Flotation Bag for Canoe

Does anyone make a flotation bag for a canoe?

We sometimes paddle on larger waves, mostly from inconsiderate power boaters and I know how unmanageable a swamped canoe is.

Yes - like here…

They are pricy compared to kayak float bags, and be attentive to the sizing. It is more important that the float bags in canoes fit correctly, for example to make it to the first thwart in, than in kayaks where they are contained by the boat on all sides once inflated. You also want to look at the canoe for the ability to run lashing over the top to help secure the bag.

Flotation bags…
Also check out Mohawk Canoe flotation bags on their website.

They have quite a list of canoe outfitting items.

I have been happy with their canoes, and their outfitting items over the years.

They also have some good written information, and illustrations regarding outfitting.


Other makers

– Last Updated: Aug-18-12 9:42 AM EST –

In addition to Mohawk Canoe and Northwest River Supplies
Gaia Sports, and Harmony make high quality bags.



Many canoe makers and other vendors (such as Nantahala Outdoor Center) sell bags made by one of the aforementioned manufacturers with their "brand logo" printed on the bags.

The urethane nylon bags are even more expensive than the vinyl bags but there is a substantial weight savings.

To construct a decent "bag cage" you will need some 3 mm nylon accessory line or parachute cord, some type of anchors to secure to the hull bottom, and perhaps some lengths of 1" wide nylon or polypropylene webbing and some Nexus Fastex "triglides" to secure the ends of the webbing. This photo will give you the idea:


Without a decent bag cage to restrain the bag, the flotation will be of limited benefit. Do not be tempted to tie the bags in using only the loops or grommets at the bag corners. Grommets frequently rip out under tension, and even if they don't without proper lacing water in the canoe will flow under the bag and bow it up above the gunwales and in toward the center of the boat.

It is fine to drill small holes through the hull of your boat (whether Royalex or composite) just below the gunwales and lace the accessory cord through it.

An Option - Go Hard instead of Soft

– Last Updated: Aug-18-12 12:21 PM EST –

Depending on the boat


Boat builders have using this technique for years


Making some solid custom fit "triangles"
might be the ticket for secure peace of mind
when paddling that canoe.

How much?
It takes a lot of fllotation to paddle a canoe full of water. It’s one thing to make it sit high when upside down and another thing to keep paddling and in control. You would probably need end bags and a large center bag in a tandem. Flotation is great, but it’s not a small commitment if you intend to keep paddling when swamped.

That’s a very good point.

– Last Updated: Aug-18-12 3:04 PM EST –

On the other hand, being swamped by powerboat wakes most likely means tipping over first. With a medium amount of float-bag volume, paddling when swamped may not be so practical, but paddlers of a boat in that situation will find self-rescue to be a whole lot easier, whether they are simply bailing, or righting and re-entering the boat too. This is a case where some flotation would be a whole lot better than none.

Paddling swamped
You’ve gotten links to float bag sources but, like Clarion, I’d like to focus on your swamped boat paddling rationale in the OP.

You are not going to want to paddle a swamped boat whether is has bags or not. You want to bail it out with scoops and sponges.

The primary purposes of float bags are threefold:

  1. To float a dumped boat higher in rapids so it is less likely to pin.

  2. To float a dumped canoe that has heavy, non-buoyant objects tied into it.

  3. To help empty the water out of a dumped canoe when you flip it over during a mid-water self-rescue.

    I’d say paddling while swamped is by far most likely to occur in heavy whitewater paddling, which is not what your OP is describing. If you get so much water in a canoe in flatwater that it’s hard to control without bags, it probably will be hard to control with bags also, unless, as Clarion says, you have bagged the complete boat whitewater style.

    For flatwater canoes, I don’t think anything more than 30" end bags are necessary for solo or tandem canoes (if they fit) because your primary usages are the three I listed above. If small end bags don’t fit the tandem, you can use one center bag, but they take up lots of space and can take a long time to fill.

    What will also work to avoid the slop-in from power boat wakes is a lightweight canoe cover and improved paddling technique that will allow you to roll with and over the wakes. And, of course, the bailer.
1 Like

Yep. Well said/

The boat is one I am talking about is one I just finished, a cedar strip, but made with very thin strips and has little flotation by itself. I wouldn’t mind except for the power boaters can make very irregular waves. The idea would be to just get it to shore if it gets dumped.

"keep paddling"
Yea I probably didn’t word that very well. I didn’t mean “keep paddling” and ignore the water. Like you said, you’ve got to bail.

FWIW here is a pretty poor and boring video of my tandem Prospector 16 getting swamped. You can see at the beginning how much flotation it had. Then if you skip ahead to 4:30 you’ll see it get pretty well swamped. We were able to stay in control there. And we had an electric pump to start bailing for us immediately. I didn’t have the center bag caged as big as I could have for this run.


Don’t watch the whole thing. It’s boring.

I agree with your thinking
You will find a canoe with flotation immensely easier to paddle to shore if you dump.

And if you find yourself in the more unhappy situation of having to use the boat as a life raft if you dump a long way from shore, a canoe without flotation will be just about useless.