One of the many reasons why a kayaker may choose a sit-on-top kayak for kayaking instead of a sit-in kayak is because they can make the process of deep water re-entry significantly easier to accomplish in the water. However, there are still many kayakers who may have trouble executing this important skill in situations where they most need it. The primary reason most people who have difficulty with this process do is because they may not have the necessary body strength to lift themselves up out of the water and into the kayak. Other people may have difficulty making sure their personal floatation devices, bellies, or chests clear the gunwale of the kayak. There are some sit on top kayaks that are designed with very high sides to reduce the risk of water entry during choppy conditions, while there are other sit on top kayaks that are extremely prone to tipping, which can make the process of re-entry a difficult one. Other physical limitations and difficulties with coordination can also come into play. The solution is to use paddle floats and rescue stirrups to help with re-entry for sit-on-top kayakers after they suffer capsizes. These pieces of gear can really come in handy when you find other kayakers who are in trouble, when you have group members who can’t get themselves back in their kayaks, and when you yourself have trouble executing the traditional procedures for deep water re-entry.
The first step to using the paddle float and re-entry stirrup is to have them both handy in your kayak before an emergency. This might seem obvious and forgettable, but most people forget obvious things now and then, and the best re-entry device in the world becomes useless if you don’t have it around you when you fall out of your kayak. You will never quite know when you are going to be thrown into the water in an emergency, so it is best to be prepared. Preparation for deep water re-entry comes with practice. You will want to practice with your equipment long before you try get into open and rougher waters. You should try this technique when you are in calm waters close to shore, and it is always a good idea to have a friend nearby to assist you if you run into trouble.
When you tip your kayak, you will need to keep some kind of hold on your paddle so it does not drift out of reach in the open water. It is a good idea to have a paddle leash ready for such a purpose. At the same time, you will not want to have your kayak drift out of reach either; keep a hold on it. Once you have your kayak and paddle secured and have regained your bearings in the water, you will want to mount the float and the stirrup. It does not matter whether you choose to start by mounting the stirrup or by mounting the float; go with what is more comfortable for you. The traditional spot for mounting via paddle float is just behind the cockpit on the sit-in-side. However, you can mount either from the front of the cockpit or from the back, depending on your setup and preferences.
In either scenario, you will want to loop one part of your stirrup loop so it goes over your paddle shaft close to the blade. You will then throw the rope past the cockpit and keep the far paddle blade a little beyond the gunwale on the far side so the paddle shaft forms a right angle across the kayak. Then you reach underneath the kayak so you can get the stirrup. If you push the kayak from you that will help push the rope under the kayak hull into arm’s reach. Then you will want to make several loops around the paddle shaft while the stirrup remains in the water. You will want your foothold to be very close to the surface of the water; you can adjust how high the foothold is by the amount of rope you wrap around the paddle shaft. Mount the paddle float, blow up the air chambers, and climb into your kayak.