Securing gear in canoe

I have tried searching on web and in archives, but evidentally my search skills are not so good. I either find nothing or get overwhelmed with lots of useless sites. Hope you guys can help.

I was trying to find ideas for storing day-trip gear loads and spare paddles in canoes. I was interested in ideas for securing small loads low and in center of the canoe. I was also interested in quick access storage of spare paddle (both single blade and double blades). Are double-blades generally stored as 2 separate pieces? Are there any common things done that might not actually be the safest thing to do? Is there a “best” system for storing light day loads but not getting in the way for storing camping loads?

I was trying to get some ideas ahead of time so I could talk with a dealer more intelligently about what kind of outfitting I would want in my first canoe purchase.


“Best method” depends on the situation

– Last Updated: Feb-27-08 12:28 PM EST –

For fairly calm waters, all I usually do is attach a drybag to a short length of rope tied to a thwart. For whitewater, I like to use D-rings glued to the inside of the hull to anchor packs down tightly. My camera box and other small items just get attached to a D-ring with a short length of rope, so I can access them without untying them (actually, I use a little dogleash clip), but they will stay in the boat during a flip.

So far, I only have D-rings installed in the boat I use for tougher whitewater. You can get them from a paddleshop, and they glue to a Royalex hull using Vynabond or maybe some other kind of rubber cement. There's probably a different method for attaching D-rings to a composite hull, and I'll probably look into doing that someday too.

For trips on small waters, I often don't tie anything into the boat at all, though I'm sure some would say I should do that no matter what.

I use a "giant twist-tie" for holding my spare paddle. It's a two-foot length of heavy copper wire enclosed inside some thick, cushy foam. I once found these twist-ties at a home-supply/hardware store. I stick the paddle blade up into the bow of the boat, and anchor the handle to the thwart with the twist-tie. One end of the twist-tie is firmly twisted onto the thwart, and the free end just wraps around the paddle handle, and also back around the thwart if the attachment needs to be pretty secure. It's faster to attach and unhook than a commercial paddle clip made from bungie cord, but probably no faster than a bungie cord that's drilled into the thwart.

Timely ?

I too was thinking about this issue. I bought a Vagabond last year and when I went out for canoe/camping I didn’t tie down. Next month I’m going down to the Buffalo River and plan on tieing down my gear.

I’ve practiced stuffing my bags with gear, clothes, etc. recently and decided to lash em down…I also have 2 dry bags which clip on. I thought about using a plastic Coleman cooler for my food pantry and will lash it down too.

Just for the record, I use a kayak paddle and really enjoy it. This has led me to ponder… when you take a short hike to see the sites what do you do with your paddle? Mine and many other lightwight paddles are expensive and I would hate to have to replace it because it was lifted out of a beached canoe. Do people take it with them on hikes? Hide it in the trees? Just wondering.


Buffalo River/Paddles

– Last Updated: Feb-27-08 2:32 PM EST –

If it doesn't float; it's secured to my canoe. If it contains expensive equipment/gear, it's secured to my canoe, whether it floats or not.
Many good ways to secure items in your canoe have already been noted; I use several of the methods already described.

Warning: If you are not aware of the Buffalo River regulations regarding NO glass containers, having a net trash bag, and securing your cooler so that it doesn't empty it's contents into the river if you would be well advised to make yourself aware. There are some nasty fines if you ignore the regulations & get caught. Don't count on the rangers being naive, or merciful.......

Paddle security: If you plan on keeping the paddles you have for awhile, and you're worried about them walking off when/if you leave your canoe; mark them with where the information is highly visible & NOT easy to remove. I know of quite a few instances on whitewater rivers where paddlers have unintentionally lost a paddle. Because they had the paddles marked with their name & phone number, their paddles were later
found & returned.

I'm sure somebody will tell you they left their boat, paddles, & 3 thousand dollars worth of gear beached at Coney Island, NY overnight, and the next morning it was all there. Somebody has paddled 25,000 miles, never tied a piece of gear into their boat, and never lost a thing, because they have never capsized a boat in their life.
Somebody else paddles the Buffalo 20 times a year; has never seen a ranger & would pull a bottle of beer from his cooler & tell the ranger to kiss their ass if they did see one. I hope I get to be there to witness the last scenario.

Enjoy the Buffalo.


Uncle Clif’s take on gear
I believe his philosophy is to tie equipment into the canoe on big/wide/hairy rivers where a capsize would create a yard sale miles long.

On a pool & drop river situation, he says to leave the packs un-tied and pick them up in the pool. Sounds reasonable to me.

And any accessory bags clipped in with leashes need a tight rein, lest you become entangled.


securing gear
I’ll say one thing. Mark asks some good questions.

