First real capsize experience

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  • #21635
    Roberto Dominguez

    Wanted to share my experience getting back into the boat after capsizing last week while crossing the Collingwood Channel, West of Bowen Island. No drama, no life-threatening situation; we were prepared, but also made a few mistakes and I wanted to share the experience hoping somebody else can learn from them.

    My son (Silvio) and I have been spending a lot of time paddling this Summer, in singles, double and even tried some surfsking in Spain. We have also done recovery practices (solo and assisted) in the singles and just a couple of weeks ago in the double (that was fun). Even my experience in sufski was more about getting back into the boat than actually paddling 😉

    We are intermediate kayakers and just recently circumnavigated Bowen Island and Anvil Island and have paddled around Pasley Island a few times, so we have built some confidence.

    The plan for the day was to paddle from Bowen Bay to Gibsons and back. Forecast called for 7-10 knots SE winds. Not exactly calm waters but we felt we could do it, as we have paddled in such conditions before. Temperature was 20C and the water was warm. Silvio wasn’t feeling 100% well but we still decided to go.

    It was windy and wavy, but we had a tailwind. Silvio (on a Delta 15.5) was going very slow… and I needed to go fast to keep stability, as I was on a skinny Stellar S18, so it was a balancing act not to get too separated. We passed Ragged Island, the winds and waves were not getting better, and Silvio wasn’t still feeling that strong. So we made the (wise) decision to abort the mission and head back.

    But now we had over 10 knots headwind and it was wavier. We were doing ok, sometimes I find headwinds easier to manage, but this time I had to go slower and that made me unstable. And sure enough, have way into the Channel, I tipped over.

    It turns out that all my practicing has been without spray skirt, and now I had to get out of the boat with it on. Surprisingly I didn’t panic, and I remembered Jonas Lindgren’s advise of taking the skirt off from the side, which turned out to be easier and got out within seconds.

    The water wasn’t too cold, and I was calm (or so I thought) so I wanted to try to get back on my own. I turned the kayak, lifted it to empty it, and then I tried a scramble recovery and failed miserably. Then I tried a float recovery with a stirrup, but half way I decided not to continue as I was afraid I could break the carbon paddle… so I called Silvio to do an assisted recovery.

    The winds winded down a little but it was still difficult to align the kayaks. First, we’ve got both kayaks facing the same direction (wrong!) and I tried to get in with the stirrup and it didn’t work (of course), then we agreed on aligning them on different directions, but disagreed on the best way of doing it. We yelled at each other and things started getting messy.

    Silvio managed to get the kayaks properly aligned (his way) but with such winds, I lost my paddle (still with the float),  I swam to get the it, then struggled to get back to the kayaks. I am not a bad swimmer but swimming while holding a paddle can be complicated 😀

    With the kayaks aligned and paddles secured, I calmed down and got back into the boat using the stirrup. We were almost back on Ragged Island by the time I was ready to paddle. We b-lined to Bowen Bay and made it back safely.


    It took me a little bit over 10 minutes to get back on. 10 minutes it’s ok in the Summer, but it may be too long in any other season and conditions. So we did a recap to identify the mistakes and see what we can do better next time.

    • Maybe we shouldn’t have gone out in the first place as Silvio wasn’t feeling that well. It was a calculated risk, and although we made the mistake of going, we rectified early enough, so it’s never late to make the right decision.
    • Practice wet exit with skirt on. It wasn’t too much of a deal this time, but I believe I needed more practice
    • First timer? Get back as soon as possible. It was the first time I actually capsized, I should have tried the assisted recovery right away.
    • Stick to what you know you have to do and do not improvise. I wanted to do things ‘faster’ and they turned out to make things worse.
    • Trust your partner. You cannot give directions from the water, trust you partner, specially if you are related 😀 I think we wasted a lot of time with me trying to drive things from the water.
    • Secure your paddle! Either get a good hold, or into the kayak while maneuvering
    • Practice in rougher water. Our practices had been in relatively calm waters, so it is a bit different in windy and wavy situations.
    • Practice, practice, practice. I don’t think the importance of practicing is emphasized enough. You may know what to do, but when face with the real situation, things won’t go as planned, so the more your practice, the better you’ll get.
    • A stirrup makes recovery easier, but I feel I need to rely less on it

    Overall, I am happy it happened during the Summer. I am reflecting on the lessons and will continue practicing.

    After wall, kayaking is a water sport so we should be comfortable being in the water.


Viewing 4 replies - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
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  • #21641
    Peter Kearney

    Kudos for writing up your experience in detail. I think your first bullet point in the ‘lessons learned’ is key. But that decision making process for ‘go or no go’ can be the most difficult one to make when the factors are not clear cut.

    The club library would have the 2 classics on this with the ‘Deep Trouble’ books by Matt Broze.


    Always nice to be able to learn from a close call.


    Cheers, Peter


    Quirine Schuyff

    Thank you for sharing this. It is never too late to learn! Even better if we can learn from others before hand but generally it needs to be learned first hand for it to really sink in.

    Susan Servos-Sept

    I really appreciate the fact you shared this. Helpful and great reminders. Thank you.

    Heather Harbord

    I have always been told to leave my spray skirt on. As you go over, press your hands down behind your back and you’ll come out of the boat right away UNLESS your spray skirt was on too tight, so make sure it isn’t before you paddle off.

    Have a look at some of the Gordon Brown videos.  He has some very good ideas of how to get back into a boat with assistance – if you are not too heavy. He also has some videos of St. Kilda that include sequences of getting back in your boat in rough weather. I heard  that he had moved to Victoria a few years ago and I’m not sure where he is now, but it would be worth researching to find out. Perhaps he runs kayak capsize courses here  or as part of some of the trips I know he was leading off the BC West Coast.

    Yes, you need to practise, practise, practise – or don’t go out.  Silvio’s “not feeling well” was a red flag. I would not have gone out with him like that – or chosen a very calm sheltered piece of water.

    In about 50 years of paddling, I have rarely capsized unexpectedly because I am very, very cautious about the weather.  When kayak camping, I always made sure I had extra food for several days and good rain gear and tarps so that I could stay ashore when things got nasty. I have also aborted trips for the same reason, if I guessed wrong. I will soon be putting my well kept iconic kayak up for sale along with some good ancilliary equipment, so watch for it but you will need deep pockets.  Heather Harbord.


Viewing 4 replies - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
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