Why Kayak Flotation Matters

4-minute read + 14-minute video

Kayaking safety should always be top-of-mind, especially if you take your kayak further than a small local lake and plan to paddle in all weather conditions. “Kayak flotation” is one of those safety topics you need to understand.

Dan Arbuckle from Headwaters Kayak tests two different kayak models to see how they float when capsized. How easy will this boat be to get back in or get to shore? Watch the video below to see:

Flotation Test 1: Oru Folding Kayak

The Oru Inlet is Oru’s most popular recreational kayak. Light and portable, Oru kayaks are “origami kayaks”—they fold for easy assembly, storage and transport.

Float bags in the Oru’s bow and stern add a ton of buoyancy should this kayak fill with water in a capsize. Be sure the bags are firmly attached though, or they could be pushed out by water pressure as Dan discovered.

The Oru is very light (just 20 pounds), so it was easy for Dan to lift it while he was in the water and empty it almost completely. He was able to climb back in unassisted—something you definitely should practice on a warm, sunny day until you’re proficient! Kayaking with at least one friend means you’ll have someone to help you, which is much easier.

NOTE: Don’t lose sight of your paddle! Keep it in-hand or in your kayak at all times.

Why You Need to Dress for Immersion

Because of the cold water temperature of the lake where they shot this video, Dan says, “I would be absolutely incapacitated if it wasn’t for this [dry]suit. I’m cold and shaking with insulating layers and a drysuit on. And it goes without saying, a life jacket.”

Take the water temperature seriously. If the water you paddle would be dangerously cold if you were in it for more than a few minutes, dress as if you’ll be in it for more than a few minutes. In the unlikely event of a capsize you’ll protect yourself long enough for a rescue.

Read: What to Wear Kayaking—Dress for Immersion

man about to climb back in a capsized kayak

The Eddyline stayed much more buoyant with its watertight bulkheads

Flotation Test 2: Eddyline Sky10

The first thing Dan notices when capsizing Eddylline’s Sky10 with its built-in bulkheads is that it’s hard for him to fill it with water. The bulkheads keep it sitting above the water so a minimal amount got inside.

This boat is about 12 pounds heavier than the Oru, so you may or may not be able to empty the rest from the water like Dan does. It depends on your strength. But with less water inside to begin with, you’re already at an advantage. Again, Dan is able to climb back on without assistance.

Whatever kayak you have, you’ll want to practice self-rescue until it’s easy for you. If you’re unable to get back in without help, then be sure to always paddle with at least one other person.

“The biggest difference,” says Dan, “is that I only have about an inch of water in my boat. If I had my bailer I could just bail out the rest of the water and continue on my paddle.”

Flotation Test 3: Oru Folding Kayak Without Flotation Bags

Next Dan brings the Oru out after removing the float bags to see what a difference they make. Once capsized, the water fills it fairly quickly. And with the water inside, the Oru is unstable and hard to manage. It would be challenging to swim it to shore.

By applying a technique used for swamped canoes—holding it overhead and tipping back and forth until the water spills out of the wide-open cockpit—Dan is able to empty most of the water and flip it back over to re-enter.

The Oru has “bulkheads” but they’re not watertight. So in a situation like this they won’t keep water from filling the ends.

Dan Arbuckle sitting in a submerged Oru kayak

Without the float bags, the Oru was mostly underwater (photo courtesy of Headwaters Kayak)

Flotation Test Conclusion

You need to know how your kayak will act in a capsize. If it’s a small rec boat without watertight bulkheads, understand it’ll fill with water quickly and be very hard to empty from the water or pull to shore. Dress accordingly and paddle accordingly (stay closer to shore and on smaller water).

If your kayak has watertight bulkheads you’re in much better shape for emptying water out of it and being able to continue paddling. You still want to dress accordingly, especially if you’re on dangerously cold water.

Either way, it’s always safer to kayak with others. Not only is it a fun way to spend time with your friends or family, rescue is much easier with some help in the case of an emergency situation.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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