Sea Kayak Rescues Ladder style t-rescue

Sea Kayaking Rescues really have a lot of variation on the theme of getting a victim back in their kayak. The basic premise is that with the aid of a paddling partner, the victim can have an empty sea kayak and scramble back inside.

There have been several new videos of variations on the t-rescue or eskimo rescue.

These innovations are all necessary and all good. Without experimentation and the willingness to try something new, the sport is going to stagnate.

Have a look at this Video of the Bow Roll Rescue:

Next have a look at this: Video Ladder Style Assisted Rescue for Sea Kayak. This WMV video (sorry no youtube embed) is courtesy of Rock and Sea Productions.

These two videos are similar in that they are relying on the rescuer to hold the victim’s bow. Both of these videos have merit. But they also have one big detriment. They can only safely be performed on flat water. The crux of the issue is actually not for the victim, it is for the rescuer. The rescuer still in his boat, must grab the bow of the victim’s boat and either hold it, or rotate it.

Most rescues are not performed on placid lakes with no wind or waves. They are usually performed in lumpy, cold, and windy conditions. Granted adrenaline can take care of quite a bit. If the rescuer is holding the bow in those lumpy conditions, the bow is going to be bumping around near your face for a lot longer than the time it takes to draw and empty a kayak and then bring it around side by side.

You could end up like Doug Van Doren who despite years of training and experience managed to catch a bow in the face merely from trying to draw the kayak across his deck:

Doug Van Doren with Bloody Nose post SOF rescue on Lake Superior

Taking the side by side option, which is albeit a little dull, also gives you time to assist with pumping. The rescuer is checking out the victim for signs of hypothermia, shock, head wound, and assisting with getting a spray skirt back on. Side by side rescues also give more limited exposure to the long pointy ends of dangerous kayaks in the surf.

Continuing to innovate and try new things is what will help the sport grow. Testing them in moderate conditions should prove out techniques that work and techniques that don’t. One of the prime directives for safe paddling at sea is that the rescuer should not be putting themselves at further risk, lest you have two people in the water instead of only one.


  1. I don't particularly like the look of the rescue, there is a lot of effort being put in by the rescuer but in the video clip shown, why on earth is the rescuee sitting bolt upright. If he lay flat on the back deck it would be so much easier.

  2. On the "in between" reentry.

    It works, but it certainly endangers shoulders. I do not recall it being faster or more stable than the good old back deck reentry. In the back deck reentry the swimmer also helps to keep both kayaks together.

  3. Brian Scarborough

    Keith, with you and Brian pointing out the "scissoring" action of 2 boats during a "ladder rescue" leading to a potential dangerous situation with the victim caught between the 2 boats, I add that I recall BCU recommending a method of the victim climbing into his/her boat from between the 2 side by side rafted kayaks. The swimmer puts one arm over each kayak, and flips his feet up into his kayak. Supposed to be faster than climbing up onto the rear deck, and twisting into the cockpit, but I was always a little bit afraid of being squished between the 2 kayaks. I don't think I remember trying it, but I think I had our newest instructor try it last summer. Heh – sucker. What can I convince him to do this year during assisted rescue demos?

  4. Brian,

    I think your points about the leverage and control are pretty accurate.

    Part of the strength of the traditional t-rescue is the ability to lift and drag, and then hold onto the cockpit area while leaning onto the victim's kayak.

    The scissor action you describe could be dangerous if the victim is caught in between the two boats. Much like the problem with the crab rescue.


  5. In response to David:

    I agree that getting the swimmer out of the water quickly is paramount, but an extra 3-5 seconds to pull their boat parallel with the rescuer's – as in the standard T rescue – is not likely to be significant.

    There is no need to lift a boat full of water in a T rescue. You simply dip your near side gunwale. Pull the bow of the victim's boat up over the gunwale, then roll your boat away from theirs, letting the boat lever their bow out of the water, draining the cockpit. With the bulk of the water out, it's easy to lift the boat slightly to remove the remainder, then flip it upright.

    It seems to me that the "ladder" rescue create some serious safety concerns. If the victim's boat is hit by a wave at the stern, it is quite likely that it's going to swing one way or the other, creating a "scissors" action that will be very difficult for the rescuer to control. The likelihood of the rescuer getting whacked by the bow or having the boat torn from his/her grasp seem very high. Given this – and the fact that a standard side-by-side arrangement is very stable and generally controllable – I can't see any reason to use the ladder method in conditions.

    Additionally, when holding the boat at the (narrow) bow, the deck lines are quite close together, which reduces the leverage that the rescuer has to control the boat and prevent it from twisting as the paddler climbs up and in. In rough water, especially with an inexperienced "victim", it could be difficult for them to get in without the boat twisting and capsizing. While one could wrap one's arms around the bow, that increases the likelihood of injury in a "scissoring" situation.

    All in all, it seems to me that this rescue technique is a "solution in search of a problem". I'll try it out on the water to see if there is some significant benefit that I can't see from my desk, but I'm skeptical.

  6. Hi Keith,

    Shannon taught me the “youtube” rescue in the mouth of the Micipicoten River in October. The surf there was about 1m (3 feet for you) where we were. I was near the sandbar, planning another walk of shame, when she got me back into my boat using this technique. It was fast, and very stable. My boat was drier than it is usually from a t-rescue as well. The issue at the time was not surf but water temp, as it was really cold, even with a drysuit. I was never in any danger, because we drifted over the sandbar while doing the rescue, so I could have walked out. However, it was good practice to do it in real conditions rather than in warm calm water. You may be right about the face full of boat in rougher conditions.

  7. Brian Scarborough

    David, I think your point (and your guide friend's point) is very well taken. Made me think about my teaching also.

    John Lull is a fan of the t-rescue in his book Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue.

    I can see using a t-rescue in a situation where speed is of the essence – say, drifting into rocks. And I can see your friend's idea to get the victim out of the water in a situation where you've got time. Pumping seems to take forever…

    I say, use the best option in the right situation, learn and practice many. (Lull would say the same.)


  8. You bring up a bunch of interesting points. I have a friend who feels very strongly on the idea of never leaving the swimmer in the water for any longer then absolutely necessary.

    When teaching rescue clinics he always teaches the idea to get the bum in first then the water out, not the other way around. Lifting a boat full of water when loaded is extremely dangerous on the back and a bow to the face as you mentioned can be slightly painful…

    He stumbled upon this idea after teaching for 15 years and guiding for 20 and found that for participants on his trip, they just want to get out of the cold water and into a boat, they don’t care if the boat is full of water or not. He always felt that rescuers should deal with the patient first then deal with the water second.

    Simple is most times better the complex when it comes to rescues.

    David J.