Expert-Approved Tips on How to Roll in a Kayak

One of the best things about kayaking is that it offers something for everybody. For many people, kayaking is a way to get some exercise outdoors. For others, kayaking is a great way to learn new skills, refine techniques, and find satisfaction in making progress over time. The latter of which has several excellent reasons to learn how to roll in a kayak.

how to roll in a kayak

For whitewater kayakers, learning how to roll in a kayak is crucial. However, knowing how to roll in a kayak doesn’t mean that you can forget about swimming because there are times when you won’t have a choice.

Swimming should always be your last resort as a whitewater kayaker. Aside from being humbling, frightening, and tiring, you’re extremely vulnerable to hazards when swimming in whitewater.

Knowing how to roll in a kayak can build your confidence, which means that you’ll be more relaxed when you go whitewater kayaking.

What Is Kayak Rolling?

Kayak rolling – also known as an Eskimo roll – is a skill used by whitewater kayakers to fix a capsized kayak without having to self-rescue, do a wet exit, or remove the spray skirt. The maneuver involves a combination of body movements – especially with your hips – and paddle support.

The basics of knowing how to roll in a kayak are simple:

When your kayak flips upside down, brace your paddle for support and balance, then roll yourself upward with a combination of paddle strokes and a hip snap.

There are several different ways to roll in a kayak, so let’s talk about the four most common ways to roll in a kayak.

Why Should You Know How to Roll in a Kayak?

Knowing how to kayak roll is one of the most important things you need to learn as a kayaker.

If you have a kayak where you sit on the top of it and it doesn’t have a cockpit where you strap in, you’re going to fall off the moment your boat flips.

But with a kayak where you sit inside the kayak, knowing how to roll in a kayak is a very useful and lifesaving skill to have.

If you already know how to do a wet exit, you might not need to learn how to kayak roll.

However, experienced kayakers know that a wet exit won’t always work, especially in whitewater rapids and fast-moving water where you want to stay inside your kayak. That’s when knowing how to kayak roll comes in handy.

Where and How Should Beginners Learn How to Roll in a Kayak?

It’s best if you don’t need to worry about the strong currents, water temperature, or other obstacles when you’re learning how to roll in a kayak. The ideal place for beginner kayakers to learn how to roll in a kayak would be in warm, clear, and calm waters.

As you learn how to kayak roll, you can start working in other types of water – but do it gradually. We don’t recommend heading out into dynamic water until you’ve been able to perform at least 100 successful kayak rolls in the calm water.

Remember, also, that you shouldn’t learn how to roll in a kayak by yourself, even though you’ll be learning in calm water. Have someone there with you as you know how to kayak roll – having an experienced kayaker with you can remove some of the frustration associated with learning.

How Long Will It Take for You to Learn How to Roll in a Kayak?

Generally speaking, it can take two to three 90-minute lessons with an experienced kayaker before you grasp the basic dynamics and successfully execute your first kayak roll. Either way, you will have weeks or months of training ahead of you. 

How to Roll in a Kayak

The roll that you use will depend on the specifics of your situation; not every kayak roll is appropriate for all environments and conditions.

With that being said, let’s talk about the most common kayak rolls.

C to C Kayak Roll

The C to C roll is most often used by whitewater kayakers. This maneuver is called the C to C kayak roll because the arcs you make with your paddle look like a C.

This safety roll is one of the fastest rolling methods in a kayak and is often more useful when you’re in rough, open water and narrow space. It’s easier to learn than the screw roll, but it does require you to do a little bit of setup.  


  • It can be used in narrow spaces
  • Easy to learn
  • Fast execution and deep stability


  • The blades of your paddle will go deep into the water
  • Requires more setup

Sweep Roll (Screw Roll)

Often when you hear someone talk about how to roll in a kayak, they’re talking about the screw roll. It’s the most used safety roll and one that beginners use.

However, it’s slightly more challenging than the C to C roll and isn’t great for narrow spaces. It does require less setup, though, and provides you with more support from your paddles.


  • Requires less setup
  • Provides you with more support from your paddles
  • Protects you
  • Great for flat and open water


  • Harder to execute than the C to C roll
  • It takes up more space in the water

Reverse Screw Roll

If you notice that your body is leaning back against your kayak, this kayak roll method is the best way to recover. With the reverse screw roll, you don’t need to position yourself for a proper kayak roll, which minimizes your time in the water.

It’s essentially the screw roll done backwards and is easy to do – even when you’re in the wrong position.


  • Extremely helpful when you’re rolling backward
  • You spend less time under the water


  • It can be hard to maintain a connection with your kayak

Hand Roll

This is exactly what it sounds like – a recovery method that doesn’t require the use of a paddle. You’ll form a fin-like shape with your hands, then thrust them against the water while you perform a hip snap.

This is a cool trick to see but is extremely hard to execute, but this hands-only kayak roll technique can be a lifesaver if you’re in a capsized kayak and have lost your paddle. To see this trick in action, check out this video.


  • Quick to set up under the water
  • Can build confidence
  • Great recovery method for when you lose your paddle


  • Extremely advanced technique
how to roll in a kayak
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How to Roll in a Kayak: The Best Method

TV personality and world champion kayaker Ken Whiting made a great video on the best kayak roll method. In this video, you’ll see that the best kayak roll method will depend on various factors, including the type of kayaking you’re doing, your skill level, and who you are as a person.

For example, a whitewater kayaker and someone sea kayaking will use different methods: whitewater kayakers prefer the C to C roll method. In contrast, sea kayaking adventurers will opt for the screw roll.

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