I understand the necessity of being able to right yourself while you are in a river kayak. How important is this to be able to do in a Sea Kayak?

I can easily right my kayak and reenter it without assistance in less than a minute (then pump a ton of water out). But I can not for the life of me roll up right while I'm still in it. I do have a skirt but that didn't help as much as I thought it would.

My kayak is 13 feet long and 23.5 wide.

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because its' more of a safety question than a specific one about sport.
    – TrueDub
    Oct 24, 2016 at 9:30
  • I would argue that it is not only a safety question. It is also about the skill and experience of kayaking. When I asked the question I was not asking because of a safety concern, I was asking because I wanted to know if, once I got into more advanced waters and situations if being able to roll will be helpful or even a realistic expectation. If it was I would keep practicing. But I wasn't concerned about it from the safety side because I can do a wet entry easily.
    – Beth Lang
    Oct 25, 2016 at 18:27
  • But why aren't safety questions about the sport on topic?
    – Beth Lang
    Oct 25, 2016 at 18:27

5 Answers 5


The question should be more related to the type of water you're on. The type of kayak you're in should then follow the type of water you're on and the type of experience you are looking for...

If you're paddling on water large enough for waves, with currents, with big and/or fast ships/boats, or which is too big to comfortably swim to the shore in clothes, rolling is considered to be a very essential safety measure.

Paddling in a group though is worth even more than rolling. Even if you can roll on calm waters in practice situations, you might not be able to after your involuntary exit. Always remember that there was a reason why you suddenly find yourself outside of a kayak:

  • strong winds,
  • high waves,
  • different waves hitting you from different directions at the same time, created by
    • cross winds (even far away),
    • obstacles in the water: big buoys can create this, underwater structures,
    • ships passing in a distance
  • damage to your kayak
  • overestimating oneself and/or
  • heat/sunstroke
  • tiredness

Also, if you're on cold water (even if the air temp is comfortable), you may not be able to roll. There is a phenomenon of your breathing stopping suddenly when you get your head into ice-cold water.

In several of these cases being able to roll is not the solution to the problem. Again, being in a group is a much better safety measure. Never paddle alone on open water. And before you go in a group ensure that everyone can reenter the kayak with help from others.

For practicing, get near the beach with a group of people who all can safely and quickly reenter the kayak (as you posted for yourself). All of this group must be able to use buddy techniques to reenter the kayak in groups on calm water. (E.g. one stabilizes while the other enters). Then practice one after the other reentering with waves. First time you do this ensure it's a place with lifeguard on duty and/or boat access.

In addition, learn to read the weather, and weather forecasts.

By the way: If you cannot roll, wear a dry-suit! It helps you stay warm. Never risk hypothermia. Depending on the difference in water temperature and air temperature it's hard to wear clothing to survive 10 mins in cold water while avoiding a heatstroke while paddling normally. I cannot roll my sea-kayak, and usually paddle on a small river (6m width). But I still paddle until the water starts developing ice. I start wearing a drysuit in autumn, when the water gets below 10C because on a rainy day no-one would notice me drifting in the ice cold water. It does not take long to bring your body temperature down to critical levels in 4 C water.

Good luck and lots of fun!


Rolling a sea kayak is more an art form than it is a paddling essential. Self-rescue and long-distance swimming techniques, on the other hand, are skills every sea kayaker needs to master IF he or she ever intends to paddle alone.

It's one thing to know how to intentionally roll a kayak, but quite another to get knocked over by an unseen wave and retain the presence of mind to set-up and then roll-up. Even "professional" sea kayakers (such that they are) admit that they've been surprised by rogue waves, and know that there's no roll that prepares you for one. The key to surviving that encounter is being able to reenter the boat and render it stable (i.e. bail it and re-fit the spray-skirt) for continued operations. Those skills come only with practice, and even then they're not even close to being bomb-proof since most people practice them in a controlled environment. If you can't get back into the boat, then you're going to have to swim.

Bottom line: know your own capabilities and the water/weather conditions before you leave the shore, and always remember: the water which ejected you from your boat is the same water from which you'll have to reenter it.


This article suggests that learning how to roll is important for seas kayakers. My subjective opinion is that this skill is essential - you must be able to either wet-exit your kayak or roll it if you want to have a long (and healthy) kayaking career.

Some recommendations (and drills) from the article to learn this skill:

  1. Learn How to Wet-Exit: This isn’t so much a skill as it is a necessary prerequisite. No one should attempt to roll a kayak if they haven’t first learned how to exit the kayak while upside down.
  2. Learn How to Tuck While Upside-Down: Tucking to the deck of the kayak is the first thing one must do when their kayak flips over. If not, they won’t be able to properly setup for a roll attempt. It is also a matter of safety.
  3. Learn How to Hip-Snap: The Hip-Snap is the main skill employed and the driving force behind the kayak roll. A properly executed hip-snap will enable the kayaker to roll a kayak up regardless of the paddle position.
  4. Learn How to Buddy-Roll: The Buddy role will help you understand what it is like to be completely upside-down in your kayak and then to roll back up. It is also a great backup technique to use in the event that you can’t roll up on your own.
  5. Work With a Partner: Once you have the above skills down, you can begin trying to roll your kayak. The best way to put all of this together is to have a spotter in the water guiding you through the steps and helping you position your paddle.
  6. Put it All Together: Now it’s time to try on your own. It’s a good idea when practicing rolling a kayak to have a person in a kayak near you ready to help you with a buddy-roll if you can’t roll your kayak after a few attempts.

It depends on where you paddle. A roll is a far faster recovery than an exit and reenter-I have seen 12 done in 30 seconds. If you are up against the rocks that matters. If you are out in open water, not so much, but you are still less likely to lose hold of the boat. If you have a friend along, a T-rescue is much easier and saves you pumping. Don't underestimate the energy you lose with a reentry and pump. If you are far from home, you still need the energy to get back. If you paddle solo, it is well worth learning to drain the kayak while righting so you don't have to pump (so much). Basically you tread water, lift the bow to get the cockpit clear of the water, and flip the boat right side up.


How important are skills when skiing? If you want to stick to the bunny slope, then a snow plow is enough. How about on the double diamond at Aspen?

There is no substitute for a reliable roll if you want to advance as a kayaker.

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