Getting Trapped in a Kayak

Kayakers call this type of accident ‘Entrapment’ (which in regular English is a juridical term…)
However, in the world of kayaking entrapment is described as a situation where the paddler’s lower body, or a part of it (E.G. leg, foot) is caught inside the hull while the kayaker is trying to retrieve it from there during a ‘wet exit’, that is while attempting to leave his or her kayak and swim.
Imagine yourself in turbulent water, your kayak overturned, you’ve been ‘pumped out’ of it (by gravity) or you’re just trying to perform a ‘wet exit’ – and you’re ‘entrapped’.
It’s not merely a stupid situation – it’s actually a very dangerous one.

How can such thing happen?
It’s a fact: Whitewater, sea and surf kayakers who paddle monohull sit-in kayaks (SIK) attach themselves to their boats with a watertight accessory called ‘spray skirt’. This garment is made from strong fabric, usually Neoprene reinforced with  rubber, and it’s tightly secured both to the kayak as well as to the paddler’s body by various mechanical means in order to prevent water from leaking in, or the skirt coming out of its place. Being well secured is especially important during a recovery maneuver that such SIK kayakers perform called ‘Eskimo Roll’ – when their kayak is upside down.

As in other outdoor sports the rule of thumb in kayaking is ‘Stuff Happens’. Since kayaking accidents are by definition events characterized by the reduced control the kayaker has over what’s going on, it can happen that SIK kayakers remain attached to their kayaks against their will, I.E. they are ‘entrapped’ inside to some degree.
Such situations are particularly hazardous if the accident occurs in turbulent water (E.G. big surf) and ‘rock gardens’ (beaches with underwater rocks), which is often the case.

Why am I talking about this?
W Kayaks are not equipped with such spray skirts, and W kayakers don’t perform Eskimo Rolls, and so far no one has ever reported any W Kayak accident involving any degree of ‘entrapment’.
Nevertheless, I feel it’s important to explain this issue and discuss it because it highlights the necessity for accelerating the paradigm shift in paddlesports safety: Most paddlers today wouldn’t even consider using kayaks equipped with spray skirts anymore, and they have chosen to paddle stabler kayaks rather than ones requiring paddlers to have a ‘Bomb Proof Eskimo Roll’ (I.E. 100% reliable under all circumstances).  In other words, people have generally voted against those sit-in monohull kayaks (SIK) that demand a high level of expertise in this overrated recovery maneuver that too few people can actually depend on.  The problem is that too many kayakers out there still use that type of spray skirt without possessing a ‘Bomb Proof Eskimo Roll’, and by that are exposing themselves to the danger of being ‘entrapped’ in their kayaks.

55 Comments

  1. Quebec Seakayaker

    Wavewalk, I suspect you’re not genuinely concerned about kayakers’ safety and your real motive for publishing this pseudo article is to promote your own product.
    Quebec Seakayaker

  2. admin

    You bet 😀
    Yoav

  3. Quebec Seakayaker

    The eskimo roll worked fine for thousands of years and saved many lives. Why replace it?

  4. April Leder

    Isn’t it a bit too late to ask this question? Most kayakers don’t use spray skirts anymore.
    April

  5. admin

    You need to approach this question from a historical and economic perspective: The native peoples living in the Arctic zone had to develop their kayaks as means to survive in a particularly harsh and poor environment. Their traditional kayaks were used as means to exploit a natural resource in their environment, namely animals and birds who live there. Some of the Inuit people used to roll their boats as means of recovery, and some didn’t.

    Other native people who were in contact with the Inuit for millennia could have copied that particular design but never did, simply because they could use other boats that were more suitable for them in their respective environments.

    Nobody needs kayaks to survive these days (at least I hope so), and all kayaking activities are recreational in nature.
    Most people today have chosen to paddle kayaks that are stabler than the traditional, narrow sit-in kayak. Most modern kayaks require neither spray skirt nor the Eskimo Roll that goes with it for two reasons:
    1. Modern paddlers are not compelled to paddle kayaks in order to survive or for any economic reason. They do it for fun.
    2. Modern paddlers can choose from a variety of kayak designs that better suit their needs and capabilities.