This is a topic which could be discussed for pages but I’ll be general. I’ve had the great good fortune to discuss this topic with many great paddlers including Cliff Jacobsen, Jim Mandle, Tom MacKenzie, and other expert wilderness trippers. My conclusion is that there is not agreed upon answer. Everyone has a different opinion. So, ask yourself this: If you lash everything in securely and then turn over will you be able to stand up and lift your upside down hull so as to drain the water and then upright the hull. What if it’s a real emergency and a boat over boat rescue is imperative? Would it be possible with hundreds of pounds of gear hanging off all the thwarts ? Getting a hull emptied and upright in dicey situations might be impossible even with only 3 or 4 gear bags twisting in space. I prefer to lash a few sinkable items that I just can’t live without, in a way that they will not hang if the hull is upside down and only of a weight which I can lift to empty the hull. All other gear is lashed together with a single long lanyard, but not tied to the hull, so that it will become a raft if the hull tips. I then deal with getting a light unimpeded hull righted and then go collect the raft. Lots of folks don’t like this approach but it’s what I do.


I paddled the Buffalo solo
with all my gear tied in…It was most likely prudent as the river was just coming off flood.

The bad thing is I swamped at Grey Rocks in a series of wave trains… I hit the first eight or ten getting some water in, eleven gave me more water and I knew I would not make it through twelve. I didn’t.

If I had only taken the sneak route…

The big problem was climbing a very slick slope( the river shore dropped right off) and dragging the darn boat into the bamboo and righting it…aack what a killer.

But at those water levels if I had not tied my gear in I would have found it down by Tyler Bend…miles away or not at all.

Uncle Cliff’s…

– Last Updated: Feb-27-08 6:10 PM EST –

that does sound good. Question, the statement assumes the packs will float.... how do you go about making the pack float? Do you use a noodle and thread the rope thru it before you tie the packs together? I'm visualizing the packs sinking to the bottom of the river, thus wanting to secure them to the canoe would be warranted. How many packs do you have that wouldn't just sink to the bottom of the river? Just asking, haven't had the fun of capsizing with a loaded canoe....yet!!


My thinking
I original thought that for a full camping load I would need something like a lacing system to hold in multiple large bags. However for my day trips a lacing system would just let stuff fall into the lacing and make it difficult to right the canoe. The idea of things hanging down on tethers from thwarts scares me to death. Some kind of strapping system (probably based on those vinyl patches with “D” rings seemed the best. However I was not sure about location (how high up side) and if I should allow for 2 straps/bag or if just one strap should be enough. I also wondered if putting in multiple D rings might tear gear bags or air bags when I went to a full gear load for camping or bags for running bigger water. If I choose my bags right maybe the same locations of D rings for my day gear will give me good strapping options for my camping loads. In that case I would just have some extra strap when using only the day gear.

I was also hoping to really help the stability by keeping gear/water low and centered. Although I have only capsized a couple of times (expect surfing) in 17 years of kayaking I still assume that I will flip over on every trip and try to gear up and load the boat appropriately. This usually means I am hot and sweaty from too much clothing and that I do not carry a lot of gear on deck. If you approach every trip as if you will capsize you do make some seemingly strange outfitting/packing decisions. Because canoeing offers so much more access to gear I may need to rethink my attitude slightly so I do not just automatically give up the convenience a canoe offers.



Number and placement of tie-downs

– Last Updated: Feb-28-08 10:06 AM EST –

If you put the D-rings right about where the bottom of the boat bends up into the sides, that'll work fine. I use heavy-duty vinyl dry bags and/or canvas "Duluth"-style packs, and neither will tear from being held down with rope in the event of a capsize. Don't plan on installing tie-downs within the area where your float bags will be, unless you use full-size bags that fill the whole boat except for where you sit. You won't ever need that much storage space for gear, and it's a bad idea to load large items too far away from the boat's center (it makes for sluggish turning and the ends won't float up over waves as well). Keep the heavy stuff near where you sit so the ends of the boat remain light.

One rope looped over a drybag may be enough most of the time, but I installed four D-rings at each location where I expected to place a bag or pack, with one ring at each corner of the storage location. I can put one pack behind the seat and another one just in front of the space which must remain empty just in front of the seat. I either use two ropes criss-crossing the pack, or two ropes forming a diamond hitch to hold the pack down. It seems pretty secure, but it hasn't been put to a really severe test as yet. Gear secured inside the boat won't be subjected to a real pounding by the current anyway, unless the boat gets pinned, in which case you've got bigger worries.

You mentioned possibly having multiple gear bags, but I would bet that if you DO have multiple bags, they'd be small enough to lash more than one at each of two locations with the four-corner D-ring setup I use for each large pack. That would be even easier if you crammed a few bags into a big pack to start with. Most canoe-trippers end up using one or two large packs rather than multiple bags anyway. I prefer two packs when I'm in a solo canoe, because it makes it easier to trim the boat properly.

You probably won't want to use the really big float bags, because that would take away all of your gear-storage space (except for day-trip gear), unless you go to the trouble of putting your packs UNDER the float bags (that'd be more of a headache than I'd put up with). The medium-sized bags will float your boat pretty high - plenty high enough to avoid pinning the boat in most cases - and will leave you with enough room to put one pack behind you and one in front of you. As someone already pointed out, your tied-down gear will add floatation too.


