Rescue Practice

With COVID, it has been a couple of years since my local club has done much in the way of training. Last weekend we did a flatwater session for new and experienced paddlers. New paddlers learned basic strokes, and everybody got to practice deep water rescues. We had nine “students” with four “facilitators” and a mix of boats – sea kayaks, rec. kayaks, a solo canoe and a tandem canoe.

It wasn’t always pretty, but everybody did a wet exit and was able to get back in the boat. No surprise that sea kayaks with bulkheads are the easiest to get empty. For me, the shorter the rec. kayak the tougher it was to get up on the gunwales to empty (might be easier for someone in a kayak). I was able to get my solo canoe empty with a flip, but couldn’t get back in the boat unassisted without swamping it again - assisted I was fine. The tandem boaters got back in unassisted a couple of different ways (one-on-each-side and stirrup) but couldn’t get the boat (MR Explorer) empty unassisted. That’s a big boat to try to flip, or even lug over the gunwales.

Dumping the big boat again

Always good to practice. Few more pictures here.


Some of you may remember him - that is Riverstrider and his wife in the tandem.

Yeah, there are worse things to do on a sunny summer day. :sunglasses:



Good stuff! Haven’t done one of these since last summer and this reminded me that it’s time to get one together.

I think people get the wrong impression by watching videos of folks emptying, righting, and reentering swamped canoes with relative ease. These videos are almost invariably recorded in ideal conditions in calm water.

I have found that it is very difficult for most solo canoe paddlers to both empty and reenter their boat unassisted. Tandem canoeists have a bit better chance at reentering an empty canoe, but in that case the boat is often too heavy to allow a pair in the water to empty it unassisted, as you point out.

I have found that most paddlers will be able to successfully renter a tandem canoe after a T-rescue if given assistance by an experienced rescuer.


So, I have actually seen folks capsize in flat water, pond conditions. One person flipped in the middle of a sizeable pond. He couldn’t get back in and started to swim/push his canoe towards shore. I offered to help and to which the reply was, “I got it.” So, I paddled away but get an eye on his progress. Took him a long, long time… His choice.



Yes. Get the people you paddle with wet. Practice, teach, discuss. Carry throw ropes. Always wear PFDs, dress for immersion.

The next step is moving water practice. Have people swim safe rapids on their backs with the feet forward. Practice throwing rescue lines to swimmers in the current. Practice some z drags for recovery. If you don’t train your friends they will not be able to help you much in an emergency.

I led a large group on the Willamette R in Oregon. Plenty of current, but few serious rapids. We had a capsize at the one bad spot a chute with some old sweepers in the run out. I threw a rescue rope to a friend of 20 years. It was 8 inches from his nose. He ignored it. "Grab the rope. I yelled. Huh? It was very discouraging. After everyone warmed up we went back and looked at the trouble spot. Half the people could not see the danger. I lost interest in leading groups right there.

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I can get my solo boat empty by flopping it, but I can’t get back in alone. The gunwale I go over goes underwater and boat swamps again - every time.

The tandem with two people was easier to get into, but it is tough to flip - a composite boat might be easier, but that Royalex Explorer was heavy. They tried splashing the water out by rocking the boat back and forth, but that didn’t really work. They could have bailed it out, but it would have taken forever. If they took the time, they could have gotten back in unassisted. In cold water they probably would have been hyperthermic before they got back in.


We do one moving water trip a year for “flatwater” paddlers in our club - Lower Deerfield. It’s the perfect trip for that type of group - easy rapids and no strainers. If you dump you will flush out at the bottom. We only take people that we know have basic skills. We do review moving water safety at the start, but it is really too much to expect them to remember it. My biggest concern is a foot entrapment if someone tries to stand up.

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Yes, I can’t reenter a solo canoe unassisted unless I rig some type of fancy paddle float and then usually a stirrup, a solution that I doubt has practical application in real life conditions that would cause a capsize.

I have only seen the Capistrano Flip work with lightweight tandem canoes. I have seen the “slosh out” method attempted a number of times and have only seen it work in videos.

