Rescue techniques for the unexpected?

While paddling this afternoon on my own lake, I noticed a guy and a boy in a canoe on the water, and another guy very close to shore on a SUP. No PFDs in sight; they had launched from the shore of a rental home so I presumed they were vacationers from downstate. Water was quite flat; very light wind and no other boats on the water.

I kept on paddling then heard a large metallic boom behind me. When I glanced around, I saw the (aluminum) canoe had capsized and both paddlers were in the lake. I was about 75 yards away, so I turned and started paddling towards them. All I had on my boat was my paddle float and bilge pump.

I don’t have a tow rope as I don’t know how to use one. Towing was supposed to have been covered in my L2 class, but wasn’t. Nor was assisting a tired swimmer covered, although that too is on the ACA L2 menu. Those omissions didn’t bother me then. They do now.

I was in no rush to get next to them as I was unsure of what my options were. We did do T-rescues in the L2 - but this was a canoe, not a kayak.

As it turned out, they started swimming the canoe back to shore so I hung back until they got into shallow water.

Aside from inflating my paddle float so it could be used as a swimming aid, the only other thing I could think of was hauling them one-by-one (kid first) back to shore by having each swimmer hanging on to my stern - but not sitting on it. Have never done it - just read about it in the “Deep Trouble” books.

Just what can you do in a situation where you have two people in the water, a capsized canoe, and you’re in a 14-foot kayak?

I would do exactly what you said
" Aside from inflating my paddle float so it could be used as a swimming aid, the only other thing I could think of was hauling them one-by-one (kid first) back to shore by having each swimmer hanging on to my stern - but not sitting on it. "

If neither could swim, I would try to tow both at one time

Jack L

Boat over boat
I’ve handled upside down 18 foot canoes in my 13 foot canoe… You can do the same with your board or kayak.

Once emptied of water, hold the onside gunwale down by putting your weight over it while one by one the individuals do the heel hook to get themselves back in the canoe.

There are links to the heel hook rescue.

In a canoe you hook under a thwart and enter midships

You done good…
A panicked swimmer will probably take you over and then climb on you and you are both in trouble. Approach very carefully until you are sure the swimmer will follow your directions. A self rescue is the best rescue as you saw try to talk them into a self rescue first.

In an ACA class the instructor flipped and his kayak blew away, my partner went in to assist while I chased the instructors boat. The panicked swimmer took my partner over and out of her boat and when I caught up to the inst. boat I realized I had no tow line to get it back …

We learned a lot in those few minutes and very happy it happened in a class and not the real world.

Your best option
Your best option was what you did. As they were able to help themselves. Had they not been able I would have inflated my paddle float and gave it to one of the swimmers. Then get the other swimmer on my rear deck of kayak and paddle that swimmer to shore. This assumes neither are panicked. If there panicked I wont go near them. Best option if panicked is stay clear but give the paddle float to the kid. Never compromise your safety for there’s. It was there dumb actions that they weren’t wearing a PFD.

things you should have learned and

– Last Updated: Aug-30-15 8:50 AM EST –

Not your fault if the class did not cover it of course.

A kayak can rescue a canoe on the water. In the right combination l have done a full empty out canoe and get paddler back in with a heavy wood canoe while in my teacup small volume Inazone ww boat. The right combination was dead flat water and my having extremely good balance when l need it. And a calm swimmer who l could get back in by weighting one side of the canoe while they heel hooked in the other side.

It is pretty easy to weight one side of a canoe so someone can come in the other side from a canoe. But if you change the above with a panicked or distracted swimmer, one who simply too unfit to heel hook, in na canoe that you can't empty similarly to a kayak by running it upside down over your deck, or waves... a good bit of what l did goes away.

An aluminum canoe may have put me there, especially wit out float bags. These two swimmers may have if they couldn't figure out the re-entry. Waves likely.

