Canoe - Solo deep water re-entry

Hot here so I figured last night would be a good time to take a canoe to the local pond and practice re-entries, which I always mean to do but never get around to.

It was a bit of any eye opener. I didn’t have much problem getting myself back into an empty canoe, but getting it empty was the problem. Starting with a swamped boat the best I could do was get it about 1/2 empty, which wasn’t near good enough.

I tried different ways but I didn’t have enough buoyancy with my life jacket. I couldn’t keep my head above water to lift the boat high enough.

If it’s that hard in a warm pond with calm water I can’t imagine the middle of a lake with wind, waves, cold water, and my dog swimming around as well. So I gotta figure it out. How about some tips?

Oh, the boat was an Osprey (15’, 40 lbs) and I’m just over 6’ and 170lbs.


So you got back into the Osprey?
That’s pretty impressive. Did you get back in with it half full of water? Or did you empty it first where you could touch?

Tried half full
I tried getting back in with it half full of water but then my weight made it ride even lower and the water would slosh forward or backwards, swamping the bow or stern and flooding it further. Only way I could successfully get in was to either jump out of the boat so it didn’t swamp or empty it in shallow water and then swim out to deeper water for the reentry. Once it was empty it wasn’t too tough getting in. Of course things would be different in the real world where the water would likely be rough and I probably wouldn’t be barefoot wearing only swimming trunks and a life jacket.

I didn’t have a bailer with me but I wonder how long it would take to empty out a half full canoe after I’ve flipped it upright?


That’s where end bags help
If I was serious about re-entry in deep water. I’d have at least 48" end bags. That would cut down on the amount of water you’d have to bail. I used to do it in my Supernova which had 60" bags and it didn’t take long to get the water out with a bailer.

Yes but…
I’m never out without my dog and my biggest risk of a dangerous capsize would be when I’m on a trip with a boat full of gear. Locally it’s just small lakes and rivers.

Maybe the only answer is to be more selective about open water crossings when I’m out on my own.


Here’s an idea if you’re experimenting
I wonder what would happen if you carried a spare PFD, a pretty large one. If you put on a second PFD over the first while in the water, I wonder if you’d be buoyant able to get all the water out. Then you’d take the second one off before trying to re-enter.

Sounds like the kind of thing I wouldn’t mind experimenting with.

Safe assumption
is that you will fail to get back in when you really need to. Therefore your thought about being very selective about open water crossings is the conservative approach to the issue. I do not expect to be able to self-rescue, into a solo canoe, in deep water and operate accordingly.


Could work
I was thinking more about the float bags too and I think just one bag in the stern might make a big difference. One of the problems I had trying to empty water was that if I picked up the bow the stern would sink deeper. So I’d have to keep the boat in the air but start sliding my way towards the stern to try and get it raised out of the water, I just couldn’t do it. But if there was a bag in the stern it should keep the back end from sinking when I lift the bow. That just might be enough to empty almost all the water before flipping. Now if only I had a float bag I’d try it tonight…


I’m wondering what kind of gear you had
You mentioned you had not bailer, so I’m guessing you had a standard electric pump and float bags? Even with the pump and flotation I usually want to bring a bailer if I’m more than a five minute swim from shallow water.

Solo Tripper Re-Entry
It’s tough. The Capistrano Flip is pretty questionable with that heavy a boat, and if it works the hull may take flight on the wind anyway.

Probably better to push the stern down and away, draining ~ 2/3 of the water in that manner. Benefits include keeping the rails lower for a mantle-shelf reentry across a bow quarter. This requires enough shoulder strength to load the far rail with the equivalent of one’s torso weight to keep the rails ~ flat. [Can you do 50 pushups?] We always entry face first from the bow so we end up with our feet pointed forward, then roll upright in the bot and start bailing.

Another option is to use a paddlefloat and loop a longish rescue strap from the paddle shaft under the boat, back across the rails and down into the water on the paddlefloat side, ~ a 180 in long sling. Then the swimmer just steps up into the boat, sits low and starts bailing.

Alan is Soooo right to be working on this before the skills are needed in extremus.

Had nothing
I assume this question is posted to me. I didn’t have anything along when I was practicing my re-entry. No pump, bailer, or even a sponge. To be honest I never take them with me when I’m canoeing. I’m usually on our local river, which is at most a class .5 and about 100-150 feet wide, or I’m on one of our local lakes where you can stand up almost anywhere, but you might sink up to your knees in mud. Or if I hit one of the larger lakes nearby there’s plenty of other boats around to lend a hand, though I’ve never needed it.

I do bring one along when I’m taking longer trips or travel to rivers where I might actually encounter some rapids though.


Had nothing…
Looks like most of the places you go, You would not need anything but to drag to shore and dump out the water. In deeper wider lakes and rivers I really like tied in flotation and a bailer.