The problem with bailing out swamped canoe is that many, especially tandems, unless equipped with supplemental flotation will not float high enough when fully swamped to have both gunwales above the surface. If they are not, bailing is obviously pointless.


Just noticed that one of the local AMC groups is doing a swiftwater training this weekend. Unfortunately I’ll be leaving on vacation or I would go. Having said that, when I think about the whitewater trips that I have done it is pretty unusual for anyone (other than me, another open boater, or a real beginner) to swim. Probably the same with sea kayakers, but whitewater kayakers really emphasize having that bomb-proof roll, and most of them do. Sh*t happens and they are competent at rescues, but they really take to heart that old saying “the best rescue is the one you don’t have to do”. The likelihood of me every learning to roll my canoe is pretty low, so I will keep giving them practice. :wink:

We used to do freebie practice, come one come all. At least two participants left understanding that they should not take their boat offshore. Since they couldn’t reenter in flat, easy conditions no way they could do it in anything real. Until that session they had pretty unrealistic expectations. Neighbors of mine, l had no idea they had gotten that boat until they showed up with it.

As to people capsizing in flat water… as others have said lots do. And find they cannot reenter a boat that this board usually says is a no brainer.

I swear my brother in law could capsize a rec boat looking at it. Never took long after he got into it for the swim to start.

Looked out front one day in the cabin l rent in Maine to see another renter paddling a Swifty, towing a SOT. Which SOT was trailing a rope being hung onto by her fairly athletic husband. He had come off the SOT in nothing water a bit outside the Cove and was unable to get back on.

Wife was apparently plenty strong…


Rescue practice play days are always fun for me as an experienced paddler, and eye opening new experiences for those learning what happens/what to do when a kayak overturns. I would be lost if a canoe with us were to overturn.

You can empty a canoe with a boat-over-boat rescue in a kayak

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After dewatering the canoe, how do the canoeists reenter? Side support such as a kayak T-rescue?

If it is a tandem canoe, the paddlers may be able to reenter the canoe from opposite sides with practice.

If you are trying to rescue a paddler that has come out of a solo canoe, have them go to the opposite end of the canoe as you haul it inverted over the deck of your kayak just forward of the cockpit. The swimmer can help break the suction on the canoe as it leaves the water and assist you in hauling it across your deck. The canoe will act like a giant outrigger so you can lean on it and it will offer great stability.

As you slide the upright canoe back into the water, the swimmer should stay on the side of the canoe opposite your kayak and assist you in getting it into a position parallel to your kayak. You can then lean on the canoe and allow the opposite gunwale to dip as the swimmer puts their weight on the opposite side during reentry. You then counterbalance them by applying weight to the gunwale on your side.

Because there are no decks to trap water inside, it is easier to empty a canoe than a kayak with a boat over boat rescue.

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I have reached over from a kayak and stabilized one side of the now emptied canoe while the swimmer got into the canoe from the other side. Pretty easy if the swimmer gats in fairly quickly. If the person takes a while to get in you can bump into problems in a canoe wo float bags. But if they just get themselves in wo fuss it works well.

Note on dewatering a canoe. For canoes, you have to pass pretty much the full length of the canoe over your boat, not just upper half like a sea kayak.

It is quite doable, though note that trying this with a 18 long heavy composite canoe while being in an Inazone 220 will probably test your own balance. And have you a bit under water in the middle. But it works.

pblanc & celia: thanks for your descriptions. Your guidance makes sense thanks to lots of kayak rescues, both in training and real. No doubt one day I will paddle upon an overturned canoeist in open water. Need to find someone with a canoe to practice this new-to-me rescue.

There is a post about that - from 2017…

There are some pictures from a prior RICKA practice session with a kayaker emptying and helping me reenter my solo canoe - not pretty but I get in. No much different than going through the process with a kayak.

Process is of emptying the boat is the same with a tandem canoe - the boat is just bigger. Pull it up on to your deck on edge so you are not pulling up the water and get the paddlers that you are rescuing to help. With the boat empty you can hold the gunwale and they can reenter one at a time, or they could try getting in together one on each side.

Does this harm the wood gunwales?