Any long-time sea kayakers made switch to canoes?

Being “afraid of being trapped” in a sea kayak is a frequent fear of people who have never practiced a wet exit, or been unexpectedly dumped when out in one even before practicing. The reality is that gravity works even in water. The issue when you find yourself upside down in a kayak isn’t that you won’t get out but that you have to fight to stay inside it if you want to roll back up. Unless you have a really tight neoprene spray skirt that you have to forcibly yank off (which is why they have a grab loop on the front), in most cases you will naturally fall out of the kayak, sometimes before it is even completely inverted if you have a not-too-tight nylon sprayskirt that fastens under the coaming lip with bungee cord .

It takes some training and experience to react by “grabbing” the underside of the deck with your knees and thighs to fight gravity and stay in the boat if you know how to roll. Most popular modern kayaks have larger keyhole coamings than the old whitewater and earlier small cockpit sea kayaks. Some higher end sea kayaks still have smaller ones, but they can still be wet exited easily with practice. Whenever I have had kayaking instruction, the first exercise is always having us capsize the boat and then climb back in on the water. I have NEVER seen a student fail to simply fall out of the kayak or easily pop themselves out underwater if by some slim chance they stayed int the cockpit until it was upside down.

I’m 67 years old and have had open heart surgery and shoulder and elbow surgery. There is no way I’m going to learn how to do a roll. I tried to learn once and almost drown. I tried to learn to roll a whitewater canoe too. I managed to do a wet exit, from my seakayak, but only when I was wearing snorkeling goggles. I took a private lesson from a lady that studied with Bob Foote. I can’t swim, so I’m not that comfortable in the water. I’m a little concerned that just falling into cold water could trigger Afib. I’ve had problems with Afib. I want to stay in the boat. I don’t want to capsize in the first place. If I did flip and end up out of the boat, I’m inclined to think it would be easier to get back into a canoe, but I’m not sure. I do want to practice getting back in a canoe, in a safe environment. An SOT would be even easier, which is one of the reasons I was trying them.
I’ve paddled an awful lot of rivers and lakes and only capsized once, and that was my brothers fault, so maybe I shouldn’t worry so much.

I am a long time canoeist since 1960. I built a Pygmy Coho out of a kit of African mahogany. It was beautiful, it was fast, it was light and strong.

But I could not take my dogs, no place for a Coleman stove and too hard to load camping equipment. I went back to canoes and sold the kayak.

Same age here and have had similar heart issues n the past. Rolling is the quickest way to get out of a cold water environment. Summer is the time to learn & master it in open water conditions. Pools are great for initial learning and winter rolling skills maintenance and playing with learning new rolls.

If you are relying on shoulder and arm strength to roll, you are doing lots wrong. Too bad you never had rolling instructors to teach you that. Always dress for immersion (even if it is not intended as unexpected surprise swims happen).

Celia, IMO the canoe thing the BCU brought into the coaching scheme didn’t contribute to the demise of BCU presence in North America. Ultimately that diminishment was due to things like insurance, and that Paddlesport North America had to be independent of the BCU because the BCU is subsidized by their government.

As for that canoe “requirement”, in reality the requirement was about being able to demonstrate basic understanding of more than just one craft. Canoe was just the most obvious one, especially since flatwater sprint kayaks aren’t all that common! Although there was a preference of the coaches that understanding cause and effect in a solo canoe may be an ideal foundation for all paddlecraft.

There was push-back, and the results were interesting from my point of view. When the new requirements were put in effect, all North American BCU coaches had to update by re-taking the canoe component of the 2* skills assessment, and while a frequent comment heard from those coaches going in was that they were only attending training and assessment due to the requirements, the frequent comments after assessment ran more along lines such as “wow, I need to get a canoe!” and “let’s plane a coaches canoe trip!”.
The reason I know this is because in the western US at that time, for awhile there was only one BCU coach qualified to do these canoe updates - me! I was quite busy that spring!

Some of those coaches canoe trips did happen, and received an enthusiastic response.

The problem that came up wasn’t with the coaches but with the public. When students pursuing the BCU learning scheme were told that to pass the basic 2* assessment that they needed to show an understanding of cause and effect when paddling two distinctly different crafts, participation dropped. But for those that did pursue the new scheme I’m quite convinced that it not only hastened their learning of skill but also of paddling opportunities.

