The Wet Exit: from the swimmer's perspective
Many folks have a fear of being trapped by their spray skirt in a capsized kayak. First, be reassured that very few spray skirts have the power to restrain a paddler who is determined to leave the boat. Extremely tight spray skirts are for very specialized applications, such as serious white water, and should only be used by very experienced paddlers. If you're not familiar with your equipment, then try to remove your spray skirt right after you attach it to your cockpit, before you've actually begun your trip. Make sure it's easy enough to release. Every paddler should practice the wet exit, first in calm, and then in rougher conditions, so that any unplanned wet exit will feel routine and in control.
One of our instructors likes to tell students that the first thing they should do after a capsize is to count to two, slowly. Yes, while upside down! The pause allows the paddler to be calm, to take control of the process. Learning to wet exit is easy, but there are a few very essential points. When your kayak goes over, here's what to do:
Once out of the kayak there are many types of rescues to try. The appropriate rescue will depend on the weight of the boat (with gear and water), the conditions, and number of people who are available to assist.
Your boat's flotation, the water conditions, and the method of righting the kayak will determine the quantity of water in the kayak. If the conditions are very rough, put your spray skirt on immediately after getting back in the boat. Put the pump down the front of the skirt to pump out. This allows you to stop pumping and brace or paddle as need be. If the conditions are calm and a large quantity of water is in the boat, don't attach the spray skirt yet, but use the bailer to remove most of the water. Use the pump to remove the last six or so inches. The more flotation you have, the less water there will be to bail. In a group rescue, both people should pump. If your boat has a deck pump, the rescuer should use it while the paddler uses a hand pump. In cold water, pumping will help to keep your body temperature up. In very rough conditions you may have to paddle to a calmer area before pumping.