My eyes opened wide when I read that 59 percent of Kayak Angler readers have never fallen out of their boats. I find this alarming for one simple reason: every paddler needs to fall out of his or her boat. Repeatedly. Really, knowing how to flip your fishing kayak could save your life.
Embrace The Uncertainty of Flipping Your Boat
I guarantee Jens Rasmussen was never cast from a kayak, but we can learn a lot from his research. A Danish professor of risk management, Rasmussen was hugely influential in the field of industrial safety. He is best known for his introduction of risk systems and his theories of how we deal with uncertainty.
Rasmussen’s mandate states that, in addition to building skills to keep us out of trouble—like learning to paddle well so we avoid falling in the water—we also need to learn coping skills at the boundaries. I love this line. The professor says, no matter how skilled, experienced or careful we may be, eventually we are going to find ourselves in a situation at the limits of our ability to handle.
Uncertainty is the reality of our dynamic outdoor environment. Falling from your kayak or paddleboard certainly adds an element of uncertainty to your day. Wind, building waves, powerboats, swirling currents, and tangled rigging all quickly take us out of our comfort zone. When we near boundary conditions, we need to first recognize and then deal with the risk to save our gear and our skin.
Go Overboard to Learn How to Cope
For paddlers, the most important coping skill is falling off your kayak or paddleboard, so put on your life jacket and find a calm location near shore to practice intentionally falling overboard. Leave your good rods in the truck, but I suggest including a beater combo to test your rod leashes. It’s more difficult to right a kayak sporting a seven-foot pole and other gear, so rig the boat as you would for a typical fishing trip. Include electronics, cooler, paddle leash and tackle crate. Start out flipping the empty kayak. Then, add gear and go overboard again.
First, you will realize it is actually pretty difficult to flip a fishing kayak. These boats are designed with substantial secondary stability to stay upright, so spend some time testing their limits. Your boat will invert quickly once it passes the point of no return.
With the kayak upside down, you’ll notice a huge mess. Water bottles, tackle boxes and dry bags will be floating in every direction. This is called a “yard sale” for good reason. You’ll discover your rod and paddle leashes tangle. Your fish finder is in the way. The tackle crate breaks loose. Don’t lose your paddle! Does your PFD keep you afloat? The only way to learn these lessons is the hard way.
Next, it’s time to right the boat, so climb in and collect your gear. Flip over and climb in several times. For many people, reentering will be very difficult—and exhausting. This is the point. You are building coping skills, developing mental strength more than physical ability.
Facing Failure Builds Your Confidence
While practicing these protocols will improve your performance under pressure, the point of the exercise is primarily to test your abilities as they currently stand. How do you deal with the confusion, surprise and panic that can accompany Rasmussen’s uncertainty?
Building coping skills at the boundaries is an approach called training to fail. Understanding the limitations of our abilities, dealing with panic or confusion and recognizing failure before it arrives are key safety skills.
This training is adaptable to many types of conditions. Leave your gear at home and paddle swirly water or modest surf so you will know what to expect when a fish is on the line. Climbing instructors, raft guides and sea kayak certification programs have embraced failure as a means of learning competency and building safety skills.
Be Prepared to Flip Your Fishing Kayak
Whitewater kayakers cheerfully claim every paddler is between swims. Kayak fishing, on the other hand, is surprisingly safe and sound when it comes to flipping. We rarely go overboard. Still, testing the boundaries builds confidence under normal circumstances and defines limits when things go wrong.
If only this angler was wearing a PFD when he went overboard. | Feature Photo: Dustin Doskocil