how a canoe tips?

In a recent post by another member, I claimed the only thing that can tip a canoe, other than a big wave, is you.

I havent tipped a canoe yet. And I really dont want to. Some of the places I paddle at are 2 feet deep of water and 3 feet of silty mud. No way could a person stand up in the mud and I wouldnt make it to shore because there can be 30 to 80 yards thick of reeds and cattails.

Let’s hear from those who experienced tipping over. What made you tip? Was it preventable?

Over we went just like that
Outside lean paddling hard in a keeled boat in the wind. The harder we paddled the harder the wind blew that day. The bow person should be the spotter but we hit a submerged object. Not expecting it I was actually the one who lost balance first and dumped us over.

First of all, a better approach to the wind situation with a keel in the boat would have been to slow down and use an inside lean ( I know that now but didn’t then some 25-30 years ago, the wind was broadside to the boat and wanting to push us off to the left as we made headway up a river way in a calm water section). Second of all, today I would never own a keeled canoe and use it in shallow water situations. Third, keep your bow spotter alert. And my OT Camper never would have never dumped over in the same situation FWIW. That keel rode up on the object keeping us clung to it. I think if we countered the lean we would have gone over the other way !

I say shallow, the bow person could stand by the tips of his toes but stand , I could not. But I was free to swim around and collect loose items that were floating in the area. We dumped the canoe back over and got to tell you there was still maybe 3-4" of water in it. I was younger then and I just hooked onto the stern of the boat and hiked myself over the rear deck and slid down to the seat. But 4" of water makes for an unstable boat, real roll prone. But the bow person had the advantage of some leverage too. He thinks he was standing on a large stump. And a stump also is probably what we hit. Being 16 ft closer to shore he decided to swim with the bow and I paddled. We were to shore in no time and got the rest of the water out. It was May, we paddled to the put in pretty water logged but fine.

Get really good PFD’s.

Bell bout Lean

– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 6:02 AM EST –

Sorry - title should be "Bell Buoy Lean"

I agree that it is always the paddler that flips the canoe, and they flip when they don’t keep their body centered over the boat. Some people call this a "bell buoy lean". If you lean your body instead of the boat, your center of gravity can fall too far outside of the boat, and eventually it will tip over.

What will cause you to do this? Could be many things - wind, waves, hitting an obstruction, moving around in the boat. You name it.

How do you prevent this? To the extent possible, you want to lean the boat while keeping your body centered. This is called a J-lean. You lean the boat with your hips, while keeping your head and shoulders center over the boat. It’s called a J-lean because of the shape your body takes when the boat leans.

At some point in time, every paddler will get themselves into a bell buoy lean. When this happens, good bracing skills will sometimes help you recover. If not, it’s time to practice those self-rescue skills.

I have flipped in a muddy, marshy area like you describe. I wasn’t paying attention and hit an underwater stump - over I went. I couldn’t get back in the boat, but I was able to use the boat for support as I worked my way back to shore. It’s unlikely that you are going to flip in those conditions, but if you really can’t self-rescue from there, you probably shouldn’t paddle there.

Lots of things
Going over sizable drops, large diagonal waves, strong eddy lines, unanticipated converging currents, rocks, deadheads, becoming completely soused and uncontrollable, etc.

I suppose if you are good enough every capsize is preventable but some require very strong and proactive heels and braces.

Canoes can tip easily
I am like you - have never tipped over a canoe with just me in my life. And it took until I was in WW or learning decent skills in a kayaks for me to tip over in either of those.

But I have ended up in the water numerous times when someone else was in the canoe who did things in there I did not understand. I finally stopped going out with anyone I didn’t know really, really well because the only time I swam was when I was accompanied.

Lots of people find tipping over boats quite easy. It is just that it is easier to avoid for some people due to size or basic balance issues than others.

I tip a canoe over a lot

– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 10:35 AM EST –

Because I like to push the boundaries. The first or second time its scary. Then its is not. Kids love to tip. Adults do not.

The reason for a tip is usually pretty simple. The head has a lot of influence being on a large lever arm. Get that 11 or 12 lbs outbounds of the rail and you will fall over. Being stiff and scared makes the likelihood of this happening greater. Grabbing the gunwales is another good way . We call that pulling the coffin lid shut.

