Reviews of the BackUP

Fan Mail
Pack & Paddle (Jan'97)
Sea Kayaker (June'97)
response to Sea Kayaker (Oct '97)
Wave~Length (Aug-Sep '97)
Paddler Magazine (Jul./Aug. 2000)

from a customer:

"I received my BackUp yesterday and just wanted to let you know what a remarkable device I think it is. The engineering is superb, the workmanship top notch and of course the concept is brilliant. I loaded it and tried it out this morning and it works great!

"If I find any negative, and believe me it's very minor, it is the way the BackUp attaches to the deck. It does tie onto the bungees with the straps provided, but not extremely tightly and when you pull on the handle the bungees stretch/give a little before the handle and bag pull free. My personal preference would be a more rigid attachment; I'm going to try velcro -- one piece glued to the BackUp and the other to the deck.
Roll-Aid comment: If it's possible, run the straps through the bungee cord tie-downs. Also, note the strap slot at the very end of the shell, which can be used to firmly anchor the BackUP.

"So, now my wife and I have a BackUp attached to the deck of our boats and, though we both can roll it's a comforting feeling to know that no matter what happens -- huge wave, loss of paddle or the gremlin of the deep, we'll always have a BackUp.

"Thanks for the wonderful invention. I wish you great success."

Dan Colodney

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Tom Watson (former President of the Trade Association of Paddle Sports):

That sucker works so great! I just went out in the middle of the pool and said, "OK gang, I'm going to try this, I've never done this before, here we go" and bang bang I was up again about 4 seconds later and everybody in the pool goes "Whoa" !

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Pack & Paddle magazine, PO Box 1063, Port Orchard WA 98366. January 1997.

Back-Up: a layer of safety for capsize recovery

A new safety device on the market for sea kayakers bears serious consideration. It's called Back-Up and is manufactured by Roll-Aid Safety of Vancouver, BC. It provides an alternative to wet-exiting in a capsize if you don't have an Eskimo roll or your roll doesn't work for whatever reason.

Until now the only alternative to a wet exit has been the "Eskimo rescue" in which the bow of a rescuer's kayak provides support for you to roll up. It's a fine technique and works well in practice situations. The problem in real life with an unexpected capsize is the time needed for a rescue kayak to position itself beside you -- not to mention the fact that your paddling partners have to realize you've capsized in the first place! The Back-Up changes this by creating, in the manufacturer's words, "an instant rescuer's bow."

It does that by automatic inflation of a 22"-square nylon bag by a CO2 cartridge. The nylon bag, CO2 cartridge, and trigger mechanism are all contained in a plastic cylinder roughly 9" long and 3" in diameter.

A large grab handle connected to the bag extends past the end of the cylinder. Pulling the handle frees the bag and causes it to inflate. The inflated bag provides the buoyancy to allow you to right yourself.

A foot-long tether allows you to attach it to your kayak once you are upright. And a strap on the other end allows a paddle blade to be attached for use as a paddle float reentry device.

I recently purchased one and here are my impressions. The Back-Up weighs about 1-1/2 pounds -- mostly due to the large CO2 cartridge. Everything looked well-made, which is what I would expect from serious rescue equipment.

It comes with an instructional pamphlet explaining how it works and how to care for it. Initially the reading seemed a bit imposing at 16 pages but I found it is clearly written and contains all the information needed.

The main challenge I faced was where to locate the cylinder on my kayak's deck. The cylinder needs to be firmly mounted so that the outer shell stays put when the handle is pulled. Two locations are suggested by the company.

The first and easiest is on the deck just ahead of the cockpit. That's where I wanted to put mine since it seemed it would be the easiest to use from that location. Unfortunately it interfered with other things I store on that portion of the deck.

The other location is the one I finally settled on -- the deck just aft of the cockpit. I was concerned with reaching the handle but that turned out to be no problem.

I checked out its operation in a recent pool session. It functioned just as advertised -- I had no problem operating it and righting myself. I also did a wet exit and used the inflated bag as a paddle float. I needed to let some of the gas out of the bag to get my paddle through the built-in strap but that was easily done. The bag provided lots of floatation for the paddle-float rescue.

