Reentering a solo Canoe

Hi All, I’m a proud owner of a new Swift keewaydin 15 solo. Had it out a few times and have capsized once (dragged it to an island). I need to practice deep water reentry and want to see what works best. To note: I’m a heavy guy (220 lbs) but strong 45 yr old, and the boat is very light at around 32 lbs. I’ve read some things about paddlefloats and stirrups - but most focus on kayaking rather than canoeing. Any advice would be much appreciated.

This should be interesting.
I’m not sure it can be done.


– Last Updated: Jul-07-15 1:38 PM EST –

This is a reasonable video demonstrating various open canoe, deep-water rescue techniques in real-life conditions, including boat-over-boat, tandem unassisted reentry, and toward the end, solo unassisted reentry.

If you have no floatation in the boat, you will first have to find a way to empty it, or nearly empty it. It is actually easier to reenter a completely swamped canoe with no floatation, but once you do you will not be able to do anything but sit in the water with a little of the stems sticking up out of it at best. With both gunwales under water there will be no way to bail it out.

In the video, the solo paddler does a skillful flip, sometimes called a Capistrano flip, which nearly completely empties the boat. This is obviously easier with a light boat. If you cannot do this you might be able to empty the boat by rolling it upright and bailing it out while you are still in the water. This will only work if the boat has enough inherent buoyancy or supplemental flotation to keep both gunwales above water. Some folks can fairly quickly empty a boat using a "shake out" technique. You can probably find a video on youtube.

Once you have the boat empty, or nearly empty of water, most solo paddlers will reenter from near amidships, usually a little forward of amidships. I have seen some people reenter a canoe from the stem by pulling it down and clambering in over it somewhat akin to a kayak cowboy reentry. But I believe this would only be effective with a relatively large and heavy tandem canoe.

Reentering from amidships requires a strong kick and fluid motion to get the center of your body mass over the low gunwale before the canoe falls back over on top of you. It is easy to get part way in put quite difficult to get all the way in. Some modern PFDs with a prominent forward "slab" can make this more difficult still.

In the video, the paddler is able to reenter by holding only the low gunwale and kicking. Most paddlers will use one hand on the low gunwale and one on the high gunwale. The hand on the low gunwale helps pull the canoe under your body mass as you kick. The hand on the high gunwale actually pushes to keep the boat from falling back over on top of you.

It is possible to help stabilize the canoe once it is upright and empty by using a paddle secured to a thwart near amidships and using a paddle float. I have also seen people taking a dry bag, filling it with water, and hanging it from the side opposite they are reentering from to help hold that side down.

A stirrup can be used if your scissors kick is too weak to get you in. A length of 1" tubular webbing tied with a water knot to form a loop will work. Use a simple Lark knot to secure this around a thwart on the side of the boat you are reentering from. The loop hangs down in the water enough for you to get one foot in to help your leg push you up over the low gunwale. You will need to play around to get the length of the loop just right.

I saw Nolen Whitesell reenter his solo whitewater canoe by swimming under the upside-down boat (with flotation), rolling it upright and reentering in one fluid motion, but he was the only person I have ever seen able to do this.

I would say that unless you have practiced this type of reentry in calm water and conditions to the point where you can do it 100% of the time near-effortlessly, I would not assume to be able to do it in a real-life situation in which conditions were bad enough to result in a capsize to begin with. If you have a second person either in or out of a canoe, reentry becomes much easier. A second solo boater can empty your swamped boat with a boat-over-boat rescue, then stabilize it from the side while you reenter from the opposite side.

you can do it with a double blade
try to shake out most of the water first… makes the boat more stable.

The stirrup reentry works by inserting the far end of the double through the rope loop then running the loop under the boat and over the near blade you are entering from. Using the stirrup and a paddle float you are in.

If you are a single blader the difficulty arises because the shaft has a lot of force pushing it up awaya from the thwart… Perhaps winding a length of industrial grade double velcro tape around the paddle shaft and the thwart would work. But I have tried that but once with disappointing results.

The paddle float reentry works with a double as the far loop essentially keeps that gunwale pushed down . If the far is down the near is up…and not in the water.

I have entered a partially swamped solo by hooking a leg under the seat and rolling in. However that leaves you in an awkward position when alone and unbraced for the coming reimmersion.

Thanks for the extensive replies! Yes, would start with the Capistrano flip. Boat is super light - and this is where most of the difficulty will arise. I’m going to to try the water bag method - I have a large dry bag that could possibly do the trick as I’m mainly a single-blade user.

I’ll report back on how well I did/didn’t do next time I’m on(in!)the water.

capastrano flip

– Last Updated: Jul-07-15 3:49 PM EST –

The flip is the only thing that will empty out my minimal flotation J200 race boat. Even with a life jacket on, I find it handy to bring a $10 orange horse collar life jacket with the straps removed. Once in the water, 'sit' on the horse collar PFD like a U with your crotch in the middle.