But in respect to your being instructed that the J-stroke is faster than switching, that might be because the BCU limited most canoeing to “traditional” skills. At BCU canoe clinics one might experience canoe sailing or canoe poling, but nary a bent shaft paddle was seen. Switching sides with a longer straight shaft is cumbersome compared to a good J-stroke, but short bent shaft paddles are a breeze.

At the trainings I ran, I brought poles, improvised sailing gear, traditional paddles…and bent shaft paddles and even solo whitewater canoes!
Regarding the solo WW canoe, quite fun to get a BCU instructor into it and 1) see if they could keep it going straight!, 2) for any BCU instructor who I knew to be skilled with Greenland style rolling, I gave them a simple instruction to start with a chest scull and finish with a storm roll…and they always rolled up easily (with a grin on their faces).

I would agree with all of your impressions. Although there are of course exceptions, the average solo canoe has a greater waterline beam than the average sea kayak so it will probably be a bit slower. Also you can maintain a bit higher stroke cadence with the double bladed paddle because the recovery phase only amounts to dipping the opposite paddle blade in the water as you finish your forward propulsion stroke.

There is no question that canoes in general are more adversely affected by winds. Most people find them more comfortable to be in for long periods because you can move around and depending on the set up of the outfitting may be able to transition from kneeling to sitting and vice versa without getting out of the boat.

Canoes are much easier to load and unload and most people find them more comfortable to portage any distance. On the other hand, a skilled kayaker in a SINK with a skirt can roll the boat back up and be completely dry. Also the double bladed paddle allows a good brace on both sides of the canoe. But I have known people who could never get past the psychological impact of being head down inside a kayak and never could learn to roll despite receiving excellent instruction from multiple top drawer instructors. And you are absolutely correct that immersion of the head and face in cold water can trigger cardiac tachyarrhythmias. A lot of times when you fall out of a canoe you never get your head wet.

I do know a number of whitewater open boaters who had to transition to kayak because they could no longer kneel. And I know a number of whitewater kayakers who had to take up open boating because of lower back issues.


I know a number of people who were well along in the BCU scheme when they introduced the new system, and the canoe requirement was in the bucket of reasons many walked away from trying to fuss with the BCU changes. Granted there were others but the bottom line was that the BCU or its inheritor needed those dollars, especially since as you say PNA was not subsidized. Had the PNA been able to operate more independently than I was informed by many involved in its formation perhaps not so much of an issue. One (VERY) long time BCU person I know of said at the time that the better idea might be to look at the ACA system for sea kayaking because of these issues, spend efforts there. In this country I would posit they were right.

As to the definition of what constituted required canoe skills, I appreciate that you yourself had an understanding of what that should be. But it is being kind to say that getting a consistent, straight answer was challenging. Very kind.

For example your statement - “As for that canoe “requirement”, in reality the requirement was about being able to demonstrate basic understanding of more than just one craft.”

In fact the NE RCO at the time specifically was requiring it be a single blade craft. Which is an assumption under Traditional Canoeing but more specific than becoming familiar with another type of craft.

I canoed when I was younger. I still enjoy taking one out at times. I live near the Adirondacks where I would never consider anything but if I were to get serious about those lakes because of the portaging. I have never been someone who needed to be sold on the idea that canoeing could be a fun and worth activity.

I did need something resembling a clear path to deal with the canoeing thing though, as did most people who had primarily gotten into the BCU because of their sea kayaking program. It wasn’t there.

This is not the same as the quite common thing I heard at the time from coaches, that sea kayakers were objecting because they hated canoes. It was not that. It was simply that when sea kayaking is why someone joined an organization, spending time and money on canoes that will never be a practical alternative for paddling on the ocean is a costly and time consuming bump in the road. Especially in the US where we do not have a club system, so people had to go out and get canoes to deal with this.

I am aware that the canoe thing was eventually dropped. But by then I was not the only person who had aged beyond the time and cost of the symposiums that remained the primary means of actually getting a cert in the PNA/BCU system. Between a major health issue in the family and simply getting older, my paddling goals became more personal and less aggressive.