    Yoav

  6. Quebec Seakayaker

    Yoav, you’re kicking in an open door. I enjoy paddling my 17′ [edited: narrow, monohull sea kayak] and I always use a spray skirt because you can’t paddle this boat without one, at least not in open waters. According to you is there something wrong with me?

  7. admin

    I see no problem as long as you have the skills required to paddle such a kayak – ‘bomb proof’ Eskimo roll included. I hope you’ll never find yourself entrapped in this or any other kayak 😀

  8. Teargas

    I wonder how can you promote kayaking safety while your website features a movie showing you performing dangerous paddling stunts in ice covered water while wearing jeans and a sweat shirt?
    Concerned Kayaker

  9. admin

    Dear Teargas,
    I very much enjoy ice paddling but there is another dimension to consider: It’s my job (I.E. professional duty) to test the performance of the W Kayak and present the results to the public.
    Whatever risk I’m taking it’s a necessary, professional risk, and it’s only natural that I should be the one to take it.
    As for not wearing a wetsuit or dry suit on the day we shot that particular video, the reason for it was that the shooting took place in a pretty warm spring day, and most of what I’m seen doing is hard to do, especially paddling through thin ice; so I was really too hot and decided to work without my wetsuit in order to avoid overheating.
    We did all the shooting very close to shore and we were prepared for any problem, such as capsize or falling through the ice.
    That video is presented together with extensive warning, and if you think we omitted mentioning anything please let me know and I’ll be happy to consider adding it.
    Yoav

  10. Quebec Seakayaker

    OK, so sometime sea kayakers can get entrapped but in the end they all manage to rescue themselves don’t they so what’s the big deal?

  11. admin

    I think the answer to such question should come from people who either got entrapped or watched their friends get entrapped and suffer from trauma and injuries. You’ll find such stories on sea kayakers’ websites and in sea kayaking books and magazines.
    Yoav

  12. Roxane

    Wow, the wavewalk is under attack. 🙁
    Have you ever tried the WW???? If you did, you would know,
    that the Eskimo roll will never be needed in this yak.
    It won’t roll over, ever!!!! 🙂
    Well, you’d have to try real hard to dump yourself.
    I can’t use a standard kayak, due to health issues, nor can I Eskimo roll.
    The WW allows me to enjoy fishing, sitting or standing, without the fear
    of being rolled over in ruff waters while paddling or fighting a fish.
    I am a very Happy Customer and Proud owner of my Wavewalk kayak.
    You shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 🙂
    Tight Lines
    Rox

  13. Roxane

    One more thing, I’ve have tried most of the stunts with my
    Wavewalk kayak, all except for the sliding down a hill into the water
    or the ice trip, (thats only because I’m chicken) 🙂 with no problems.
    In fact, I think the Wavewalk handles even better when standing
    and paddling.
    I get all kinds of looks while I’m paddling, and always lots of
    questions on “What the heck kind of yak is that”, at the launch.

    Thanks Yoav, for a great fishing machine, without it, I would be stuck on shore.
    Rox

  14. admin

    Hi Rox, it’s great to hear from you again!
    I hope you’ve replaced your lost camera by now 🙂
    Yoav

  15. RiverGuide

    The river I currently run in my SIK has some Class II and Class III rapids, but I want to set up a kayak for fishing. So far my best choice seems to be a SOT. Have you tested the W in any kind of rapids? Results?

  16. admin

    Note that SOT kayaks are generally less stable than SIKs of comparable dimensions because you sit on top of the deck and several inches above waterline, while in the SIK you sit lower, and therefore the boat’s center of gravity (CG) is lower too. The SOT doesn’t offer better means of stabilization in ergonomic terms (I.E. posture) than the SIK does, so altogether it’s less stable than the SIK design.
    This fact can become an issue in fast moving water since unlike a SIK you can’t roll a SOT.

