skillset: The “Bow Tip Out” Assisted Rescue
This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.
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by Alex Matthews
The bow tip-out rescue is quick, dependable, and can be performed reliably in all but really rough conditions. It also has the great advantage of emptying most of the water from a capsized kayak before the swimmer re-enters it.
This rescue depends on the capsized kayak having appropriate floatation fore and aft—waterproof compartments sealed by bulkheads at both the bow and stern are best, but float bags that are securely held in place also work.
The rescuer approaches the bow of the capsized kayak, positioning him/herself perpendicular to the boat in a T formation. Don’t be overly concerned about achieving the perfect position, as the rescue will work from almost any angle. Focus instead on getting a good grip on the capsized boat’s bow.
To secure a good grip on the bow, commit your weight onto the capsized boat. Even upside down, a kayak has plenty of floatation and will easily support you. With one hand on the keel, reach across your body with the other and grip the bow’s grab-handle—this will put you in a great position to pull the boat up onto your deck.
Direct the swimmer to his stern (we’re assuming the swimmer is a man for this discussion) and have him press down on it by getting his chest up onto the keel. This will raise the bow of the inverted kayak, at which point you should decisively yank it across your spray deck. Once the bow is elevated, water inside will flow down toward the stern bulkhead, and drain out. It is not necessary to lift the bow above your deck—simply getting it to rest across your spray-deck will empty most of the water.
Next, rotate the kayak upright, taking care that if it has a rudder it doesn’t contact the swimmer. You can now pull the swimmer’s kayak in parallel to your own boat and stabilize it for reentry. Commit fully to bracing the swimmer’s kayak by leaning your body weight aggressively onto the other boat. A good strategy is to have your armpit above the foredeck’s centerline. Maintain a grip on the boat’s perimeter lines rather than the cockpit rim as this will greatly reduce the risk of getting kicked in the hands when the swimmer re-enters.
One of the challenges in any rescue is managing paddles. Up to this point, the swimmer should keep his paddle in-hand, but for re-entry it’s easier to have both hands free. The swimmer’s paddle can now be stashed under a deck line, or passed to the rescuer. When performing a rescue I generally keep my paddle in my lap, were I can pin it under my forearms, or I tuck it under my arm or a deck-line. I also love using a paddle leash in situations where I am likely to want both hands free (taking photos, fishing, doing rescues...).
Maintaining contact with his boat, the swimmer now moves to the side of his kayak, to a point just behind the cockpit. With a good grip on the cockpit rim and a powerful kick of the legs, the swimmer hauls himself up onto his kayak’s stern deck. Staying chest down and low to the deck, the swimmer places a hand over onto the rescuer’s boat to help keep the kayaks together. With his head toward the stern, the swimmer lifts his legs into the cockpit, and then slides in while twisting into a sitting position. Staying low throughout this maneuver maximizes stability.
Once the swimmer is back aboard, maintain a grip on his boat until his spray-deck is on and you are confident that you are both ready to proceed and have a clear plan of action.
If conditions are really rough and a bow tip-out is proving too difficult, don’t waste time struggling with the bow. Instead, simply get alongside the capsized boat, grab it, and flip it upright. Then stabilize the boat for re-entry and pump the water out once the swimmer is back in. This is sometimes called the “parallel park and pump” or “PPP.” It isn’t the prettiest rescue, but in truly challenging conditions it is often best. Remember, all rescues should clearly focus on outcome (getting the swimmer to safety) and not on any one particular technique or strategy.