Releasing yourself when stuck on boulder

on a river weekend trip, we got stuck on a large submerged boulder in our tandem full of camping gear. We tried hard paddling, pushing and leaning in various directions to free ourselves, without success. I checked if I could get out easily to lessen the load, but the water around us was pretty deep with a decent current. A person on shore could pulled us off the rock with the painter we threw her. Screeeech.

Were we supposed to jump out of the boat to lessen the load? Not much else you can do, is there? The downstream end of the boat? How do you safely exit a canoe?

Wiggle, scoot and pray, but…
sometimes, there are no good solutions to a problem.

been there years ago …

– Last Updated: Nov-06-13 11:04 PM EST –

.... didn't work out real great for us .

We nearly rolled the canoe because it went sideways to the current , then the upstream side just lifted and tried to roll us . We scrambled to lean over the upstream gunnel thinking we might have a chance to arrest the roll over . We did stop it from completing the roll , but now we are precariously stretched out full length with bellies over the gunnel ... and water kept coming in over the downstream gunnel ... crap we're gonna swamp !!

The canoe wasn't exactly holding still either while all this acrobatic juggling was taking place . Both ends seemed to be in battle to be the 1st to go back upstream . So it's like a waddling canoe almost standing on it's side and stuff is escaping overboard a piece at a time ... and we're basically frozen in place holding on to what we've got accomplished , which wasn't much other than it ain't flipped yet .

Piss on it , this can't get any worse I'm bailing and that should free the canoe . It did ... and the canoe thought it was a rocket for a second but the nephew managed to stay aboard , things settled down and off we went to finish our multiday downriver trip .

Didn't loose anything , all was recovered but couldn't find the two knives in the sheath ... you got it , straight back to the scene of the crime we went and such clear water to boot . There they were on the bottom 8' below pretty as you please . Got them up with a fish hook and line while the nephew struggled in the fast current to hold us there .

Bet you found that sweet "got ya" spot right in the middle of the bottom too . Someone here posted how they got caught on that spot , on a big stick poking up once ... and spun like a top until it wore a hole in the hull bottom :-) , to see that would have been priceless , as would be most calamitys people get themselves into . It's kinda funny after the fact don't you agree ??

Over the side
did not work well for me. While negotiating a small drop, the bow smacked a rock dead on and the boat stopped. It remained aligned with the current, but we could not free it by paddling in any direction. The water was fairly shallow, so I hopped out of the stern and started the boat back upstream. The water quickly got too deep and I had to hop back in. We did not have enough running room before the drop to set up a line and the second time over the drop we dumped the boat.

Sometimes there are no good answers.


Solutions for different situations

– Last Updated: Nov-07-13 7:45 AM EST –

When stuck on a rock or underwater obstacle aligned with the current as Peter describes and there is a clear pathway to one or both sides of the obstacle a strong lateral pry applied at the upstream end of the boat will allow the canoe's stern to swing out sideways in the current allowing you to go past the obstacle backwards.

If the boat is firmly jammed bow forward in a rock crevice in strong current where that is not possible you would need to lighten the boat and free it by either lifting the bow, and applying force in an upstream direction by either pushing from the bow or pulling from the stern.

The more common scenario is broaching on a rock sideways in current. In nearly all cases of an amidships broach in current the current will tend to capsize the boat in the upstream direction. You need to immediately heel the boat downstream to keep the upstream gunwale above the water. Grab the rock or put your upper body on it to stabilize the canoe if possible.

Lots of times when broached amidships the canoe can be made to slip off the rock toward the bow or toward the stern with wiggling, weight shifts, or prying force applied to the rock. Sometimes it is necessary to lighten the boat by getting out, or having one person in a tandem team get out.

It is possible to broach on the big rock sideways with an undercut face that slopes upstream. That is an ugly situation because the downstream side of the canoe contacting the sloping face of the rock wants to help capsize the boat in the upstream direction. Best chance is to duck down in the boat and heel it aggressively towards the rock and try to slide off it using your hands to work along the rock.

Been in that position a few times
Also on large logs.

Our method that usually works after our wiggling doesn’t, is to slowly move our positions in the boat.

If all else fails, be a hero and get out of the boat, (not up stream and not down stream), but at one end, and while holding onto the boat slide down into the deep water and try to pull it off.

We have always succeded in one way or another, and then laugh about it later

Jack L

Several scenarios have been described, .

