit rim or paddle shaft to provide a step next to the kayak. The step (bottom of the loop) should be 6 to 10 inches underwater. If your leg swings under the kayak when you step in the loop it is too long and a simple overhand knot can shorten it. The step allows a weakened or heavy paddler to use his or her leg strength to help them up on a kayak with a higher deck.

Rope loop for a step -- Rfloop.gif (2685 bytes)

  1. Take care not to pull the paddle out of its attachment while lifting yourself (by whatever method). If this is a problem you can push the paddle further under the lines until the blade clears the other side of the kayak and then twist it one-quarter turn so the blade will not allow the paddle to slip out. Hooking a drip ring with one of the deck lines also works to keep the paddle from slipping out (and keeps a longer outrigger). Re-entering the kayak upside down (more likely -- on its side) and performing the Float Roll or the Paddle Float Roll described later are other options to re-enter a kayak that cannot be entered with the outrigger method.
  2. Reenter the cockpit. From your position laying on the back deck facing the stern place your nearest foot into the cockpit while keeping one hand holding some of your weight onto the paddle shaft. (If your foot won't go in, move further back on the deck.) Place the other foot into the cockpit as well and turn your head to face the float. Keep your body as low to the deck as possible. Slide into the cockpit until your hips are over the seat. Twist your lower body around so you face the float. Your hands trade places on the paddle shaft and you drop into the seat.
    IMPORTANT NOTE: During this entire rescue be careful to always keep your weight more to the outrigger side of the kayak to avoid capsizing to the unsupported side. In rough seas favor the float side even more.
  3. Pump or bail. Bail out the water or if conditions are rough fasten your spray deck to prevent further water entry and pump out your kayak using a pump slipped through the spray deck at your waist. Even if your cockpit is underwater you may still be able to pump it out if you fasten your spraydeck and pump through the waist opening of the spray deck. Pumping a swamped kayak that uses float bags for flotation is likely to take five minutes or more of hard pumping, depending on the size of the kayak and float bags. Slightly less time is needed for bulkheads if they are near the cockpit. Far less time is required if you use a Sea Sock. Double kayaks usually have inadequate flotation built in. They can become so swamped that the cockpit rims are under water. We strongly recommend sea socks for doubles. With them you will hardly need to pump after capsizing and re-entering a double.
  4. Take advantage of your stabilizing outrigger before removing it. If you are cold, and additional clothing is available, now is the time to put them on or grab a snack.
  5. Prepare to resume paddling.  Lift the line to the other side of the drip ring or "unkey" the paddle by twisting it until it can be pulled straight out to the side. Rock back and forth slightly so you know you are balanced and not depending on the float for stability before you remove it. Quickly remove the paddle from its attachments by pushing it straight out to the side enough to completely free it from the deck lines and then quickly bring it back across the kayak into the normal paddling and bracing position. Keep the float on the paddle to help you brace until you are ready to remove it from the blade as well. If rough conditions contributed to your capsize you probably don't want to go to the trouble of deflating the float more than the slight amount that may be necessary to remove it from the paddle. You might need it again soon anyway. Clip the hook to the kayak (if it isn't already) then remove the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS from the paddle blade. Tuck the mostly inflated float under your chart lines on the front deck (or back deck if no cords are available on the front and you or a helper can easily slip it under some shock cord). This way it will be ready for instant use for a float roll (described later) or another Mariner outrigger rescue should you again capsize. Alternately, the cord and hook (or buckle) could be used to attach the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS to the center of the paddle shaft using the "full camera bag method" described later. You should be able to paddle easily with it in your lap this way. If you can't yet Eskimo roll or Float roll, and again capsize, you could slide the Float down to the blade in seconds and use the float near one blade and the upturned hull under the other blade to lift yourself (like a pull-up bar suspended between the float and the hull) back upright again without exiting the kayak. We call this the PADDLE FLOAT ROLL. (Note: This can also be done with the rescue float attached to the paddle in the normal way--performing a RE-ENTER AND PADDLE FLOAT ROLL. However you would still face fastening the spraydeck and pumping without the stability provided by the fixed outrigger so we don’t recommend it except in breaking surf).

