Exiting a capsized canoe

It dawned on me the other day that I have never capsized my canoe while kneeling. I have done it while sitting when there is no problem exiting.

Is there a particular preferred method of positioning just before capsize (if you have time) and any best method for getting your feet out from under the seat after capsize? Is there something that newbies typically do that traps them or makes it harder for them to exit after a capsize?

With kayaks you try to tuck forward and get your paddle flat to the deck if you can see the capsize coming and are not in a position for a brace. Although there are many ways to exit, there is a pretty common procedure taught involving how to find the loop, pull forward and up, and lean sideways into a sommersault as you push off the cockpit rim for the easiest exit. Just wondering if any such procedure is taught in canoeing.

I need to practice some before the water gets too cold.


Exiting a capsized canoe
is generally automatic. Even when kneeling, with your feet under the seat, you will generally just come out. No preparation necessary.

That having been said, there are a few caveats. The seat should not be so low that your feet can be caught beneath it. If you are wearing boots or similar shoes, where the heels could get caught on the back of the seat, they might present a problem. If you think any of those conditions might apply to you, either correct the problem or at the very least, practice “wet exiting” under controlled conditions, with a friend to help, just in case.

Outfitted whitewater canoes are another matter. If properly outfitted, you will also come out clean with little effort. I have seen some however where the thigh straps were mounted so far back that they needed to be released before you could come out. In that case the release mechanism should be large and easy to find by feel and the procedure should be practiced, again under controlled conditions. Personally, I wouldn’t paddle a boat that was so equipped.

The usual precautions about keeping bow and stern lines secured in a manner that would prevent you from being tangled in them should be followed. The same applies to any lines securing your gear.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom paddles and cedar strip canoes

Good question !
Back in the days when I used to kneel I used to worry about entrapment with my feet under the seat, but it never happened.

I don’t kneel and now in several races where we have been going flat out fast in a down river situation with current and have hit a submerged log which gave a unexpected swim I just make sure to dive clear when I realize there is no way to save the situation.



Falling out of the boat
Now that is something I’m good at - done it many times, sometimes many times in the same day.

In a flatwater boat with a bench seat, the trick is definitely to get your feet out from under the seat. I have a Yellowstone Solo with the seat high for kneeling, but my feet will still get hung up sometimes.

In a WW boat with foot pegs, straps and a pedestal, you use pressure on the foot pegs to keep the straps tight which holds you in the boat. Exiting is simply a matter of releasing pressure on the pegs, which loosens the straps, and allows you to exit. I was taught to lean forward as you exit keeping your body close to the boat to avoid hitting rocks. To be honest, I’m not sure I actually do that – it all happens so fast.

I do agree with Marc – in most cases you’ll simply fall out, proper form is not required. Still good to practice in advance.

pretty much like falling off a log
… as long as you have adequate seat height for your particular feet and your largest shoes. And make sure you don’t have any long bolts hanging out the bottom of your seat.

Seat height can be checked pretty well by kneeling in the boat dry and trying to easily slip your feet in and out without hitting the seat.

My fallout no longer automatic
from the whitewater boat, equipped with footpegs and thigh straps. I used to fall out easy, but lately I have gotten stuck a number of times, perhaps because I try to stay in/roll up rather than just bailing out. My body and canoe get in positions where there is pressure on one or the other and I can’t get my foot to twist sideways off the footpeg. Because the strap is under pressure, I also have trouble getting my hand around the release mechanism. Two or three times now, I thought I was going to have to go for the knife and cut the strap.

Reflecting on it as I type, it occurs to me that this is a serious issue. I better either get better at getting out or change something.

I counted up 2008 recently and I only was on whitewater 6 times out of 69 boating days. And I know a few of those I was polling and thigh straps were not an issue! Still, if I am going to do it I better figure out a better exit.


just do it
It is nothing to worry about…all the above is good advice.

Kids have no qualms about flipping and adults do… My five year old grandson after flipping once wanted to do it over and over and over and over.

I got a little tired of boat over boat.

He didn’t.


– Last Updated: Dec-04-08 10:39 AM EST –

If your canoe (whitewater or otherwise) is properly outfitted, there is a very small chance that you will ever have to deal with foot entrapment. BUT, that chance does exist, and I encourage you to take the time to do a little practice. It can actually be fun in the Summer.

The 2 times it has ever occurred to me in about 50 years of paddling are described below.

This past Summer was the first time I have ever capsized a Wildfire(have owned one for over 6 years), and paddle them with regularity. As with virtually all of my solo boats, the seat is rigged with the front edge of the seat lower than the back edge.
While lollygagging down a shoal that had some moving water, I looked back upstream to check on my wife's location. Bad timing! I high centered on a rock & rolled to my left side; the boat headed towards the left bank, twisted my left leg, and my left foot caught under the seat.(I was wearing stiff soled water shoes that I don't typically wear when paddling).I was dragged 2 or 3 boat lengths before I got my foot loose. Pfd protected my back from rocks, but I strained a muscle, or ligament in my lower left back that was a problem for a couple of weeks.

