Canoe - Solo deep water re-entry

waterproof gear bags
A 3 cu ft gear bag with 50 # of stuff in it still offers over 100# of bouyancy. IF they are secured like air bags they will yield much of the same benefit.

No no no no no

– Last Updated: Jul-22-12 11:48 PM EST –

Dry bags are never to be submerged, under water !
A roll top bag offers some protection, but not complete.
They are not 100% waterproof, merely water resistant.

Use gear for its intended design - don't make up stuff.

***__Extremely Typical Disclaimer___***

I'm NOT betting my life in open water on a dry bag

paddle float
+1… I use the paddle float and step strap method. Works equally well in a canoe as a kayak. Paddle float also worked great to get my dog back into the boat when he got carried away and chased a green spinner bait (tennis ball color) into the lake.

I usually rock the swamped boat port to stern quickly until about 70% of the water is out. This method works for me, may not for others. You do get a face full of water doing it though.

I thought of that too but worry that a 50 pound gear bag, that’s now taken on some water, would make it impossible to raise the canoe high enough to flip it over while emptying the water. And the bag itself wouldn’t be able to displace enough water on its own to just roll the boat over and expect it to be nearly empty. Although I haven’t actually tried it either way it seems the best bet, at least for a solo boater, would be to let the gear bag float out of the canoe and retrieve it after re-entering.


Stick with tru Canoe Float Bags

– Last Updated: Jul-23-12 1:03 PM EST –

NRS makes items specific to canoe flotation

Of course they have to "locked in" via webbing,
tethering, or something, to be useful and not float away

Some people go solid foam

Float bags or dry bags…
Kind of a silly argument. Can’t think of any reason why one would want to use dry bags instead of float bags for flotation. But if you are carrying gear, having it in secured dry bags is better than having it take up the same space without the bag(s).

Use float bags for flotation. But gear secured in dry bags in the remaining space is better than just empty space (after the gear dumps out). The idea is to have as much space as possible filled with something lighter than water that is attached to the boat. That being the case, swamping is much less of an issue.

Is it?
“But gear secured in dry bags in the remaining space is better than just empty space (after the gear dumps out). The idea is to have as much space as possible filled with something lighter than water that is attached to the boat. That being the case, swamping is much less of an issue.”

After playing around with reentries a few times I wonder if that’s actually the case. I realize that an empty canoe holds a lot of water, but it also releases that water easily when you turn it upside down. With a lightweight boat I can get dump most of the water with no flotation. With just a little flotation in the rear I can flip it over and have it pretty much empty. No way could I do that with gear strapped in the boat, it would be too heavy to lift. And with the loads most people carry I don’t think the gear would displace enough water.

But the more I think about it I suppose it depends on the situation. If all you want to do is swim the boat to shore in order to empty it out gear lashed in place would probably help rather than hinder. But if the goal is to empty the boat of water without reaching shore then I’d say an empty boat would be better.


Third try - this time with the Magic
Took out the Bell Magic tonight for more practice. This boat weighs 34 pounds (my Osprey is 40) and has built in flotation tanks bow and stern.

With an empty boat I still wasn’t able to consistently empty it of water. On my first try I emptied all but a few gallons and was very happy but I never got close to doing that good again.

Then I pulled out the paddle float and installed it between the rear carry thwart and the stern of the canoe. It was held in place very well by pressure once it was inflated. With this installed I was easily able to empty the boat of all but about 1 gallon or less of water every time, sometimes even without my head being forced underwater. It was much easier than the Osprey, the 6lbs lighter weight being the big difference I’m sure.

Reentering the Magic once it was emptied was really no harder than the Osprey. I only timed myself once and I was back in the boat in 1 minute even though I had a little difficulty fitting the paddle float.

I think these were pretty real to life situations as there was plenty of cursing as my elbow whacked the gunwale when capsizing and I gave myself a killer bruise on the back of my thigh from sliding it over the gunwale on reentry.

I even tried it with my dog. She was not impressed. Sadie likes being on the water, not in it. First I just jumped out without capsizing and reentered with her in the boat. No problem. Then I actually capsized it. After she managed to get out from under the upturned boat she made a mad dash towards shore. She was panicked and I didn’t have the heart to try and stop her to complete the rescue. Thankfully she was still willing to get back into the canoe for a little paddle around the pond, although she seems a bit suspicious now.

Next practice session will come when we get some wind. I’m sure Sadie won’t mind watching from shore.


Water in a bag

– Last Updated: Jul-24-12 1:18 AM EST –

Sure wouldn't want to flip a boat with big ol'
Duluth portage bags attached to it

A couple of videos from the UK…

– Last Updated: Jul-24-12 9:53 AM EST –

Here's a short video that includes self rescue just lifting one end of a solo canoe:

How you support the other end is open to many answers, but bear in mind that lashed-in kit can displace water just as effectively as airbags...

