Securing gear in a canoe

Ok, I’m still new at this canoe tripping thing and still have some questions. When loading your gear in a canoe, is it better tie it down of just leave it unsecured. Obviously, if you tip, you’re going to lose some or all of it if it’s unsecured. On the other hand, I’ve tried to right and manuever overturned canoes that are fully loaded. That’s not much fun and perhaps,impossible in some cases.

Your advice is appreciated.

I tie everything in.
I figure I will have to get to shallow water to empty the canoe anyway. With the gear all there I won’t have to chase it down later.

if you

– Last Updated: Sep-01-07 11:38 AM EST –

have flotation bags installed you can tuck gear underneath them and it shouldn't escape even if you tip, but the downside is you won't be able to access it quickly. Then you can tie off the rest of your gear requiring quicker access to thwarts etc.


We always tie ours in.
On a multiday wilderness trip I would much rather wrestle with it all attaced to the overturned canoe, then loose some of the stuff that is a necessity.

Use velcro straps on the little stuff, and rope on the bigger gear.



Cliff and Bill
Use single tie-downs about 6 feet long for lake and mild white water. Makes recovery easy not tieing and untieing at each portage. I use to securely tie all in a criss-cross pattern, but generally not needed. Big time savings.

I would never
use 6 ’ ties in ww. They become a serious entanglement hazard ie- boat flips, you get tie wrapped around your leg, cant swim away from boat,boat wraps around rock,boat with ± 1000lbs of water pins you, game over (seen it happen! poor guy ended up with a hardwear store in his femur) :frowning:

If you want to tie gear in I sugest you bag every thing and tie it to your thwarts, or in the case of stuff you need quick access to tie it on short (2’) lanyards you can snap easily in an emergency

Tie it in unless you want to lose gear.
I would suggest spray covers since they hold everything in without having to spend a lot of time securing the gear with ropes each day. If your going to do a lot of tripping they be well worth the money. I made my own and use them on every trip. I dumped once in a fast moving river and only lost a couple of items that wasn’t under the covers. The covers help since just using ropes can let items dangle making it more difficult to get the canoe to shore. When I dumped my 18 ft tripping canoe it turned turtle and floated high in the water making recovery easier.

Spray skirt
yaknot, a spray skirt sounds like the way to go. A little information on making your own, please -what kind of material, how much, how difficult and where did you get your pattern?

Thanks a lot.

I use NRS buckle straps between thwarts and threaded through bag straps, handles, etc. One 12 ft. strap can hold in most or all of the of the gear in the canoe. They hold the gear down pretty tightly.

secure gear

– Last Updated: Sep-02-07 11:40 PM EST –

Spray skirt's are GREAT! Hold in gear, keep water out [most of it] and really help out in the wind.


to tie or not to tie, that is the questi
This is a good question and one of my favorite topics. I’ve asked this of many great paddlers form Cliff Jacobson to Bob Foote and many in between. The number of opinions varies in direct proportion to the number of those questioned. In other words there appears to be no definite answer. For what it worth here’s my thoughts.

Three major facts help me answer this question: 1. What is the water temperature liable to be? Colder than 55 F increases the cahnces of hypothermia.

2. How much gear is involved? Is it enough to fill an 18’ tandem canoe completely?

3. What is the skill level of the paddler(s) ?

Add to this an assumption that there will be at some point heavy wind and waves.

I’ve done hundreds of rescue demos in nice empty canoes in nice calm ponds. But imagine that you are thrown into cold water with big wind and waves and an overturned canoe with hundreds of pounds of gear tied to the thwarts. Would another canoe full of gear be able to get you out before you got hypothermic? A real problem here is if the gear is piled higher than the top of the gunwales even with sprayskirts, so be sure not to do this whatever system you use. I suggest you try to do a boat over boat in calm water with boats fully loaded with gear. See if you can lift a 18’ upsidedown tandem canoe with full camping gear and water supply. One system to consider is to lanyard all the gear together, but not to the canoe. That way all the gear will raft together, for later recovery. Include a float with a small flag to help locate the raft. A downside is that the rafted gear may be hard to locate after conditions get better and you may be gearless. On the other hand you may also be alive.

This is a very hard call. All I can say is to rely on the old trippers motto, “always plan for the worst situation”.


Securing gear
"On the other hand, you may still be alive."

That’s always a good option. Thanks for putting things in perspective.

is to always wear a sheathed knife, so if any entanglement you can quickly cut yourself free.

In ww tie it in as suggested.

Tiee it in when in WW
I have also struggled with this same question. I run wild river with rapids, sometimes many days away for help. On one hand you tie down nothing and the risk of loosing stuff if very real if you have upset in a rapid. On the other hand, you tie it in and in that case if you wrap you are now looking at your gear in a canoe that you cannot access.

I have opted to tie down all my gear when running rivers and here is my logic;

barrels and water proofed portage packs will provide a certain amount of floatation and hopefully let the upset canoe float high thus reducing the risk of a wrap. But when I am in lake country I do not tie my packs in.

I installed tree D rings on the bottom of the canoe (one under each thwart, I have tree in my canoe). When all the packs and barrels are loaded I pass one strap over the packs and trough the D ring and then ratcheted in. if you like some pictures let me know.

Bill Mason Says…
Don’t tie it in, tie it together. In other words, use one rope that is attached to all your gear before being secured to a thwart. If you dump, the gear falls out, but is still attached to the boat. Without the gear in your boat, it is easier to right your canoe and paddle back to shore, towing your stuff behind you.

I use this method 90% of the time. The rest of the time I’ll tie it in tight, or carry the gear overland, depending on conditions.

When packing, don’t forget to include good judgment and common sense.

Bill Mason later said…
Excerpts from Song of the Paddle by Bill Mason : “In Path of the Paddle I suggested securing all packs on a tether so they could be easily removed…” “I have since changed my mind because of what I learned in playboating.”… “Waterproof packs are always lighter than water. So if they are tied in securely, the packs will buoy up a swamped canoe and you can maintain some degree of floatation and mobility.”…“If you swamp or upset a loaded canoe with the secured packs in waves on a lake, you can right the canoe, climb back in, and paddle it. This can save your life in cold water conditions…” Bill goes on to explain several other advantages of having waterproof packs well secured to the canoe for both lake and whitewater paddling.

Tie it together and to the beam thwart
As a teenager I would post a sign that read,“Gear Retrieval = $5.00” at the upstream end of an island in the middle of the Upper Hillsborough with rapids on one side, a fast-flowing chute on the other. Those unknowing of the hydraulics around that island thought it was funny until their canoes dumped. Some days I would make $50.00 a day easy collecting what would float out of dumped canoes.

Play the percentages
If I am paddling known waters in known conditions, I generally do not tie my stuff in, or at least I don’t bomb-proof it. This is especially true if I am going to experience multiple portages and don’t want to deal with the hassle of untying all the gear before heading down the portage path.

If things are going to potentially be hairy (big open water crossing, rapids Class II and above), I’ll tie everything in, using cam straps strung through D-rings that are secured to the bottom of the canoe. This keeps the gear secured generally to the bottom of the boat, with less of a chance of a thwart getting ripped out, and making it somewhat easier to flip the boat upright after a capsize…at least in theory. I’ve been lucky enough not to have to out this to the test so far.

Either way has its advantages & disadvantages. You have to play the percentages based on your comfort level with your skills and the water you’ll be paddling.