landing a canoe on a surf beach

Does anyone have any idea of how large surf can be before you can’t land a canoe in it? In practical terms? (Coastal Canoeing conditions)

A 1 meter shore break would be over the head of a kayaker although much larger surf is possible.

Assuming the beach is safe, could a canoe handle landing in 1 meter surf?

I have done it in small surf

– Last Updated: May-12-09 9:06 AM EST –

the biggest problem is getting the canoe dragged up on high ground before the next breaker fills it.
Years ago, before I got into kayaking I used to take my OT Disco to the carolina coast every time we went.
I had air bags secured in.

Something else you have to be careful of is when you dump, (which you will), getting the crap knocked out of you by the heavy canoe. - Make sure once you realize that you're not going to make it to keep between the canoe and the next wave. Not on the shore side of the canoe.


Are you planning a coastal trip?
I see two posts that sound like you are thinking about a coastal trip with a tandem canoe. Is this the case? If so, you may want to ask about taking a canoe to your intended destination. Folks here may be able to recommend canoe-friendly alternative routes for that area.

depends on how long the wavelength is

– Last Updated: May-11-09 9:52 AM EST –

If it's short, you'd be in for a world of hurt with a 1 meter break. If it's long enough, it is doable.

Tandem would be a lot harder than solo as the ends are weighted. As Jackl said, recovering the boat before the next wave is the big challenge. You have to be very fast about it, otherwise you can quickly have a canoe filled with sand and waves that never stop coming. You could lose your boat. You could get hurt. You could have a blast. It all depends.

I play around solo in surf in my Malecite. I've learned to land backwards instead of forwards, especially in sand where you don't have to worry about where you land.

Backwards Clarion? Sounds clever.
I’ve tried surfing and landing, solo in two different large tandems. But when waves got high enough that I could see water would come over the sides as the canoe was carried on and forward of the crest, I stayed off.

Timing is tricky, but with long practice I think one might make it a predictable process.

Might be some outrigger people with knowledge on this.

As you said, timing is tricky
When the waves are big, it’s a pretty high stakes game landing (getting out is no picnic either). But, facing the sea, I can lay just at the edge of the breakzone and study the waves for five minutes or more without getting a stiff neck, waiting to commit. I can also power back out very easily as needed, and with the slightly lighter bow facing the oncoming wave. The whole thing is a lot more controlled going in backwards, in sand of course.

Unofficial “Textbook”

– Last Updated: May-11-09 10:24 PM EST –

I think SGrant, who posted the following on myccr, under the topic "ocean canoeing - some basics", will have many of the answers you seek. Check out the full version at (this is just one section)

Surf Landings

Because of the restrictions of entering and exiting their craft, kayakers have a strong perference for landing/launching on beaches. If you visit the big outer coast beaches you will face this challenge. Often beaches have protected hooked ends, or spots behind islands where the surf is lower. Use weather reports, knowledge of the layout of the landing, and your observations to estimate the surf conditions at your destination. Bear in mind that from offshore, you're looking at the backs of the waves, from where they seem smaller than they really are. One way to handle it is to arrange your plans so that if the surf is too large, you can go elsewhere. Launching, of course, reduces the mysteries.

Kayakers land by pausing beyond the breaking zone, waiting for some smaller waves. Then, just as the crest of a wave reaches them, they sprint forward with the goal to stay ahead of the breaking zone and wash up on the beach on the "cushion" of the water from the previous wave. There are some problems with this. You have to look directly behind you to see what's coming because your boat has to be facing the beach. Loaded paddlecraft are slow to reach speed from a standstill. The water on the beach may be draining off the beach, which will stop you so the following wave breaks over your boat. The risk, of course, is that the breaking wave, which may be going faster than you are, accelerates the stern of the boat while the bow is tilted forward into the slower-moving water ahead of you. What can easily happen is that the boat gets turned sideways, broaches, and is then rolled ashore by the breaking wave. This can be very dangerous depending on the size of the surf and the dynamics of the crash. Another risk is that a boat, supported only at the ends or the center, has little to keep it from capsizing. In both these scenarios, knowing how to brace can prevent an accident. Kayakers who play in surf learn how to land sideways bracing on the wave pushing them.

Kayakers launch facing the surf. In a single, they can get things together while sitting in the runout zone of the waves, then push themselves into the surf. They have to be prepared to have breaking waves dump over the bow, and many a kayaker has gotten a lapful of water because their sprayskirt was not yet secured. I thought kayakers landed facing the beach to protect their rudders. But of course they can't use their rudders when landing anyway.

As we contemplated our first canoe surf landings and launches, I considered that years earlier we had done a week-long trip in a couple of Clipper Norther Dancer canoes. They are composite Haida war canoe replicas, 33' long. On that trip, with experts at the helms, we always landed stern-first. Just outside the breaking zone, we'd pivot around, then slowly back ashore. The stern paddler could see what waves were coming and could order us to paddle forward if a large wave approached. Usually at a certain point, a breaking wave would catch the canoes and we'd gracefully and effortlessly glide ashore - backwards. This was also the way First Nations landed to show that they arrived in peace. To launch, we'd push the big canoes out and people would board as their part of the canoe reached deeper water.

I've also read that for really extreme conditions, you could rig a sea anchor to control the speed of the landing. This could be done forward or backward, but obviously would require a tight spraydeck. Again, knowing how to brace is essential since the canoe will only be partially supported by the water as waves pass beneath the hull.

We've only been on one trip requiring surf landings and launches and it was pretty tame stuff. The people we went with have always landed their canoes forwards, but have had several accidents doing so. I decided we would land backwards, and it worked just fine. It means that you will sustain at least one wave breaking against the bow, so you have to be prepared for that. In our case, the breaking waves just reached the top of the bow and didn't spill onto the spraydeck. I found I could not watch for large approaching waves, steer the canoe perpendicular to the waves, and watch the beach at the same time, so I asked my bow paddler to do the watching for big waves, and otherwise follow my instructions to paddle forward or back, draw or brace.

The more seasoned canoeists, observing our drama-free landing, commented that perhaps they should try landing backwards. Obviously some practice at a nice warm, safe beach, prepared to dump, would be a good idea.

I tried it in 2 different canoes.
It was ugly and I got thrashed.

We learned quickly
When we were really new to canoeing we tried to land our tandem canoe on the side of a beach where the waves (1-1/2ft)were breaking. Went well until we made contact with the sand. We would have really been in for a bad time if the waves were higher.