How to

Roll a Kayak

How to Roll a Kayak: (Step by Step) Everything You Need to Know

Learning to think clearly and avoid panic takes repetition. Practice is the only way you’ll manage to get your technique down. This guide gives you everything you need to know about how to roll a kayak.

Are you a beginner kayaker? Do you know what to do if you capsize your boat? Newbies to kayaking take some time to control the panic involved with the situation. Learning the right technique for rolling a kayak is the best way to handle a capsize.

Panicking won’t do you any good. If you start scratching around trying to release the spray deck, you could drown. Learning to roll your kayak takes practice. However, when you have your technique down, you’ll find it easy to roll out of any hair-raising situation on the lake, rapids, or ocean.

Learning to think clearly and avoid panic takes repetition. Practice is the only way you’ll manage to get your technique down. This guide gives you everything you need to know about how to roll a kayak.

What Is a Kayak Roll?

A kayak roll, formerly known as an “Eskimo roll” or “turtle roll,” is a technique for righting the kayak after experiencing a capsize. With the right rolling method, you won’t have to strip the spray skirt and ditch the kayak in a wet exit. You roll, land up in the riding position, and paddle away without a second thought.

The roll involves a combination of body movements and some paddle support. The basics of practicing the roll are the following.

  1. Flip the kayak upside down in the water.
  2. Brace against your paddle for support and balance.
  3. Roll using a hip snap and a stroke of your paddle.

While this is the basic process of a roll, there are several skill variations. Let’s unpack everything you need to know about rolling your kayak.

Kayak Rolls for Beginners
The C-to-C Roll

Whitewater kayakers use the “C-to-C” roll technique for righting their boat. It gets its moniker from the motion of creating two C-shaped arcs with the paddle.

This roll is fast, easy to execute in tight spaces, and better suited to shorter kayaks, like Playboats. The “C-to-C” roll is easier than the sweep roll, but you need to understand the setup.

Screw Roll or Sweep Roll

This technique is the most common type of roll learned by beginner kayakers. The roll isn’t a good choice for narrow spaces, and it’s more demanding than the C-to-C. However, you get more paddle support and less setup required when executing the roll.

Which Is the Best Type of Kayak Roll?

The best kayak roll technique for beginners depends on the individual’s height, weight, strength, the type of kayak they ride, and the paddle. For instance, ocean-going kayakers prefer the sweep roll, and whitewater kayakers choose the C-to-C method.

Why Do I Need to Learn to Roll a Kayak?

Every kayaker must master at least one roll technique. Regardless of your skill level, eventually, all kayakers end up experiencing a capsize. If you’re using a sit-on-top kayak model, you’ll just fall off, recover the boat, and get back on track.

However, the first time you capsize in a sit-inside kayak with a spray skirt can be terrifying if you don’t know what to expect. When you end up underwater, the brain and body’s natural response is to panic. Panicking can kill you. When you’re panicking, you use oxygen at an exponential rate. If you start thrashing around in an attempt to loosen the spray skirt, you’re wasting more oxygen.

However, when you understand the principles of the roll, and you have training in executing it, you have confidence in your skillset. As a result, when you capsize, you don’t experience the same level of panic. You know what you must do and what it takes to right the kayak.

So, learning to roll the kayak is a skill that everyone should know. Fortunately, you can practice your roll in the pool or on flat water, getting yourself familiarized with the technique before using it in a real-world situation.

How Do Beginners Learn To Roll a Kayak?

When you’re learning to roll, you’re not going to throw yourself into the rapids and hope for the best. You need to practice in calm, flat water. The lake or the swimming pool is an ideal place to practice. As your confidence builds, you can add different dimensions to the exercise, such as paddling, purposefully capsizing, and rolling out of the situation.

Only take the kayak onto the water when you’re confident in your rolling skills, and you’re sure you’re not going to panic when you capsize. We recommend practicing each roll technique at least 100-times before taking the kayak to the river or rapids.

Never practice rolling without someone watching you. There’s a risk of drowning, even in controlled conditions. If you want the fastest way to learn, join a kayaking club. Hire an instructor for a few lessons, and they’ll have you rolling in no time.

How Long Will it Take Me to Learn to Roll My Kayak?

Giving you a timeline for learning to roll is useless. It’s different for everyone. Some people might get the roil on the first day of learning, especially if they have an instructor coaching them. Others may take weeks or months of practice before they get it right.

Your coordination, strength, skills, and breath-hold determine your performance and ability to learn the rolling technique. If we had to give you an average time to learn to roll a kayak, we would say it takes around three 90-minute sessions with an instructor to learn the skill and many hours of practice to perfect it.

