Having been in the water more times than I’d like to admit during my kayaking adventures, I’ve come to appreciate the value of self-rescue techniques. The ‘scramble’ is one of those techniques that is as straightforward as its name suggests. For any kayaker, mastering this maneuver can mean the difference between a minor hiccup and an extended swim.
When you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, the first order of business is to get your boat back to its upright position. Using a bit of finesse, try to lift the bow while turning it. This technique ensures minimal water floods the cockpit, which saves you from a heavier and more challenging re-entry.
From the water, flip your boat back upright. If possible, lift the bow as you rotate it, as this will scoop the least amount of water into the cockpit.
To re-enter, approach your boat from the side, at the stern. While keeping a firm hold of your paddle, secure a good grip of the cockpit rim with one hand, and reach across the boat with the other. Now dynamically pull yourself up, chest down, onto the stern deck. A powerful and well-timed kick of the legs will help launch you up out of the water.
Once up on the stern deck, staying as low as possible, throw a leg over the kayak so that you’re straddling it with your head towards the bow. Having a leg in the water on each side of the boat will help stabilizing you, as will staying low.
Slide forward and get a grip on the front of the cockpit rim. Once your pelvis is over the cockpit opening, quickly drop your butt down into the seat. Once your backside hits the seat, your center of gravity will be far lower and you will feel much more stable. Using your paddle for support, pull your legs in under the deck. Finally, pump out any excess water in the cockpit and get your skirt back on.
While the scramble is most effective in mild conditions and won’t work in really rough water, it’s a great addition to any paddler’s repertoire of rescue techniques. It’s also a lot of fun to practice. Be aware that the scramble is easier to perform on kayaks with low stern decks. The lower the rear deck, the easier it is to haul yourself up onto it from the water, and the lower the deck, the more stable you will be once you’re up there. Obviously, a kayak with strong initial stability also makes things easier. If you want extra support from your paddle while ‘scrambling’, attach a paddle float to your blade before starting your re-entry.