Assisted Rescue Stirrup

I recently made an assisted rescue 3 step stirrup for canoes or rec-kayaks or a mixture of each going both ways of rescue. We have a 14”7 canoe and a 10’ rec-kayak we will be testing on if the water ever goes down and clears up from the record rains here.

I wanted to start a thread on just this. I showed it a little in a different thread but don’t think many viewed it.

A normal stirrup attaches to a thwart on a canoe or around the coaming of kayak and then the second boater holds down on the far side away from the person trying to enter with a foot in the stirrup for a boast up. It pulls down on the boat being entered rotating it unless the other person is really leaning over and putting a lot of their weight down.

This stirrup reaches across and hooks into the other boat locking both boats together when weight is applied to the stirrup. Then both the weight of the other boat and the other person is keeping the far side of the rescued boat from coming up.

At least that’s the theory. I hope to get out this week and practice and see if we can make it work.

Easy to make and low cost if anyone wants to try and give feedback.

Pictures of what I made and mocked up with both boats hooked to the other. :canoe:

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Try it for sure. My experience is that stirrups have an annoying tendency to float . That bottom step may be on the same level of water as the top so you might have to add some washers or something to add weight.

I thought about that and if I have to the bottom PVC can become steel pipe real easy. untie a knot and clip two zip ties that are inside each step.

I have climbed similar steps before in the water, it can be a little tricky for sure. I figured to put the foot I’m not going up on in the lower rung and then that weight pushing down should hold it tight and then go up with the other foot on the next rung.

I want to take my nephew along when I try it he is a little spryer than me. We can work it out at our beach area in 5-6’ of water.

I’m pretty sure a regular stirrup I’m not going to make work without a lot of practice.

No matter how you modify it, stirrups are still a bad idea. In the kind of rough water conditions that are likely to cause a capsize, it’s going to be really difficult to find it and get a foot in it. There’s too much chance of getting tangled up and making your predicament even worse. On top of that, stirrups encourage terrible form, as the last thing you want to try to do is haul yourself straight up out of the water. That puts way too much stress on every piece of gear involved.

Proper technique is to kick your legs to the surface so you’re prone in the water. That way, you only have to pull yourself a few inches up and across the deck. At that point, you can twist and work your legs into the cockpit.

The key to easy, effective self-rescues is not to use more gear, it’s to learn effective technique and practice it until you can execute it automatically.

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None of my reference material going back to the 70’s or anything I have from the ACA or BCU mention using such a device. I’m guessing there is a good reason they don’t.

If you can remount without using slings, stirrups, or paddle floats so much the better.

But the use of rescue slings and stirrups is discussed as an option by a variety of instructors and paddling clubs.

Here is a very introductory article on paddling from the ACA that mentions the use of rescue stirrups and slings on page 21:

Here is an article from Tom Watson from this website discussing the use of a rescue stirrup:

The ACA has an L2 course on the Essentials of Sit on Top River Kayaking. The instructor curriculum mentions the use of stirrups and paddle floats for deep water reentry under section 5:

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Thanks for the input guys and it could very well not work at all. We will see. Who knows maybe I will rip the gunwale off the canoe or rip the side out of the poly kayak. Whatever happens I will report back.

Just because something hasn’t been tried before or show up in published text doesn’t mean it wont work. There was time before PFDs for instance and some guy took a bunch of corks and tied them to a vest and the PFD was born.

I agree the likelihood of capsize in rough water is greater and also that just about every rescue method is hindered by rough water. I also know getting up and over the gunwales of a canoe or into a rec-kayak without introducing a lot of water and re-capsizing is very difficult if not imposable for many people. Of course the obvious choice is to stay out of rough water and don’t venture way out in lakes and be young and in shape and swim yourself up and over the gunwale.

We mainly take a very conservative approach to canoeing and try and pick calm waters on good days and if there was zero chance of capsizing I wouldn’t worry about this. But I know there is always a chance and I saw this as something that maybe could help me or someone else struggling to get back in when the swim in method is not working.

The paddle and float and rope around the boat method aren’t easy also. But look like an effective method of reentry.

Thanks for the links @anon64780766.

The point is that this has been tried before and it doesn’t work well. It’s least effective when you’re most likely to need it and likely to cause more problems than it solves. There are well-proven methods for self and assisted rescues with kayaks. You’d be better off focusing your energy on learning them, rather than trying to reinvent a product that really doesn’t work.

As for canoes, I have no clue…good luck with that.

Search ACA site for Heel Hook Rescue for canoes

Well it is good you have no clue about canoes as canoes and their close cousin the rec-kayak is the boats I plan to test this with. Ocean kayaks with full skirts have no point of linking two boats for the split second someone needs to exert effort to reenter. The only method similar I have heard of requires a loop around the coaming of the rescuer and I understand the danger there that some may want to avoid.

You say it has been tried and doesn’t work well and is likely to cause more problems than it solves. If you have links to such information I would be happy to review it. Above was posted ACA information on rigging a stirrup rescue and they seem ok with putting your foot into a loop.

As to heel hook and several others I think they are great and I have read some accounts where people learned them in a pool under controlled conditions were very experienced paddlers and when the time to try them in open colder water they made several attempts and with each attempt got weaker etc.

Most people that capsize a canoe and some rec-kayaks don’t have additional floatation added to the boats to allow righting without needing extensive bailing before reentry can be tried. Foam sponsons and such are not very popular on canoes and I also don’t understand that as they are a great aid in reentry.

Again thanks for the insight.

Reinvention by the way is a good thing or we would all be paddling dugout canoes made from a log. Modern canoes and kayaks and PFDs are nothing but reinvention after reinvention.

