canoe re-entry

There’re constant talk of kayak re-entry techniques here. But I never heard about canoe re-entry. Never thought about it either, until I heard recently from a friend who does casual canoeing and (almost) got into trouble after capsizing a canoe in a lake! A passing fishing boat “fish” them out of the water before they all freeze to death…

Since I occasionally borrow or rent canoes to use on flat water river/lakes, I’m just curious and a bit self-concious. How does one re-enter a canoe after capsizing?

on shore.
someone will come on here and mention the shake out and it may be possible with the right canoe, personal strength and much practice, but mostly- stay within swimming distance to shore and drag it out.

A technique that works for me…
…is to re-enter my boat from the stern. I run whitewater and occasionally swim. My boat is outfitted with airbags, so even upside-down it rides very high and dry in the river.

After campsizing, I flip the boat then, after making sure I am not about to get slammed into boulders and/or trees, I position myself directly behind the boat. With both hands on the endcap I submerge, then propel my body upward as strongly as possible, pulling down on the endcap and launching myself onto it.

The tricky part is making sure that I do not get hung on the webbing that secures my bags or rupture them. With my body on the endcap and my legs and feet out of the water I work my way forward until I can reposition myself in my saddle (or seat, if not using a saddle). It is VERY important to stay centered between the sides when using this method.

I have used the same technique from the side, but it is more difficult and frequently results in flipping the boat unless you really launch yourself quickly into the boat.

If you are paddling with others have somebody grab your far side gunnel and secure it to their boat, then extend an arm across your boat to pull you up and into your boat. Holding a paddle across the gunnels of both boats aids in stabilizing the boat while you re-enter.

flip in
Great question. I hope you get lots of good responses, but most of them will be no good on their own - you’ll have to sort through the replies and then figure this out for yourself…

It’s hard to describe, so I recommend looking at some books (there was a recent thread on recommendations about canoeing books).

For me, in a tandem canoe, I don’t have much trouble getting in and out. I can re-enter them afloat without tipping, or clamber back into the capsized canoe and try bailing or paddling it swamped. To do this I do it at mid-boat, reach across the yoke or thwart, pull & kick my upper body over the boat, and then flip my butt to the bottom. (I have not had success re-entering my swamped solo boat, but rolling it is another option. Maybe I’ll try the rear deck as described above!)

All the easier with a second person to help stabilize things (usually), or of course an extra boat for a canoe-over-canoe, but I assume you’re asking about 1 canoe. The only way of knowing whether any of this works for you, your boat &/or your partners is to practice, which way too few people actually do.

Others have practiced with paddle floats and foot stirrups and other aids. I know a contributor to this forum and others, SGrant, has lots of knowledge and pracitce with this. You should be able to find some detailed threads.

Now, can you do any of this in water & weather that capsized your boat in the first place? Probably not, especially if you’re scared and cold and haven’t practiced. That’s where risk management comes into play (decision making, preparedness, clothing, etc.)

The more resources/opinions you look at the better: for instance, 3 different responses so far (stay near shore, climb in over deck plate, flip in from the side), but only you can judge what applies to your situation.

Have fun practicing, Pat.

sgrant links
Here’s one link to some thoughts, and experiments, of righting/re-entering canoes…


This applies:

Here comes the big argument !
A lot of paddlers will tell you it can be done, but with the average person and the average plastic canoe, it can’t.



I can get back into my MR Explorer (16’ x 34") by seal launching over the side same as you would to get out of a swimming pool. If there’s a second person, they can hang onto the far gunnel to counter balance. If you are like me and like to get up and walk around the canoe it’s not inconcievable that you could dump in calm conditions. In heavy conditions or in a narrow boat I doubt that I could get back in.

It’s worth practicing so that you know what you can and can not do.

Good topic - experiments are essential

– Last Updated: Jan-11-05 5:45 PM EST –

I have tried to the point of exhaustion under ideal conditions with my Novacraft Supernova. It has a very round hull and is relatively wide for a solo. I can not get back in from the side or from the stearn. The width combined with the round hull make it impossible for me to get my weight across to the far gunwale without tipping. The round hull combined with fairly sharp ends make it impossible for me to enter from the stearn without going over. I did not try with my pfd removed. Perhaps I'll try this year, but to me, that is not an acceptable approach.

