Securing painters in WW solo canoes

I used to think the common way to secure painters in any canoe was to bungee them onto the decks.

Until an instructor told me, in WW solo canoes, to bring the painter all the way to the midship end of the float bag and then tuck it under the bag cage lacing, with the line’s end sticking out from under the cage a foot or two towards the center of the boat. The idea is that when you flip, the painter’s loose end will be right where you are and not at the end of the boat.

In case of a flip, aren’t you supposed to get to the upstream end of the boat anyway? Why not just grab the painter secured on the deck of that end?

Flipping and boat control

– Last Updated: Nov-29-15 9:02 AM EST –

The main rule when you flip is to stay upstream of the boat, and to not let go if that's practical. You have a lot more control of the boat when holding onto the gunwales than when holding a painter line. There might be cases where you'd wish to swim to an upstream position and hold the painter, but if you are holding the boat you can do things to control both your own position and that of the boat that you wouldn't be able to do using just a rope connection. In my experience (which isn't much, I admit), the painter is more useful for towing a capsized boat with another canoe than by a swimmer. I think a swimmer can do a better job of moving a capsized boat if actually holding onto the boat itself than by towing with a rope.

I like to have the painters stored/secured within reach of the seat mostly for other reasons. When landing on steep banks or when about to carry through a dead-fall blockage, often the only way possible is to step out while already holding a painter line. Particularly for dead-fall crossings, it's often necessary to push the boat out away from you a ways after exiting the boat, then turning it and pulling it back in (often to a different location than the step-out point), which wouldn't be possible if you didn't already have the rope in hand when stepping out. When launching, the reverse process can be necessary, and in that case, once seated, you can stash/secure the painter within reach, ready for the next time. Admittedly, dead-fall blockages aren't usually present on a river that requires use of a whitewater boat, but on quieter rivers that can be a common situation.

Also, when I've needed to tow someone's capsized boat and it's not equipped with painters, I've pulled alongside the boat, grabbed my rear painter (the free end is secured right behind my seat), tied it to the other boat, and paddled toward shore with the other boat in tow. There'd be no way to do that without SOME kind of rope being ready and available, though the ready-to-use rope wouldn't have to be a painter in that case (in fact, a tow rope that is attached close enough to your seat that you can reach it for a quick release would be better than the rear painter in some cases, and I often carry a spare rope (secured within reach) with that idea in mind, though I have yet to need it).

different thoughts
I secure painters under bungees on the deck plates. If I do not want to drill the deck plates of a canoe for bungees for some reason, I will thread the painter under the air bag lacing, not from the amidships end of the bag cage, but from the end nearest the stem. I have seen a lot of whitewater boats and boaters, and I must admit, I do not recall anyone ever using the method described.

There are a lot of different thoughts regarding the proper use of painters and whether to use them at all. Many people who paddle modern, short polyethylene boats don’t use them, and whitewater kayakers very seldom do. I know one very experienced whitewater open boater and ACA instructor who actually recommends the use of a very short stern painter, perhaps a half boat length long, and lets it trail freely in the water. The thinking is that it will always be accessible and the short length will make entanglement very unlikely.

All my whitewater canoes have stout grab loops of synthetic rope or webbing at the stems and the painters are tied to the grab loops with bowline or figure of eight knots. I don’t much care for painters secured to thwarts or carry handles.

If I capsize I don’t want the whole painter to immediately come loose in the water. I get to the upstream end of the boat as quickly as possible and stow the paddle under the air bag lacing of the capsized boat. I generally don’t waste time trying to right the boat which is difficult for someone in the water to do anyway. I hold onto the boat at the grab loop taking care not to put my hand through the loop. This provides a secure hold and frees the other arm allowing one to swim using a sidestroke. I think it would be very difficult to do this trying to hold onto the boat by a wet gunwale with one hand.

I try to stay enough to one side of the canoe to be able to look downstream for bad stuff like holes or rock sieves and scout for safe eddies. It can be very difficult to try to swim into an eddy pulling a heavy, swamped canoe. As I approach an eddy I will pull out a length of painter from under the bungee or perhaps the whole length of painter, and aggressively swim for and into the eddy using both arms while still holding the painter in one hand. Once safely in the eddy, the boat can usually be pulled in behind you.