    We tested the W Kayak in rapids both in the riding (mounted) and standing positions, and so did customers, and the boat is doing as well as in the surf (see various demo videos on Wavewalk’s website)

  17. Moshiko

    Sik and W kayaks have their advantages but a sit on top wouldn’t fill with water if it overturns in the stream
    Moshiko

  18. Graham Rubens

    It really leaves the decision to you. Where do you want to place your bets, on a “prevention” or a “recovery” strategy.
    G

  19. Emilio

    it’s actually a very dangerous one. i’ve never been trap in my kayak but if when i was on that situation i better go for help..cause i dont want to die on a kayak…lol

    btw.

    thanks for the post!

  20. cameik

    I’ve punched holes through 6 foot waves with my [composite, lightweight] sea kayak… I tucked my paddle in close to the hull, and went on through… to paddle out past a sand bar where the waves were breaking at Longpoint on Lake Erie. The spray skirt kept all but about a few cups of water out… That said, I was at a beach where nothing really bad happened if you turfed it… and I did a few wet exits that day in the best surf I’ve been in on a lake… I got tumbled like in a washing machine while surfing in, got back in and did it again and again! The design of the [composite, lightweight] kayak has a low bow volume which gave it a tendency to submerge the whole bow as I surfed in to the beach, I was afraid of doing an endo at times and the kayak seemed very near 18 feet of verticalness as the breaking waves lifted the stern while the bow submerged! Lean forward and paddle like hell! I bet you get different results with your design with the same volume held right out to bow and stern, and it’s short length… How does your kayak handle the really big stuff, your videos show it handling 2 foot, maybe 3 foot waves alright, show us some videos of how it handles the big stuff… I really like the ergonomics of your design, but that would be my biggest concern… paddling a two pontoon submarine isn’t too much fun… Also, demonstrate how you get the water out of the twin hulls after a capsize or a swamping… can it be done in water over your head? I know, probably rare occurrence, but not impossible. We turned my [composite, lightweight kayak] over and slowly lifted it to get most of the water out… I’m up in Ontario Canada, not too far from beautiful Georgian Bay. Enjoy!

  21. admin

    I liked your ‘washing machine’ description 😀
    The maximum surf we were in was 6 ft, and that was last year – before we had any solution for a cockpit cover. I hope this year we’ll get a chance to play more in such big surf but conditions like that are uncommon where we go, in Jenness Beach, NH, although it’s a big surfers’ beach, and sometime you can see cars with license plates from NY state and Canada in the parking lot.
    Many mono kayakers (both SOT and SIK) we see there seem to have problems launching through 3-4 ft surf, and some of them give up, eventually.
    We’ll try to shoot as much video as we can.
    Yoav

  22. caveman

    Hey cameik, before ‘admin’ graciously edited your message it still had the name of your kayak… and i went to their website where a disclaimer said you should stay away from rocks when you’re paddling their high tech kayak because if it hit a rock it might crack…-Weren’t you scared when you surfed with it? It’s not just a question about being entrapped in a kayak but in a sinking one with a fractured hull that’s leaking! wooo!

  23. April Leder

    It’s scary, and assuming you manage to bail out, eventually – you still might not see your expensive kayak ever again because it’ll sink to the bottom.
    Composite boats can become brittle in cold water, and thin walled ones are more likely to crack because of stress or impact.
    April

  24. admin

    April,
    Polyethylene boats get stiffer in cold water too, especially resins that are used in touring kayaks for their higher rigidity, and they might crack as a result, although it’s less likely to happen than with composite boats that have thin walls in order to make them lighter.

    Caveman, – I changed that kayak’s brand name to a technical description simply because I don’t want people to spam this blog with covert ads, and I also wouldn’t want people to badmouth other manufacturers.

