How to Do a Wet Exit from a Kayak

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This article is part of our series: Kayaking Safety and Rescue Techniques

Instructor mid flip in his kayak

A snugly fitting spray skirt keeps things nice and dry inside your boat. But how do you avoid being trapped if the boat flips? When it’s swimmin’ time—you need to vamoose via a wet exit.

 Here’s a quick overview of the steps you’ll take for a kayak wet exit:

  1. Brace to prevent the capsize.
  2. Lean forward if you do capsize.
  3. Slide your hand along your cockpit coaming to the grab loop—give it a yank!
  4. Put hands on cockpit sides and push knees together.
  5. Push yourself forward and let your PFD do the rest.

Success is easily measured, too: When your PFD bobs you to the surface, no one deducts points for technique errors. And, no matter how cautious you are as a paddler, you never know when conditions will conspire to require this skill.

It’s essential to learn the wet exit from an experienced guide or instructor, and to practice it in a calm, safe environment with a partner or lifeguard present until it’s second nature.



Video: How to Wet Exit


Before You Capsize

a kayak spray skirt with grab loop properly positioned for a wet exit when needed
  • As you head out on the water, double-check to be sure your spray skirt's grab loop is on the outside of the cockpit coaming and in front of you.

  • If you feel your boat rolling over, try to perform a brace to prevent capsizing. A quick, well-executed brace can right you, so you can abandon the wet exit routine rather than your boat. If you don’t know how, read How to Brace or, better yet, sign up for a class.


When You Capsize

a kayaker taking a deep breath and holding onto their paddle as they capsize
If you do find yourself capsizing, try to remain calm. Then follow these simple steps:
  1. Try to hold on to your paddle. (Don’t obsess: If you lose it, simply retrieve it quickly after you pop out of the water.)
  2. Take a quick breath of air before you go underwater.
  3. Lean as far forward as you can (the “kissing the deck” position). This sets you up for an easy exit.



When You’re Underwater

This is when a Zen-like demeanor pays dividends. (Pro tip: You can whack the bottom of your boat to alert rescuers.) Here are your essential steps:

an underwater shot of a kayaker removing themselves from their kayak during a wet exit

Remove Your Spray Skirt

  1. Grab the sides of the cockpit's coaming with your hands. (If you managed to keep ahold of your paddle, use your free hand.)
  2. Slide your hand(s) forward until you locate the spray skirt's grab loop.
  3. Grasp the loop and pull. (Don’t worry: Even a super-snug skirt will pop off with a nice adrenaline-fueled yank. If it hangs up, pull the loop forward, then up.)


Remove Yourself

  1. Place your hands on the sides of cockpit coaming—next to your hips. (Think of this process as sliding off a big pair of pants.)
  2. Bring your knees together to disengage them from the thigh braces.
  3. Push off of the coaming, propelling yourself forward.
  4. Your PFD will do the rest, floating you up to the surface.



When You’re Back Above Water

a kayaker above the water, after a wet exit
If your paddle got away, retrieve it now. Also grab your boat. Now it’s time for a rescue—righting and re-entering your boat. You should also learn rescue techniques when you learn how to do a wet exit. Your best way to learn, of course, is with proper instruction.