single-place floatation bags

I do most of my paddling on local flat water in during evening hours in a composite single place canoe with no built-in floatation. It seems like the canoe float bags readily available are designed for WW boats with large volume ends, not pointy like I want. I don’t really anticipate capsize, but it’d be nice not to lose my boat if I did! Suggestions? Kayak bags? I bought the boat so that I could easily and quickly throw it onto the roof of my car and go. Keeping weight down is of primary concern and I’m mostly a kneeler, so I like to keep some room forward for a day pack and a couple of 64" paddles.


I’ve been thinking about carving some Ethafoam “plugs” for a custom fit right up in the stems against the decks. If I install a short section of shock cord, they’ll be easily removable and should provide enough buoyancy to, at least, keep her away from the bottom. Stupid?

Bags are flexible
I take it your canoe has no built in tanks.

You can buy various size bags. WW canoeists not only want to float the boat, they want to displace as much space as possible in the hull, so that when the boat is flooded there is less volume of water. I think that should not be your concern. You’d just like to know the boat is going to float, a real concern in some of the CF boats with metal fittings. So first off, decide how much floatation, then shop accordingly for bags.

Don’t worry about the bag being too wide. It is only going to inflate to the size of the enclosure that contains it. Be aware that the volume of the air in the bag is surprisingly dynamic in response to changes in temperature. Make sure the bags have slack if rising temps are expected.

You might also consider other float systems. Closed cell foam can be glued to the hull in any configuration you can think of. Some folks shape styrofoam blocks and secure them into the ends of the canoe. Spray-in foam (sold for insulation) is problematic and probably better to avoid.

Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about the width of the bags if you decide to go that way.


Thanks Chip,
that’s good advice. The sides of my boat, especially that area under the gunnels near the ends, are really thin and flexible. I was worried about deformation, as I tend to over-inflate everything to match my ego.

length vs volume
The bags that Matt is pointing you to should be fine for keeping your boat afloat when it’s swamped. They are short so they will leave plenty of room in the boat for you and your gear.

They probably are designed to fill a fuller end than you describe but if you tie them in before inflating them the hull will contain them and they should work fine.

Kayak bags generaly are lower volume but something like these might work for you as well.

Ethafoam will work
Ethafoam will do the job. If you leave it outside it will eventualy absorb enough water to be heavy but if you take it out and let it dry it should be fine.

Minicell is more $ but won’t absorb water.

in my solo canoe
In my RapidFire (15’ x 28" composite canoe), I have the largest NRS kayak bag in the bow (and it’s too small) and a midsize Voyageur WWOC-1 bag in the stern (and it’s much too big but that fact doesn’t really show).

I have a paddle clip on the forward thwart, and my spare paddle rests on top of the float bag with the blade up in the bow and the shaft clipped to the thwart. Works just fine.

The too-small bow bag leaves plenty of room for me to stretch my legs out or for a pack.

Despite the incorrect sizing, the two bags make a huge difference in how high the canoe floats out of the water. I can’t sink it more than halfway no matter how hard I push it down. I did look thoroughly for bags that would fit better and concluded that none could be had.

If you ever get down to NYC, my club and I have quite an inventory of float bags that you can inspect.

– Mark

Thanks, Mark
Good tips and a nice invite. My MR Independence is of similar dims. to your Rapidfire, perhaps half a foot longer, about 36 lbs., with just a little flare out front. Relatively low, she’s pretty good in wind and pretty too. I’m mainly worried about losing her to the depths should I ever tip (got a good start when a baldy went after a bullfrog within a paddle’s reach last year, didn’t see it coming!). Actually, I’ve never swamped this boat and just assumed she’d sink like a stone. Am I wrong?

most composite boats will float
because they are made with small flotation tanks in the bow and stern. Sometimes the tanks hold air, sometimes foam. The hull material itself won’t float, so the tanks are necessary. Unless your Mad River was a custom build without tanks, or the tanks are compromised, or somebody removed the tanks, the canoe will float when swamped. If you have doubts, why not test it out in very shallow water, with a line attached for extra caution?

But there’s floating and then there’s floating. If your only concern is keeping the boat from sinking to the bottom of the river, the built-in flotation will (barely) suffice. The boat, when swamped, will be mostly submerged, with just a little bit above water. It will be very hard to empty it or get back in it. If you’re in waves or current, the boat will be very heavy and menacing to anybody in its path. If you are looking for a higher standard of “floating,” you need to add your own flotation. Hence my outfitting of the RapidFire with a lot of extra buoyancy. It’s the float bags that keep it floating high and easily rescued when swamped.

– Mark

Ethafoam won’t absorb water, except
at the surface where UV may weaken the matrix. It was the old styrofoam beadblock that absorbed water.

The main advantages of minicell over ethafoam are better UV resistance, better glueing, and finer bubbles, so surface degradation doesn’t make minicell as soaky as it will ethafoam.

No tanks

– Last Updated: Dec-06-07 1:38 PM EST –

Mark, never were any there. As mentioned, I just want to keep her from going down. The ponds I frequent have deep spots and are weedy. Diver Dan would like to charge me double for a fruitless canoe search and rescue!

it might well sink, then
Unusual. I wouldn’t paddle it without adding bags, and I would test it in shallow water.

– Mark

Another alternative…

– Last Updated: Dec-06-07 3:48 PM EST –

I have been considering the same floatation problem with a small (12 foot) solo canoe I own. It has no built in floatation. I intend to use the canoe on a nearby lake for fun & excercise when I don't have time to do a river trip. Want to have some flotation installed in case of an "out of boat experience", and possible necessity of hauling boat to shore.

I am considering the possiblity of installing what are referred to as "roll-aids"; basically long strips of closed cell foam, mounted just beneath the gunwales on whitewater canoes.
Ostensibly, they assist a whitewater canoe paddler in rolling their canoe.

If what I'm describing makes no sense; email me & I'll send you a photo of roll-aids mounted in one of my canoes.

Talked with Greg at Mohawk Canoes a few minutes ago; they have some available. Not that expensive & easy to mount. Of course air bags are removable; the roll-aids won't be.


I’d suggest you clip in an old PFD
… but that might set our Georgia Kayaker off on an anti PFD tangent. ";.

But, that’s what I do in my featherweight tankless solo. You could use two to be safe.