  25. April Leder

    Here is a terrible example of kayak entrapment in whitewater. It happened in Australia:
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,24348196-1243,00.html
    April

  26. Quebec Seakayaker

    This is terrible. If anyone needed a reminder on how dangerous traditional sit-in kayaks can be, this is definitely it.
    Q.S.K.

  27. Sam_P

    I expect the following knee-jerk reaction from some die-hard kayakers: “That guy was careless and must have made a serious judgment error to get stuck like that in a fallen tree.”…
    These people ignore the fact that serious kayaking accidents, including entrapment, happen to experienced kayakers as well as inexperienced ones.
    At least he stayed alive.
    Sam P

  28. Herb

    interesting discussion

  29. Forrest

    Spray skirts have a handle on the front; grab it and pull. I failed a roll yesterday, and had to do a wet exit and re-entry. It took about a second to get out of the boat. Wish I could say that was the worst experience in my life…

    Everybody has their own taste in boats, and how they use them. In high winds, strong currents, or big swells, inside the hull of a 17 foot kayak is where I prefer to be. It takes more skill to use a traditional boat, but when you need as much speed ( efficiency ) as you can get,

  30. Lawrence

    A handle! Now that changes everything, doesn’t it?
    After all, half your body may be stuck in a narrow hull, but since you’re upside down gravity is on your side, literally!
    I’ll bet most people can get out of an overturned sea kayak in less than a couple of minutes, no big deal. Those who can’t should keep practicing.

    Now I predict that once the world gets to know about the spray skirt handle millions of ordinary kayakers would convert to high efficiency sea kayaks. This will surely happen very soon since good news travel fast! Knowing that, I’m going to start stocking nose clips, since I sense their price is going to sky rocket…
    😀 😀 😀

    Larry

  31. Moshiko

    Do you put the nose clips on before or after you pull on the handle?
    Moshiko

  32. Pete

    Forrest,

    You say “In high winds, strong currents, or big swells, inside the hull of a 17 foot kayak is where I prefer to be”.
    I assume you didn’t try a W-kayak, did you? If you can’t actually compare two experiences, in what sense do you “prefer” your traditional kayak?

    Pete

  33. Warren

    nose clips?? what for?

  34. Quebec Seakayaker

    When you’re upside down in the water the air escapes your nasal cavities because it’s lighter than water. Some traditional sea kayakers use nose clips to prevent water from getting in.
    QS

  35. Warren

    nice try QS, I almost believed you for a second ! 😀
    Warren

  36. Pete

    It’s true though. QS wasn’t trying to pull your leg. It can be very unpleasant when your nasal cavities get filled with water, especially if it’s salt water.
    Pete

  37. 232yak

    Traditional sea kayaking had its good days back in the nineties, and it’s been dying since then. What’s the point in discussing it now?

  38. Sam_P

    I would say the same about traditional surf kayaking.
    Sam P

  39. tomp

    surf kayaking was never big

  40. Quebec Seakayaker

    True.
    It always seemed to me like a beach game for whitewater kayakers who just love to be trashed.
    QS

  41. noseclip

    What happens if you lose your nose clips? 😉

  42. saran312

    You’re all beating a dead horse. Sea kayaking has gone out of fashion since the late nineties, and kayak surfing has never been more than a curiosity.
    S.N

  43. WISEMAN

    Ok wavewalk, so if your new “invention” is that good how come I haven’t seen too many folks out there are using it???

  44. admin

    It takes time Wiseman, but we’re getting there – slowly but surely.
    From the time they got their patent it took the Wright brothers eight years before they sold their first airplane.
    We’ve already done far better 😀

  45. April Leder

    It seems to me that you’re doing rather well lately. The other day I actually bumped into someone who was fishing from one of your kayaks 😀
    April

  46. admin

    It did take us some time.
    To begin with, we were cash strapped, we lacked any experience in consumer marketing, and nobody knew how to mold our new type of kayak…
    On top of that we started by focusing on the kayak surfing market, which is almost non-existent.
    We thought that dealers would love to demo our product to their customers, but in fact most dealers we had viewed demos as a waste of time. They had a preference for regular kayaks that people already knew, and therefore didn’t require demos.
    Luckily, people from all over the country started to contact us and order W-kayaks for fishing and touring. So we began outfitting the boats accordingly (brilliant, isn’t it? 😀 ), and work more on our website, as well as on improving our direct customer service, which proved to be a successful strategy so far.

