Boating Basics Online is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

What is the Safest Way to Float if Your Small Craft Capsizes

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is the safest way to float if your small craft capsizes

Drowning, physical trauma, dehydration, and hypothermia — capsized boats expose you to these risks, so you should never take such situations lightly.

Knowing how to float already goes a long way in keeping yourself safe. So what is the safest way to float if your small craft capsizes?

Wearing a personal floatation device remains the safest option for most. Sticking close to the boat after it has capsized is another good practice.

Float on your back and position yourself in such a way that you’ll go with the current’s flow, not against it.

The Safest Way to Float If Your Boat Capsizes

If your boat gets swamped far from shore, you need to stay afloat. This shouldn’t be a problem if there’s a personal floatation device strapped on you and your passengers.

For one, a life jacket helps conserve your energy while trying to stay afloat. In cold water, you’re more likely to suffer from hypothermia if you move your body too much.

This is why it’s advisable to stay still if you find yourself in cold water. Now, that obviously makes it close to impossible to stay afloat without a life jacket on your person.


  • It’s imperative for you to save your energy as much as possible and remain calm throughout the entire ordeal. It’s the only way to avoid over-fatigue and exhaustion, which inevitably leads to drowning.
  • In swift water, two practices I always abide by are holding onto something sturdy like a rock or tree stump as well as keeping my feet pointed downstream while floating to evade obstacles.

Obviously, the most ideal scenario is to wear both a life jacket and to use the capsized boat to your advantage by staying close to it. This way, you’ll have another option for staying afloat with the boat’s help.


Never stray from your vessel, unless it’s beginning to sink! Monohulls can actually right themselves, so it’s recommended to stay floating with them during such accidents.

Moreover, you can use the swamped boat as a shield against the harsh elements of the sea. I can say the same if you’re dealing with a canoe capsize or any other vessel for that matter.

If a boat capsizes but remains floating upside down, you can still stay safe and wait for help to arrive.

Seize Any Opportunity to Keep Yourself Safe

The question, “Your boat capsizes what should you do?” is concerned with more than just keeping yourself afloat. You should also make an effort to right the boat or swim to safety if the opportunity presents itself.

Waiting for a monohull to right itself can only go so far, after all.

For example, in the event of a kayak capsize, there’s actually a nifty self-rescue technique to right the kayak called the “re-entry and roll”.

Basically, you seat yourself on the upturned kayak like normal, only upside down. Once that’s done, the best way to roll involves using the paddle (so don’t lose it!):


  1. Press your left forearm against the side of your kayak. It will act as a pivot while you swing your right arm’s weight to about 90 degrees of the overturned hull, keeping it as close to the surface as possible.
  2. As you do so, rotate your upper body. You’ll then perform a swift downward pulling motion on your paddle.

While doing this step, you have to do a hip snap that involves pulling up with your right knee which, in turn, will serve to right you and the kayak.


You can also try to get back into a kayak after falling out, but you have to know what you’re doing and, again, don’t panic.

  • Gather every important thing you need, such as the paddle, and stay close to the upturned kayak.
  • From there, you’re supposed to flip the vessel right-side u It’s best to do this when there’s minimal flow and the water’s still.
  • You may need to let go of the paddle and mind where you left it. Then, hover above the overturned hull and use one hand or both hands to pull the kayak back over.
  • Re-attach the paddle to the kayak. Most kayaks have bungee cords you can use to keep the paddle secure as you attempt to climb back into the kayak.
  • To get yourself up on the boat, you’ll need to grab both carry handles found on the side of the vessel. One hand should grab the handle on the far side and another on the nearer one.
  • Once you have a solid hold of both handles, position your legs as close to the water’s surface as possible. Then, perform a quick kick and pull yourself up.
  • Your belly button should be in the center of the boat after you haul yourself forward. Afterward, wait for the kayak to settle before repositioning your backside on the kayak seat.

The Danger of Overturning


Overturned boats pose a serious threat to sailors, as proven by the following dangers you may encounter the longer your vessel stays the wrong side up:

  • If you don’t have a life jacket, you may end up getting tired to the point that you’ll be too exhausted to avoid drowning.
  • Being exposed to extreme cold for a long period of time only heightens your hypothermia risk.
  • You may get hit by obstacles and other things in the water.
  • You may run out of drinkable water the longer you stay in this situation.

Tips to Stay Afloat

  • If you haven’t got a life jacket, grab onto any flotsam you see such as debris, water coolers, and other sturdy empty containers you may have brought along.
  • Besides floating on your back, you can also do the Superman pose as it helps to stay afloat with minimal effort.
  • Keep your head above the water to minimize heat loss.
  • Use signaling tools as well as auditory and hand signals to attract other boaters, kayakers, and people who may be able to help.


The fact that capsizing is a common accident already underscores the importance of knowing the best answers to “What is the safest way to float if your small craft capsizes?”

Overall, there’s really no single safest way, as there is more than one route you can take, depending on the situation. That said, wearing PFDs and minimizing heat loss will work for everyone.

Read next:

5/5 - (2 votes)