What I learned from my attempts to get back in under ideal conditions, is that I will NEVER waste a single bit of energy or body heat trying to re-enter in a "real world" situation. I know I can not do it and will proceeed immediately to shore, with or without the canoe depending upon the situation.

not for me
i could never re enter my canoe…with or without gear… only way for me is to swim it to shore … which ive never had to do but is why i hug the shore… i hate to cross large bodies of water.

My experience

– Last Updated: Jan-11-05 12:35 PM EST –

Solo whitewater canoe (with airbags): I know it can be done, because I have seen it done. It requires a combination of skill, energy, and balance, with a little luck thrown in for good measure. I have done it myself after several attempts, but I don't believe it's worth the effort expended. Would I try it in whitewater? Absolutely not! I will be focusing on getting to shore asap! I will be upstream of my canoe, holding onto the gunwale or the painter, and prepared to "aggressively" swim for the first decent eddy I see. If water is extremely cold/fast/obstructed, and the boat might keep me from successfully reaching the eddy, I will let the boat go. I can always buy a new boat. Probably 7 times out of 10, with the people I paddle with, and with the skill level they have, a throw rope will hit me shortly after I hit the water.
A solo or tandem boat on flatwater river: Don't view either as much of a problem to reenter; especially if in tandem with a partner. Typically it is usually much easier to grab a gunwale or painter, and swim the boat to shallow water, or have a buddy tow you & your boat the short distance to shallow water. Always nice to have a skilled rope thrower handy.
A solo or tandem boat on a lake: Will leave that to someone who paddles across large lakes in canoes. I don't do it & don't plan on starting.
In every situation; how the boat is outfitted, and what gear you're transporting will have to be considered.I believe all aspects of weather are also an important consideration.
What I'd try in the summer on flatwater or whitewater isn't remotely related to what I'd try on flatwater or whitewater in late Fall or early Spring.
Whatever the situation you're going to put yourself into; you'd be wise to have a self rescue plan, and practice it "before" you need it. I tend to err on the side of caution, but I'm still here, still paddling, so something must be working besides luck.


Re-entry methods
Re-entry, have done it too often. Maybe my balance and paddling skills need work. But, have done it in C2 and C1 competition boats in 37 seconds until paddling again, as well as Jenson-style recreational boats. As stated, you must practice to learn your capabilities and method that works. Method includes grabbing paddles, where you stuff them in the boat, making sure the boat doesn’t get away, loose gear, Have also been knocked down repeatedly in a summer storm, warm water, and finally left the boat and swam for shore.

Boat reentry depends on method and strength: For solo paddler, the strength to press yourself upward like out of a pool about 12” and flop over. Somewhere around 18” I can’t kick and push enough to get on a pier, but a solo or tandem boat is easier.

Keeping in mind the previous posts on cautions and smarts, and individual boat characteristics:

  1. PFD on and tight?
  2. Partner has PFD on, is ok, and talking?
  3. Boat not floating away? Floating gear collected?
  4. Roll boat sideways until most water is out, shove upwards. In carbon boats, 2 floaters with PFDs can empty the boat completely.
  5. Stern paddler or better climber holds middle of the boat, tilting it down toward the bow paddler on the other side- less height to lift onto. Gunnel can be 1-2 inches above water, but not under water…
  6. When ready, bow guy lunges up and over the mid point of the boat until inside and stable, trying not to get stuck under a thwart or pinching neck, fingers,…
  7. Bow guy leans slightly away from the stabilizing paddler in the water and staying low and slow, moves forward and sits in seat. Or, make room for stern guy for both to be in the center and out of the water.
  8. Stern guy lunges above and over the boat, keeping it balanced and easing into the bottom or seat.
  9. Keep going, bail, or go to shore.

    Solo C1 competition boat:
  10. Grab boat and paddle, toss paddle in front of seat.
  11. Roll worst of water out of boat
  12. move 1/2 distance from stern to seat
  13. Put 1 hand in bottom, one on gunnel, andlunge up and flop over both gunnels to keep boat level, legs still in water.
  14. Adjust balance and swing legs over into cowboy position with legs on each side of hull in water, behind the seat.
  15. Wish you had removed all the splinters last week.
  16. Slide forward until just past the seat
  17. Plop down into seat and grab paddle, get organized.
  18. Head for shore, keep going, or bail.

