Canoe Self Rescue Techniques -Stillwat

My buddy and I have been canoe fishing in stillwater lakes for the last several months. So far we’ve managed not to tip the canoe but as many of you know it’s inevitable. Most of the time we are close to shore (fishing) so bringing the canoe ashore probably wouldn’t be a problem.

BUT just in case we’re out in the open and get swamped by boat wake, I’d like for us to be able to get back into the canoe with minimal fumbling.

My canoe is pretty basic setup. It’s a 16’ Indian River Sunrise. Most likely we would have some fishing gear inside if it doesn’t end up in the drink. (considering mounting tiedowns throughout)

Would love to hear the procedure from experienced canoeist who have done two-person reentry in deep water.



A good question. I’ve been paddling
now for a number of years and never practiced self rescue or in fact luckily never needed to reenter the canoe while in the water. I’ve been lucky and always was close to shore when dumping. The theory is simple: you shake enough water out of the canoe so that it can float, one person holds the canoe on the opposite side of the other person reentering. There also is a something called the Capistrano flip where you turn the canoe so that it is upside down. Both of you get under the canoe and wiggle it so that the vacuum is broken, and on a signal you both push up and flip the canoe. The water should be out of it and then you can reenter. Of course this all depends on the weather and how cold the water is, how far from shore and how much gear you got tied in your canoe. If the water was cold and the water too rough, I’d head for shore with the canoe in tow if possible.

I’m also interested in the subject since I do a lot of tripping where I don’t think I can reenter a loaded tripping canoe. I plan to try swimming it to shore.

Reply to YakNot
We don’t usually carry a lot. Just a couple tackle bags and a milkcrate with an anchor.

I read several previous posts about one person holding one side while the other person climbs in on the other but how does the other person get in with out flipping again?

Once I get some experienced advice, I plan on trying it out before hand to see how well it works.

If you have the luxury of having
another person there, it is a breeze. Both people move to the middle of the boat’s length. One person steadies the boat by hanging off the gunwhale on one side while the other person pulls him/herself up into the boat over the other side gunwhale. Once one person is in the boat, they provide a cantilever effect from one side while the second person pulls up over the other side. This part requires a little communication and teamwork because if you are in the boat and applying counterlever force (hanging out over the gunwhale) while the person in the water is pulling up into the boat and the person in the water does not get up and then lets go of the gunwhale you will probably get to start over. If there is a large difference in size, then the larger person should get in last. The technique is quick and very effective as long as the people have the upper body strength to pull up over the side. You can help yourself by giving a good flutter kick while you pull up. The secret is to get your hips past the gunwhale on the initial pull, then steady the boat and continue on in. The biggest mistake people make is the first person that gets in the boat trying to help pull the second person in. This puts all of the weight to one side and you will probably get to do it again. Like anything else, it is better to practice this evolution under non-emergency conditions so that it comes naturally if ever really needed.

A one-person entry is different in that you have no one to counterbalance the boat so you need to move to a location about 1/4 the distance from an end to get in and you try to keep most of the weight more in-line with the boat’s keel.

As far as gear, it should be tied down. At a minimum, it should be in a floatable container. If the gear spills, worry only about the paddles. Recover everything else after you have recovered yourself.

If there is wind, move to the leeward side of the boat. If there is current, move to the upstream side of the boat.


two person reentry “can” be simple

– Last Updated: Oct-11-06 1:39 PM EST –

As tinkerbell described above, it can be pretty simple. But, the "can" part is largely a factor of how good a shape each paddler is. It can be pretty tough for some folks to pull themselves up over the gunnels, flutter kicking or not.

And, the PFD does not make this maneuver any easier. While some people may cringe at my saying this, it may be necessary for a swimmer to unzip their PFD in order to be able to get their chest up over the gunnel.

Also, if there is a good reason for one person to be in the stern (weight, experience, etc.), make sure you think about the station you are entering before doing so. Otherwise, there is a fifty-fifty chance you will get yourselves back into the boat only to find that you are in the wrong places.

Practicing this maneuver is a very good idea.

Finally, don't ask me how I know this stuff.

Back with my aluminum grumman
we used to practice inverting the boat rolling to crack the vaccuum, setting it upright, shaking the water out and coming in from near an end. Balance is touchy on the last step.

Models with more tumblehome might not be as amenable to the shaking out.

A fit 17 year old boy can quickly get into a resonably bailed boat.

A fat 48 year old, well…:wink:

Empty canoe first if possible
Do whatever it takes to get the water out first. Splash it out with your paddle, use your water bottle with the end cut off, your hat, your hands, rock the canoe from side to side, whatever.

It may not be a good idea to take your PFD off until you are secure. Ninety percent of canoe/kayak drowning deaths are sans PFD. I wear a PFD with 26.5 pounds of floatation, I’m old and out of shape and “fat”, and I can get my PFD and my belly over the rail by using the following procedure.

