Epic Kayaks

Tandem Re-enter and Pump Recovery

By Wayne Horodowich

As with all kayaks every different design has its advantages and disadvantages. Paddling a double is no exception. When it comes to recoveries a double can be heavy and cumbersome. However, having two people in the water does have its plus side. When in a single kayak it is very difficult for many paddlers to climb back into their kayak without some type of support for their kayak. If you are in a double you have that built in support via your partner.

If you and your partner paddle a double without company (double soloing) you have the resources to do an assisted recovery even though the both of you are alone together. Since doubles are heavier (especially when loaded for a trip) and they can scoop more water the traditional re-enter and pump recovery is a must have in you recovery arsenal. Of course you will need to have at least one pump along. I recommend that each person have their own pump and paddle float whenever and whatever they paddle. We will discuss paddle float use in double paddle float recovery.

After you capsize you and your partner should get to opposite side of your double kayak. Of course you both maintained contact with your paddle and your kayak during the wet exit phase. Righting a double can take a bit of effort especially if it is full of camping gear.

One paddler should push up on the double by their cockpit and the other should be ready to pull it over the rest of the way by grabbing a deck line or the cockpit when it comes into reach. Going down to the stern can also give you leverage to right the double. Just be careful not to get hit by the rudder when you are down there.

Remember, the slower the kayak rolls upright the more water it scoops. Faster movements can mean less pumping time. Jumping over the hull and falling back and rolling the double upright is another option but it does scoop more water.

Once upright, I recommend to store your paddles under the deck rigging so you both have your hands free for stabilizing and and climbing back in.

I recommend the rear paddler climb back into their cockpit first. The other paddler needs to counter balance the double while the rear paddler re-enters. The advantage to having the rear paddle re-enter first is they will be able to watch the second paddler re-enter without having to turn around.

Keep in mind the kayak can move in either direction so be ready to counteract as needed. Another advantage to this process is the greater stability of most doubles compared to singles. There are some doubles so stable many can climb back in without anyone stabilizing. However, some doubles have decks higher off the water which makes it more difficult for climbing back on. This is a good time to use the stirrup around the cockpit coaming (see stirrup recoveries).

As with all recoveries the paddler who is re-entering should keep their bodies low to the deck to make it easier for the stabilizer.

Once the rear paddler is comfortably back in their seat and ready to use their paddle for a brace, the bow paddler can do their re-entry. The stern paddler should use a sculling brace for support. They should be sculling on the same side as the bow paddler.

I recommend using an extended paddle sculling brace because of the added leverage. I also recommend you lean toward your brace so the kayak is tilted for easier access for your partner. Leaning also keeps the kayak from flipping to the opposite side when your partner is rocking the kayak as they climb back on.

If you do use an extended paddle brace you need to be ready to quickly mover your hands so you can brace on the opposite side should the need arise. This is a good time to use a paddle float if you do not have a reliable sculling brace. The paddle float is used for support and stability for the person who should be doing the sculling brace.

When the second paddler is in their cockpit and stable you can decide if the both of you should pump or have one pump and the other person paddle. The advantage for one paddling is the stability you get when paddling. If stability is not an issue then two pumps do the job a lot faster. Whether you pump with your skirts over the cockpit or not is dependent on the conditions.

As always good communication between the double partners is vital. Since you need each other for stability you need to know what the other is about to do. If you expect stability and it is not there you are back to square one.

A variation is to have the front paddler get in first and then they do a sculling brace while the rear paddler climbs in. This should be done if the front paddler has a better brace. The disadvantage to this option is the feeling of instability to the front paddler as the rear paddler climbs on. It is harder to anticipate the proper counter balance needed when you cannot see the person climbing it.

Another way to stabilize the double while your partner is climbing in is to hang on to the bow and wrap your feet up around the deck. Try it with your double partner to see if you get enough control and stability.

If the first paddler has difficulty climbing on, you may be able to pull them up from the opposite side and still counter balance the kayak as the get back into their cockpit. (No picture available)

As I mentioned earlier, every kayak has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Paddling a double with your partner gives you the benefit of an assisted recovery with only having one kayak.

Of course you and your partner should practice this recovery for maximum speed in calm water so you will have a better chance of success in rough conditions. If possible go out with friends in controlled rough conditions and try the re-enter and pump recovery. The more you practice the greater your chance of having a reliable recovery when you need it.


Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.

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