Solo Canoe Self Rescue???

As a sea kayaker I have always valued self rescue techniques. In a kayak you can roll, or you can re-enter and roll if you ever have to bail. Pretty fool proof and provides a lot of confidence for open water crossings, rough water, cold water, etc.

What about in a solo canoe?

I have tried re-entering my swamped canoe just for practice. I can do it in my Prospector, but have not been able to do it in a solo. Just not stable enough for me to do.

So what do you do if you are paddling alone in open water? If you capsize are you pretty much screwed?

Not a huge deal on populated water but could be a huge issue on a solo backcountry trip.



It can be done
Nolan Whitesell used to make it look easy, he’d just paddle up to the canoe and roll right into it as he flipped it.

It’s a lot harder for mere mortals. You need to reach across to the far gunwale, push it over and down as you kick like the dickens with your legs and try to throw one across the boat like jumping on a horse.

Of course, its a lot easier if you are paddling with others and someone can pull along the opposite side of the boat and help push that gunwale down for you as you tumble back in, or in a tandem canoe where your partner can stabilize the opposite side of the boat.

There is no reason you couldn’t apply a paddle float rescue with a double bladed paddle, and a stirrup, if necessary, if you are really concerned about this.


– Last Updated: May-24-09 8:56 AM EST –

Oh it's easy! First thing ya do is practice up on some new cuss words, because you'll be throwing them out left and right. When I initially capsize, I find it helpful to loudly scream "OH MY GOD!!!" When I hit the water I usually try to watch my $600 fly rod with it's $300 reel sinking to the bottom of the lake. Then I flounder around splashing for a bit, and throwing out my well practiced cuss words in great fashion. I'll grab my solo canoe, and look around for the nearest's always up current, and there's always a nice wind creating white caps that keep driving you away from shore. It helps to try rolling into the swamped canoe several times, fully knowing that it's it'll just continue to roll over. Canoes are funny...they float great but fill it with water, and they seem to prefer the "upside down...belly up" style of floating around...which rarely comes in handy. In about 30 minutes I'll reach the shoreline, drag said solo canoe up on the shore, dump the water out, and take inventory of all lost gear. Usually, the phrase "Damn it!...^&$# *&^^%%$# $^%$ in the ^$#*&^ what the F()*&%$ (*&^& everything is gone!!" gets said..sometime murmured...other times yelled loudly. So, you just climb back in the canoe...with luck you'll have a spare paddle so you can reclaim anything that's still floating. That's all there is too it. It's really easy and anyone can do it with a little practice.

I guess I just need to learn some new cuss words.

I forgot to mention, there is absolutely no reason to attempt to renenter a swamped canoe unless you have a considerable amount of flotation in it.

look at archives
i believe there was a recent post here that had an excellent link about this topic.

Hopefully Canunut will chime in here.
He is one who can capsize in the middle of a race, and only have his cadence slow to about 20 strokes per minute before is is back in and off again !

I just swim mine to shore, and if it is a mile, so be it.



Reentering an empty canoe
is tough, a swamped one is easier. They say you can paddle a swamped canoe and you can, but it’s not really practical unless you’re very close to shore and then it’s easier to swim it. In calm water bailing out a swamped hull may be an option if you have any freeboard, but you never seem to capsize in calm water.

It can be done with an empty hull but usually by young, spry, in shape folk…doesn’t really apply to me anymore.

When I was paddling tandem with theCanunut we would practice self recovery one day out of the week. My belly and thighs were black and blue but eventually we got proficient at it. The Cannut went on to J boats and practiced just as dilligently and Can self recover a J boat. How I don’t know EXCEPT it isn’t magic, just PRACTICE!

Self Rescue a J Boat!?!?!
Man that is something I’d like to see.

I assume he’s doing this in deep water with no flotation?

My thought is that that’s impossible. But I don’t believe you guys are liars so it’s got to be something I’ve never heard of or seen

Any chance someone could get video?

In case anybody misunderstands, I would seriously like to be able to do deepwater solo canoe self rescues. Short of full flotation, a saddle and thighstraps I don’t have a clue as to how.

If Canoenut can do it in a solo J boat I have to think he can do it in anything.


Not familiar with that term. …

Here’s a J boat

It’s a solo racing canoe designed by Gene Jensen. This is an older J-200. More here:

I can do a self rescue…
but only with someone to help me. I’ve tried many times to get back in my Yellowstone Solo alone - have never been able to do it. With someone to help me empty the boat and brace the far side as I roll back in, its easy. In a pinch, I’ll even let a kayaker help me

Guess I won’t be doing any long lake crossings alone.

I have a J-190
it is 18 feet long and weighs 19 pounds.

When you paddle it, you don’t want wind and wakes,and you need a hundred feet to make a U turn.

If anyone knows where I can get two more old el cheapo ones, let me know.

My wife and oldest daughter both want one.



floattation no/ PFD yes
Now steve doesn’t have a fast self recovery on his J-Boat,It is over a couple of minutes with emptying the boat and almost getting then finally getting. In a tendem( Carbon fibre 21 pound), with a trained partner wearing PFDs he can self recover in under a minute. We were bounced out of his Diller in a race,twice and still managed to come in second. How he does it in a solo has a lot to do with his fitness level, and streignth/weight ratio. He weighs about 145 pounds, and is all muscle. When he kicks with his legs he looks like Micheal phelps.

We might doing some at AFS
this year. Are you going to be there?

Frist step, empty the canoe by swimming
under it. Turn the canoe upside down, grab it by the gunwales at the balance point and give it one gigantic shove over your head fliping the boat right side up and empty. Second step, inflate a paddle float on your paddle blade and place it on the balance point. Grab the thwart and put a leg up on your paddle shaft. That’s it.

I tried in a pool and couldn’t reenter.
I couldn’t get back in my solo canoe even when in shallow water in the pool. My wife and I could get back in a tandem, but not without a major effort. Also, it took quite some time to empty the canoe out. If the canoe was loaded for a trip and the water cold, it would that much more difficult.

My strategy now is to stay close to shore unless there is a very good reason to venture far from shore. If I capsize, I’ll right the canoe so that it can be emptied of water enough to be towed to shore.

I find

– Last Updated: May-25-09 2:23 PM EST –

emptying a canoe full of water from the water to be even more difficult than trying to reenter (which I find very difficult). I suppose you can use a bilge pump if the water is calm enough to not keep sloshing water in as fast as you pump it out.

I have tried the two person "Capistrano Flip" and it resulted in some impressive goose eggs on the noggin, but unfortunately, not a dry boat. In the absence of another boat to perform a side-by-side or T rescue, I have never been successful in the "shake the water out" technique. Maybe someone here can tell me how to do it.

I have found through abundant and sometimes painful experience, that a canoe with flotation is usually better left upside down when towed to shore. An upside down boat will usually have less water in it than one right side up and oddly, does not seem harder to tow despite the inefficient water footprint. However, I have not had the experience of swimming an upside down canoe more than a hundred yards or so.

Cliff Jacobson said reentering a solo
isn’t possible. Apparently true for most.

i can self rescue a J203
it’s not that hard on moderate waters, but i probably can’t in conditions that would cause me to capsize in the first place.

getting in isn’t all that tough, it’s tossing the damn thing in the air to get all the water out.

that takes technique, and a lot of leg kick.