– Last Updated: Nov-07-13 12:09 PM EST –

... but not the situation it sounds like you were in. It sounds like you were basically on top of the rock, which greatly limits your ability to pivot, and eliminates any chance of pulling away sideways while still in the boat. And I understand not being able to step out, because on some Ozark streams I see lots of rocks that nearly reach the surface but are surrounded on all sides by deep water - even 8 feet deep in a lot of cases. I've never been stuck on a rock in that situation, but I have gotten stuck on logs with deep water all around. Though not easy to do in a tandem canoe loaded with camping gear, putting your self at a location in the boat where you can push straight down on the rock or log, and ideally even lifting the boat a bit as you do so, is sometimes better than fighting the full amount of friction that is working against you otherwise. Sometimes you can push down with one foot, sometimes with one hand, and even pushing down with a paddle can help a lot. All that is best done if you are small and/or slender and agile. It might not be such great advice otherwise.

Pete's (the other Pete, pblanc) advice about prying could be applicable when on top of a rock though. With a durable enough paddle, you can sometimes use it like a crowbar to simultaneously lift the boat and coax it sideways. That's not something you'll do with a really nice paddle in most cases.

Anyway, as you can see from all that's been written, there's no one method to try, because there's no one situation in which you'll find yourself stuck. Fortunately, the more you learn about maneuvering your boat, the less likely it is that you'll find yourself in that situation.

If you run aground in current
you are almost always best off by lightening the end of the canoe that ran aground (generally the bow) and reversing back the way you came.

Prying downward and backward with a paddle certainly might help. Shifting weight astern by having the bow paddler move back if possible often helps.

The mistake I see people make many times is trying harder and harder to bull the boat ahead and over the obstacle. Sometimes you can slide a canoe over a barely submerged log or tree that way by getting up a head of steam, then shifting weight forward as soon as the midsection of the boat is over the log. It takes some experience and judgement for that to work.

While stubbornly continuing in the direction that caused you to get hung up might work occasionally, it just compounds the problem more often than it helps. Also trying to force a loaded canoe forward and over an obstacle when it is hung up near the center can be pretty hard on some boats.

Your primary job
Your primary job is to not hit the logs and boulders in the first place. If you do hit one and get stuck then your primary job is to determine whether you are in a dangerous situation and/or keep it from becoming a dangerous situation.

Been there; done that…

– Last Updated: Nov-07-13 4:05 PM EST –

At one time or another; I have been in virtually every situation described, and have attempted, either successfully, or unsuccessfully every solution that has been described.

Success or failure relies on a lot of different factors:

How heavy is your gear load?
How heavy are you and your partner?
Are you paddling solo, or tandem?
Have you, or you & your partner experienced similiar circumstances before? What worked; what didn't?
How well do you & your partner communicate, and cooperate in such circumstances?
How strong is the current?
Are there other obstacles present, or downstream of where you're pinned?
How deep is the water where you are, and downstream?
Is there anyone else nearby that can assist you?
Can you remain calm, and are you working together?
Can you adapt as the situation changes?

Much depends on "your" situation. There is no easy fix; no solution that fits every scenario. You have to adapt to your particular set of circumstances. Some solutions described may have worked for others; that does not mean every solution described will be successful for you.

My personal favorite; pinning a solo whitewater canoe on a boulder (on my onside), in the middle of strong current, above a drop of about 4 to 5 feet.
I pinned when I came around a near 90 degree curve to the left, and was unable to manuever to either side of the boulder quickly enough & do the drop. The canoe was almost perfectly centered/sideways on the boulder. The current was very strong; no amount of offside or onside paddling, leaning, rocking, pushing with my hands, weight shifting to bow or stern helped in the slightest. Nobody was present to assist me.
My major concern was another paddler coming around the curve blindly, and hitting me broadside. There were quite a few other canoers, and kayakers on the river that day.
I determined that I needed to act.........

My solution, attempted because the boat was so solidly jammed against the boulder was to release myself from all outfitting. Then I reached forward & grasped the end of the bow painter, and pulled the painter out from under the bow airbag lace kit. Then I low crawled onto & across the bow airbag. The canoe never moved an inch in any direction. When I got to the end of the bow; I slowing raised myself to a crouching position, and jumped to a large rock shelf approximately 3 to 4 feet from the bow of the canoe. I held onto the painter when I jumped.

The boat never budged one inch, and throughout the whole scenario, it never took on a drop of water. Safely on the rock shelf I used the bow painter to pull the canoe loose from the boulder, and keep it from going over the drop.
Others arrived at my location by the time my canoe was on the rock shelf with me. Fireman who were nearby practicing swiftwater rescue!!!
They were unhappy they hadn't seen me when I'd first pinned! Missed practical experience.

They helped me carry my canoe back upstream, and put my canoe in the river, held my canoe while I reentered it, and got into the outfitting, and then pushed me back into the current. I successfully negotiated the spot I'd pinned; they all applauded my success.
The only thing that was wet was the hull of my canoe, and my feet.

Just another day on the river; beat the hell out of working.


