How to make a simple and effective paddle float for a kayak.

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Making a Paddle Float

my Kayak in the pool

I bought this a couple of years ago and try as I may, I’ve not really found an easy way of getting back in the kayak if I capsize. I’ve tried every method in the book. I’m not very happy having to rely on maybe rolling the kayak back upright. The photo does not really show how much freeboard the boat has and unlike the Greenland type of kayak the back of the opening is quite high so it does not really allow the paddler, ie, ME, to bend back very much. This means that the centre of gravity is kept very high until I’m back in the boat and this makes the kayak very difficult to right.

I’ll keep trying but I need a fall-back position.

Because I have not been able to consistently self rescue, I have been very careful when and where I paddle. I was a lifeguard for many years, taught canoeing, and swimming, float like a cork (I need weights to even snorkel if I want to dive at all) so I’m quite safe but I don’t really take chances.

How to right a Kayak

Besides rolling the kayak there are several ways of righting it if you fall in. You can lunge hard and jump across the kayak, belly first behind the opening and gradually get your legs in the opening then twisting to face forward. I’ve managed this a couple of times but the kayak is quite high and balancing is tricky. I’ve practiced wearing a life jacket and that makes it even more difficult. It also requires some strength. It would be almost impossible for me to get back in if there were waves or strong wind.

Another method is to get across kayak but closer to the back. It’s lower but you then have to wiggle your way to the opening. I’ve managed this and it’s easier to get up but harder to get to the opening.

You first jump up belly first on the end of the kayak, turn around so you straddle it and wiggle up to the cockpit, get your legs in and turn around to sit down, or wiggle up, sit down and get your legs in. Not impossibly difficult to tricky on this tippy little boat.

Here is the video address if it does not display It shows a couple of methods of rescue if someone else is there to help you.

If there are others with you, they can help by supporting the kayak so it is not tippy. This allows you to get up onto the boat and wiggle your way into the cockpit relatively easily. is the address if the video does not show. It demonstrates using an inflatable paddle float to self rescue. It also shows how to scramble back onto your kayak.

Another method is to carry a float that attaches on the end of the paddle and which can give you something to help balance yourself and brace against while you get back on.

Since I usually paddle alone this last method is one that I will implement. I have some Sunbrella left over from making my Skerry cover, and a whole bunch of closed cell foam I got out of old pfd. The material is Crosslinked Polyethylene. The cover of an old approved floating cushion had fallen apart but the floating foam was in good condition.

My kayak paddle blade
traced the paddle blade

This is my kayak paddle. I’ve been using it for almost 2 years and it seems indestructible. It seemed too light to be strong but it has really proved itself.

I simply traced the paddle outline on the foam and cut the foam to a square shape. The foam is just slightly wider than the paddle so the float would not end up being too tight to slip over the blade.

I used a white pencil to mark the foam and added enough material all around to tidily wrap my foam. This is exactly like wrapping a gift. The only tricky bit is folding and pinning the ends. I used pins to hold the fabric together.

NOTE: In hindsight, IF I was to re-do this, I would make the foam wider at the handle end than at the paddle tip end to account for the thickness of the paddle shaft where it meets the blade. It would have fit better but have been harder to wrap.

ready for sewing

In this project I did not use my sewing machine. I used a curved needle, usually used in upholstery, to hand sew each of the 2 blocks. This is just a choice. Sewing the long seams would work just fine on a machine. It was just pleasant to sit with a cat on my lap watching a video of the old Dune film. Sunbrella in this weight is tough and I kept a thimble and a pair of pliers handy to pull the needle through. I sued heavy duty polyester thread sold by Sailrite to stitch sails and other canvas projects.

First I sewed the fabric in a long tube then pinned and sewed the ends.

I then made a second panel. I had cut 2 pieces each of the foam and fabric.

try the float on the paddle

The next step was to sew the 2 pieces together at the bottom and a couple of inches along each side.

When I tried it on the paddle I found that the float is just a bit tight at one end, because I did not take into consideration the thickness of the handle. I would have been better to cut the foam wider at the end where the handle connect and end up with a flaring end. This will not cause me any trouble at all since I would be adding some strapping to attach the float to the paddle whichever shape I had.

