Here's my two cents' worth: I use the rigid foam paddle float mainly for practicing recoveries and it gives lots of flotation and its flatness helps scull over the water for stability while practicing extreme lean angles and just goofing around (layouts on the water for fun or doing deepest dips to either side for body-boat-paddle orientation drills). I would normally not take the rigid float out on my boat only because it is a little awkward to stow, but your point about losing time inflating a float is a good one--I paddle around Tomales Bay and offshore in the Pacific and the water is usually 50-55 degrees so the less time spent immersed the better.
The thing is (at any time but especially in cold water) it's just so much better to stay in the boat. Learn to roll--it's so much easier than exiting and securing gear and inflating or rigging a float, managing your recovery, bailing your cockpit and resecuring your sprayskirt, especially since the conditions that forced your exit still exist while you are attempting all that and it's likely to be risky. Stay in the boat for warmth and flotation--a roll should be the first thing you do and if you practice some it will be an immediate and natural reaction to the capsize and becomes fun then, not a "rescue" but only a "recovery" that builds confidence and is a good basic boat handling technique. Another note about paddle float recoveries in general, especially for us bigger guys, is that they can put tremendous strain on the paddle and they can break, so if you are going to count on a paddle float recovery as your primary capsize solution be sure to always carry a spare paddle. I speak from experience and never go out without a stout spare paddle and have used it once upon breaking my lightweight very expensive primary paddle while finishing a wet exit and paddle recovery in brisk wind and choppy waves when the blade under the deck rigging snapped when the boat rolled over me in the waves. Without that spare paddle my situation would have been pretty precarious. Sometimes a wet re-entry and paddle roll (with or without a float) works when conditions are poor but a boat full of water will capsize again very easily so I would really only suggest that if there is another boat to raft up with while you bail and get your act together.
I'm a bigger guy, too, and my boat is a 17'10" Impex Assateague, often loaded for camping but more often riding high and empty except for lunch and my beach gear. Since I often paddle alone I also have on deck a nifty device called a BackUp, which is an ingenious CO2 inflatable for positive capsize recoveries in the event of very bad conditions or injury (shoulders are susceptible)--you can find it online http://www.useakayak.org/recoveries_rescues/roll_aid_recovery.html . This thing is foolproof and enables you to roll up under any conditions--not a substitute for learning to roll but a very sensible Plan B or C.
OK, one last comment about learning to roll--after you stroke away from the dock or beach, if you knock off a roll or two you get intimate with your boat immediately and are more ready to paddle with a locked in boat-body-blade muscle memory kind of thing going on.
Hope this ramble helped a little--paddle safe.
Ol' Salty Bob
Answered on 9/22/2012 by Anonymous