If only this angler had read The Scary Truth About Why Paddlesports Fatalities Are On The Rise he might have been wearing his PFD

My eyes popped when I read 59 percent of Kayak Angler readers have never fallen out of their boats (read the article here). I find this alarming for one simple reason. Every paddler needs to fall out of his boat. On purpose. More than once. It could save your life.

I guarantee Jens Rasmussen 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 industrial safety. He is best known for his introduction of risk systems and his theories of how we deal with uncertainty. Falling from your kayak or paddleboard, adds an element of uncertainty to your day.

[ Also read: Why You Need To Rig To Flip Your Kayak ]

Rasmussen’s mandate states, 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. I’ll boil down his elaborate treatise. The professor says, no matter how skilled, experienced or careful, eventually we are going to find ourselves in a situation at the limits of our ability.

Uncertainty is the reality of our dynamic outdoor environment. Wind, building waves, powerboats, swirling currents, and tangled rigging quickly takes us out of the comfort zone. When we near boundary conditions, we need to first recognize and then deal with the risk to save our gear and skin.

So coping skill number one is falling off your kayak or paddleboard. Put on your life jacket, find a calm location near shore and intentionally fall overboard.

you will realize it is actually pretty difficult to flip a fishing kayak

Leave your good rods in the truck, but I suggest including a beater combo to test rod leashes and righting a kayak sporting a seven-foot pole. 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. Test the limits. Once the boat passes the point of no return, it will invert quickly.

With the kayak upside down, you’ll notice a huge mess. Water bottles, tackle boxes, gear bags will be floating in every direction. This is called a yard sale for good reason.

Then it’s time to right the boat, climb in and collect your gear (Learn how to re-enter your kayak here). While practicing these protocols will improve performance under pressure, the point of the exercise is primarily to test your abilities. How do you deal with confusion, surprise and panic accompanying Rasumussen’s uncertainty?

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.

You’ll discover your rod and paddle leashes tangle. Your fish finder is in the way. The tackle crate breaks loose. Don’t lose the paddle. Does your PFD keep you afloat? The only way to learn these lessons is the hard way.

This approach to coping skills at the boundaries is 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.

The training is scalable. Leave the 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.

Whitewater kayakers cheerfully claim every paddler is between swims. Kayak fishing, on the other hand, is surprisingly safe and sound. We rarely go overboard. Still, testing the boundaries builds confidence under normal circumstances and defines limits when things go wrong.

Jeff Jackson is a college professor with a Ph.D. in safety management. He puts his degree to work as head guide at Algonquin Fly Fishing in the Ottawa Valley, Canada.

If only this angler had read The Scary Truth About Why Paddlesports Fatalities Are On The Rise he might have been wearing his PFD | Featured 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.


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