Sooner rather than later, every newbie kayaker will wish they could roll the kayak to right it after a capsize. 

For the less experienced kayakers, a capsize means a moment of panic, then snatching at the spray deck toggle and an undignified wriggle to swim free of the kayak. 

Not only does it look much cooler if you can right the boat from within, but it's also a crucial step towards being able to tackle more challenging paddles. Plus, by the time you're running rivers and shooting rapids, it's about the most important safety tool in the book: keeping you and your boat together. 

Rolling looks difficult, but it's not. The problem is that you rarely think clearly when head down underwater. 

So, the key is practice and lots of it. Roll repeatedly until the move is committed to muscle memory, and you can accomplish it without engaging your brain. 

If you've read up on this topic before, you'll have encountered many different names for what sound like different rolls. Don't be fooled, though—they're all variants of the same move. Master one, and you should be able to manage any of them. 

Here are the key steps to how to roll a kayak. 


Step 1: Controlled capsize 

  • Find some quiet, smooth, open water for your first attempts. Think about recruiting a mate to come and keep an eye out in case you get into difficulties. 
  • Set yourself up for the roll by holding your paddle at the surface of the water parallel to the kayak. It is best to do this on your non-dominant side—for example if you're right-handed, on the left and if you're a leftie, on the right. 
  • Read to the end before taking the next step, as you're about to go sub-aqua. Gripping the paddle firmly with both hands, tuck your chin into your chest, and lean forward on the side you're holding the paddle. 
  • Congratulations, you've rolled the boat upside down! 


Step 2: Righting the boat 

  • The plan is to leverage the paddle to give you enough momentum to roll the boat back upright. Start by rotating your dominant arm until the paddle is 90 degrees (perpendicular) to the kayak. It should still be at the water's surface. 
  • Start to pull the paddle down with your dominant arm. You can wedge your other forearm against the side of the upturned kayak to increase your leverage. This initiates the roll upright.  
  • Hip 'snap'. This is the critical element of all rolls. As you lever the paddle, add to your righting momentum by pushing upwards on your dominant knee and rotating at the hip. 
  • As your lower body and the boat starts to right, keep your head and shoulders in the water as long as possible. It is an easy mistake to make as a novice to raise your heavy upper body too soon and stall the roll. Pressing your ear to your shoulder ensures your head is the last to emerge from the water. 
  • Shake your head to remove water from your ears and eyes, then lean forward a little to return your upper body to its neutral, balanced position. 

Some call the basic roll the 'c-to-c' because of the shape your body makes as you go through the righting stroke. As you move the paddle out square to the boat, your head and upper body will naturally bend to the same side. 

By the time the move is complete, your body will be curving to the other side, keeping your head and shoulders in the water until the last moment. 


Additional types of kayak rolls 

Sweep roll 

Another common one is the sweep roll, which gets its name from the way you move the paddle around from the bow towards the stern as you right yourself.  

From the capsize position, start with the paddle parallel to the boat and the blade at the surface, just as done in the basic roll. Sweep it around aft (toward the rear, or stern) to gain leverage and use the hip snap to supercharge your roll. 

Because the stroke is longer, it gives you more time to rotate your hip and build up righting momentum. 

Reverse sweep 

The reverse sweep does the same thing but with the paddle starting at the stern. This can come in handy if you are forced into a backward position during a capsize.  

You might need some fancy arm work to get the paddle lined up parallel to the kayak because your dominant hand must reach back behind your head to control the aftmost blade. 

As you rotate this blade forward, engage the familiar hip snap to begin the recovery roll. 

So, now you know how to roll a kayak, the last step is to go out and perfect your technique with practice, practice, practice! 


Specialist kayak insurance through Insure4Boats 

Whether you’ve mastered your kayak roll, or if it needs a bit more practice, you might want to take out specialist kayaking insurance.  

Through Insure4Boats, you’re covered for accidental loss or damage to your kayak and for legal costs up to the value of £3m if you damage another boat or third-party property or injure another person.  

Learn more about how we can help here, or click the button below to get an online quote in minutes. 

Please note the information provided on this page should not be taken as advice and has been written as a matter of opinion. For more on insurance cover and policy wording, see our homepage.