In my opinion, one of the least known and most under-utilized pieces of rescue equipment is the stirrup. Basically, it is 13 feet of webbing with the ends tied together to form a continuous loop of webbing. My stirrup of choice is made of 1/2-inch tubular webbing found at most stores that carry rock climbing equipment tied together with a water knot. It fits easily into the pocket of my PFD. (Northwater makes a rescue stirrup that can be purchased for about $20 if you don’t want to make your own.) When deployed, it gives a paddler in the water a way to use his legs to step back up into his kayak like a horseback rider uses a stirrup on a saddle to mount a horse. It can be used to help a solo paddler re-enter his own kayak or it can be used by a rescuing kayaker to help another capsized paddler back into her kayak. This can be invaluable for paddlers with limited upper body strength or novice paddlers who may not have practiced the skills for re-entering a kayak from the water. But there are other good reasons to carry a stirrup. What if a very skilled paddler manages to hurt her shoulder and can’t re-enter a kayak in the usual way? Consider the possibility that someone who has capsized in cold water may have trouble using his hands to pull himself up onto the kayak due to the debilitating effects of cold water. Don’t be so cocky to think that you are too good of a paddler to ever need the help that a stirrup can provide. As an instructor, I have used my stirrup dozens of time to get students back into their kayaks.
It is somewhat difficult to describe all the ways that this handy piece of fabric can be used to help someone who is having trouble re-entering a kayak, but I will do my best in the absence of photos. (I know, it just occurred to me that I should take some photos and post them. That will be a job for another day, I’m afraid.) The easiest method for attaching a stirrup to a kayak is to just loop the webbing around the cockpit coaming and let it hang down in the water on the side the paddler is trying to re-enter from. The loop hanging in the water can be tied off to make the stirrup shorter as needed. While a second kayaker stabilizes the boat with the stirrup attached, the paddler in the water can step up into the stirrup and hoist his body up and over the cockpit.
For a solo paddler attempting a paddle float re-entry, you can use the stirrup to help connect the paddle/ paddle float outrigger to the kayak as well as giving you a way to step up into your kayak. While the paddle lays across the kayak deck at a ninety degree angle to the boat right behind the cockpit, the stirrup is looped over the paddle shaft on the side of the kayak opposite the side with the paddle float. The stirrup is brought underneath the kayak and then wrapped around the paddle shaft on the near side of the kayak. You can wrap the stirrup around the shaft several times until you have adjusted the length of the stirrup for the paddler in the water. When the kayaker steps into the stirrup, it cinches the paddle to the kayak as well as giving the paddler an assist up and onto the kayak.
If you are not familiar with stirrups or are having some trouble envisioning how they work, I suggest that you take a rescues course (ask the instructor specifically about learning to use a stirrup) or get a copy of Wayne Horodowich’s University of Sea Kayaking DVD on “Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures”.
Ride ‘em Cowboy!