I suggest you find a friend and a canoe and go mess around, see what you can do. Many cross craft situations are very manageable, even for a not bulky aging female. But canoes came in a lot of varieties and it is a more variable thing than kayaks.

You did the right thing

– Last Updated: Aug-30-15 9:04 AM EST –

Kayamedic describes how to help in a canoe capsize. But it sounds like you assessed the situation well and reacted appropriately given the context: you were not out in the open sea but in a protected lake, not far from shore. A good part of any rescue of people who are unprepared is claiming them down and assessing their state of panic. A lot can go wrong if you jump in hastily and make contact with a panicked paddler. Obviously these people knew to swim their boat to shore.
All things being equal, in this case grayhawk's advice makes a lot of sense. The safest rescue is a self-rescue and their self-rescue to swim the boat to shore was appropriate for the conditions.

is the same for a canoe as a kayak. That should be an available option, but, as with everything, practice is best done in non-emergency settings.

Canoes tend to capsize cockpit up, kayaks end up with the cockpit down (this is not an absolute truth, just a tendency - hull design is a major factor as to whether the boat turns turtle or not). If the canoe has not turned turtle already, it is best if the people in the water roll the canoe and drain it before trying to lift the bow onto the boat. They hold a LOT of water and are heavy to lift even a few inches out of the water, so drain before trying this - not something you need to do with (most) kayaks.

Few canoes (none that I’ve had occasion to meet) are equipped with float bags or gear to displace sufficient water to make them easier to empty. As you lift the canoe bow (stern works, too), work the boat across your hull and roll it if it doesn’t happen on its own.

Once the boat is drained, it can be flipped and treated as you would any other kayak. Re-entry in a canoe is a bit different, but the lean across the hull with the paddle method should work well, as long as your boat stays under you and (if equipped with same) spray skirt stays attached.

Open cockpit kayaks make this rescue a bit more difficult. Leg straps will help keep you attached to your boat and allow you to lean over further. Without that good attachment to the boat, a capsize is more likely to occur and you will not be able to lean over quite as far (the boat will want to slip out from under you as you lean unless you are well attached).

Often, kayakers don’t get a chance to work with canoes in respect to rescues. I’ve done it a few times (boy scout trips on rivers) and it can be done as long as you remove most of the water from the swamped canoe first.


Have the instructor teach you the “Hand of God” rescue…

So cool…

you probably choose the best option

– Last Updated: Aug-30-15 12:55 PM EST –

Although a boat-over-boat rescue can be done as has been described, if you had not practiced one it probably would not have been a good time to start. A boat-over-boat rescue also requires the swimmers to let go of the boat briefly which might have been a problem if they were poor swimmers or tired.

Furthermore, assisted reentry into a canoe that has been emptied and righted is not necessarily the easiest thing for people to do, especially if they have never tried it. Attempting to help them back in could have resulted in you capsizing.

If conditions were calm and they were not visibly struggling, monitoring them as they swam the boat back to shore was probably the best choice. A completely swamped aluminum canoe typically does not have a lot of positive buoyancy, but it is usually enough to help keep two people afloat if they are not panicked. It is possible that you could have assisted them a little bit if necessary by bulldozing the swamped canoe gently with your kayak.

I would not try to tow two swimmers on the stern of your kayak except as a last resort. Assuming you have a toggle, grab loop, or perimeter deck line accessible from the stern of your boat, I would recommend trying to have the swimmer grab hold but keep their body down in the water and kick with their feet as you tow them.

If there is too much drag on your kayak to tow them with their body in the water, you can have them carefully try to get their chest up onto the stern of your boat, but having them do so could destabilize your boat or make it difficult to paddle depending on the amount of stern buoyancy.

People can also be towed off the
bow of a large fishing kayak. You just need to have something short kept there for someone to hold onto, which I do. My kayak has a very heavy duty bungee hook there up in front and I tied in a very short rope (I keep it coiled when not engaged) for pulling the kayak, but it also does double duty. Just watch out for rocks near shore. This way you can talk to them and encourage them if they’re tiring. They can kick and help keep things going.