The Back-Up is a reusable device except  you need to replace the CO2 cartridge each time, as well as fold up the bag and stuff it back into the cylinder. If you use it in a real situation you probably won't be doing that out on the water. What you can do with the inflated bag while paddling to a safer spot is either paddle while holding the handle or tether the bag to your kayak. That way it is still inflated and ready to provide a recovery means should you capsize again. Once you're safe you can deflate it through a built-in valve.

To use the Back-Up you need to have the wherewithall not to immediately panic and wet exit should you capsize. You also need to have enough body contact with the sides of your kayak and enough strength to allow you to right yourself and your boat. You can check that out the next time you're in a pool session by trying an "Eskimo rescue" with another boat or using the edge of the pool for support.

The instructional booklet that comes with the Back-Up recommends several steps to follow to become familiar with how to use the device. The bag can be inflated by mouth to enable you to practice the basic righting technique without having to expend a CO2 cartridge.

The Back-Up costs $110 plus $10 shipping and handling. Extra CO2 cartridges are $10 each. I think the cost is acceptable for this well-constructed item that adds a layer of safety to capsize recovery. The only potential drawback is the one that exists for anything -- something could go wrong. So it should be used as just one more item in your arsenal of defenses against a possible capsize.

You can get more information from:
Roll-Aid Safety Inc.
PO Box 72005
vancouver BC V6R 4P2 Canada

--Lee McKee, Port Orchard

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Sea Kayaker magazine. June 1997.

The BackUp

For hundreds of years, the Eskimos have carried seal-skin floats on the decks of their kayaks. The use of the inflated seal skin ranged from a hunting aid that kept an animal from sinking after it was harpooned, to a rescue device that assisted the paddler as he righted his kayak after capsizing. A capsized paddler would pull the inflated seal skin from under the deck rigging and use it to roll to the surface.

Modern technology has brought the use of several inflatable floats as rescue devices into the 20th century. One is in the form of the BackUp, manufactured by Roll-Aid Safety Inc. of Vancouver BC. The BackUp is a 25-ounce high-density plastic cylinder that is a compact 8 1/2 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Protruding from one end is a 4 1/2-inch plastic D-ring handle used to activate and operate the device. Enclosed within the cylinder is a large, sturdy bag to which the D-ring is connected and a C02 cartridge with inflator.

The BackUp should be mounted on the foredeck or the aftdeck of a kayak by attaching it to existing deck lines in a manner that will allow for immediate access after capsizing. The BackUp has two 3/4-inch pieces of webbing with sturdy fasteners to facilitate this. If a paddler capsizes and fails to roll up, he can stay in the kayak and reach for the D-ring on the BackUp and pull. The BackUp slides out of its case and inflates automatically, allowing the paddler to lean on it and right himself. This technique, with practice, can even work with double kayaks where both paddlers coordinate the use of two BackUps. In the event the paddler does wet exit the kayak, the BackUp is designed to be attached to the paddle and used in an outrigger self-rescue fashion.

The manufacturer provides a very thorough owner's manual covering everything from how to install and use the device to highlighting the importance of practicing with the BackUp. The manual frequently reinforces the idea that the BackUp is not "an excuse to challenge dangerous sea conditions , or to avoid learning a reliable paddle-roll." One comment in the instructions caught my attention: "You will probably need to use both hands for leaning on the BackUp.. That will mean dropping your paddle, but it won't go far in 3 seconds, and you have a spare paddle anyway, right?" Letting go of either my paddle or my kayak is the last thing I'd do in a rescue situation. I'd advise against letting go of the paddle unless you have secured it with a paddle leash. [see response] Other than that section of the manual, it's clear that safety and caution are at the forefront of the designer's recommendations.

