Canoe Self-Rescue with Double Paddle

On the topic about double-bladed canoe paddles, osprey and KenE commented that they’re interested in using a double-bladed canoe paddle for self-rescue of a canoe.

As a result, I see I can no longer resist posting on

Several years ago Robin Tivy (of and family experimented with using a kayak paddle and paddlefloat to perform self-rescue with a canoe equipped with a spraydeck. We picked up on this and did our own experimentation. This is detailed on the Canadian Canoe Routes website:

(There’s also information about what happens when you capsize while wearing Chota Mukluks.

Of course, any “new” ideas take a severe thrashing, and the subsequent discussions can be read by doing a search on for userid “sgrant” and keyword “paddlefloat”. Images of our setup are posted at, which unfortunately requires that you register first.

One thing I like about kayakers is that I think they are far more open to new ideas, especially in the area of safety, than canoeists. So far as I know, only one canoeist even experimented with the technique as a result of the CCR discussion, and I believe she did not use a sprayskirt on the canoe.

An ironic aspect of the method is that although the paddlefloat recovery method was developed for kayaks, it may actually work better for canoes. It does require using a spraydeck. However, any pole-like thing can be substituted for the double-blade paddle. I’d greatly enjoy hearing about others’ experimentation with this system.

Why does it require a spraydeck?
The spraydeck will not prevent substantial water re-entry. The key to being able to bail out the boat is to have some properly laced-in light 30 inch endbags. Or, maybe some minicell panels glued to the inner sides in a way which does not inhibit boat dumping. With proper floatation, once you are back in, with no spray deck in the way, you can use a big pickle bucket bailer from a kneeling position, and have a lot of water out of the boat in a hurry.

Some lake boaters used to know how to get most of the water out of the canoe before re-entry. Here again, a long paddle or a setting pole with a float might aid re-entry, and then there will be no spray deck in the way to complete the final removal of water.

Fact is, canoe capsize on lakes occurs when canoeists are in such rough and windy conditions that they never should have been in them in the first place. Spray skirts (I have one for my MR Guide) cut wind resistance and cut down on bailing, but they don’t help when the waves get so big as to throw the boat over.

Maybe your point was that with a spray deck on a canoe, the best option for re-entry in the middle of a lake is a paddle float system. With that I can heartily agree. But if I have my spray deck on my Guide, my first intention on a lake is NOT to capsize. If I do capsize, I’m going to try rolling that sucker before I exit.

To respond…
My experience, as stated in the article, was that we could capsize and right the canoe 3-4 times in a pool, before needing to empty the canoe. I assume this resistance to filling with water would allow one or two tries in the real world. To support this argument, recall that one reason for using spraydecks on canoes in whitewater is that after a capsize, they will float higher to avoid smashing into some rocks.

Yes, endbags would be good to have, but my concern was flatwater paddling, where you may need the space for gear. I disagree that you can bail a canoe that has substantial water aboard, in significant waves. You can’t even keep it upright, especially if it has a foam core bottom. Definitely flotation along the sides would help a lot, but with, say, 4" of freeboard left, even very small waves will come aboard an open and flooded canoe.

Our Northwater spraydeck has cockpits that can be opened wide if you needed that for enthusiastic bailing, and having a spraydeck might well help prevent water from coming in as fast as you bail.

Many canoe capsizes do indeed occur in conditions the paddlers should not have been out in. Other than intentional capsizes, this seems self-evident. Nevertheless, I don’t feel this is sufficient to consign the careless to death by denying them a system that could possibly allow them to survive. On the CCR forums, I made the point over and over, and argued long into the night with one person, that many fatal canoe capsizes are in temporary circumstances, such as a microburst or storm front, and that conditions following the event can be suitable for self-rescue. I agree, however, with your drift that the idea is to stay out of trouble to begin with, and I hope I never have to use our setup for real.