You did fine.

If you are worried about “more than one” carry an extra pfd, float cushion, or a big chunk o’ pool noodle for the other person. Anything can help while time elapses. Some coolers also can double as floats in an emergency.

I was shown a method for this. The swimmer floats on his back, holding the point of the bow (via grab loop or perimeter line) and hooking their legs on either side of the kayak. While you paddle they are being pushed backwards ahead of the boat.

This keeps them in the paddler’s sight, and reduces drag if they can keep their legs up. If the swimmer starts to freak out, you can see it happening and ‘disengage’ them from your boat if they begin to threaten your safety. It’s cold-blooded to say, but a paddle may be necessary to do that - during lifeguard training I was put through some harrowing scenarios where the instructor taught us to effectively bonk a swimmer on the head to get them to cooperate during rescue.

Boat on boat, swamped boats
Thanks so much for all the comments. The more I learn, the more I get a glimpse of what I don’t know.

I’ve watched a video of a boat on boat canoe rescue. Nicely done with a Mad River canoe that was floating hull up. There was no paddler in the water; it was just a demo showing the technique. The canoe didn’t really take on much water when it was flipped over and the technique reminded me of the TX rescue with a kayak (which I’ve read about only).

I don’t know how much a Mad River canoe weighs but any capsized canoe fully filled with water, floating cockpit up, can be no easy thing to empty from either a canoe or a kayak. Unless you’re the Incredible Hulk. I imagine a bilge pump would work. Slowly. Probably easier if there are swimmers in the water wearing PFDs.

Coincidentally, I had purchased the book “Sea Kayak Rescue,” to learn more self-rescue options but haven’t read past the “Bombproof Your Braces” chapter, as that’s what I’m working on. Bulldozing boats and swimmers is covered as well as the Hand of God and a host of other rescues I’ve never heard of. A chapter on towing as well.

I guess I should study it all and try to find willing “victims” to practice on. I think I will get an extra paddle float. Weighs little and I already carry one, so it can be carried in the same space.

Much appreciation for all the suggestions; I’m taking notes and adding my own addendum to the rescue book.

I just hope the kid hasn’t been scared off the water. Paddled elsewhere today, but will look for them midweek.

I did read the instructions for the Hand of God and looked at the photos.

I hope I’m never the Chosen One.

for boat on boat…
You get the other boat upside down BEFORE taking it across your own bow. Sliding it over your foredeck takes the water out. They major diff between kayaks and canoes is that you often have to slide the canoe all the way over end to end to empty it. In a properly bulkheaded sea kayak you only have to get it halfway to empty it.

Also, in my example above, canoes can be much wider. In that case all of me was inside the canoe hull at midslide because oF the extreme diff in scale between the boats. The boat would still have been in front of me for any sea kayak.

Getting a swamped canoe upside down then breaking the suction to get one end started over your own boat can take some creativity if it is a behemoth of a boat like a Coleman. Getting a significantly heavier boat across your own bow can feel pretty unstable. And there are lightweight layup kayaks that are not made with reinforcement on the front deck that l would not trust. Last l knew all Brit boats still did that, but it is variable in North American boats.

Hence the recommendation to find a variety of boats and friends who like getting wet to try it out. This stuff needs practice to be reliable.

even if you knew the rescue
If the canoeists did not know the rescue, you’d be challenged. Even if I knew the rescue, I’d have done as you did and take a second to make an assessment. If the shore was close and the water warm, I’d have proceeded as you did.

boat over boat rescue

– Last Updated: Aug-31-15 10:13 AM EST –

Do not try to pull a canoe that is floating gunwales up with water in it over your boat for a boat over boat rescue.

The boat over boat rescue is done starting with the fully inverted canoe. You are not lifting the full weight of the empty boat, just one stem, and in a decked boat you don't have to lift the stem as much as you do in a canoe where you have to get the stem over the gunwale.

