Bench Seats and Whitewater

I had a near miss last Tuesday up on the Machias.

I was paddling my Swift Osprey with it’s bench type seat and thigh straps.

At Long Falls I managed to pin her, bow pointing upstream.

I had been kneeling. One leg came free but the other was trapped under the seat. The current was pushing my chest back so that I could not free myself.

Fortunately the current was not too strong and I was able to reach forward, grab the gunnels and pull my self up to where I could get my leg out. Double fortunately my head was above water so I had time to decide what to do and get it done. Had the current been stronger I would have been stuck. Had the current been stronger and my head underwater I would not be here to talk about it.

I stopped using the thigh straps right then. But I’m thinking that could still happen without them.

I’m thinking I need to use a saddle in any boat I run whitewater with.

That’s why I advocate a pedestal
with “loose” (no straps or toe braces) outfitting. Tighter setups are needed only for those planning to roll. If a pedestal is made, or carved, to support thighs properly, then straps should never be needed while paddling.

I guess paddling thwarts are OK for lakers and for easy rivers, but they are obviously a danger for whitewater entrapments.

Been there/done similiar…

– Last Updated: May-09-10 5:38 PM EST –

I would agree with you about getting a saddle, and if you don't already have them, get some quick release thigh straps.

I got the toes on one foot caught under a Yakima foot brace when I capsized on my right side. Only time the foot braces ever trapped me, but once was definitely enough. I got my foot loose in maybe 15 seconds. Luckily my legs were already free from my Mohawk quick release thigh strap........ but the strong current was moving my canoe quickly downstream. While I struggled to free myself I got dragged downstream by my canoe.
When I got loose I was downstream of the canoe(not good). Even worse; I immediately went over a class III drop, with my canoe still behind me. As I started getting maytagged in the hole below the drop; my canoe came into the hole with me. Either the bow or the stern caught me in the middle of my back & my helmet. The hit in the back knocked the air out of me & the hit to the head almost knocked me out. I went down again; when I came up, my canoe was downstream of me.
A buddy downstream had a throw rope falling on top of me as soon as I popped up. Good thing; I was in no condition to swim.
Worst swim I ever took.......

Things can happen fast in class III; the higher
the class, the faster it happens.
You don't have a lot of time to "think" about what you need to do; you better be "doing it"; not thinking about it.


I think a bench seat
gives the best options for kneeling and sitting in a river touring boat. I always kneel in moving water, but its nice to be able to sit on the seat in the flats. I do have straps in my Yellowstone Solo, but they are more like knee straps than thigh straps – just enough to keep me in contact with the boat as it bounces around. Getting out is easy – just lean forward and the straps fall right off. So when you described getting spun around backwards with the current pushing you back, that was kind of scary - I hadn’t thought of that. But I also agree with you that the same thing could happen without the straps. There is definitely an entrapment hazard with a bench seat, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to put a pedestal in all my boats.

Quick release …
… on thigh straps is mandatory. It’s easy to make them yourself with buckles or just buy Bell’s.

I got leg entrapped under my kevlar ME’s kneeling thwart on a single rock in a class 1 rapid back in '85. Fortunately, I was strong enough then to rip the thwart right out of the hull. Went exclusively to saddles after that.

I’ve often thought about a “quick release” bench seat that would stay in place just by sitting weight, but which would fall out, or could be lifted out, when no weight was on it.

You’ve got me working on that problem …
… in my head right now! That’s a good idea, and I believe very do-able. I don’t see myself on the kind of whitewater that really “calls for” a pedestal anytime soon, but the seat entrapment potential is real enough. Maybe I’ll come up with something this summer.

hmm? mini ejector seat.

Thats been thought of already
sometimes hard to keep up with these DIY types.

From another forum to quote( I am not the author):

“I have an ankle that is steel pinned at 90 degrees to my leg. This makes it almost impossible to get my foot under a seat and once there, can be jammed under it. So I made a toilet seat out of my canoe seat. It is free to lift up at the front and has a couple of hinges at the back. I made a small elastic loop at the front that holds the front to the rail for when I’m portaging or transporting. This way if I fall out of the canoe my foot won’t get stuck.

I occasionally,just for fun, flip the seat up and sit right on the bottom of the canoe using the flipped up seat as a back rest. Great for photography or a nap.”

I would do it differently

– Last Updated: May-10-10 12:51 AM EST –

I figure that if the current were holding me in such a position that I couldn't get out from under the seat as-is, it would also push me back enough that I'd STILL get stuck under that still-attached, hinged back seat rail. So, no hinges for me. If I were to make this thing, the seat would simply pop right off with any lifting action, but be solidly attached in reaction to any force in all the other directions (downward, sideways, frontwards, backwards).

Oh, now you got me thingking…
…about that kneeling thwart I have in the planning stages. Thinking of a sliding vertical dovetail mortise on each end with a short release. Can you picture it? That would facilitate a quick-change to poling mode as well. Hmmm…

easy rider
easy rider decked white water boats had (and assume still have) bench seats - they were flat boards that sat on wood brackets at each end - the flat board was held down by a bungie cord, so the seat wasn’t “solid” but had a fair amount of give, and you could maybe slide the bungie off at one end to remove the board if needed. a simple, but uncomforable way to do it.

polling for polers.
so who poles?