PADDLE FLOAT RESCUE: (for use in surf or with a kayak that has no way to attach the paddle)

Note: It is possible to re-enter the kayak without affixing the paddle to the kayak. With practice, re-entry is usually not hard, but keeping a swamped kayak stable while fastening the spraydeck and pumping is tricky without the fixed outrigger for stability. If there is no way to attach the paddle in the outrigger position on a kayak you are borrowing (We hope you will install one on your own kayak if a way to do it isn't there already) a self rescue can still work, but it is more difficult. The Paddle Float Rescue is done similarly to the Mariner Self Rescue just described, but a hand, body weight, or foot must hold the paddle perpendicular to the kayak at all times while the other hand holds the paddle against the deck and back of the cockpit. Hook a foot up on the paddle near the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS and then pull your chest over the paddle onto the back deck. Next put one foot in the cockpit. Making sure you have control of the paddle with your hands move the other foot off the paddle and into the cockpit as well. Continue as before with the outrigger rescue until seated in the kayak. Now lay the paddle across the coaming in front of yourself and lean to the float side with your forearm holding the paddle shaft down. This leaves both your hands somewhat free to try to fasten the spraydeck. The hand on the paddle float side can hold the pump while your forearm holds the shaft over the cockpit. The other hand works the pump handle.

On kayaks with higher decks it may be easier to start by climbing up over the stern while holding the paddle perpendicular to the kayak and then pivoting around (to enter the cockpit feet first) above the paddle shaft. all the while keeping the paddle in place by holding the shaft with one foot then the other and finally one hand at a time. Alternately, you can crawl forward from the stern until your hips are over the cockpit at which point you lift your chest up and drop your butt into the seat. Your feet will still be hanging over the sides but with your low center of gravity, the paddle float for bracing, and with a long enough cockpit you should be able to get them aboard.hold


The RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can be used by hand to lever yourself upright. If you can't yet Eskimo roll try practicing this: Place the mostly inflated RESCUE FLOAT PLUS on the back deck under bungees or lines in such a way that you can easily pull it free with one hand when you are upside down in the cockpit after a capsize. Have the hook at the end of the shock cord clipped to something so if the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS slips from its attachment on deck or out of your grasp (in use) it can be easily retrieved. Once upside down with the float in your hand, press your back against the back deck (so you won't have as much weight to lift). Reach as far out to the side as you can and try to pull the float down into the water while holding your paddle with the other hand as a counterbalance over and across the kayak to the other side. Not strong enough? Then try placing your other hand (with the paddle in it unless the paddle is securely tethered) on top of the float and push it down with that hand as you pull it down with the other. Make sure you right the kayak first by bending at the waist and lifting the cockpit rim with your lower knee or thigh, before lifting your torso from the water (some call this a hip snap). Remember to lie against the back deck throughout.

It has never taken anyone we have taught more than two tries to succeed. However if you’re not successful with this in a real capsize the inflated RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can still be used like a pillow to hold your head out of the water while you wait for assistance in your kayak (or while putting the float on to the paddle for more leverage in rolling back upright). It may seem difficult but, if your spraydeck is on, staying in the kayak like this can save a lot of tiring pumping or bailing later. Some kayakers that haven't become proficient at the Eskimo roll store their RESCUE FLOAT PLUS inflated and easily available under a shock cord on the front or back deck so they can do a float roll if they capsize. The shock cord is tucked under the float and is hooked to something on the kayak to insure against its loss. The shock cord is long enough so it should not need to be detached to use the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS for any of the rescues described. The snap hook can be removed with one hand by gripping the snaphook between your thumb and two fingers and twisting your wrist inward to open the snap gate against the cord it is clipped to. Practice this a few times now so you can both fasten the snaphook and unfasten it with one hand.