Your rolling technique comes down to two points.

  1. The head is the last part of the body to emerge from the water. The hips go first, followed by the shoulders and the head. There are no exceptions to this technique.
  2. The hip snap is critical for an effective roll. The paddle might seem like it’s doing most of the work, but your hips play the biggest role in righting the kayak.
The Hip-Snap Drill

It’s critical for new kayakers to master the hip snap for correcting their capsized boat. You’ll need to learn how to move your hips around in the kayak before attempting your first roll. You’ll also need the assistance of an instructor to support you and hold your hands as you try to roll the boat right.

Here’s how you execute a hip-snap drill.

The instructor or assistant will stand in waist-deep water to the side of the kayak you want to roll. The instructor holds your hands and dips you into the water to the point where your face is still above the surface.

You’ll shuffle your hips quickly to try and right the kayak. You’ll need to pay attention to your form and make sure you’re completing an explosive movement. A weak hip snap won’t help you right the kayak. Keep practicing this drill until you’re comfortable with your performance.

After you feel you have this drill down, you can add your paddle into the mix.

How to Roll a Kayak – A Detailed Guide

After you have the hip snap drill down pat, it’s time to start roiling the kayak. The C-to-C and sweep roll are the best techniques for beginners and where you should start learning. It’s important to note that the method we describe is for ideal conditions, like the swimming pool. You’ll find executing them in a real-world environment very different from the pool.

Work on correcting your form, and your rolls will become intuitive with enough practice. That’s why we recommend hiring an instructor when learning to roll. They’ll be there to correct your posture and technique, fast-tracking your learning curve.

Let’s unpack the stages of the roll in detail.

Preparing to Roll the Kayak

The C-to-C and sweep roll both have the same starting position. You’ll find it easier to grasp the rolling technique when you have your paddle and body in the right place to execute the roll.

However, you won’t always be in the perfect position to conduct the roll in real-world capsize situations. As a result, you’ll likely have to make some small adjustments to find the right starting position for the roll when you’re doing it in a real rapid.

During the setup stage, the goal is to go from an upright position to a capsized position where you’re fully submerged. Your body and paddle need to be ready to complete the roll, and you need a calm demeanor with no sense of panic.

Prepare for the roll using the following strategy.

  • Hold the paddle, so it’s parallel to your kayak. The power face of the paddle blade should point up and sit flat against the surface.
  • Tuck your head and lean toward the paddle to capsize the kayak.
  • After capsizing, maneuver your head to the surface and away from the kayak.
  • Keep forearms pressed against the sides with the paddle sitting above the surface.
  • For right-handed kayakers, start the roll with your paddle on your left and vice versa for lefties.  
How to Execute a Sweep Roll

After you have the setup down, it’s time to execute the roll. Let’s start by looking at the sweep or screw roll mechanics.

  • Sweep your paddle blade, forming an arch with your stroke, away from the kayak.
  • Keep your eyes on the paddle blade with your head still submerged.
  • Apply downward pressure to the paddle as it moves to the 90-degree angle to the boat.
  • After feeling the paddle’s support, use the hip-snap drill to correct and right the kayak.
  • Use the back deck of the kayak to roll up and out of the water.
How to Execute a C-to-C Roll

If you’re thinking about getting into whitewater kayaking, you’ll need to learn the C-to-C roll. Whitewater enthusiasts find it easier to use it in moving water, and the momentum from the action allows you to perform the roil in tight spaces.

  • Start with your paddle facing a 90-degree angle before applying the downward pressure.
  • Sweep the front blade of the paddle along the surface, positioning it 90-degrees to the hull.
  • Ensure you keep the paddle blade close to the surface.
  • Keep your eye on the paddle blade as it moves through the water.
  • Press the left forearm against the side for right-handed paddlers, acting as a pivot point.
  • Apply downward pressure until you feel the support from the paddle blade.
  • Use the hip-snap technique to maneuver and right the kayak after you’re sure you have the necessary amount of support.
  • Use the back deck of the kayak to roll out of the water.
In Closing – Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, and the more time you spend practicing your rolling technique, the less panic you feel when you capsize in the ocean, on the river, or on the rapids. Never attempt whitewater kayaking if you have no experience and don’t know how to roll the kayak.

We recommend joining the winter rolling sessions which are held in the Coral Leisure Center Cobh on Friday nights during October and November. The more time you put into practicing your rolling, the faster you’ll gain the confidence you need to get out on the water.


Good luck, and remember – never roll alone. Always have someone watching you.

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