Anyone who believes trying to get back into a canoe in deep water would be “easier” than getting back into a decked kayak, clearly has never attempted that. The fact that you even consider that misperception and also can’t swim is a pretty good indication a canoe is not a good choice for you (honestly I don’t think non-swimmers should be out in ANY paddlecraft but I doubt you want to hear that since you’ve been lucky enough so far not to drown). Sit on tops and shallow warm water are probably your only safe option with the afib and your inability to swim.

None of us WANTS to capsize but it happens, usually when you least expect it and in the oddest situations. Not being prepared to deal with that can be fatal. Wishful thinking is not preparation.


Getting back into a canoe unassisted can be pretty tough. With someone assisting it is much easier. But either way, unless you have supplemental flotation in the canoe it can be pretty much pointless.

Stock canoes without supplemental flotation have just enough buoyancy not to sink out of sight. If the canoe is thoroughly full of water it will be nearly completely submerged with only a bit of the stems sticking out above water. You might be able to “get in” the canoe but both gunwales will be underwater and you won’t be able to paddle it effectively.

Now it is quite possible to fall out of a canoe without getting any water in the boat. In that case, with assistance you may be able to get back in without getting so much water in the boat as to make it unmanageable once you do. If you are serious about going the canoe route and are interested in self-rescue techniques you will need to look into installing supplemental flotation and making your self a stirrup webbing loop that you can loop around a thwart to use to help get yourself back in the boat. But I would suggest just not paddling alone.

Various -

Monkeyhead. Unless you have arms matching your screenname, reaching for a Jstroke or a sit and switch or a Cstroke etc in most pack canoes would be untenable. You need to be seated higher than the bottom of the boat for those strokes.

SOTConvert. You have not fallen out of enough canoes to know what you are talking about.

Then again this is the first time you said you can’t swim. But worry about AFIB and plan to haul around a SOT. The hits just keep coming…

But to the re-entry thing, Assisted is one thing. In a canoe session I found it was surprisingly easy to lean the boat over and scull while a heavier person than me got into a tandem from the other side. I have been able to reach over from my ultralight without good floatation and hold a canoe steady enough for someone to come in from the other side. But we are talking all assisted.

Solo is a whole other thing. If the canoe has big float bags front and back it is easier to get back into, and kind while you get out any offending water than came in with you. If it is an older solid wooden canoe and you are a person with long enough arms and height that one good pull gets you over the center of the thing, also doable. But not at all easy for anyone of shorter stature. I finally made it back into a (wooden) Mad River I think Guide (?) in one canoe session, but I was losing my physical strength for any more tries. And even thru a dry suit the bruises were pretty glorious by two days after.

My ultralight does what Pblanc says. It becomes a submarine where I can sit in it up to my midriff but it ain’t paddleable. I would have to add full float bags, at which point I couldn’t just lift it over my head. So it stays on fairly quiet water because it is really nice to have a boat you can do that with.


I appreciate your concern.
I do plan on practicing getting back into my canoe, this summer.
I buy good, high floatation vests, and always wear it on the water.
I don’t do white water.
I don’t paddle in cold conditions.
I, generally, don’t paddle alone.
My minimum number of boats for a trip is three.
The reason I think a canoe might be easier to get in is:
1- it’s open, so you don’t have to wiggle into a small opening.
2-I just watched a video on getting back into a canoe and he did it in about five seconds. He did it faster than I’ve ever seen anyone get back into a kayak.
If you’ve lived your life never taking any risks, I feel very sorry for you.
I’m not a big risk taker, but I’ve done things far riskier than paddling flat water while wearing a life vest.

Once again you are making some pretty unfounded assumptions. But that is your personal problem. People above have posted actual experience but you seem to think you would be untouched by such concerns because it looked easy in a video.

It would be instructive if you were to post your actual experiences AFTER trying it yourself, in a real boat with real water.

Your problem is frankly that you do not understand your limitations. And insist on knowing better anyway.

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I might also point out that I got made fun of because I thought my SOT was “tippy”.
Then I got made fun of for showing ways to make it more stable.
Better than knowing how to get back in your boat is to not flip in the first place.
No, capsizing is not inevitable.
My poor swimming is exactly why I like boats that have good stability.
Don’t make fun of me for it. A man’s got to know his limitations.
I know mine.