Makes good sense to me
Your idea of how to use the painter is in line with what I was thinking, not relying on it for guiding the boat, but using it if the situation demands. Good to hear the voice of experience giving a perfect example of when and how that could happen. When I’ve have to pull fairly hard on my canoe, I’ve grabbed quite close to the end, where depending on the boat, there’s a carry handle or a deck plate (also built to be used as a handle, on that boat anyway). My idea of holding gunwales had more to do with turning the boat this way or that while “along for the ride” than with actively towing it.

Recently I was helping a swimmer and realized she couldn’t reach up high enough to grab the painter off my deck plate where I traditionally keep them bungeed. Thanks to a short boat and long arms I could reach it myself, but this had me rethinking stowage in my other boats.


its not that

– Last Updated: Nov-29-15 9:37 PM EST –

far from mid to bow or stern.

time you're out you're on the way to one or the other.

rational compromise may be 2/3's of the distance to ends.

read somewhere recently the lines should go thru not one but FOUR holes drilled into the hull bow and stern

next we'll read abt the efficacy of drilling holes thru the keel...draining water from the painter holes drilled bow and stern.

on Tupperware hulls not having painters...well you know...


one of Wals main contributions to Western Civilization

Three most common uses for painter lines

– Last Updated: Nov-30-15 7:40 AM EST –

At least for me are 1) bow and stern lines when transporting on my car, 2) tying the boat to a tree when it can't be pulled up shore, 3) raising/lowering the the boat down a steep bank at a put-in/take-out. I keep the painter lines bungied on the deck plate, and rarely grab them while swimming - I don't want the rope floating around in the water with me. There was a tragic accident on my home river a few years ago when a teen drowned when his foot got wrapped around a loose painter line.

I took the painters off my boats for a while after that, but put them back on for the uses above. In a swim, I wouldn't pull the painters until I was safely in an eddy, if at all.

Sometimes the rules for safe swimming in whitewater (get into a safe swimming position, get upstream of your boat, get yourself to shore when you can) are easier said than done. In this swim I got ejected forward and ended up downstream of the boat. The boat actually overtakes me at one point, but I begin working my way upstream of the boat when a friendly kayaker helps me push the boat to shore.

No doubt about it - the best thing you can have in a whitewater swim is a few friends to help. I never did pull the painter line.

such a sad tragedy,

– Last Updated: Nov-30-15 4:50 PM EST –

manmade features are often the worst. Loose lines are never a good idea. Even tucking in the straps on a pfd is important if you're dealing with strainers.

Painters on deck plates
I keep my painters on the deck plates, secured by a bungee loop. When I tip out, I get the boat downstream from me and grab a painter. Often I had to follow the boat through the rapid for a bit until there was an eddy I could swim for, dragging the boat behind me.

I hate having the boat get away from me, since that often leads to a long walk.


deck plates ?

coo coo ka doo…deck plates

absurd. look how dumb this looks ergonomowise

I’ll bet yawl have hoop snakes in your lawn ?

painters go on air bags or under a shock cord on thwart.

deck plates PHOOOP

Very sad…
This is the dam in question

The tubes are about 10 feet wide and 15 feet deep. It doesn’t look too bad from the upstream side, but from the downstream side you can see that all five tubes are blocked by logs and debris.

At higher water, the debris get buried, and the water races though the tubes. Once you get swept in, there is no turning back. I’m not exactly sure how the fatal accident happened. The newspaper report seems to imply that the boat got pushed down into to debris pulling the victim with it. It’s seems more likely to me that the victim got swept downstream of the boat and with the painter line wrapped around his ankle, couldn’t keep his head above water in the fast moving current – more like a traditional foot entrapment.

The last guy who tried to run this got lucky. The water was lower and his boat got pinned against the logs. He was able to climb up on the logs and hang on to the face of the dam before getting swept though. The fire department was able to lower down a rope to rescue him.

Method used in canoe basics video?

– Last Updated: Dec-02-15 5:05 PM EST –

I think I can see the described method of painter storage in the instructional video "From here to there" by Joe Holt Productions, although it can be a little hard to see where the painter is on top of the lacing and where it is below. Also, in the video at about 46:14, Windy Gordon states that the painter is supposed to be "coiled loosely" so that "when the boat flips, it naturally floats out so you can grab it". Hmmm.....

The people in the video are using NOC boats and helmets, and I think it was filmed on Smoky Mountains rivers. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to stream for free online.

Haven’t seen the video

– Last Updated: Dec-01-15 12:57 PM EST –

Joe was an instructor with NOC for years and did a number of videos with other NOC instructors and local boaters so most of his video work was done in the Southeast.