Here's another short video, this time showing a canoe just being rolled over and coming up without being completely swamped:

The secret there is the location of the support: here it's in the section of the canoe that's going to get submerged, not in floatation-tanks / bags in the stems - as these lift out of the water as you roll the canoe!

Guess I wasn’t clear…
I know it won’t hold if you habitually carry heavy gear - like dutch ovens and the like. But if the gear is in dry bags - which will float on flat water, if properly closed - the boat won’t take on as much water as it would with that gear loose in the boat. Unless you take extraordinary measures against it, there will be air trapped in the dry bags. If the dry bags are secured in the boat, they will displace water. If with float bags and dry bags you still managed to swamp and/or turtle the canoe do the degree that you need to be able to lift the boat, you can still release the dry bags (they will float long enough if you did your part). But if all that water has been displaced except where you sit, how did you end up that bad off?

re-entry plan
I recently posted on this. I’m pretty comfortable getting back in a swamped boat after an across-the-bow recovery, but my big concern has always been getting back in when paddling alone. This summer I put one of my boats on Council Bluff, swamped it, and tried to get back in. The Argosy had enough floatation to keep the rails at the surface, but there was no way I could partially empty the boat and attempt re-entry. I ended up swimming my canoe to shore, about 50 yards in calm warm water.It was pretty exhausting. I did learn from this experiment, though. I decided my best bet was to rig my canoe for a paddle float/outrigger, and install large enough floatation bags to get the rail well out of the water. Since I’d most likely be paddling alone in my Bell Magic, I bought a couple standard bags from NRS, and ordered a paddle float. This has been an expensive and labor-intensive project; just figuring out the best lashing for the bags in an untralite 2-layer kevlar hull has been difficult. Now I have the bags installed and am waiting for the paddle float. Off to CB Lake this weekend to see if it all works. The test will be to swamp the boat, right it, attach the paddle float to the paddle and the paddle to the center thwart, roll over the side, and remove water with my bail bucket.

There is another side to this problem I didn’t appreciate until t was almost too late: stuff essential for recovery (paddle float, bailer, etc) HAS to be securely anchored where it’s available when needed; stuff that you bring along that will get in the way of recovery (dry bag, water containers, etc) should probably not be anchored unless by long tether. In my experience, my dry bag was anchored behind by seat and was forever in the way when I was trying to recover. The paddle, unless connected to a paddle leash, has to be clenched in a death grip from the moment of capsize. Losing it will definitely make a bad day worse.

I think the best thing to do with a paddle would be to rig some clips to the rear thwart so that after a capsize it can be clipped in place inside the canoe. I found it a real hassle trying to right the boat and hang on to the paddle.

I’m a little leary of the idea of only emptying enough water to keep the gunwales above water and bailing after reentry. Assuming that a normal capsize situation would involve heavy waves, and knowing how tippy a boat becomes when full of water, it seems to me it would be very difficult to bail the water without even more washing in or, worse yet, re-capsizing.

Since you’re getting a paddle float anyway and have a lightweight boat try the method of wedging the paddle float between the rear carry thwart and end cap then inflating it. This keeps the stern floating very high and should allow you to empty all but a couple gallons of the water easily.

I found reentry with the Magic pretty easy when the boat was empty, no need for a paddle/float/outrigger setup. While it works fine in flat water I believe many kayakers who have tried paddle float reentries on rough water have found it quite impractical. So it would probably be a good idea not to rely on it too heavily.

I’d be a little worried about tethering gear to the boat because of multiple lines to get hung up on while swimming and attempting reentry. I think my plan will be, if it ever comes to it, reentering the boat first and then picking up whatever gear is floating.

Let us know how practice goes.


Kits and self-rescue…
Frontier Bushcraft have published a beginner guide to lashing and leashing kit by British Canoeing guru Ray Goodwin.

I’m 100% with his notion that “The combination of small airbags and lashed-down kit keeps the canoe afloat even when fully swamped”: works fine for me.

Different conditions?
Do you look at the strategy of strapping in gear to displace water as more applicable to whitewater scenarios where you’re likely to take on water without tipping as opposed to an actual capsize?

I can see where it would be beneficial in the case of water washing over the gunwales but it still seems detrimental to me in the case of a capsize, particularly solo, where you don’t have anyone to help you empty the canoe, steady it while you get back in, and steady it while you bail out the water. Seems much safer to let the gear float away so you can empty the water from an empty boat and reenter it once it’s dry.