    Yoav

  47. Graham Rubens

    Sounds like quite a learning curve!
    Graham

  48. Quebec Seakayaker

    You do have demo movies on your website, so what was the dealers’ problem?
    QS

  49. admin

    It’s been a serious learning curve for us, including the fact we needed to learn the W-kayak’s capabilities ourselves, and that’s a big performance envelope to explore – Practically it’s a new technology in paddle sports.

    Perhaps I should have said ‘demo and instruction’. For some dealers it’s OK to show the boats they’re selling on a demo day, but it’s different when you know that you have to instruct customers on how to operate the boat, and make sure they get it – It can take time, and it certainly demands good instruction capabilities that few dealers have, or are willing to use for this purpose.
    These days we’re capable of instructing our customers through our website, by email, and by phone, and it works pretty well.

  50. Quebec Seakayaker

    It seems like you have a lot of success among people who fish from kayaks.

  51. admin

    Certainly not as much as we deserve 😉
    Kayak fishermen have have pretty much ‘adopted’ our W-kayak while we were still focused elsewhere.
    Jeff McGovern is a client who took upon himself to educate us about kayak fishing, and his direct contribution to our website, as well as indirect contribution through what he taught us has been a critical component in our success.
    Other customers turned fans and friends also contributed a lot – in their technical innovations, stories, ideas, comments and critique.
    It seems like one of the reasons this ‘yak’ appeals so much to kayak fishermen is because it offers them great opportunities for fun ‘rigging’ projects (‘outfitting’ in paddlers’ language).
    Yoav

  52. cameik

    Hmmm, I was noticing a small edit to my post may 20th 2008, replacing my Kayak’s name with ‘Composite, lightweight’… I must correct this wording to say rotomoulded tupperware heavyweight lump! This thing is up near 65 pounds before you load yourself and your gear into it. I shouldn’t be so harsh, it is sleek, I can paddle circles around my friend in his “other brand heavier lumpier tupperware.

    Another comment was made about wiether I was afraid of grounding on rocks, and no… Longpoint Ontario is a huge sand point angled out into Lake Erie, where I have yet to find a rock anywhere on about 60 miles of beach! This was a very big part of my choice for sea kayaking in 6 footers, not a rock to be found nope, not quite foolish enough to surf in on, say, the granite shores of Georgian Bay…
    I’ve completed exactly one roll in my ‘rotomolded tupperware heavy lump’ I’ve attempted many, and only completed it once. I think my kayak is more difficult than some to roll. Once upside down, it wants to stay that way, the edge bouyancy resists righting the boat.

    About kayak entrapment: I’ve found the opposite, that I have difficulty staying in the kayak to complete the roll, never mind ever feeling trapped!
    If you relax at all, you simply fall out, your spray skirt releases and out you pop, you are now swimming beside a very difficult to re-enter narrow boat. I’ve completed a kayak self-rescue circus act shinnying down the hole, while trying not to tip(without the benefit of a paddle to brace with- I actually did this once without a paddle-float), strapping myself in, applying the sprayskirt, (no easy task in large waves), putting a large bilge pump down through the skirt and pumping for about 20 minutes straight to get enough water out for the kayak to be paddleable.