Okay, here are two photos of what I did for the canoe I use primarily for whitewater.

I don't actually have D-rings, but nylon loops. The loops are very stiff and difficult to thread a rope under, so I put a little loop of rope on each one to make threading my tie-down ropes easy (that loop of rope takes on the role of a D-ring). There are four tie-down points a few feet in front of the seat, and four more immediately behind the seat. You can't see all these tie-downs in either photo, but between the two photos you should be able to put together an image of where all the tie-downs are. Each tie-down for gear is right at the bend where the bottom of the boat becomes the side. There's also a single tie-down on the boat's centerline at the "big end" of each float bag.

The little wrapping of white rope at the tip of the bow and stern is what holds the tip of each floatation bag in place. I can attach the bag to that rope about a foot away from the pointy end of the boat, where it's easy to do. Then I draw that rope up tight to pull the end of the bag right into the tip of the boat and tie it off on the outside. It's easier to install the bags this way than by the methods I was "told" I should use. The rope that runs along the top of the bag from front to rear (everyone else uses a strap for this, but rope is fine, and I prefer knots to buckles anyway) attaches to this point as well.

Since this photo was taken a few years ago, I've added grommets to all four corners of the kneeling pad, so each corner attaches with a very short rope (just a few inches) to the nearest gear tie-down point.

My Plan.
We mostly day trip in our 17ft tandem on slow rivers or flatwater lakes and only tether the expensive stuff. We are planning a 1 week canoe/camp trip for June and will most likely go with a big bag. I picked up a very large zippered cordura duffle(?) bag that is coated to be water resistant. We will put all of our clothes etc. in waterproof bags and zip them all into the giant bag with most of the other gear. The big bag will be tethered in under the thwarts yet alow easy access to its contents via zipper or quick removal if necessary. Should even have enough bouyancy to float on it’s own.

I like canoe covers.
They’re easy to make and will keep your gear safe in a capsize without lashing everything in the canoe.

Bill Mason had the same problem about what to do with the gear. I remember he at first was for securing the gear and later not so enthusiastic when not being able to make canoe over canoe rescues because of all the gear tied in the canoe.

I wouldn’t want to lose a bag with expensive equipment so I always tie the bags in. Even if you dump in a lake you wouldn’t want all your bags floating away – if the bags floated. When I use my covers I don’t need to tie in most of the gear since the cover will keep everything in the canoe in a capsize. Of course nothing is for sure so I still tie in some things but not like I would without the cover.

Choosing a Method
I think for swift rivers, I’d lash everything in, because no one would do a canoe-over-canoe rescue in that situation anyway. They’d just pull the boat to shore at the first opportunity. You sure wouldn’t want the gear hanging on a tether if the boat was swamped and drifting downstream in swift water. In lakes, far from shore, canoe-over-canoe would be the best choice if another boat is around, and in that case, simply putting all the gear on a long tether makes sense, so the boat is empty while being righted, but the gear doesn’t run away in the process.

As is usually the case, the “best” way depends on the situation.

And yet another argument
for tying gear in on river trips:

In a solo situation, gear SECURELY laced/strapped into a boat should act as a bit of flotation. But only a real-world test would tell you if the food pack or barrel and the gear pack would float the boat high enough to allow it to rotate easily about it’s long axis before being bailed.

Interesting possibilities for same controlled tests.


Tieing in gear
I used to securely lash all my gear when running rivers but not anymore. I’ve watched too many people with overturned boats trying to cut gear loose so they could then rescue their boat. This activity usually takes place in an unsafe location, with the boat pinned halfway down a rapid. Invariably in addition to rescuing the crew and the boat, there is a yard sale worth of equipment floating downstram that also needs to be salvaged (just what lashing it in was supposed to avoid).

Now, except for a thwart bag and spare paddle, everything is tied to a long teather with a quick release knot at each end. If I’m paddling solo it’s two teathers, one for the gear in bow and another for the stern. If I manage to flip, my gear is “contained” but easily salvaged. I’ve seen situations where it was possible to right the boat without ever untieing the gear.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Since I come from a kayaking background I may be consfused, but doesn’t having heavy gear lashed low and to the center of the canoe make it easier to turn the canoe right side up if it capsized (should make it harder to capsize in first place too)? In one instance I had a kayak right itself after I was knocked over by a limb due to the heavy water bottles that were packed tightly at the bottom of the kayak.

If nothing is stored above gunnel level, does that gear make it harder to turn a canoe back rigt side up? I can see how gear piled higher than gunnel and tied in could be a problem but if you load up to or slightly above gunnel are you creating a situation where it is harder to right the canoe?


A decade later, but just wanted to thank folks for this thread. I was envisioning using a lacing system to strap in our barrels and dry bags. I think I’ll save that for whitewater, opting to tie the gear to itself in a raft–and tether the raft to the canoe–for flatwater. The barrels will serve as displacement and flotation on whitewater. And they’ll get out of the way for canoe-to-canoe rescue (and self-rescue) in open water.

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