Float Bags in Canoe

-- Last Updated: Aug-07-09 11:33 PM EST --

I just bought a Wenonah Escape (tufweave) and am considering taking a solo open lake camping trip. I was concerned about self rescue after an overturn away from the shore. I called Wenonah and because the canoe has bow and stern built-in floats they said the boat would float nearly level with the gunwhales with it completely saturated with water. My thoughts, if I equip the canoe with bow and stern float bags, is it probable that I would be able to flip this boat upside down and in effect, cause the boat to lift out of the water and remain nearly empty of water, so I can then flip the boat upright with a minimal amount of water getting caught in the canoe. I was going to use sealline drag bags for my gear attached with a cord, so they could float within the vicinity of the canoe and not be a weight factor while I try this self rescue maneuver. Or, are the float bags going to give me more gunwhale height, and less displacement, above the waterline to self bail?

self rescue
Self rescue in an open boat well away from shore is possible, but quite difficult. If you anticipate this skill as a possible requirement, you should practice it.

Without a partner to brace the canoe while you get back in, reentry is tricky and usually requires grabbing the opposite gunwale, giving it a good push, and kicking very hard to get high enough out of the water to roll back into the hull. You could potentially use a paddle float on a paddle attached to a thwart and a stirrup made of a loop of 1 inch wide nylon webbing to facilitate reentry.

Oddly, reentering a canoe with no flotation is usually easier but then it is difficult to stay in it and there is an enormous amount of water to bail. A canoe with flotation bags will have less water to bail but it will have a lot more than " a minimal amount" and too much to be able to paddle any distance to shore without bailing. If you are carrying packs a lot of the canoe will not be filled with bags. A bilge pump of the type sea kayakers use can be useful, if it is long enough to extend from the hull bottom to above gunwale height.

You certainly need to attach your packs to the boat in some fashion so they don’t float away. On lakes and easy rivers I frequently use a tether so that the packs can easily be gotten out of the hull to allow a boat-over-boat rescue to be done. With packs securely lashed in, they are difficult to remove while you are in the water, and the weight of the packs makes it very difficult to lift the stem of the swamped canoe over the gunwales of the rescue boat. If you are truely going alone, however, a boat-over-boat rescue is not in the cards. In that case it would probably be best to use waterproof pack liners and lash the packs in as you would flotation bags as the packs will then function like air bags, increasing flotation and limiting the amount of water that remains in the boat after righting it.

Lots of float bags
Your talking about outfitting a tandem lake canoe as a solo with float bags. You’ll need two of the longest end bags you can find along with two center bags to fill up that boat. Even then, it will never float above water when upside down.

practice practice practice.

No tethers please
that can wrap around your ankles. I use gatehooks and cable ties to keep my packs inside the boat.

I tend to take long lake to lake trips…and do not use supplemental floatation other than what is in the boat. There simply is no room.

Right now I am packing for three weeks in Woodland Caribou and the Albany River.

I do use a double paddle, paddle float and stirrup and bailer and have practiced. A lot. Its not easy.

Better to stick to the shore area where you can see more anyway. Its more interesting. If you have to do a lake crossing do so early in the morining. I have one 10 k crossing and believe me I will pick my time carefully.

Strangely enough falling out is more of a function of inattention than anything else.

Depending on the size, shape and weight of your canoe, the size and depth of your float bags, and your buoyancy and strength, you might be able flip a float-bagged boat over almost empty of water.

The way you to this is to go to one end of the upside down canoe and make sure the suction, if any, is broken. You lift one end of the upside down boat out of the water as far as you can, using the float bag on the opposite end as the fulcrum. Then you flip the boat upward with a sideways twist so it lands right side up. If all of the above factors work perfectly, it may now be upright almost empty of water.

But now you still have to climb back in, which is a completely separate skill that most older people can’t do.

Not that I would recommend this, but WW canoeists in the Boston area used to install big ethafoam planks under their inwales as side flotation in addition to float bags. These canoes would almost ride above the water when capsized, and could be easily flipped right side up with minimal water intake. Some old Mike Galt canoes have built in side flotation sponsons that give similar benefits.

I’ver tried solo self-rescues
in both my solo and tandem boats. Can’t do it alone in either. I can flip the solo upright and get it relatively dry, but I can’t get back in without swapping again. The tandem is a little easier to get back in to, but its much harder to flip upright and get dry. Float bags would probably make the tandem boat easier to flip over, but gear would be a real complication. I’ve never tried a paddle float and stirrup. As others have said, practice before you need it. Better yet, bring someone else along - its much easier with another boat.

yep…have about six
Grummans outfitted that way… though its partly because the tank floatation degraded…the boats are pretty old.