I think the most common cause is inattention. Looking backwards over your shoulder can be risky.. so if you want to look back..spin your whole body.. This is easier kneeling than sitting.

Some of my FreeStyle students get well acquainted with tips during quick turns with the boat on the edge of the gunwale. If they are centered with a good J lean and are anticipating the move ahead and boat movement all is fine. Sometimes something goes wrong

Capsizes IMO happen less in gnarly conditions in canoe cause they are usually off the water and when on the water everyone is paying attention.

Yep..have capsized in gook. Everglades. You can get out of it. Of course its fruitless to stand up. You swim on your belly with your PFD on and with the boat in tow( it should have painters) to shore. Brace the boat against the mud when you are almost to ground and crawl out using the boat for suppoort.

Those cattails can be broken off in numbers while you are horizontal to form a stepping mat. Alternatively keep a square of something like a rug to lay on the mud. That works real well.

Sounds like attending a canoe meet or club is in order. Some of your concerns are best addressed in person.

I agree with “other than a big wave”

– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 10:19 AM EST –

I would also add obstructions in moving water to that short list. Getting snagged by overhead branches or getting sideways against a stuck tree limb in swift water is a good way to flip, though that's usually avoidable if you are a decent paddler. One thing that really gives me trouble is a diagonal curling wave in whitewater.

In your calm-water example, I'd say the only way to flip is to make it happen yourself. Different people will have different abilities when it comes to not doing something the boat can't handle, and being a really big person as compared to a small person will give you less leeway in that regard.

Me too, and its fun

– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 11:10 AM EST –

Like Medic, I am very stable, have an awesome brace, and tip over all time time. Why? I push my boat to its limits. If you dont, how do you know where the edge is? During races or tripping, obviously I do not want to tip over for safety or competitive reasons, but if Im just paddling around for fun, I like to push it.

Recently, I did a buoy turn in my solo J200 race boat and kept the boat beyond its point of stability the entire turn, basically slapping my paddle on the water with a short draw at a very high cadence. My boat turned as sharp as I've ever been able to turn it, but the 4th time I tried it I missed a stroke and ate it. But you know what? who cares? it was fun. I now have an even better feel for where my final stability point is, and how to delicately balance the boat very near this point.

As other said, you basically only tip from user error (body/head outside the gunwales), hitting a submerged object, or waves (particularly rear quartering waves or confused, omnidirectional waves which are my least favorite)

Also, an unconscious/automatic brace will save 99% of capsizes. You only develop this skill by pushing the limit and trying to save it with a brace. At first you'll tip over 9 out of 10 times. Now, I save 98 out of 100. To get from no brace to rock solid brace, I tipped the boat literally hundreds of times as I attempted to save it, but now I have a solid brace that has saved me in a couple pretty hairy situations. I strongly believe anyone who does a moderate amount of paddling should develop this skill, and the only way to learn it results in many, many capsizes. (just find calm water and a hot day and it feels good)

Last thought, we run a weekly paddling group called Rookie Racers. The first time a newbie capsizes they apologize, are embarrassed, or have no idea what to do. After a couple recoveries its second nature. We've gotten everyone back in the boat their first flip, often times in a V1 Pro race boat. My point is, EVERYONE is going to flip. no matter what. it will happen sooner or later if you paddle enough. May as well do it for the first time because you decided to.

A guy went over the side of his boat
In a similar situation. Small boat, hit something and he fell over the side. As I recall he couldn’t swim, almost drown but grabbed the back of the boat and kicked himself to shore. Now I had no idea he couldn’t swim but I suggested this place to fish for big bass. That had been the question he asked me. Well its a bit remote and he was alone fishing there. The look he gave me was as if this was my fault. I believe he sold the boat. So anyway, you don’t have to a paddler to have a water accident.


– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 1:01 PM EST –

Check out these guys;

Most reviews for that canoe is that it is very stable. From the video, it looks like it will tip over by itself.


– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 1:27 PM EST –

Most people do not get that its not about the boat. Its about the paddler!
These two clearly were not thinking. The bow station is narrow! The other unemployed chap just stood there!