The Stirrup does work well in canoes in flatwater situations. The heel hook is probably the best rescue for those lacking upper body strength but it requires a bit of being able to sort out where the toes point and which leg to put over. Not the easiest to explain for someone who is in the water and not able to get back in the boat on their own.

Have used the stirrup on my lake when elderly were unable to get back on board. Its nice to be able to paddle into old age and not be told to stay home cause you need an aid to get back in the boat.

As in all things paddling there are risks and rewards and as in all things paddling the chief factor is the paddling environment. Rivers are all different from lakes from the ocean etc.


Re: bnstrom; I got your opinion from your 1st post. I might add to your position , that any rescue technique is going to be less effective in the conditions that caused a rescue to be needed. No tech. will become more effective as condition deteriorate.
As to using a sling or stirrup; If that is what is needed to get the swimmer back in their boat, I see no harm. Sure you have increased the possibility of a complication , but if that is the only way to get that swimmer back in so be it.
I hope that you stay healthy enough to do the rescue that you prefer, but in my case due to failing health; I’ve had to resort to using a stirrup, as that is the best way for myself to get back in. Before the onset of my disease I used to be more closed minded.

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bnystrom, I agree that it would add a hazard to a recovery in a rescue in difficult conditions. I even tell people that they should swim parallel to the surface to be able to climb back onto their kayak easier. I hope your health remains good so you can continue to paddle in rough conditions. There are those of us that are not in Olympic condition or as young as we once were. The people I normally paddle with are retired and out of shape. I use a floating stirrup all the time to get people back in the boat. We don’t go out when the conditions are bad. It’s just that there are times when people lose their balance and it’s too far from shore to swim the boat in.

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@Steveey @weed I agree with your points and your thoughts are close to mine. I’m 66 not old not young and a lifetime of body wear has my knees close to being shot. As a young guy I WW rafted and would have loved to be active in kayak paddling but at the point I’m at now I’m not close to giving up, but also understand my bodies limitations. For those reasons when I go out I try to do it as a partner activity with two boats and when I go alone I like extra precautions. I stay on calm water as much as I can. I have my canoe (paddle boat of choice) outfitted with some floatation that will allow for flipping it leaving some water in the boat but not so much I cant reenter and then pump or bail it out. I carry both in the canoe.

I don’t plan on capsizing but never say never and I would like to think I can still help someone else I may run across flipped over.

We ventured up a small creek the other day that was a feeder for the larger one we often go down. It was maybe 20’ wide and 4’ deep and I was trying to picture dumping in that area. It was pure mud the banks were mud the bottom was mud and the only way we went up it was because of all the heavy rains we had. Going to the edge to try and reenter I felt I would sink to my knees or likely my waist in mud. Trying to pull a canoe up to drain it would be very hard to imposable. It was a beautiful place covered in flowering Lilly pads we saw white tails carefully plotting their way around the few high spots. To me this would be a place for the second canoe to help the first canoe do a water reentry with a stirrup.

I don’t know because I wasn’t going to jump in there to find out that day. Hopefully in the next few days I will find a place and we can work on our skill level of sling reentry. I also have a regular loop stirrup so I can compare the differences between the hook and the thwart method. The people I go with have a lot of problems getting weight on the far side to counteract a regular stirrup. Thus the reason I made the hook.

If you guys want to try making one feel free I used the hook off a old cam strap and opened the hook a little the float I got on Amazon and the PVC was laying around. Inside each rung I used two large zip ties to hold the lines from slipping. Took me less than an hour to make.

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Actually, I find that for assisted rescues, utilizing a heel hook method for both kayaks and canoes is much more successful that a stirrup. The advantage is that the person re-entering does not need a lot of upper body strength, and they are not struggling to find the proper footing in the stirrup.

I do carry a stirrup for canoeing, a simple cam buckle strap that is infinitely and quickly adjustable, and stores very compact.

Heel hook is my go to method.


Next time you use your cam strap for an assisted rescue try looping it around your thwart and then go across the other boat with the foot loop 18-24” into the water for the climber. This will do the same thing as my hook in that it will pull both boats tight together and stop the far side of the climbers boat from rolling up as it will put you and your boats weight holding that side down. Both boats will hinge around the gunwales until the hulls touch and then it should all lock up allowing the person to use their legs to push up into their boat.

The person climbing in needs to step in the center of their canoe and have one hand on each side before transferring their weight off the stirrup.

Least that’s how I see it working.

That is exactly how I use a stirrup. I just find that using a heel hook is faster and easier for most persons re-entering a boat. I still use a stirrup if that is their preference.

Ok that sounds promising for my hook I guess.

The heel hook is fine and well proven also. I mainly find videos of people doing it with sea kayaks and not as much with canoes

Do you find all people you run across can get in easier with the heel hook or do some people find the stirrup attached across the canoe easier for them based on their abilities?

What do you do when the person is doing the heel hook to help them? Do they use a paddle float and strap it to the canoe. Or do you in the other boat hold them from turning/rolling?

Most of my rescues involve canoes, as those craft are usually the ones that need assistance in the groups I am with.

When the heel hook is used, I steady the victim boat with one arm and hand on a thwart, and my other hand grabs on to the victim’s wrist or forearm and helps them flop into their boat.

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What’s getting lost in the conversation here is that using proper kayak rescue technique is less strenuous than trying to haul yourself out of the water with a stirrup. It puts less stress on the paddler, the rescuer and the equipment involved. I’m 64 and certainly not as fit as I once was. I’ve never been in anything remotely approaching “Olympic condition”. However, I learned early on that putting the relatively minimal effort into learning correct technique is vastly preferable to using crutches like stirrups, which will fail when you need them most. Good technique will work with any kayak.

The higher gunwales and fully open top on a canoe pose other challenges and as I said previously, I have no experience with them so I can’t add anything to that discussion.