Eskimo rolling is the best method of self-rescue and we believe kayakers should endeavor to become expert at it. The RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can aid in learning the Eskimo roll. However, because its round shape can't sweep through the water as quickly as the paddle does in a real roll it is better to use a flat float attached to the paddle blade when learning to roll. If a flat float is not available, inflate only the upper side of the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS to leave the underside of the blade flat. With either, lie back on the back deck and reach out and back with the float on the blade. Swing the float forward, keeping the blade level with the water's surface, in a wide arc. At the same time capsize towards the float as you continue to sweep the float forward until it touches the kayak. Next simply reverse the motion and right yourself. The capsize becomes the wind-up for the roll. You can learn the roll in small steps by going a bit further into the wind-up each time before reversing it and finishing the roll. Once you get the feel of rolling, speed up the sweep as you right yourself. Don't forget to right the kayak by bending your waist and lifting with your lower knee before you try to lift your torso and finally your head out of the water while laying back on the rear deck. It helps to have an instructor help shape your roll until every thing looks right and is done quickly. Then remove the float and try to roll a few times. If you are unsuccessful use the float for more practice. The float allows you to practice success rather than failure.


The RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can be set up in the outrigger position using your paddle (or better still your spare paddle) to provide stability to a tippy kayak. This may be helpful for fishing, diving, making repairs, or any other pursuit where a lot more stability is desired. Alternately, two RESCUE FLOATS can be used, one on each end of a paddle to make outriggers that add an immense amount of stability to a kayak. Two FLOATS could be very useful if one paddler in a group using single kayaks was seriously incapacitated. If the spare paddle and two floats can be attached across the deck far enough back to not to interfere with paddle strokes, you can still paddle and your kayak will be difficult to capsize in any condition short of surf. With many kayaks you can paddle or tow this setup with very little additional drag (if you keep the kayak near level so neither of the floats is dragging in the water). If your fastening method can prevent the paddle shaft from easily rotating you can use the spare in the unfeathered position and blow up only the top half of each float to keep them higher off the water for less drag when paddling. Fasten it so the inflated half is down to increase initial stability if that is desirable when not or towing.


One of the plusses of the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS is that it can be used as a dry bag for wallet and spare clothes or even (inflated) as a protective camera bag. For the most water resistant seal: the top of the bag should be rolled down five folds or more before bending it back and clipping the buckle. Warning: If the inside of the bag has gotten wet with salt water, rinse it thoroughly in fresh water and turn it inside out to dry completely before using it as a camera bag.


Because we don't want anyone to be faced with the choice of not using the bag to perform a self-rescue in order to save a camera, there is an alternate method of attaching the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS to the paddle that doesn't require opening the bag. The shock cord can be wrapped several times around the throat of the paddle and hooked to itself. Attached this way the cord will cinch around the shaft preventing it from sliding up the shaft while the rescue is performed as before. To insure that the paddle stays as level as possible in the outrigger position, roll up the excess cord (and bag) by rotating the paddle (in the direction that cinches the hook) until the inflation chambers are held against the shaft. If this unwinds under a load clip the buckle around the paddle shaft as well or clip the base of the shock cord into the hook.


The RESCUE FLOAT PLUS might serve as an emergency splint. The pocket for the paddle blade tip can be slit open to accommodate an arm or leg.

The RESCUE FLOAT PLUS can be used as an inflatable cushion, pillow or backrest. It has been used to help brace disabled paddlers into a paddling position in kayaks. If you discover any other uses please let us know.


A puncture in the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS is rare because they are made out of super tough 200 denier nylon coated with many layers of tough urethane (like the best inflatable life vests). Even if you puncture one chamber you still have a fully functional rescue device superior to the other paddle float devices that have only one chamber (or are also often made from vastly inferior vinyl or nylon/vinyl material). You should however repair it as soon as possible to regain the back up reliability inherent in two chambers. A urethane patch kit is available through many outdoor shops selling self-inflating camp mats or quality air mattresses. If the leak is near a corner or edge of a chamber it can be sealed by using the tip of a hot iron to fuse the urethane layers together in just that area. Before each kayak trip inflate the RESCUE FLOAT PLUS to check that it is still airtight and fully functional. Inspect it and check that the knots at this time as well.


ęcopyright 1986 & 1998 Matt Broze
Mariner Kayaks

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