Is floatation bags in a canoe necessary?

If your canoeing class I or II and flipped your canoe would a floatation bag be necessary, helpful or just in the way.


OK, my view
Class I–no I don’t think it’s neccessary. Most of those if the canoe gets water in it, you wade to shore dump it and go on. If it’s deep, you swim it to shore. Class I the water is pretty sedate generally not moving very fast.

Class II-ok a little more serious. If it’s continuous class II–floation would really be a good idea. If it’s riffle/pool you can live without it. Pull the canoe out in the pools and dump the water.

I have paddled our local CII river without floation. No big deal, but it’s riffle/pool style.

Constant class II, places to pull out are fewer and farther apart, the water is faster–keeping water out of the boat is a good idea.

Dry bags
If the canoe is loaded and you have drybags and such, and they are secured in the canoe, they can provide the required floatation.

Its pretty common for thwarts to get ripped out while a boat is being worked over by a rapid, something to keep in mind when defining “secured in the canoe.”

~~Chip Walsh

just my luck
Since I put air bags in my canoe, I haven’t flipped. Kind of like all those years with a helmet riding my motorcycles. We do get kind of swamped every now and then and it’s nice to see some of the water being displaced by air. Where I canoe the class 1 is usually a foot deep, so I can’t see bags for that, but the 2 and 3 can make bagging feel like a smart move.

Protect your boat

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 9:36 AM EST –

Like Eric said you put air bags in to protect the boat.
The more air in the boat the less water. The less water in the boat the higher it floats. The higher it floats the lesser the chance for it to pin. If it doesn't pin it won't get seriously damaged.
I watched a nice Wenonah with no bags get busted up pretty badly in an easy class II rock garden. It's amazing how little current it takes to do serious damage.
I watched a friends MR Explorer with no bags wrap right around a boulder in another easy class II. It took eight of us to pull it off. Busted the thwarts, seats and gunnels.
Then there was my Explorer pinned in another class II. Not enough flotation there. But I got lucky. It only took three of us to pull it off and only put a crease and some gouges in my boat.
So if you never dump or swamp, even screwing around, then you don't need flotation. Otherwise? Hey it's your boat.


– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 4:59 PM EST –

I watched a Penn 16 get torn up (new gunnels etc.) in a possition that a floated boat have avoided.

I took a beginning WW class
that required some floatation before they let us sign up for it. Some of the canoes simply tied in rubber inner tubes, not very elegant but better than nothing.

no and maybe
It depends on your paddling prowness and what you paddle. I routinely paddle C I and II (and in wilderness situations) and have never had floatation bags. But then I have been paddling since 1967 and know when to carry. If I were paddling C III I might think about it.

I have seen people who paddle C I and occasionally easy CII who trick out their boats with bags, pedestal AND thigh straps. Talk about overkill.

Points of View
I’m enjoying the difference in perpective.

I’m a daytripper and whitewater playboater. I swim more on class II and under than I do in harder water because the consequences are low and I like to screw around (“hey bubba, watch this!”). So I protect my boats with airbags and if anybody asks of course I recomend the same.

Hoz goes out for weeks at a time, his food and shelter in the boat. As he says, he knows when to carry. So the chances that he will dump are low.

If you don’t dump you don’t need airbags.

Different stokes for different folks,

and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

floatation is like a PFD for the boat
I always wear a pfd and so does my boat. I paddle up to C5 but I usually flip in C2/3 because I am not as thoughtful. I use air bags with a crisscross lashing system. My boat, a Whitesell is 15 years old and has scratches but no other damage. Also with full airbags it is possible to roll the canoe and continue to paddle. Maybe more than you need but I am the type that always wears leathers and a helmet on a motorcycle.

I paddled down Blackwater Creek
during the flood of 1988 here in Hillsborough Co., FL with a PFD but no floatation bags. This creek has a drop of over 8 feet per mile and 'though it don’t seem like much all 120 square miles of the drainage basin eventually flows a twisting slot not more than 30ft wide and well over a hundred yards long. Standing wave were about 30" tall. All this while dodging the canopy, deadfalls, strainers and drooping grapevines in an open canoe. Yeah, real stupid of me but the canoe and I made it out of there in one piece with several lessons learned. One of those being never go into fast moving water again without floatation bags(and a football hemet, those branches hurt!). I’ve since ran it again as soon as Hurricane Frances blew through with even higher water levels but this time I was far better prepared! I don’t think I’ll ever run it with the creek that high again though, At 53 years old I think it’s time to retire from the rough stuff.