    There’s many people very proud of thier bomb-proof rolls. And with good reason! They are a kayaker’s pinnacle achievement, maintaining your cool while water jets up into your sinuses, (unless you paddle everywhere wearing your noseclip) and thinking of the correct righting movement sequence while upside down, holding your breath, trying not to fall out, break the seal of your sprayskirt, while worried about the consequences…
    Now you really gotta respect those whitewater kayakers! They wear a helmet for good reason! A whack to the head while carreening inverted downstream would mean you just don’t quite get to even try your bomb-proof roll! They find you 15 miles downstream… I never quite got up the courage to do serious whitewater, and now I already have enough dings, I’ll stick to more relaxed pursuits, and have a little fun in the waves now and then…

    How is the wavewalk when it gets swamped? How difficult is emptying the water and re-entry in rough conditions in water over your head? It would seem to me that entry over either end between the hulls would be easy as pie, but how is it with two completely swamped pontoons and very little floatation? Maybe include a video of this on your website, as I’m sure many people considering your craft might be concerned about this.

  53. admin

    Cameik,

    You don’t re-enter a W-kayak from the space between its hull tips unless you’re a skinny kid. You do it riding over the boat with a leg on each side. Our website’s online user manual offers re-entry instructions in case you capsize in deep water:
    http://www.wavewalk.com/FISHING_KAYAK_USER_MANUAL.html#CAPSIZE_RECOVERY
    That section includes an online instruction movie that was shot in moving water. I’m including it here for your convenience:

    The hulls rarely get completely filled with water – usually there’s more water in the hull that was lower when the boat got overturned, and the other hull either stays dry or has little water in it.
    Removing the excess water gets done quite easily, preferably with a small hand bucket, or a bilge pump.
    In any case, you’re not required to paddle sitting in water, since the water gets drained from the saddle to the bottom of the hulls.

    Yoav

  54. Floyyd Walker

    I enjoy the design of this boat, especially for an angler. However, based on the comments and video’s and designs, I think your sales pitch and figures are off a bit.

    I have been kayaking for 13 years and teach new kayakers how to paddle rec boats (SIK)’s. The only real concern is if your foot gets caught while capsizing, wet exiting, or you get caught in a pinned situation in white-water or an undertow. Entrapment is extremely rare, though the most likely reasons people are afraid of kayaking. If you capsize, gravity pulls you out. I always wear a spray-skirt and understanding how to wet-exit is something you need to learn before you wear one. Spray-skirits can also get stuck by improper fastening of the pull-cord. One should always carry a small knife in their PFD to prevent this or other “snags”.

    I think the averaged (Semi-Seasoned) kayak could get back in a SIK faster than your video. I paddle all sorts of boats, and I enjoy my modified ocean cockpit that requires a rather difficult wet-exit if I cannot perform a Bomb-Proof Eskimo Roll. The video depicts a man getting back on-top of the boat. There are 1/2 foot waves. Maybe getting someone who has a little bit more skill of physical strength would help sell your product?

    Good boat though, looks like a Kayak Pontoon boat. Maybe a little bigger and you can put a small gas grill on it for cooking those well sought out fish?

  55. W kayak

    Floyyd,
    Most people think that kayaking should be fun, and not require constant practicing of the Eskimo Roll with nose clips, tight spray skirts, getting wet. etc.
    Most people have never adhered to your favorite kayaking techniques, and the number of people who did has dwindled to a trickle in recent years.
    Traditional sea kayaking has lost whatever little appeal it had a decade or two ago.
    People want to have fun paddling stable and dry kayaks, and not worry about whether their Eskimo Roll is bombproof or not.
    Most people don’t even want to consider the possibility of entrapment in a SIK, and they don’t want to think about the odds of getting entrapped, or merely being unable to accomplish a good roll, and ‘let gravity do it’s thing…’ .
    People like yourself should not delude themselves that your favorite kayaking techniques still have some appeal to the public – they don’t.

    And BTW, the W kayak features deep hulls, not pontoons, and we prefer showing the W kayak with real people in real-life situations, as much as possible, rather than stage situations and pay supreme athletes to demonstrate our product. It’s not our way.
    I’m afraid you won’t find an attentive audience on this blog.

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