Capistrano Flip

– Last Updated: Jul-18-12 7:53 PM EST –

Age old technique

Probably a bit tougher solo, I'll admit.
Large canoe specific float bags are the ticket.

all the above…

– Last Updated: Jul-18-12 9:16 PM EST –

Solo...big bags...hands-down favorite items. The written maneuver looks is all the previous stuff. Capistrano with tandem or bigger boat. Definitely one at a time, till really dry, with tandem paddler. With lighter boat I've had good luck with a big bag(or combined with a cut-free rear bag) hopping on the end to plunge the very end using the bag(s) as your fulcrum. A little tool...I'll tie two thick lengths of rope onto a near midships thwart so I can grab it while sitting on an end, I'll get them together so I can grab them both...then lean back to give it an inverted Titanic aspect and let go of one rope(where I'm falling off into)& pull to spin... One way that's worked when needed.

dry bag ?
if you had any gear with you in a dry bag, you could try straddling/sitting on the bag as you try to flip the canoe - might give you enough extra bouyancy to do it

I’m of the opinion that mostly it is better to just swim your boat to shore - likely that is going to be quicker than trying to deal with a boat load of gear, emptying the boat, getting in, recovering your gear, and then paddling to shore anyway.

If possible
I agree that in most cases swimming to shore would probably be a quicker and easier option. But there are some cases were it simply isn’t possible, either because hypothermia would set in before you made it to shore or wind/waves are preventing you from swimming that direction. A boat full of water is heavy and doesn’t swim easily.


float bag in one end only
That makes the water-filled end really want to be the low end in the water, leaving the bagged end waving in the air. I haven’t tried it in a canoe, which allows water to escape from the ends, but the problem can make a kayak unrescuable: you can’t get the low end high enough to drain the water out through the cockpit. I’d be interested in hearing your experience.


In those cases …
… I try to have end bags in my canoe, as someone else suggested. In most cases I don’t bother, but I take the trouble of installing them for big, wide open water. Even with a full load of gear, a properly loaded canoe will have its bow and stern areas open. (Loading gear in these areas adversely affects the canoe’s ability to pivot, as Cliff Jacobson and others have pointed out).

I conducted an experiment like yours after my son was born. I wanted to know that I could right a swamped boat in any circumstances, just in case. My tandem boat is a big and somewhat beastly 17.5 Bell Alaskan. Righting this boat after a capsize in deep water is pretty well impossible. With float bags properly installed, it’s no problem at all.

It’s really a very simple situation, but one that requires a little time, money, and energy to put in place. Likely your canoe will require p-rings or similar hardware along the gunwales and lash tabs on the floor in order to “cage” the bags with parachute cord. It took me a couple afternoons to get all of this in place.

Tried again - Better results
Took the Osprey out for another try this evening with much better results. I don’t have any float bags but I did manage to find my paddle float, which fit really nicely between the rear carry thwart and rear deck of the canoe. Just slip the paddle float between them, with about 3/4 of it above the gunwales, and fill it full of air. It was held in place very well this way.

Now with a capsized canoe the back end floated high and dry and didn’t sink when I’d pick up the bow. I still wasn’t able to lift and flip the canoe high enough from the bow but I found a position that worked quite well.

I’d actually get under the capsized boat (plenty of air space to breath) facing the stern with my back against the thwart ahead of the seat, so I’m about 1/4 of the way back from the bow. Grab a gunwale in each hand, lift the right side higher than the left (feels stronger for me) to break the seal and start draining some water and then give a mighty kick and shove to flip it over.

It sounds a little simpler than it actually was. I still wasn’t able to do this and keep my head above water so I actually let it push me under. After breaking the seal and getting the right side raised up a little I’d just go underwater and raise it as high as I could before kicking and flipping. Doing it this way I was consistently able to empty all but 3-5 gallons of water. With that amount of water re-entering was no problem.

Also be sure to keep a hand on the gunwale when flipping it. The first time I didn’t do this and the boat ended up about 4’ away from me and drifting. Any breeze and I never would have caught up to it.

After doing it a few times I timed myself. First time took 2min. 20 seconds to get back in the boat. I put the paddle float in wrong and it popped out after the second try so I had to reset it. On my second attempt everything went smooth and I was back in the boat in half the time (1 min. 10 sec).

So I guess at this point I feel pretty confident that if I capsize in warm water, on a warm day, with no wind blowing, no gear in the boat, and no dog I’d have no problem reentering my canoe. What a relief. :slight_smile:

I’ll be curious to see if an affixed stern bag works better or worse. Having the paddle float attached this way, with over a foot of it sticking up over the stern, really keeps the stern floating high and seems to help keep the water out during the flip.

I also wonder how much difference built in bow/stern flotation would make. I haven’t built any for my Osprey yet. I’ll have to take my Magic out next time and see how it does. It’s 6lbs lighter and has end tanks. It’s also tippier so climbing back in might be more difficult.


nothing to add but “thanks”
to all of you who are contributing to the board. It really does help those “lurkers” like us to start thinking about ( and practicing) some new skills.

I took my Penobscot out when I first started paddling my own boat about 4 years ago, with a friend that was teaching me the ropes. Learning that rolling the boat wasn’t a tragedy…and reentry techniques…were two of the first things that we covered. To be honest, solo reentry was something that I really struggled with, and never really got the hang of in deeper water.

Since i wear an insulin pump (theoretically waterproof), reentry without “belly flopping” over the side, and potentially tearing out my infusion sight- is an extra challenge. You guys have given me some thoughts on work arounds for that. :slight_smile:

( To save the replies; no, I don’t plan on going swimming while wearing my pump; but that’s sort of the definition of a problem: things that happen when you haven’t scheduled them… )