Go to mid ship. Get your arm pits up on the rails, put your palms flat in the canoe bottom and push down for support while you flutter kick your body to the surface and lying straight out on the surface perpendicular to the boat. Carefull push down on the canoe while flutter kicking your body forward to get your torso past the rail. Don’t try to pull yourself into the boat, just scoot the boat under you. Once your torso weight is over the boat, reach across to the far gunnel and continue scooting the boat under you. Once your waist and hips are over the rail do a swivel flop and get your butt into the bottom of the boat, pull your legs in then compose yourself. If there is still water in the boat continue bailing and stay seated on the bottom and use your paddle or your hands to work your way to shallow water where you can dump the boat.

Tandem boaters use the Capistrano flip and partner cantilever described in the previous post. To break the vacuum on an inverted tandem have your partner push down on his/her end while you pull up on yours. That move also applies if you are doing a boat over boat rescue.

The whole key to canoe re-entry whether solo or tandem is to get your body on the surface perpendicular to the boat, and flutter kick aggressively while pushing down and scooting the boat under you instead of trying to pull yourself into the boat.

Ask Boy Scout with the Canoeing MB!
I had posted this in another thread recently:

Posted by: gpasek on Oct-08-06 9:21 AM (EST)

Here is how:

  1. Start in the water at the center thwart or midship.
  2. Reach with one arm over and across that thwart, extending as far as possible.
  3. Kicking hard, bring body up and across on that extended arm.
  4. With the gunwale against upper thigh/lower belly, lay body across the canoe. (You are face down)
  5. Use a dophin kick, and roll (now face up) into the canoe with your butt landing on the keel line.
  6. Then pull your legs in.

    Yes, it is work, but it works. Practice in warm water 20-30 times. Credit: edited out of the BSA Merit Badge Pamphlet; but it has some photos too.

    George in Cody

selfrescue= 3 words



The Canunut and I were able to self rescue in the middle of lake Norman in confusing bassboat waves. In practice we once self rescued in under a minute.

We practised till my legs were a black and blue and bloody mess…We worked most of the bugs out before we hit big water. It really helped that we had a 21 pound carbon fiber Savage river canoe with twine built in siphon bailers…

Practice! We have been swamped in 35 degree(Farienhiet) weather and selfrescued and still came in second. Practice

Find out what works for YOU!

for all the replies. I think I have a good idea of what to try to practice now.

Seems like getting one person in would be a lot easier than two but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Thanks again.

Without much gear you should be
able to reenter the canoe. However, when a loaded canoe dumps (with a spray cover) it will float upside down and is a chore to turn over. Even without a spray cover if the gear is tied in it will present a problem. When I go tripping usually there is no chance for help if I dump since, unfortunately, I can’t find other paddlers to go on trips with and I’m in a remote location. Generally, I can’t imagine dumping my loaded 18ft tripping canoe unless in rapids or on a lake with big waves. However, I’ve have have close calls getting caught on lakes during squalls. I just finished a trip on the Bowron up in BC were there were waterspouts! Several people on the circuit got swamped in the big surf.

Stay close to shore when the weather is changeable. Resist the temptation to cross large bays to save time unless you are sure of the weather. Even without dark clouds you can get wind storms (like in the desert in Utah) where you can get caught without bailout options which happened to me on the Green in Utah). Frequently, you can’t just head to shore because you’ll broach. Also, if the winds are gusting you can’t control the canoe.

Which brings up a good thing to remember, if you are caught in a squall far from shore, you don’t have many options. Since your canoe is not loaded both should move to the center of the canoe so it can ride the waves better by moving the weight to the center. If loaded and the weight at its ends the canoe will plough through the waves because it can’t ride up the waves. It then starts to take on water which makes it even lower in the water. Quartering the waves helps (it allows the canoe to ride the waves better) but is difficult unless you know what you are doing and the wind isn’t too strong. A mistake will surely cause you to broach and a swim.

I got to be great at jumping out of the canoe in big surf to hold it off the rocks while my wife unloads the canoe.

I’m not trying to scare you off from paddling but you must be very aware of the dangers of wandering far off from shore. I learned never to take the weather for granted and to always look for a place to land the canoe. Get caught in a squall with just having cliffs on shore will make you aware to always pay attention to possible bailout areas. I had some close calls where reentering the canoe wouldn’t have been an option because of wind and waves. Not a pleasent thought with cold water and the temperature in the forties. When you paddle you can’t just varoom out of trouble like our powerboat friends. I think that’s why I like paddling. It’s a thinking persons sport.

Boat over Boat Recovery
We do canoe recovery demonstrations at a local paddle club training nights. You can see pictures here:

The process is easy with help. As many times as I have tried, thought, I still have a hard time getting back in my swamped solo canoe alone without filling the boat up with water. As yaknot says - paddle smart.

Leash not Lash
We practice/play-around, with self rescues in Lake Erie during the summer months. Quite often this is done in some pretty big waves. One thing I’ve discovered is to leash not lash the gear into the boat. Dry bags/boxes float pretty well.

Follow the steps already posted to flip the boat and re-enter. (whichever one works for you)

Pull the gear back aboard and it will help displace the water, making it easier to bail out the remaining water.

I’ve never had to do this on an actual trip, but it’s nice to know I can.