Capsizing is one of the most unpleasant situations encountered by kayakers. Also known as flipping, rollover, or overturning, capsizing occurs when a kayak rolls beyond its physical limit to recover and tips completely over.

In some cases the kayak will remain upside down while in others it may continue rolling until it is oriented normally. The act of reversing a capsized kayak is called righting.

Most spills can avoided by practicing safe paddling and avoiding situations where the risk of capsizing is high. In other situations, such as in whitewater kayaker, paddlers are actually trained to execute and recover from rollovers.


Capsizing can be caused or influenced by a variety of factors, including:

  • shifting loads (occupants or gear)
  • currents
  • waves
  • wakes
  • collisions
  • excessive weight (including water in the cockpit)


Unlike whitewater kayaks, recreational sit-in and sit-on kayaks are not designed to retain the paddle during a capsizing event. If a sit-on kayak overturns, a paddler is usually able to right the craft, climb back on and continue kayaking. For sit-in models, the situation can be much more serious.

When a sit-in recreational kayak capsizes, paddlers are usually ejected. A best case situation occurs when paddlers are not injured and can recover the kayak, paddles, and other equipment.

Following a mishap, moving to a shoreline or shallow area may allow the kayak can be righted, drained, and the situation accessed.

In less fortunate cases, a suitable landing area may not be accessible. Some kayakers prepare for the possibility of capsizing by carrying a special inflatable bladder and a de-watering pump.

Bladders are used to displace water in a capsized kayak, which may allow the paddler to then right the craft and proceed to pump out excess water. Once the craft is righted and de-watered, entering the craft from the water can remain a considerable challenge.


To avoid capsizing recreational kayaks, paddlers typically:

  • avoid dangerous water conditions (large boat wakes, steep waves, fast currents, etc.)
  • avoid unsafe movements (standing, leaning, over-reaching)
  • practice safe loading; pack low and prevent loads from shifting; avoid overloading
  • control water from entering sit-in models; de-water immediately when necessary.


Related Information


Kayaking Dangers