Although kayaks are very stable, if you fish from one for long there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll find yourself taking an unscheduled swim. Whether you use a sit-on-top or a sit-inside, the proper self-rescue technique is one of the most important kayak fishing skills you can learn. We’ve compiled a list of simple steps to follow for both types of boat.

How to Self-Rescue in a Fishing Kayak

Sit-On-Top vs. Sit-Inside

One of the huge advantages of sit-on-top kayaks is that they are so easy to get back into from the water. Sit-inside kayaks simply don’t provide this flexibility—they hold water and are unstable right up until the point that you have settled back into the cockpit and pumped out the water. But with a little practice and some help from a friend, you can learn to quickly and reliably re-enter a sit-on-top or a sit-inside.


Kayak anglers practice doing a self-rescue on the water while fishing
The proper self-rescue technique is one of the most important kayak fishing skills you can learn. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley

Re-entering a Sit-On-Top Kayak

1 Set Up

Hopefully your kayak didn’t actually flip over. If it did, right your boat by approaching it from the side and scrambling over the hull to grab the far edge and pulling it towards you. Once the kayak is right-side-up, position yourself alongside the kayak by the seat. You can keep your paddle in one hand, slide it under your deck lines, or give it to your buddy.

2 Kick and Push

With a firm grip on the kayak, let your legs float to the surface behind you. Then give a powerful kick with your legs and push with your arms to haul your chest up onto the kayak.

3 Spin and Drop

Draw your body fully on top of the kayak, keeping your weight low. Once you’re up on the boat, twist your body around and settle into the seat.

4 Pull Your Legs In

The final step is to pull your legs back onto the boat. The whole process may not look pretty, but it works!

Tip: If you face this situation in the real world it likely won’t be in calm conditions. Practice your technique on calm water, then move to rougher water and try again. Always wear your PFD and practice with a buddy.

Re-entering a Sit-Inside Kayak

1 Right the Boat

The quicker you can flip the boat upright, the less water will get scooped inside. Although you can flip the kayak upright yourself from the water, it is easier if your buddy helps by lifting an end as you roll the kayak.

2 Climb Back In

Your paddling partner can stabilize the kayak by positioning his kayak parallel to yours, gripping it with both hands, and leaning his whole body over onto it. As long as he has a good grip on the kayak, there’s virtually no chance of his flipping himself. You can then use virtually the same re-entry technique outlined here for a sit-on-top kayak.

3 Pump Out the Water

Once you’re back inside, you’ll have a fair amount of water in the boat to deal with. This is where a bilge pump comes in handy. Be sure to keep your pump easily accessible, but also secure enough that it doesn’t float away when you capsize. If you’re close to shore, head to dry land and empty your boat there.

Note: This article was adapted from Kayak Fishing: The Ultimate Guide by Captain Scott Null and Joel McBride, published by Heliconia Press.

The proper self-rescue technique is one of the most important kayak fishing skills you can learn. | Feature photo: Jock Bradley



  1. Getting into a traditional kayak is not as hard as you infer, and righting and re-entering a SOT Fishing “kayak” is not always as easy as you suggest either. Using a spray skirt minimizes water entering a traditional boat and massive amounts of cumbersome gear mounted all over an SOT means less room to maneuver on deck and weighty/obstructive gear to have to overcome to right an overturned boat. Minimizing recovery techniques is misleading when it comes to the seriousness of dealing with capsize and re-entry efforts. Be Smart; Be Safe; Have Fun!


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