Tuck When Upside-Down in a Kayak

Upside-Down Kayak
It is important that this kayaker tuck toward the kayak so he doesn't hit any rocks while upside-down. Photo © by George E. Sayour

Every whitewater kayaker will be upside down in a kayak at some point early in their paddling career. Even experts find themselves underwater at times, sometimes even on purpose. It is for this reason that kayakers need to know what to do as soon as they flip over, lest they smack their face or head on the river bottom. While it is not natural to tuck when upside down in a kayak, this quick how-to will guide you through the steps of tucking when you are upside-down so that you can either wet-exit or roll back up.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 5 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Have a Spotter in the Water:
    The first time you practice this you should have an experienced kayaker standing in the water next to your kayak. This way they can aid you in the event you need help wet-exiting the kayak.
  2. Flip Over:
    Keep your kayak paddle in front of you, lean to one side and flip over. Some people like to wear ear plugs and nose plugs when practicing flipping over, wet-exiting, or rolling their kayak.
  3. Tuck Toward the Kayak:
    Once upside-down in your kayak, your body will be hanging underwater. Keep your paddle close to your body. Bring your head up toward the deck and tuck toward the kayak. You will do this by leaning forward almost like a sit-up except that you will be upside-down.
  4. Keep Your Head as Close to the Kayak as You Can:
    The goal is to be as close to the kayak as you can. This will ensure that any rocks you may hit while traveling down the river upside-down will brush off your helmet and your pfd (life jacket) and not hit you in the face or pin you underneath anything.
  5. Decide What is Next:
    From the tucked position you can either wet-exit the kayak, roll the kayak, or buddy-roll. The tucked position is the first stage for each of these techniques.


  1. Practice this with all of your gear on as tucking when upside-down will feel different depending what you are wearing.
  2. Look around while underwater to get comfortable and acclimated to being upside-down.
  3. Don't panic!

What You Need:

  • All Your Kayak Gear!
  • Earplugs and/or Noseplugs
  • A Friend