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.

man swims alongside his fishing kayak after flipping it
If only this angler was wearing a PFD when he went overboard. | Feature Photo: Dustin Doskocil

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.

This article was first published in the Summer 2019 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

If only this angler was wearing a PFD when he went overboard. | Feature Photo: Dustin Doskocil



  1. first thing i did when i bought my new boat, stripped it down, left life jacket on (for real world effect) and paddle out about 25 yrd off shore and dumped it

    great article and a key lesson for any paddler

  2. As a retired firefighter who was trained extensively in swift water rescue in the flash flood capital of Texas, this is the most potentially life saving story on Kayakanglermag to date.

  3. This all goes back to the basic reality , most kayak fishermen/women are anglers, not paddlers. They don’t have the skill sets of a kayaker, merely using a boat that is incorrectly called a kayak and therefore christening themselves as “kayakers” without taking the time to learn the nuances of paddling such crafts. “Kayaking” is a water sport, you should plan on getting wet! Think safety before working about catching fish. Those of us who do kayak with traditional crafts have been fishing out of them for decades. You can fish out of anything, those fishing skills don’t change, but you need to learn the skills of the craft in which you are on the water.

  4. It’s important to consider that sometimes the conditions that might have caused you to flip are still there as you try to right your boat and climb in. Hopefully the boat will still be upright and it’s you that has to re-enter. Remember, too, swim up by kicking your outstretched legs and not by being vertical and trying a ‘pull-up’ entry. Also, pool sessions are OK for going through the basics, but try to practice in open water (not shallow water you can stand in and “cheat” about climbing aboard by jumping off the bottom. It’s a good ideal to take everyone who might be going on a group paddle to practice once, also – the reality fo doing it for real is different from a tamer, controlled set-up…and yes, practice with your PFD on…sliding aboard a floating craft with a puffy life jacket on your torso is an extra but necessary challenge.


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