I spent a long time trying to figure out the perfect attachment. It got very complicated. In the end I decided to simplify it as much as I could.

The design criteria are simple: Make it easy to slip the float onto the paddle, keep the float onto the end of the paddle when in use, and make it simple to fasten under potentially difficult conditions.

Commercial floats, such as the inflatable ones, essentially have a drawstring. I did not much fancy the thought of a drawstring.

one side sewed on
both side panels sewed on

I had some blue nylon and I used this to make some side panels. I’m not sure it is strictly necessary but I was worried that in rough conditions, sliding the paddle blade might be difficult and I wanted a closed space with no possibility of not sliding in easily.

Fastening the blade on

guide strap
cord sewed on

I finally settled on a simple cord. It is attached to one side of the float, goes through a white strap sewn on the other side of the opening of the float. This strap is just to act as guide. Once the paddle blade in in I tighten the line and make a knot and the float is on solidly.

If there is one thing I know how to do is tie a knot!

completed paddle float
paddle in float

I dug up the paddle (there is 2 feet of snow to slug through to get to the shed) and tried it on. It is perfect. The fit is snug but it’s not hard to slide the paddle in the float. The tie is not all that pretty but keeps the float on the paddle. All that’s left to do is to learn how to use it.

How much will the float support

The size of the 2 pieces of foam together, are 44cm x 16cm x 7cm = 4928 cc. Since the weight of the foam is negligible, the buoyancy will be just short of 5 kilograms. (since the weight of 1 cc of water is 1 gram. I love the metric system for this kind of calculations.) 5 Kg is about 11 pounds.

This amount of support at the end of the paddle will be very useful and will go a long way to stabilize the kayak while I grope my way out of the water.


I think I’ve made a perfectly usable kayak paddle float but as a prototype it could be improved. I would simplify the float part by only making one float instead of 2. I would use all the foam in one package and just use a fabric to make the envelope in which the paddle blade fits in. It would save quite a lot of sewing. The Sunbrella I’m using is very thick and hard to sew, that’s why the stitching is a bit uneven. The line fastening will work well so no changes needed here.

If I feel that the float is not enough support, it is not hard to add another foam layer.

Making a paddle float is only the first step, I now need to figure out how to use it with my boat.

email me: Christine

Kayaking books and stuff

  • The Art of Kayaking: Everything You Need to Know About Paddling
  • Fifty Places to Paddle Before You Die: Kayaking and Rafting Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations
  • Recreational Kayaking The Ultimate Guide
  • Forbidden Road 2L 5L 10L 15L 20L Waterproof Dry Bag for Kayaking
  • Carlisle Magic Plus Kayak Paddle – Polypro Blades/Fiberglass Shaft (Sunrise, 220 cm)
  • Paddle Leash with a 2 Rod Leash Set, 3 Leashes Total Plus 1 Carabiner. Built to Last.
  • AUNAZZ/Downwind Wind Sail Kit Wind Paddle 42 inches Kayak Canoe Accessories, Easy Setup & Deploys Quickly, Compact & Portable Green
  • Lifetime Warranty TMS J-Bar Rack HD Kayak Carrier Roof Top Mounted

This kayak came with a very ugly handmade Kayak Launching Dolly that has worked very well.

Inflatable paddle float

If you tip you will need a way of emptying the kayak after recovery: Bilge pumps:

Paddling Gloves

Maxam Sailor’s Tool, a Powerful Multi-Use Survival Knife Ideal for Hunting, Fishing, Camping or Outdoor Activity, Silver

Paddle / fishing rod tether

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 for Sensitive or Acne-Prone Skin, Oil-free, Dermatologist-Recommended Mineral-Based Zinc Oxide Formula, 1. 7 oz

SEALS Sneak Sprayskirt, 1.7 Black One Size

Any boating has risks. Take care, bring the proper safety gear and know how to use it. If you make a paddle float, spend some time figuring out how to use it properly.

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