Excuse my ignorance, but what do you mean by “try rolling that sucker before I exit”?

If I am alone, I can not reenter my solo canoe in deep water. I tried everything but the paddle float. Off to the pool to try it!


– Last Updated: Nov-09-04 8:00 AM EST –

First of all, a lot a canoeists do think about and practice self rescue, and several canoeists chimed in about their experiments and experience in one of the many self rescue threads you started on CCR. I myself remember describing in some detail my practice with and without spraydeck, with and without floatation.

Are you saying that the canoeists weren't helpful because they self-rescue in ways other than your 'new' way?

Secondly, announcing that "One thing I like about kayakers is that I think they are far more open to new ideas . . . than canoeists" is at once narrow minded and insulting. At the very least, it is an excellent way to prevent a lot of canoeists from becoming interested in whatever else you write.

Some thoughts

– Last Updated: Nov-09-04 4:12 PM EST –

I read through that thread on CCR a couple of weeks back and did think there was some excessive critique of the self rescue techniques you were looking at. Easy for me to say, since I was not the target, but I'd just ignore that stuff and keep focused on your efforts and those who are positively interested in them.

I'm one of those who sent you a private message thanking you for the article. I took it for what is was I think, the report of initial experimentation and start of a conversation.

Self rescue techniques are certainly worth exploring it seems to me. My Mohawk two blade came in on Saturday and I plan to experiment some before the water cools too much. I don't have a spray skirt yet so I'll be working without that.

Rough water could certainly complicate things and maybe preclude using a paddle float. But I can see being capsized in fairly calm water by a rogue wave or boat wake, or even a temporary loss of my normal cat like balance :-), while out on the Texas coastal bays. In that situation one might not be fighting constant swells.

Even if I can't find a workable self rescue technique with my solo canoe, I will have tried, and learned from the effort. That will no doubt factor into my planning and judgement when on the water. It will clarify limitations and dangers for me. That is all to the good.

I'll report in here on how the experimentation goes. If I can't get my out of shape, middle aged carcass back into the boat I'll be "sticking closer to shore" perhaps -- wiser and more humble I hope. :-)

Positive interest and a concern

– Last Updated: Nov-09-04 1:34 PM EST –

Yes, let's keep our cool, so to speak and remember we all are less than skillfull at times in how we discuss things. So lets see how we can find some ways to recover in canoes that may be constructive to the common effort.

I have one, concern (not a criticism) in the article on Canadian Canoing you refer to. It states take your time, get over cold shock, you have up to 10 minutes, so make a capsize recovery your priority, not other actions. This could be correct, however, depending on temp. and without proper clothing, a. cold shock could be lethal, and b. secondary immersion effects can reneder hands and arms useless in several minutes, so while we are discussing this issue, let's keep in mind getting out of cold water takes precedence over any technique.

Onward, hope to see this move forward

Stepping on
OK, I have a question.

While self-rescue with a double paddle might be interesting in it’s own right, I don’t carry a double paddle in my solo canoe.

Has anyone tried successfully or not to self-rescue their solo canoe using a paddle float + single paddle combination? Obviously, shorter paddle = less leverage provided by the float. But at least I have it with me.

Sorry, I cannot myself report having tried this (yet).

Hey, I have an idea… You could take off your lifejacket, strap it to the end of your paddle and try using it as… no, nevermind.


When I am in my MR Guide, and water is
rough, I may have the thigh strap engaged. If so, and if the boat flips over, I may have a chance of rolling it upright. If the spraydeck keeps water out as well as you indicate, then I may come up with little water in the boat. Obviously very few tandem teams would have a chance of making this work, but I have known some… various Olympic slalom C-2 paddlers hang around NOC, and several are also experienced open boaters. Rolling opens requires a pedestal seat and something to keep the paddler on it during the roll.

Responses (Long:-(
Tramper Al:

If I started multiple threads on CCR on this topic, it was to deal with the red herrings some people threw into the discussion rather than open their own threads.