Standard teaching is to have the swimmer go to the end of the capsized canoe away from your boat and push down on that stem as you lift the opposite stem. Some inverted canoes create quite a bit of suction which opposes you trying to lift them, and having the swimmer do this helps break the suction. Sometimes you might have to rock the canoe a bit from side to side to break the suction.

If there are two swimmers as there are for a tandem canoe, have one swimmer help at the stem of their capsized boat and have the other swimmer go to one of the stems of your boat as you carry out the rescue. At the stem of your boat they will be out of the way but supported.

As you lift the stem of the capsized boat onto yours you are not lifting any water. The water drains from the boat as you lift it across your boat. The capsized boat actually acts as a giant outrigger as you do this which provides a good bit of stability.

As soon as the capsized boat is fully drained and astride your hull, have the other swimmer go to the opposite stem of your boat if they need support. Now you flip the inverted canoe away from you to an upright position still astride your hull and slide it back into the water, usually to the same side you pulled it up from. Swing the floating canoe into a position parallel to and abeam of yours and secure it there by holding the near gunwale amidships. Now you can assist the first swimmer to reenter from the side opposite your boat.

If you are in a tandem boat carrying out this rescue, the stern paddler handles the boat. The bow paddler can paddle brace as needed and monitor the swimmers.

Here is a short Andrew Westwood video that might be helpful:

Some people like to attach gear such as water bottles or dry bags from thwarts in their canoe. Unfortunately, when the boat is inverted, these items hang down and can greatly complicate a boat over boat rescue.

There is another open boat rescue technique often called the side by side, or curl. This one requires good balance and some upper body strength but can be executed very quickly. I have used in on occasion to empty a solo whitewater canoe while paddling another solo whitewater canoe. The swamped boat is pulled alongside yours and emptied using a motion similar to curling a barbell, then tossed back into the water upright. This might not empty the swamped boat as completely as a T boat-over-boat technique, but if the rescuer and swimmer have some experience it can get the swimmer back into their boat much more quickly.

Here is a video that gives and idea:

In this video the rescuer has two swimmers who have entered his boat and stands to effect the curl. It is possible for a solo paddler to effect this rescue from a kneeling position, however.

You answered my question.

– Last Updated: Aug-31-15 3:49 PM EST –

Flipping a swamped canoe upside down is no easy feat. Didn't even consider the suction factor.

My kayak is thermoform. I have no idea of how much weight the deck can handle. Had no issues doing a T-rescue with a Hurricane kayak, but that's a lightweight as well.

I think people are more important than boats, so that would be my #1 priority and I'll definitely get some practice towing a swimmer off my stern. In Lake Michigan this week with a family member who loves to do crazy things.

There are three canoes on home water. That rental boat, an oil-canned Coleman stored on the shoreline, and another old aluminum model locked to a tree. Other than a guy who comes in at the access to paddle his gorgeous kevlar canoe, the rental unit canoe is the only one I've seen on the water.

I've never seen a canoe on Lake Michigan or the very large inland lakes I paddle, so I'm not sure how much practice I want to put in righting a flooded canoe. Thanks to the good comments here, however, I have some basic knowledge of what to try should this happen on home water again.

Thanks, pblanc, for the video links.

Thanks for the towing tips. They work.

– Last Updated: Sep-06-15 11:29 PM EST –

Towing a swimmer, that is. After a week of monsoon rains, finally was able to do some testing with stern and bow tows. The swimmer was not wearing a PFD; we wanted to replicate what usually goes on at my home lake.

My personal preference is to have the swimmer hold on to the end of the stern, rather than one of the side perimeter lines. That tends to put the boat off balance, although edging can correct it.

The bow bulldoze, where the swimmer wraps their arms and legs around the bow, was surprisingly very balanced.

I would not want to do either for any distance or in wind or big seas. It is not easy paddling.

We practiced in a protected area on Lake Michigan with some chop, but no large waves.

I learned something new and that's always good.