A good illusration why the stern paddler should get in on their knees first. Then move to the center of the canoe near the yoke while the bow person gets in on their knees.. then one at a time both move to their seats. Its very unsettling to the bow paddler to have the stern enter last. Bow paddlers don't have eyes in the back of their heads.

The boat is way too small for two big guys.. See how easily their heads get over the gunwles.

So when are we going to stop focusing on the boat and more on developing the paddler and making a good paddler boat match?

Do you see any of these folk falling in?

You want an easy C-1 to tip ?
Try to make a sharp turn in a Wenonah J-190

jack L

Also several times in a tandem
On down river runs, (racing):

  1. rounding a bend in a fast moving current going about 7MPH and hit the top of a submerged log (facing the way your going) a few inches below the surface. Oops your over!
  2. Another down river in a class I-II going fast and you zig when you should have zagged and hit a submerged rock on one side of the bow.
  3. Then there is the one, (again in a narrow twisting stream) where you are going all out, and you, (me) the stern paddler call for a post to the bow paddler to make a quick turn, and you, (me) like an idiot lean to that same side.

    I am sure there have been a lot more, but those were the memorable ones.

    jack L

I think there’s a million ways to tip

– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 6:49 PM EST –

over in a canoe and I think I've done most of "em. Most frequently it has involved colliding with an object, like a rock or log- some were submerged and some weren't.
Some of the weirder ways- getting blown over by strong gusts of wind, swamping out completely from waves and then flipping due to sloshing water, or just trying to get out of the boat- usually where there's a steep bank, or getting in the boat, or untieing camping equipment and having it slide to one side and tip the boat over,or the absolute worst- I'm out of the boat sliding the boat down bank with my wife in the boat (she didn't want to get her feet wet) only to watch it flip over when it entered the water. I ahould have taught her how to brace!

I think there’s a million ways to tip
You mentioned the wife flipping your canoe on launch. My wife is one of those low slung models, if anything she stabilizes the canoe. She sits dead center too. She is a good paddle partner even if sometimes she just wants to paddle any way she feels like paddling. But the Camper is easy enough to counter almost anything she does in the bow under average paddling conditions. In a river she minds though, and she is a decent spotter too.

Watch out fly fishing with her, both for your hat and she may out fish ya !! She’s fun and a heck of a cook, like gourmet grade . Guess that’s why we been together over 40 years.


– Last Updated: Aug-08-14 8:52 PM EST –

Do not reach out over your "offside" gunwale, and try to catch sunglasses that are falling off the top of your head.
Most especially, do not do this when you are sitting on top of a Perception saddle in a Whitesell Piranha, stretching your legs.
About all I had time to do was wave my paddle(which was in my on side hand) in an "air brace".
Are braces are not very efficient.

It was a hot day; I got cooled off, but lost the glasses. Amazed & awed some friends & my wife who were paddling close behind me.
If I remember correctly, one's response was, "What the hell is he doing?
I hate capsizing. Do not make a habit of it; huge hassle to me, no matter why it occurs.

Get distracted surfing below a big drop on a river with lots of commercial rafts. You will probably unwillingly capsize when a raft carrying 5 or 6 adults suddenly drops on top of you & your canoe.
It can be a fight to get out of your canoe, and get yourself & your canoe out from under the raft. Once was enough for me. How long can "you" hold your breath?


let’s be clear about my wife and the ,
capsize, I’m the one responsible for flipping the boat. She has made that perfectly clear to me. Sometimes she even tries to imply that I did it to her intentionally. Actually, I’m just not a very good judge of how a canoe reacts being seal launched down a bank while she gunnel grabs-and me holding the stern didn’t help.

I’ve taken out and put on in some pretty challenging eddies and seen and had my own share of mishaps.

What’s really embarrassing is when you swim in front of one of your cnet buds. I managed to swim from one of castoff’s kayaks a few minutes after meeting him.

do not spear the Bob
he does not move… and you will

That’s pretty cool!
Yeah, I’ve seen a few paddling performances of that sort online, but that’s the first one I’ve seen done to non-serious music, and with such over-the-top (but in a good way), old-style comedy.

you are a good swimmer
And good sport. And stayed away from the oyster and barnacle covered

pilings. We swapped boats and had a good time. Inspite of some very high winds. I expect you will get to see some swimming on my part when I get up your way.