Self-recovery in a solo canoe

My Bell Magic solo is a great boat, but the factory flotation barely keeps the rails on the surface. If I capsized when padding alone, there’s no way I could empty the boat and recover it. This month has been an ongoing experiment in how to fix that. I decided on two kayak flotation bags and a paddle float rig. After many hours of preparation and some serious fiddling, I got everything installed and headed for Council Bluff Lake to try it out. I have some photos of the results here:

You inspired me
You inspired me to go out with my 16’ Jensen solo and try some deep water self rescues this weekend. It was fun! I did about 15 before I got tired and just paddled around for a while.

I managed to get in my first try but went over the far side. The second time I was a little more careful to keep my balance and made it in no problem!

The only floats on my boat are 2 pieces of foam (like 4"x6"x3’) that go from the foot brace to the seat along the gunwales. I was able to get all the water out of the boat and even hold it over me for a second or 2 before throwing it upright.

It probably help that the boat is 29lbs,I was in calm water and Im a young, strong swimmer. I thought it was easier if I put 1 leg through the life jacket kinda like a diaper so I got 100% of its buoyancy. I can see how it would be difficult to do in large waves or a strong wind, or with a lot of gear for that matter. I tried keeping a hand on it when I threw it upright and I managed to keep a hold of it. It would be tough if there was a strong wind.

Now I want to go out on a windy day and try it in some 1-2’ waves.

I put my fiance in the solo for the first time and she was not ok with its lack of initial stability and the fact that you have to lean to turn. Oh well, maybe next week…

Anyways thanks for inspiring me to give self rescue a try. Its not something I would want to figure out for the first time in an unintentional situation. Everybody go try if you havent. Because even if you fail, that is valuable knowledge that you should get whatever supplies/floats you need to achieve a successful rescue.

I’m completely bemused by the minimalist approach to buoyancy that’s apparent with almost all of the mainstream US manufacturers I’ve encountered… but it’s good to see a decent solution in a Magic!

Your next test might be coping with the canoe when it’s swamped: when you’ve got the threat of waves coming in over one rail and out over the other as you start bailing. Then you may find you want to displace even more water.

That Magic should swallow 60" airbags each end…

For comparison…
I generally fit 48" airbags front and rear in my Flashfire: that fills from the thwarts to the stems… leaving more than enough room in the middle for myself, my dog, my daughter and kit (up to and including full camping gear).

The Flashfire still fills pretty badly… but we can just about cope with paddling it / sailing it swamped and with persistence, I’ve bailed in some pretty adverse conditions.

Plenty of photos here:

Similiar Thread
Perhaps some ideas overlap ?


Over the other gunwale
How are you re entering the boat? Are you basically sprawled out across both gunwales and then dropping yourself into the boat? Sounds like it since you said you got up and then over the other side. I did that the first few times and then found a much easier way that’s keeps the reentry from being so tippy.

As you’re pulling yourself up over the gunwales roll over and drop your butt down on the floor as soon as possible. This leaves you sitting sideways in the boat with your butt on the floor and your legs over the side. Do the turn and drop while the canoe is still listing to the side (it rights itself in the process). If you wait until the canoe is completely upright before dropping into the boat you’re going to be very unstable since you’re perched on the gunwales with a high center of gravity.

It was a bit difficult the first couple tries but then it came natural. Only downside is the gunwale can put quite a bit of pressure on the back of your thigh as you’re sliding into the boat. I got myself a nice bruise.


paddle float
I didn’t realize they made paddle floats that aren’t inflatable. I think the inflatable ones would have a lot more buoyancy (as well as taking up a lot less room when not in use). My inflatable paddle float has considerably more buoyancy than my life jacket.


rolling in
What you describe is the way my wife enters a swamped boat; she could do it using the barely-buoyant foam paddle float. I will practice this next time out. The recovery I used has several Youtube “instructions,” including a “heel hook” that puts your foot under the center thwart with the rail becoming a fulcrum. I was so delighted to get in the Magic by myself, I didn’t get bummed out about my somewhat inelegant style. Next time out I will have the last bit of equipment I need, A strong bilge pump to slurp out the 4 or 5 inches of bilge. Hope I never have to try this in rough or cold water, but knowing I’ve done it gives me some confidence ant at least a chance of recovery in a real emergency situation.