After reading the instructions a few times, I waited for a nice brisk Pecember day and headed out to try the BackUp. Mounting the BackUp proved to be a snap. Rigid deck lines will provide a more secure base, but the bungie cord used on most kayaks will work. Without activating the device, I capsized a few times and confirmed that I was able to locate the D-ring with my eyes shut under water. Confident that I could operate the BackUp, I capsized and pulled the D-ring with one hand while holding onto my paddle with the other. I waited, still in the cockpit, waving the bag in the air beside my upturned kayak not able to ascertain if it had inflated. [see response] After about 5 seconds, I could not feel the flotation I expected. Using the BackUp, I discovered, is not like using the bow of a fellow paddler's kayak for an Eskimo rescue. Instead of providing support from a point 6 to 1O inches above the water, the D-ring on the BackUp hangs down into the water 6 inches below the inflated bag. It doesn't provide much leverage for one-handed use if it is on the same side of the kayak as the hand you use to deploy it.

The best technique, as the instructions indicate, is to be sure that the BackUp rises to the surface on the side of the kayak opposite from the hand used to pull the D-ring. This will provide the necessary leverage to roll up with one arm while retaining your paddle with the other. I discovered this can be somewhat challenging because the flotation provided by my PFD and dry top tended to float me up on one side of the boat, but not necessarily the side I needed to be on to operate the BackUp. Paddlers using the BackUp may find it necessary to reposition themselves, while capsized, to obtain the correct setup position. Once you've achieved the right position, the flotation provided by the BackUp makes rolling up easy.

The manufacturer recommends using both hands on the Back Up after it has inflated, one on the handle and the other on the top of the bag. While two-handed use is definitely kinder on the shoulders, it could require letting go of your paddle in conditions where it could be quickly swept away unless you are using a paddle leash.

On one trial, a friend taking photographs from the shore estimated that it had taken at least 6 or 7 seconds for the BackUp to inflate, several seconds longer than the manufacturer's claim of 3 start to finish. I contacted Roll-Aid Safety Inc. and was told that the inflator device, manufactured by the Halkey-Roberts Corporation to meet FAA specifications, has proven to work consistently in a variety of applications. It is possible, however, for the pin that pierces the C02 cartridge to become stuck in the cartridge. (Roll-aid reported one such incident in over 100 trials with 15 to 20 devices. ) When this occurs, the device will fully inflate through a slot in the pin, however, it will do so at a much slower rate, as it did in my initial test. Roll-Aid Safety Inc. assured me that if a customer experiences this problem they will replace the Back Up without charge. I'd recommend making at least one live test, discharging the C02 cartridge, during your practice with the device. In subsequent trials with a replacement unit the inflation was within the three seconds claimed by Roll-Aid.

The BackUp is equipped with a paddle strap and a short tether so it can be used for a paddle float rescue. It worked splendidly as such. I prefer having a paddle float tethered to the kayak, but the manufacturer feels that for the device's primary use the risk of entanglement in a longer tether is high.

Roll Aid Safety Inc. makes it very clear that the BackUp is intended to be just that, a backup to a missed Eskimo roll or "in case you drop your paddle or dislocate your shoulder." As such, it makes re-righting myself effortless when inflated on the correct side, relative to my working arm. But before relying on the BackUp in emergency situations where a paddler would have missed a roll or dislocated a shoulder, I would recommend at least three trial runs, fully activating the BackUp in less-than-desirable conditions, to achieve a healthy level of comfort.

The BackUp does provide an excellent dual-purpose rescue device. In a manner similar to the seal skin float the Eskimos used, the BackUp gives the paddler an alternative to wet exiting the kayak. And as a paddle float, it makes it possible to reenter and bail the kayak should a wet exit be the only alternative.

The Backup has a sticker price of$120 U.S., and the replacement C02 cartridges are $10 if purchased from the manufacturer.

Editor's Note

When we told Alistair Blachford of Roll-Aid about the two incidents of slow inflation, he forwarded our report to the Halkey-Roberts Corporation, the manufacturer of the inflation device.

Reply from Halkey-Roberts

The 840BIL inflator is built to very demanding military and civilian specifications. These include the tested capacity for 200 firings, inflation capability within five seconds of piercing and salt-spray resistance in 720 hours of continuous testing. The components are all stainless steel.

The firing pin on these inflators is manufactured with a groove down the piercing cylinder such that gas will pass from the gas cylinder whether the pin is stuck within the gas cylinder or has exited. The single variable in the system is the gas cylinder. The physics of changing liquid C02 to gaseous C02 is affected by many different things: ambient temperature, water in the gas and turbulence in the gas cylinder neck are but a few. All of these basically cause the formation of dry ice during discharge and can cause a slow inflation.