As I said, there are many schools of thought regarding painters. I personally would be very reluctant to have a painter stowed in such a manner that it easily floated free in a capsize unless it was a very short length that made entanglement extremely unlikely.

As Erik pointed out, any rope in the water is a double-edged sword. This goes not only for painters but throw bags and thrown rescue ropes as well. But few would argue that there is no place for throw bags and rescue ropes. I stow my painters in such a way that I can pay out as little or as much as I like. As I pull out a painter I am swimming for safety so the line remains taut. Although some have decided that the benefit of painters is outweighed by the potential hazard, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would have lost a boat, not just once but several times, had it not had a painter attached. The number of times I have self-rescued an open boat on whitewater in the manner I described is not just a few, but many times many.

There was a time when I paddled whitewater by myself quite a bit. Often this was on a pretty busy river like the lower Youghiogehny, the Nantahala, the middle Tellico or the Ocoee so I was not truly alone. On the other hand, you can't count on someone you don't know to help you out or chase your boat for you. Other times I was on the river all by my lonesome or paddling lead in a small group so there was no one downstream to catch equipment. I can recall off-hand at least four instances on the dries of the Hiwassee, the middle Tellico, Section IV of the Chattooga, and the Cartecay at flood level in which I swam and would have lost the boat had it not had a painter. In one of those instances I had to swim and rescue two swamped canoes simultaneously.

Of course, if you never swim or always have friends downstream to rescue your gear you might feel differently. I am certainly much more likely to let the boat go and swim for safety than I used to be.

say what does a
painter do in a hydraulic, hole, or dam wash ?

That would be pretty dangerous
At least if you are in there with it.

I do hate to lose my boat

– Last Updated: Dec-02-15 6:28 AM EST –

but it has only happened a couple of times. Once in the Dumplings on the West River in VT. I grabbed a throw bag from someone and ended up on river left, but my boat got pushed ashore on river right - oops...

Another time on the lower Ashuelot in NH. I swam at the top of a long rock garden. I finally made it out about halfway down, but my boat kept going. Fortunately, someone grabbed it before it entered the next rapid, or I would have had a long walk back to the car.

The rivers aren't big around here, so in most cases I just get to the side of the boat and kick hard while pushing it to shore. As long as I am not out in the middle that works fine. Sometimes I'll grab the painter once I'm in the eddy, but usually I don't have to.

I don't paddle alone and I am rarely in the lead, so there is usually someone around to help. I have to give my kayaking friends credit - they are always great about helping out, and a swamped OC1 (even with bags) is tough to push to shore.

depends upon usage

– Last Updated: Dec-02-15 6:53 PM EST –

most modern ww canoes feature an oversized grab loop, no painter for entanglement. Tripping canoes I usually see the painter stored under the bungee on the deck plate. Very handy to have as others have stated. For lining you want to be close to the water line so drilling out the end of a boat, attaching the painter lower and then running it up to a bungee on the deck to store makes sense.

Any loose lines are entanglement hazards. Don't assume just because there is ww that wood is not present. Entanglement becomes an even bigger issue in these situations.

mine stay put

– Last Updated: Dec-02-15 8:53 AM EST –

I have painters stowed under double bungee cords and I have not had one come free if the boat recirculated a few times in a hole or hydraulic.

If you know you are in or heading for a big hole or hydraulic you leave the painter stowed. My advice would be to get away from the boat altogether if you are able. You can really get beat up being in a hole or hydraulic with a boat.

Obviously loose lines are an entanglement hazard in a hydraulic or hole, but sometimes the only reasonable way to rescue a swimmer getting recirculated in a hole is to toss them a line, unless you are close enough to reach them with a paddle, etc. Ropes are a potential hazard always but there are many times when they are the lesser of evils.

not in my case
My Blackfly Octane 85 has painters attached, Tony. And yes, I have used them for self rescue.

I do what melenas instructor taught
minus the tail hanging in my OC. Never took a class, but this became my preferred method of painter placement. I run the painters over the cage, then tucked under the nearest retention line on my airbags. Never had an issue, and like having the painter in easy arms reach, using it to loop around a branch or whatever if I’m taking a break along a bank.

Another thing I found that helps self recovery a lot is getting the canoe right side up asap; it seems this became my instinctual first move. An Eckilson vid., this one shows me flipping in my bigger poling boat( I poled everything but this dam that day, then realized without outfitting, that’s one big slick area to kneel in lol), yet having the boat upright by the time my son flipped made my self rescue much easier.

Tommy amazingly got this shot of my spill, and you can see I was going straight for the painter…