Happens To The Best of Us
I carry a 12’ pole so I usually resort to that to help me get off the stuff in the rivers that want to hold me up. Although standing while teetering on a pivot point is a little dicy! If that doesn’t work I usually move my body all over the place to try to move the weight and free the hull up. Of course that almost always ends up in a face plant somewhere in the hull! It’s all good!


I agree - wiggle, scoot and pray
Moving around in the boat to shift the weight might help - both move to the middle, or both toward one end. Then wiggle, scoot and pray some more. You might need to unload gear so you have room to move around. No matter what you do there is a good possibility that you will end up wet.

I can only think of this happening to me once. I was in the bow of a tandem canoe with end and center float bags, so it was tough to move around. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the boat off the rock. Finally I jumped out which raised the bow and sunk the stern. The boat spun around on the rock and floated free. The stern paddler was able to get it into the eddy behind the rock so I could get back in. It was summer, so getting wet wasn’t a big issue.

Should be clear by now
that there’s no simple solution to the dilemma you encounterd. As others have said, the important thing is not to panic and make the situation worse. Once that’s accomplished it’s time to extract yourself from the situation in the safest manner possible, which it sounds like you did!

Get out with a rope
If all the other suggestion for in-the-boat contortions don’t work, you have to get out of the boat with attached rope in hand, as some have related.

Sometimes the removal of the paddler’s weight will free the boat. Other times you have to get to shore or on top of a mid-stream rock to pull on the canoe with your painter.

Always have long painters on rivers. Having a 50’-75’ rescue rope bag clipped into the canoe is also a good idea when your painters aren’t long enough. You can jump into the water with your rope bag feeding out as you wade or swim to terra firma.

In any event, you got off and are now the expert on that particular igneous ignominy.

Great Suggestions
Let me summarize what I learned:

1 shift the load:

1.1 move paddlers around in the boat

2 lighten the load (also implies a shifting of balance):

2.1 push off (mostly vertically) the bottom with foot, hand, paddle or pole

2.2 throw gear overboard

2.3 get out of the boat with painter in hand

3 force the boat off (best in direction you came from):

3.1 paddle hard

3.2 push or pry off (horizontally) with paddle or pole

3.3 helper on shore

The water was muddy and relatively high from recent rainfall, and we couldn’t see the rock, only a swirl. It was the outside of the bend. Once we were on it, there was some spinning on the boat’s center, up to a point. Hull looked bad.

The helper lady told us there was a large cuboid boulder that’s typically easily visible. I checked Google Earth, and the lower water conditions on the image’s date allow you to see some of the boulders, although the view is somewhat hidden by trees. UTM (WGS 84) position: 14 R 650193 3335564 (downstream end of McKinney Roughs Nature Park, TX)

Getting out with grace?
We had 25’ painters, but I should probably buy a throw bag that holds a longer line.

But how do you get out of the boat without tipping it over completely? I never practiced that!

You develop a feel for what the boat
might do when you step out of it.

Talk to your partner, explaining what you will try, and update that info as you do it.

I may use my paddle to probe to see if the rock will provide a place for me to stand. Then I assess what it appears might happen when I step out onto the rock. If it may free the boat, I make plans to keep ahold of it until I can reboard. Otherwise, I step out and try to slide or shake the boat loose. Very important to avoid having the current jump an upstream gunwale and pin the boat.

Once the boat is loose, you may need to be very quick and very graceful to jump back in. Or, you may have to jump into the river bottom and then, with your partner counterbalancing, clamber back in.

When we’re paddling moving water we carry two 12 ft poles in the boat. They have saved us a few times when stuck on rocks.

If you high center on a boulder in deep, fast moving water(waterfall just down stream is ideal); be sure to let your paddling partners know.

Then your friends can capture your “dumb canoe tricks” with snapshots, or video, for “future reference”.

Great entertainment value, and educational too.



I Remember a Certain Situation…

– Last Updated: Nov-11-13 8:22 AM EST –

....similar to Bob's description in which HE helped us out of such a situation (minus the waterfall). Video of that would be VERY helpful, too bad no one got any!

In a solo it's much easier to shift weight around and "Scoot" one way or another taking care to keep gunnel leaned downstream, and paddle downstream, or at least not upstream of a broached boat. But in our situation, we were wedged amidship so tightly that we had to vacate the boat and my bow partner had to climb out and be "Reeled" in with tow rope. Then, the boat got away and was a lesson in how a canoe can navigate the rapids by itself minus paddlers!

One other time I recall a "Pin" on the Current River on an old wood piling from an ancient bridge (It's still there in the Pulltite to Round Spring stretch). We leaned toward it and scooted a bit at a time and finally got far enough that the bow swung downstream and released us. Sure wish our friends had videoed that one too!