Very good question!

– Last Updated: Jan-11-05 4:10 PM EST –

I used to be strong and skinny so I could cowboy mount or grab the opposite gunwale and flop in. I tried several methods in pool class last winter and discovered that I'm too fat and out of shape, even with another boat stabalizing mine. Crud. My bad. If I'd known I was going to live this long and do this kind of stuff I would have stayed in better shape. lol

Knowing my limitations, I paddle with other competent people who can catch my sorry hide if I have trouble getting to shore. I also assess my physical situation before we go out and stay within my limits. Happily, my limits are expanding as I learn new ways to do stuff. Some people are safe in big water; I need to be able to get to shore. Dressing for a swim is also part of paddling for me.

The other responders to your question are more experienced than me and they would use caution. Good advice. There's lots of places to enjoy without taking unreasonable risk. What they said about knowing your capabilities is critical. A pool class is the safest way I can think of to check that out. If you have any trouble in a pool, don't count on being able to re-enter in real conditions.

Solo re-entry ?
Step 4 put one hand on the inside bottom of the boat? And one hand on the near or far gunnel?

Right before step 6 is a bit$!



It is a good question
And brings up good discussion. Check out the Guidlines section of this site.

for some of the basics.

I’ve still got plans for experimenting with self rescue techniques, but thinking about the subject has certainly made me consider what the limits are to my solo canoe wanderings. As water size increases and temperature decreases, the need for hugging the shore, strategizing and using the buddy system increases.

no argument
Intersting, but despite lots of advice on techniques that ‘might’ work, and an emphasis on the need to practice them, everybody seems to agree that if you go down alone in a canoe in deep, rough water, you stand a real chance of going all the way down.

I hope JackL isn’t disapponted.


Ya, but you can also hang with Greg
Barton and Greg Lemond and some fast marathoner named Greg something or other.

We are talking about the average everyday weakling like me.

I still can’t figure how you got back into that yak in the Bacall, (was it three times?) last year and still finished third.



Bottom line…
No matter how much you plan, prepare, practice technique, study books, watch videos, or consider the natural consequences of your actions…the bottom line is…if you go out on the water, on any given day, in any given boat, you could end up dead. The “possible” natural consequences are the reason for the preparation, and “hopefully” a positive natural consequence. I’ll continue to take the risk; I hate to be left standing on the shore, watching others paddle downstream.


re entry in solos
I would endorse just about everything posted above.

Yes, you need to practise. But make sure you train for it in the same boat you will trip in. I know that is pretty obvious, but it wasn’t to me until I found out that I could not re enter my solo canoe.

I was in cold water and being driven down a 20 mile lake after being knocked over by a twister. This was half a mile from my take out at the end of a 3 day solo trip. Not nice. A flare saved the day, and my skin.

I am working on using a canoe pole/paddle lashed across a thwart with a dry bag on the end to act as an outrigger. Not tested it yet, but if this fails then it is shore hugging for me…but hey, that is really limiting, and not fool proof in itself anyway.

Of course this complicated sounding solution needs to be fast to deploy, and I’ve got a few ideas about that too.

Sure ain’t going to stay at home though.

Boy Scouts
The problem with canoe reentry is that often the canoe is mostly full of water and then the canoe is extremely unstable. This goes way back by in the boy scouts we learned some methods that might be useful.

There were two methods to empty a canoe in the water. The first involves a second canoe. You drag an end of the submerged canoe to the middle of the second boat. Flip the submerged canoe over and cross it over the second boat, then roll it right side up and back into the water.

The second method is hard, but the two canoeists get under a upside down canoe and push and kick the canoe out of the water and flip it over.

Something cool that most people are suprised by is that most canoes can be paddled when filled with water. In scouts we had to paddle 50 yards with the canoe completely submerged. The hardest part is to not tip the canoe because all the stability is gone when its full of water. This is useful when you are close to shore and its easier to just flip/empty it there.

All of these take some practice, but thats what practice is for. They are all harder in current or wind.