Secure those painters! (fatality report)

Rhode Island suffered a rare canoe fatality yesterday on the Blackstone River. The site was at the Pratt Dam. This is not a typical dam. Rather, the entire river flows through five tubes that are each roughly 5 to 6 feet in diameter. At low to moderate levels, a boater can “shoot the tubes” through 100 feet or so of pipe and out to a very turbulent exit. Nothing retentive like a low head dam, though.

Most experienced boaters would never try it, though. Even in my whitewater days I would never consider it. The tubes frequently clog with branches, shopping carts, and other odd junk, and there is absolutely no way to scout the tubes beforehand to determine which is clear. You may have a second or two as the current carries you along to eyeball the tubes and aim for the clearest looking one. They scare the bejesus outta me.

Yesterday, a father and son pair in a canoe, who reportedly were familiar with the river and have run the tubes in the past, attempted to do so again. Just upstream of the tubes, they hit a branch in the water and flipped. The father flushed through. The canoe hung up, either on the branch or across the tubes (unknown at this time), and an unsecured painter (a rope attached to the end of a canoe to either aid in recovery or to secure it to shore) got wrapped around the leg of the son. End of story. I do not know if they were wearing PFD’s, but in this case it really would not have mattered. It took four hours to recover the body.

And that same day, I was paddling and poling with a similarly unsecured painter, and as I was attaching it, the though crossed my mind that I should secure it better, but that was followed by “Nah, the chances of a problem are infinitesimal”. I won’t be thinking that way again. There is a lesson (as always) here: Secure those painters!!


If there are ropes involved carry a river knife:

thank you for posting
Why do they call them painters?

Lookie here

– Last Updated: Nov-10-08 1:23 PM EST –

Fro' de reform school dikeeschoonary:

"A painter is a rope that is attached to the bow of a boat and used for tying up or for towing."

[Middle English peintour, probably from Old French pentoir, strong rope, from pendre, to hang, from Vulgar Latin *pendere, from Latin pendre; see (s)pen- in Indo-European roots.]

Miss Crabtree larn'd me dat.

An' ah' always reckon'd it waar some Dutch goomer wit one ear holdin' on ta de stems o' de boat.


only difference the pfd
would have made is maybe he would have been carrying a knife on it to cut the painter

Your description of teh dam
sends shivers up my spine. But boaters nowadays are taking many more chances than I did in my youth.

A sad situation all around.


PS: If I understand your description, one cannot see the whole way through the tubes? If that is so, it is not a matter of taking a calculated risk - “shooting the tubes” is simply taking a chance.

Looking through the tubes
I believe that it is possible to see all the way through the tubes…BUT, if you in fact can see through them, that also means you’re going through them too. There is no way to scout the tubes beforehand, and there is no way to get back upriver if you are headed for the tubes and find something you don’t like. And even if you could scout to see through, there is no way to be sure that there isn’t some odd piece of debris lurking in the raging current.

Scary doesn’t begin to describe it. I remember a time, though (before I knew better) that I put it on my list of things to do (I grew up in the town that the dam is located in). My neighbors across the street shot the tubes accidentally and lived to tell about it. They thought it was fun.


Very sad
While very tragic and sad, I could almost understand the bravado and inexperience driving a 17 year old to try something like this. After all teens are “bullet proof!” But for a father, age 52 to do it with the son is unconsionable. Certainly his role is to teach not to encourage risky behavior.

Sounds like a paddler’s version
of Russian Roulette.


What methods
do you experienced canoeists use to secure your painters?

The usual method…
is to secure them with a TIGHT bungy cord that is attached to either the deck plate or the carry handle. Some people (such as me) also stuff them under the deck, but I wouldn’t trust that in the current if the boat flipped. I have also seen the painters bunched up and wrapped with a rubber band.

Any others?


Picture of Dam
That’s a scary looking ride. It’s crazy that a sad and tragic accident can happen from something as innocent looking as a painter.

One of the neatest methods
I have seen is where a boater (not me) had sewn a mesh cover that matched the profile of the canoe’s end caps and was screwed onto the cap. The edge towards the middle of the boat was closed with Velcro, and the painter was simply flaked and inserted into the resulting pouch. This resulted in a short section of line being exposed, could be easily grabbed if needed, but was low profile and not easy to snag.

Me, I just use a couple of loops of shock cord attached the end caps. Flake the painter in tour hand (I figure-8 it around my thumb and pinkie finger) and slip it under the bungies. Grabbing the center of the line bundle allows you to pull it out quickly.

After my swims on the Cheat this spring, Clarion brought up a good point: Each of us had a different method of securing our painters, and it would have been a good idea to make a mental note of the various strategies before putting on the river. But we were in a hurry…and even managed to forget one tent, let alone look at painters.


Here is a picture of some rubber bungie

I use velcro strips sometimes too.

But just as important as securing them is how to get them out when needed. In the pic above, all someone has to do is grab and pull the “ball” in the center. The ball is created by just giving the folded up line (NOT looped!) a twist in the center.

On my WW boats I use much shorter painters and currently just use a velcro strip wrapped around the folded painter and bag lacing. A quick yank and the velcro will let go.

Good post…-thanks
I always have had mixed feelings on a painter trailing in the water, and even now I am not sure.

I know I would never want one in WW that has lots of sweepers, and other stuff to get it caught on.



what are the mixed feelings?
Isn’t a painter trailing in the water universally regarded as a bad idea? Is there a school of thought that weighs the risks/potential benefits differently?

Aerial View

– Last Updated: Nov-11-08 11:17 AM EST –

Here's a much clearer air photo than what I could blow-up the Google Earth version to be.

It's interesting that the water starts to drop very sharply just upstream of the dam, making me wonder what function the dam even serves. Maybe reducing flow below the dam during flooding? In any case, it sure looks like a good place to avoid, yet it also looks like the kind of place that might turn out to be unavoidable for average people who don't learn basic skills. I wonder how many people go through this thing by accident?.

Thinking some more about that sharp drop just upstream of the dam, I'm guessing that's the remnants of a temporary diversion dam, which re-routed the river to the right (west) during dam construction.

My painter setup…
…looks a lot like Clarion’s. I’ve tested it and used it for unplanned out-of-boat experiences, and it works pretty good. Leaving some of the end exposed towards the stem from between the bungees gives one the option of grabbing it by the end and letting it play out as the boat drifts away or grabbing the bundle and keeping it on a short leash.

The rescue knife that suiram linked to (at least the CRKT version) works well on the 1/4" poly rope that I use for painters.

That’s a real spooky looking piece of plumbing. I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of shooting through it. Sad…

I don’t use painters.
Maybe I will some day. If I do, they’ll be secured so that they’ll only deploy when I want them to.

I’ll pass
that’s too damn crazy, no pun intended.

i’d never run it in a canoe.