Of course, knowing how to swim is a good thing.
I would argue that a non-swimmer in a life jacket is at less risk than a swimmer without one.
Every summer I read stories about a good swimmer drowning because they were overconfident in their abilities. They try to swim across a lake or river and don’t make it.
Very few sober people drown while wearing a life jacket. I don’t drink and I always wear my life jacket, on the water. I’m probably safer, in a canoe, than most of the swimmers reading this.
Life Jackets Save Lives - Water Safety USA

Unless you have installed supplemental flotation in your canoe there really is no point in practicing unassisted reentry techniques. If you have another paddler or paddlers in a canoe (or kayak) they can empty your water-filled canoe with a boat over boat rescue, then hold it parallel to their boat and dip the gunwale opposite their boat down to water level and steady it there while you clamber back in.

In my experience, few people can reenter a water-filled canoe on their own even with supplemental flotation unless they use one or more “gimmicks”. It is much harder than someone might have made it look in a video. You can’t just use upper body strength to pull yourself back over the boat unless someone on the other side is holding it steady. You will just roll the boat back over on top of yourself.

The trick is to use your arms and upper body to hold the canoe in a position in which one gunwale is very low to the water, or even a bit under water, and then kick very strongly with your legs to propel enough of your body mass over the boat to keep it from rolling on top of you. Not at all easy and timing really comes into play.

One of the gimmicks that have been used to help with unassisted canoe reentry include a stirrup that you can put one foot in to help your legs get you back over the boat as I mentioned. I have heard of individuals rigging a paddle float onto the end of a long paddle or a stick and lashing that to a thwart to act as a big outrigger on the side of the boat from which you are reentering. Another option is the use of some type of counterweight attached to the opposite side of the canoe.

Here is a video from Ray Goodwin demonstrating the latter technique. He is a pretty well-recognized and well-regarded canoe instructor/writer in Great Britain. Note that in addition to using a counterweight (a water-filled dry bag in the first video and a large waterproof gear bag in a second) he also has not only end air bags in his boat but side air bags which seem to be more popular in Britain than here. The side air bag that is submerged as he reenters provides a great deal of buoyancy to keep that side of the boat from sinking. Note also that even with that it isn’t that easy. Then imagine trying to do the same thing in sizable waves or current.

If my BILaw gives me the stripper it took him 25 years to finish I will. He started it in Mn.
Moved it too Atlanta under construction, it sat for 17 years and he said he was going to make
a light fixture in his gazebo with the hull. Having seen his work I told him there was a special
place in hell for people like him. I have to dig up the photo
Peace J


I see most vids like the one you posted were entry was from the side with ether someone holding the other side down or adding weights/water bags.

I remember watching a vid of a guy attaching a loop to his bow loop and another person steadying the stern and he did a cowboy mount and inched along the gunwales and into his seat. It looked more stable and took on a lot less water as the whole length of the canoe was the fulcrum taking his weight. I guess stability side to side is the problem with doing this.

I carry a two-piece telescoping poling pole with me now that is about 8’ when extended. I have been wondering if I had a quick way of lashing it across the canoe and a float for the one end as an outrigger also something quick to setup if I couldn’t get enough reaction to just climb back in after righting the canoe with my air bags bow and stern keeping it up.

I’m wondering how big of a float I would need say located 4’ off to the side? :canoe:

If you have someone assisting then it is possible for most people to reenter from the side without getting much additional water in the boat. I suppose it is possible to enter over the stem with someone holding the other stem but I really can’t see any advantage as it would be much harder to get your body up over the stem, especially in a boat with high stems.

With two swimmers the standard procedure is for the swimmers to go to opposite sides. Emptying the boat if it has a lot of water is tricky but a practiced pair might be able to do the Capistrano flip if the boat is empty and not too heavy. The swimmers then go to opposite sides and one holds the gunwales and allows the opposite gunwale to dip to water level as the other person reenters, preventing the boat from rolling by using their body weight. Then the second swimmer reenters while the first steadies the boat with a paddle brace.

It is inevitable. Videos show how well someone else can reenter a boat. Your experience may vary, wildly.

I have taught hundreds of students. The first thing we do is capsize and try reentry. That hammers in that what they see is not what they can do. Some do better and most do worse.
We aren’t making fun of you.

Just capsize . No need to tell us the results. You are smart enough to adapt your planning.

He’s reported elsewhere that he’s settled on a We-no-nah Advantage. With the shallow 13" sides and serious tumblehome, maybe he’ll be able to self rescue. We’ll just have to wait to hear what he reports…

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