I am working with Mr. Blachford to ensure that the inflators he is using are correct. In addition, we are examining the gas cylinders to assure that they were correct.

The confidence in these systems is exceptional. Slow fires do occur and are always embarrassing. We anticipate a slow fire (more than five but less than ten seconds to fully discharge) once or twice in every 250 firings. Experience in thousands of firings at numerous military installations has proven these numbers accurate.

F.J. (Eric) Shephard
Vice President, Inflation Systems
Halkey-Roberts Corporation

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Sea Kayaker magazine. October 1997.
(Roll-Aid's response to the Sea Kayaker review)

About the Backup Safety Device

I would like to make a few comments about Tim Walsh's (June'97) review of our Backup safety device, prompted by feedback to us from a few of your readers.

The article [figure captions] describes deployment with "the paddler's left hand". The Backup can be deployed with a person's "favourite" hand, so I would guess that Mr. Walsh is left-handed! Using your left is not an awkward requirement for using the device.

Mr. Walsh questions the wisdom of the Owner's Manual statement, which reads "You will probably need to use both hands for leaning on the Backup ...", because dropping your paddle is bad news. First of all, I'm confident that the Manual is correct ... most paddlers are not strong or skilled enough to do it one-handed, and they probably will need to use both hands. Secondly, although it sure is bad news to let go of your paddle, it's much worse to wet-exit your kayak rather than dropping, and probably quickly recovering, your paddle. When I do it, I drop my paddle only at the last moment when I need my second hand for leaning on the inflated Backup . And almost always my paddle ends up across my boat in front of me -- exactly where it's easiest to re-grab.

While there is indeed a more natural-feeling side for the Backup to surface on, its 80 pounds of buoyant support enable you to right yourself from either side -- if you allow yourself the use of both hands, rather than hanging onto your paddle and repositioning your body before righting, as the reviewer did.

Mr. Walsh describes "waving the bag in the air beside my upturned kayak not able to acertain if it had inflated". The usual reaction is just to lean on it! He is correct that, unlike an Eskimo rescue, the Backup supports the paddler's hand below the water surface rather than above it. In this case it seems that Mr. Walsh is so highly practiced in the Eskimo rescue that he had a strong expectation about where his hand would be supported. I think he's unusual in this way.

Guessing from the perspectives in the review I figure Mr. Walsh is unusually strong and skilled, and very highly practiced. Most of our testing has been with relatively inexperienced paddlers, and they found using the Backup quite natural.

It's unfortunate that the reviewer experienced rare slow (6-7 second) inflation by the military spec inflator. As mentioned in the article, this is not to Roll-Aid specs, and we will replace such units. But even a partially inflated Backup provides considerable buoyancy, and getting up on a second lean rather than a first lean is still preferable to waiting for the possible arrival of a rescuer's bow, or doing a wet-exit.

Using a Backup should be compared with the alternatives available when your roll fails. In that situation a solo Eskimo rescue using a Backup is preferable to any tool or technique that I know about.

Alistair Blachford
Roll-Aid Safety Inc.
Vancouver, B.C.

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Wave~Length paddling magazine. August - September 1997.

Roll-Aid BackUP System

In any capsize situation, self-rescue the only method you can really rely on, and not falling out of your boat while doing so greatly increases your chances of survival. That is why we learn to roll our kayaks in the first place: the roll is the quickest (and driest) way to become upright and there is no possibility of becoming separated from the boat.

But what if you don't have a "bomb-proof roll"? What if you're still developing those skills or you're recovering from a shoulder injury or you've lost or broken your paddle or the shock of flipping has disoriented you?

Failing a reliable roll, you must become adept at rescuing yourself from outside your boat using one or more rescue devices such as the paddle float, stirrups, sponsons, sea float or sea seat. Regardless of technique, bouncing around in cold, rough seas beside a boat half-full of water greatly increases the danger and difficulty of self-rescue.

Enter the Backup rolling system from Roll-Aid Safety in Vancouver. This ingenious and well-made device acts as a backup system to your rolling skills so that you don't have to wet exit and re-enter your boat.

