The paddle float rescue is often viewed with hopeful dependency by beginners, and disdain by people who roll and are familiar with assisted rescues.  I've passed beyond those opinions to a more balanced appreciation of the paddle float rescue.  As it is normally practiced, the paddle float rescue is a slow, insecure rescue.  When optimized and well rehearsed, it can be faster than an assisted rescue, though not as stable in rough water.  I can do a paddle float rescue in 25 to 45 seconds, timed from the instant of capsize to being ready to brace or begin pumping.  Rolling and bracing are better options, but a well executed paddle float rescue is a quick and businesslike recovery method that is entirely under your own control.

    There are three parts to having an improved paddle float rescue:  The paddle float design, streamlined rescue technique, and sufficient practice.  The best type of float is made of closed cell foam, carved to fit your deck.  The best technique is one I believe I learned from the "Performance Sea Kayaking" video, in which the paddler climbs onto the rear deck while holding the paddle shaft behind the cockpit combing (without using deck rigging to secure the paddle), and corkscrews into the cockpit.  Practice in comfortable, safe surroundings, like a swimming pool, with supervision.

    One of the biggest time losses that occurs in the paddle float rescue is the inflation of the paddle float.  Inflatable floats* are attractive because they store easily, and there isn't a lot of space in a kayak.  However it takes a long time to inflate and attach a paddle float.  I can do the entire rescue faster than most people can inflate and install the float.  In cold water this could make the difference between survival and death.  When one considers the quick onset of weakness from immersion in cold water, and the possible necessity for multiple rescue efforts, the fastest method possible is the safest one.  (Wear a drysuit if you plan to die of old age!)  A foam float is the safest choice because you save the inflation time.  Your weight and coordination figure into the size of the float.  The smallest you should consider is about 450 cubic inches.  You can buy a ready made float at a paddling shop, or you can make one.  I made mine out of the the same kind of gray minicell foam that we use to build custom cockpits.  The dimensions are approximately 8.75" x 12.5" x 5" (average thickness), with rounded corners, for a volume of about 530 cubic inches.  A little wider might be better if your paddle blade is wide. 

Mine consists of 2 three inch sheets of foam glued together with a slot left in the middle to jam the paddle into.  Since my paddle curves, I carved the curved relief for the paddle in both halves of the float so when I glued the two halves of the float together, the opening for the paddle was large at the ends, and small in the middle of the float.  That way the paddle can be jammed in from either end with the concave side up or down, but is still snug enough to hold the paddle securely.  I made my best guess at how deep to cut the slot, glued the halves of the float together at the edges, and tried it.  It was too tight.  I took a razor and cut the float in half along the glue line, and made the slot deeper.  After regluing, it was just right.  I like it to be a tight, but not difficult, squeeze.  After the float fits the paddle, I carve the underside to fit the kayak.  Mine fits behind the cockpit, where I store it beneath the deck rigging.  I rounded the upper edges and corners, then covered the float with fabric to give it a finished appearance, reinforce it, and make it match my custom cockpit.  I added a strap and Fastex buckle, glued on the underside of the float, which can be snapped into place over the deck rigging, to prevent accidental loss.  The finished paddle float is light, small, and attractive.  It stores so securely that I leave it in place when cartopping the boat.  The paddle can be inserted into the float before removing it from beneath the deck rigging, which prevents accidental loss, and simplifies the rescue process.  See the "Instructions" part of this website for hints on tools, techniques, and materials.

    I use a different sequence of events to accomplish my rescue than is usually taught.  I'm trying to expedite the rescue as much as I can, so here is what I do:
    1.  Exit the boat, and flip the boat upright.

2.  Force the paddle into the float, unsnap the buckle, and withdraw the float from beneath the deck rigging.
    3.  Place the shaft of the paddle behind the cockpit combing with the float end of the paddle toward you, and grip the shaft and combing securely with your forward hand.  You will be behind the cockpit and the paddle, with your aft hand on the center of the deck.  There should be space between your hands so there will be room for you to slide onto the deck.
    4.  Kick your feet near to the surface while keeping your arms extended, and head low.  Kick and surge vigorously forward so that your belly lies across the center of the deck.  Keep your head low, and your center of gravity slightly toward the side of the boat the float is on.  Your body will be perpendicular to the boat.
    5.  Put your ankles over the paddle shaft, one at a time.  This will be easy if your weight is far enough over the boat.  Of course if you get your weight too far forward you'll capsize to the side where there is no float to help.  Keep your head low, and be aware of your center of gravity until the conclusion of the rescue. 
Your body will be about 70 degrees from the axis of the boat.
6.  Slide the first leg into the cockpit.  Your body shifts to 45 degrees from the axis of the boat.
    7.  Move the hand from the paddle to the rear deck, move the other hand from the rear deck to the paddle, while sliding the second leg into the cockpit.  The body will cross the axis of the boat, and be a little beyond alignment with the boat's axis.  It is crucial to keep the head low, and the weight toward the paddle float.
    8.  Move the hand from the deck to the paddle, and remove the other hand from the paddle while twisting forward into the seat.  Keep your weight toward the paddle float.
    9.  Pass the paddle over your head to a bracing position.


You've still got to pump, attach your skirt, and stow the float, but you're upright and in the boat again.  If I was feeling insecure, I might consider sliding the float along the paddle shaft to the middle of the paddle, where it wouldn't get lost, until I could clip it back beneath the deck rigging.  (I don't have drip rings on my paddle.)  You'll need to determine if that would be feasible or not.  In any case, you will want to work out the details of pumping, skirt attachment, and what to do with the float, with equal care.  Good luck with your rescue practice.  Learn rolling, bracing and assisted rescues too!

*Erik Thoreson of Norway writes:  Inflatable paddle floats can start to leak when stored on deck, due to wear at the fold. This could create an unpleasant surprise when you really need your float.  A paddle with sharp edges can cut through the welding between the two chambers, rendering the float useless. This occasionally happens when they are used for training.  I have seen both types of failures several times.