Year before last I was paddling my whitewater boat, a Mohawk Probe 12 II, which was outfitted with Yakima footpegs attached to the saddle.
Above a class 3 drop I high centered on a barely submerged boulder, spun 90 degrees to my right, and capsized. Water was "very" fast. I stayed in the boat, and attempted to roll up; that failed. My right foot shifted when I attempted the roll & the very tip of my right shoe slipped under the foot peg. I tried to bail out & couldn't get loose. I readjusted my foot position, pulled, & came loose just as I went over the drop. Bad news; I didn't get clear quick enough to get upstream of the boat. I went over first & my boat slammed into my back, and then into the back of the head as we went through the spin cycle at the bottom of the drop. Pfd, and helmet saved me from any real injury. Had bad headache & lots of ankle & back pain.

I'm not sure I could duplicate either of those scenarios; even if I made a concerted effort to do so.
Sometimes it does happen to mortals.
The paddling "Gods" never capsize.
A little practice would be good if you're mortal. You can practice braces at the same time.
Best to have someone with you if/when you practice boat capsizes.


Bob, seeing your capsize
on the Current is what really got me thinking about the issue. I really should have gotten you or one of the other experienced canoeists to work with me then. When I got home from that trip I put the canoe away, got back into the kayak and kind of forgot about doing the canoe capsize practice. I went out a couple of days ago to practice with a new canoe paddle and suddenly all my concerns and questions came back from somewhere in those deep recesses of paranoid memory.

By the way, the new 56in paddle lets me do the cross-forwad stroke just the way you showed me instead of my rather creative method with the 60in one.


One of the things I like about OC-1s and
decked C-1s is that wet exits are almost always much easier than it is with my kayaks.

Because of my height and my size 15 feet, in my open boats I use a pedestal and a padded thwart. I do not use thigh straps or foot pegs because I do not roll open boats. I have myself wedged in enough for good control, but if I flip, I can get out almost before the boat is fully upside down.

Hey Mark…
If having watched one of my “river tricks” is of assistance; more power to you!

Me doing “river tricks” rarely occurs, but when it does I always learn something…

I can still capsize a canoe with the best of them, and it only takes a moment of inattentiveness to do so. It always refreshes my memory; cold, spring fed river water is a great remedy for a case of hubris.

Glad the paddle size adjustment is working for you.

I was doing some lake paddling this past friday in the Wildfire & Argosy.

Tuesday I was working at a local state park; assisting other caving club members, and park staff in building a cave gate. Goals; to protect endangered bat population, and deny vandals access to the cave.


another thing that’s good
is that pocket of air a turtled canoe has trapped inside the hull, especially if it’s bagged. Always nice to be able to get another breath or two of air while being stuck or trying that roll thang again.

I wondered the same thing…
this summer. We ended up getting a new pool and with the water so low around here, I tossed my Solo Plus into the pool and practiced dumping it while kneeling. The kids had fun with it too, especially swimming under it and popping up under it when it was capsized…

Another good thing to practice
is getting back in. I’m OK in my YS as long as there is someone to brace the far gunwale. Can’t do it alone - end up swamping the boat again every time.


3 words
Relax, relax, relax.

If you start flailing about during a capsize it is possible your legs will become twisted under the seat making it much more difficult to extract. Just like a WW kayaker you know you are heading to the drink so get a bite of air. Stay calm and make sure your feet are clear of the seat before trying to surface. Unfortunately solo sport canoeists don’t get the opportuniy to practice this skill like our kayak brethern.

well a real canoe paddler
can roll his canoe upright and never has to exit.

I have rolled a fully bagged and strapped OC-1, but I would like to see a person who could roll a stock solo sport canoe with none of the outfitting of the OC-1.

If Bob didn’t do it, it can’t be done!

Brian Faulk
rolled a WildFire at Southwest Canoe Symposium.

No outfitting…

it can be done… He couldnt to it two in a row however.

Had a similar experience with my old
Mad River Compatriot.

It’s really a personal choice. I know guys who have done first runs on godawful steep creeks, and have never bothered to learn to roll. They seem to develop a kind of gut level planning so that, if they fill up, the boat washes over to a great place to dump.

I used to live on my roll in c-1, but in OC-1, I just don’t see the point. And, in the last ten years, I have only flipped once.

and on that topic

– Last Updated: Dec-05-08 2:18 PM EST –

a local very good WW paddler, paul edwards, was discussing rolling with aaron and i a few weeks back when he gave aaron a millbrook flashback. he recommended not rolling this kevlar canoe as he rolled it once, but being swamped while upright, he ripped the bottom open on the next rock. with most of the rivers i paddle, any time upside down in the canoe would lead to a broken helmet. i'd rather just bail out :-)and have my encore outfitted to do just that, unlike my hard headed 14 year old Aaron ;-)