Essentially a flotation device charged with a replaceable CO2 cartridge for instantaneous inflation, the Backup system folds up into a compact waterproof cannister attached to your deck. Upon capsizing, just grab the Backup unit's large D-ring handle and pull. The Backup slides out of the cannister and immediately inflates, giving you about 80 lbs of buoyancy to lean upon to sit up. It's that easy. lf you've ever learned the "Eskimo Rescue", in which you use the side of a pool, a dock or someone's bow to pull yourself upright, then you will have no trouble at all with the Backup system.

For my first test of the product, I attached the cannister to the foredeck. I am right-handed, so I practiced reaching for the handle with my right hand and moving it to my left shoulder so that, once upside down, it would inflate and bob to the surface on the left side of the boat. The Backup performed flawlessly. I was upright in about 3 seconds.

Once upright, the inflated Backup can be attached to your kayak with a built-in tether-and-clip while you paddle to safety~ In the event of another capsize, just reach for the tether, detach it from the deck, and pull yourself upright.

By the way, there is also a paddle blade strap on one side of the Backup flotation unit, which, combined with the tether-and-clip, turns the Backup unit into a typical paddle float-yet another level of rescue backup!

Changing the C02 cartridge and repacking the Backup unit is a simple procedure, clearly detailed in the comprehensive and readable owner's manual. (The flotation device can also be orally inflated in lieu of using C02 cartridges, which is a great way to practice.)

For my next test, I tried righting myself from my "weak" side. Again, this was no problem, unless I completely ignored my basic rolling skills and tried to force my head and body up before righting the kayak (in which case I could simply use my other hand on the Backup float and power myself up anyway). I found that holding the float further away from the side of the boat also gave me extra leverage, making it even easier to upright.

For my final test, I mounted the cannister on deck behind the cockpit with the I>handle protruding to the left. This required a bit of a stretch, especially with my bulky PFD, to reach the unit with my right hand, but once pulled, it inflated on my "strong" side without further positioning, and the whole process seemed even more natural.

The manual describes using twin Backups in a double kayak. I can't help but think that practicing the Backup method of self-rescue makes more sense for doubles than mastering the intricacies of synchronized rolling procedures!

My one fear about using the Backup is that it may become a substitute for common sense! But as the manual says: the Backup is a tool, not a guarantee. Do not use the safety margin provided by a Backup as an excuse to challenge dangerous sea conditions or to avoid learning a reliable paddle roll.

Cost: $150 (Cdn) or $110 (US). Comes with one C02 cartridge. Extra C02 cartrides $13 (Cdn) or $10 (US). Contact Roll-Aid Safety Inc for a list of Backup retailers.

For more information, contact Alistair Blachford, Roll-Aid Safety Inc., Box 72005, Vancouver, B.C., Canada V6R 4P2. Ph: 604/224-4010. Fax: 604/224-4045.

Visit the Roll-Aid WWW site for a video clip of the Backup in action at http:/ /

by Howard Stiff

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Paddler Magazine, July/August 2000.

Roll-aid BackUP

The co2-powered BackUP from Roll-Aid Safety Inc. eliminates the need for good rolling technique. Resembling a hard plastic sausage with a handle on one end, the BackUP attaches to the deck of your boat and releases a self-inflating bladder providing buoyancy to right yourself. It works. Once upside down, you simply grab the D-shaped handle and the bladder is pulled from its shell and be gins to inflate and rise. You then pull yourself up like you would grabbing onto the side of a pool. A good hip flick helps but it isn't necessary. In fact I capsized repeatedly with a flooded cockpit and easily muscled my 200 lbs. to the surface just by pushing down on the float. The manual warns not to tether the bladder to the deck for fear of entanglement. Also, repacking and re-arming the device with a fresh co2 cartridge in rough weather isn't easy. But the BackUP does what it says it will do. Yes, you must practice with it (an inflation tube allows you to do that without repeatedly wasting cartridges) and you should still learn to roll. But the next time you flip with nothing in your hands but the camera or gorp, the BackUP will let you forgo another rescue. Info: (604)-224-4010,

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