That gives you an additional 15lbs flotation, so 15 from your PFD + 15 from the other one you're sitting on =30lbs. That makes you almost neutrally buoyant with a 30lb boat overhead, so lifting the boat and holding it for 1-2 seconds becomes doable and you can remove 99% of the water, making re-entry easier and the stability higher once you're back in the boat. If it all goes south and you lose the horse collar pfd, you're only out $10.

I love the horse collar PFD idea. Too bad I threw out all my old ones years ago.

flotation bags
With a super light boat and you at 250 plus lbs floration bags will be the only workable option, IMO. I have an ultralight canoe and they will just sink.

double blade ?
when you write ‘double blade’ does length increase over a single blade shaft ?

How long is the double ?

I was writing previously about having a solid center joint kayak paddle, divers belted to the rear deck behind seatback. Placing a leg ON the shaft then jumping in is 100% for a not gymnast. Into a Solstice.

I haven’t tried this with a canoe but will soon with a fastener arrangement both gunwale holding a designated reentry shaft with float bag.

A designated aid maybe bad form but my form for getting back in without the leg support ain’t so good in the first place.

The cowboy reentry under the GG Bridge is really easy I should try that sometime …

It pays to read rather than assume

– Last Updated: Jul-07-15 10:24 PM EST –

The OP has already stated that he has no plans to try to re-enter the canoe before emptying out the water, and Pete has already pointed out that entering a swamped canoe is pointless (and it has absolutely nothing to do with the boat's weight, as heavy Royalex boats usually don't float any higher when swamped than do ultra-lights equipped with small air chambers in the ends).

Air bags can be great (though they are not all that necessary here, and they would actually make the boat heavier and more difficult to lift overhead by the method that's been described), but their benefit in this instance would be different from that which you state, as long as re-entry is by the method that's proposed.


– Last Updated: Jul-08-15 12:25 PM EST –

I did read the post. Don't know what your problem is but you are miles off base.

My own experience with trying to re-enter a capsized very light canoe from the water INCLUDES getting the water out before re-entry. It is the process of re-entering where the water comes back in because the canoe sinks no matter how l get back in. Which l would have been happy to add as details if asked...

And my experience with my ultralight with the smaller air chambers is that it is way more easily sunk than a variety if canoes equipped with float bags that l spent a day and a half climbing back into in two xanoeing and rescue classes. I accept that your experience may be differeng. Mine is that without float bags in an ultralight an on water (self) rescue ain't happening.

My advice - paddle with a friend…
or stay swimming distance from shore.

I’ve tried many times, but I’ve never been able to get back in the boat (Yellowstone Solo) alone. I can flip the boat and get it empty, but on reentry I either flip the boat back over or swamp it. With someone to hold the far gunwale it’s relatively easy. Let us know how you make out.

Of course the length is greater
unless you have an SUP paddle where a single would work…

The double allows you to have a loop over the far side for counterbalance when you weight the near side. single blade shafts usually end mid canoe.

These are all SUGGESTIONS. Find what works for you and what doesn’t . There is no contest here and frankly you would think we were competing for a title of know it all.

Taking a break and going on a canoe trip.

reenter and roll
Reentering and rolling may still be a “party trick”, but its not impossible. If you have bulkhead outfitting and can hold your breath for a minute, it’s doable even for the likes of me :slight_smile:

that’s usually how a canoe gets flipped
in the beginning…

Simple solution…

– Last Updated: Jul-08-15 12:44 PM EST –

If reentry is a big issue (to OP), 2 of 3 listed below should be available when OP goes paddling.

1. Flotation installed in boat
2. Paddler has ability to stay close to shore
3. Paddling buddy is present to assist if necessary

I sense we are not getting the "rest of the story".
Has paddler ever had any boating, or boating safety training?
How much paddling experience does paddler have?
When reentry is practiced by OP, is there someone there who has good boat reentry/boat recovery skills, and who has ability to give good feedback to OP.
Is paddler paddling in areas beyond his capability?
Is paddler's weight creating issues with reentry?

Strength (noted by OP) is a good thing, but not always necessary. Sometimes finesse/technique is MORE important. Some of the most effortless open canoe rolls I've seen were performed by small framed women. And they could often roll their canoe on either side with equal ease.


Rolls with hung seat and no thigh straps

Were your petite female canoe rollers in fully outfitted ww canoes with pedestal and thigh straps or a touring canoe with hung seat?

The OP has a Swift Keewaydin 15 touring canoe. Could your friends roll this canoe with nothing added but flotation?

I tried to re-enter in a pool and
couldn’t do it even when the canoe was empty. Not saying it can’t be done, but it can’t be done by me let alone under less than ideal conditions. The bottom line is that now knowing my limitations, I don’t don’t venture too far out in lakes without giving serious consideration to a possible long swim to shore. I try to use as much floatation as possible so that the canoe will float high enough to tow to shore without too much effort.

I had a Swift Raven that I could never
reenter without flipping it first. I used very long painters and practiced capsizing while holding onto the paddle and grabbing the painter. Then just swim to here I could stand and pull the boat to me. A double-bladed canoe paddle was great. I would put it behind my back and paddle myself in.

on the double blade
what is common practice laying the shaft over gunwales or belting shaft down on gunwales with a strap and cam ?