What To Do When You Flip A Canoe

Every canoeist needs to know what to do when you flip a canoe. If your sense of balance is pretty good, you will probably be able to stay upright most of the time you are canoeing. Give it enough time though and everybody will end up flipping their canoe eventually. In fact, every time you get in a canoe, you should plan as if you are going to flip (tie gear to the boat, wear clothes you don’t mind swimming in, etc.).

When you do happen to flip your canoe, the way you handle it will depend on the water conditions you find yourself swimming in.

Near Shore/Swim It! Method

If you are anywhere near shore, particularly if you are in a moving river, just hang on to the boat and swim it to shore. It helps to tuck your paddles under the seats and/or thwarts so they stay with the boat and you have your hands free. This could be challenging if the current is very strong. Try to work with the current as much as possible, float down stream awhile if you have too until the current slows up a bit.

Once you reach shore you can then turn your boat on it’s side and slowly drag it up onto the bank so all the water pours out. Then flip your boat upright and get back out there paddling.

Far From Shore/Flip It! Method

If you are a long way from shore, first tuck your paddles under the seats or thwarts so your hands are free. Then you and your partner get at either end of the canoe and try to lift/roll it over so it dumps out at least some of the water and you trap some air underneath. Then both of you swim under the boat and with your head up in the air pocket, get a firm grup on the gunwales and lift the boat up and flip it over. Then you can take turns climbing back in.

This is a VERY difficult maneuver, in fact it will be more or less impossible unless you’re really stinking strong and amazingly good at treading water! Use any floatation you have to sit or stand on in the water – worth a try anyhow. At best, you still won’t get all the water out, but you’re not aiming for perfection, just a boat that can get you back to shore again. It would be advisable to go out of your way to get to shore as soon as possible so you can dump the remaining water. Paddeling with several inches of water will make you very tippy and it will also sap your strength considerably.

Boat-Over-Boat Rescue

If a canoe capsizes when another canoe is nearby to help, this rescue method will enable you to right their canoe, while dumping all the water, and assist its former passengers back into the boat.

Bring your canoe perpendicular to the capsized canoe, with their bow or stern touching the center of your canoe. Make sure the capsized canoe is upside down in the water.

Carefully move to the center of your canoe and with the assistance of the capsized paddlers lift the end of their upside down canoe onto the gunwale of your canoe.

It is helpful if one of the people in the water gets onto the far end of the capsized canoe, pushing it under water and lifting the other end.

Work together to pull the canoe evenly across both gunwales of your boat until the middle of the capsized canoe is over the middle of your canoe and, carefully balanced, the whole boat is out of the water.

Carefully roll the canoe over so that it is right side up.

Slide the canoe back into the  water (and keep a hand on it so it doesn’t float away!)

Turn the capsized boat parallel to your canoe and hold onto the gunwales while its passengers do their best to climb back into their boat.

Don’t know what the bow, stern, thwarts, and gunwales are?
Check out the basic anatomy of the canoe on the Equipment page.