It is my perception that the pace of innovation in kayak technique and equipment exceeds that of canoeing. If that’s not your perception, fine. If the observation is correct yet offends some people, that’s regrettable.

I have to admit disappointment with the reception the idea got on CCR. The technique depends on using a spraydeck, and even using a spraydeck as common canoe equipment is too much of a leap for most canoeists. If the technique really is viable, I’d expect it to be decades at best before it’s something canoe instructors are required to know.

The technique was not my idea, but the people I know who made the connection between kayak paddlefloat reentry and spraydecked canoes, and who also proved it will work, elected not to bother publicizing it because they knew exactly what they’d get for their efforts.

I thought it worthwhile to put forward, not to inflate my ego or revolutionize or upset anything, but to add a potential tool to canoeists’ set of safety measures. I anticipated flak, since some people need to be vigilant in protecting society from bad ideas. Unfortunately they have a bad record of squashing good ideas. While theoretical arguments are valuable, I wish more of the critics tried the technique before offering their input.

As far as me issuing a blanket condemnation of other canoe self-rescue methods, you may infer this from my act of promoting an additional method, but I don’t think I’m guilty of the charge. I make no bones about believing the canoe community relies too much on the canoe-over-canoe method.

Anyway… We never tried this with a single paddle. The shorter the paddle, the more flotation you’ll need on it. Not to mention, the closer to the side of the canoe, the more it’s the same as an unspeakable sponson. The short paddle probably wouldn’t allow you to hook your foot up over it, if you need to do that. In both cases, the paddle must be secured fairly well to the canoe or it just will not work. Your movements dislodge the assembly, even without waves. We carry a double paddle with clip-on grips so besides being a tarp support, it also comprises our spare paddles, one of which we’d be carrying anyway. The float makes a nice seat for onshore.


Good points. Cold shock is an insidious hazard, and having a paddefloat recovery or any other system worked out, isn’t going to help if, for example, you have a heart attack. I experienced cold shock in a small frigid mountain lake, and from that I’d say a person could drown really easily with only a mild case of it. The realization that you could die just from falling in is quite sobering. This could be a greater danger for flatwater canoeists than sea kayakers, since the kayakers probably are normally in more contact with the water.

The 10-minute thing is a rough guideline taken from “Prof. Popsicle’s” research, which will vary a lot depending on the cirucumstances. But the principle holds, to take a little time to deliberately avoid panic, or you won’t survive anyway.

I would estimate that in “doable” conditions, and with practice, two people could right and reenter a canoe within a couple of minutes with the paddlefloat method. Probably faster than a canoe-over-canoe recovery, but without the second canoe. Thanks for your effort to defuse conflict.

I won’t be able to check this discussion again until next week.

Too Spraydeck dependent
sgRant wrote:


One thing I like about kayakers is that I think they are far more

open to new ideas, especially in the area of safety, than canoeists.

Well of course, rather than trying to extend the limitations of a

canoe a bit by using a spraydeck, they are wiser to directly go the

kayak, that by design is much more capable of dealing with extreme

situations on open water than a canoe, even when that canoe is

equipped with a spraydeck. And with that greater possibilities,

kayakers will also have to be more involved with safety and rescue

matters if they really want the ability to deal with those more

extreme situations on open water far from shore.

Also, what you may consider new is not that new to me. I don’t know

if the information is still available on the net (try a google

search with ‘herbie bird canoe roll’, and you may find it) but

similar things have already been tried and done. If something works

for you, great. But as you said with your system, it depends on the

use of a spraydeck. And while I am interested, I will only consider

it seriously once someone invents a spraydeck (system) that really

works for a canoe without turning it into a decked canoe, a.k.a. as

kayak… Untill that happens, I will live with the limitations of the

open canoe, and try to deal with it with good judgement of

situations and a lot of regular training on paddling skills.