Open water canoe self rescue

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Do you plan for and practice self rescue in the event of capsizing when canoeing in open water while remote camping?

I plan for the event but it has been years since I have practiced self rescue techniques with an open canoe. I imagine that preparation and techniques range from none at all to beat the clock efficiency.
 
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This September on a huge lake in northern Quebec I had to round a point of land in high wind conditions. Beyond the point the lake opened up for miles, so I knew a mishap here would disastrous. Between the waves coming in and the waves reflecting off the rocky shoreline the area close to shore was very rough. I know the book says stay off shore to avoid the waves coming off the rocks, but that would have required me to turn the canoe broadside far offshore to the larger waves coming down the lake.
I chose to hug the shorline and round the point as close to saftey as possible, with my painter at hand in case I went in. I tried not to get in over my head, both figuratively and literally.

To answer your question, there's no way I could perform a self rescue these days, or maybe even ever. If conditions are that rough for me to end up in the water, there's no way I could get back in.
 
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I practice flipping my canoe, emptying the h2o and reentering a couple times a summer. During practice is a really good time to experience how far you can push the gunnel under and bring back up, stand on the gunnels etc. I find it some what akin to "whipping cookies" in an icy parking lot with a car in order to learn recovery skills in safer conditions. You get to learn where the edge is in benign conditions so you are better able to perform when the unexpected happens. I practice solo and with others. I keep meaning to attempt this with a boat loaded with gear but just haven't yet. I am pretty sure I could figure it out and if not I would know that limit ahead of time based on conditions etc. I am middle aged pretty fit with above average balance and swimming abilities. It is kind of fun and feels good to know the challenges. I have practiced in wind and waves but not cold water. I have found my self in sub 45 f water a number of times and admit it would surely test my skills depending on scenario. I plan accordingly. Just so PPine knows I have never worn a dry suit or wet suit paddling a canoe or kayak. I paddle 11-12 months a year in Michigan. I do have the ultimate respect for cold moving water.

Robin clapotis waves can be a real challenge. I find it best to literally relax and go with the flow. Tension in the body makes for a very unstable boat.
 
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I think I could still do it but it has been over 25 years since I preformed a self rescue. My trip partner and I were planning to practice reentering in the water while on a 7 day trip this summer but we never did.

If the seas are rough I paddle near shore because it is often easier for me to swim the canoe and equipment to shore in order to reenter. When paddling flat water I leave my equipment loos inside the canoe. I only have a backpack, food canister and paddle to recover and they float. My plan is to right the canoe, reenter with the paddle then paddle over and collect the backpack and food canister.
 
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Johnny 5 that seems reasonable on lakes. That brings up the old question of weather to have the gear strapped into canoe or loose. I genrally feel strapped in is better for rivers and loose with a line or strapped connected to gear for lakes so the gear stays together, is easily retrievable and can be removed in order to more easily empty the water. There are pros and cons to both but the important part is to considered the what ifs before the stuff hits the fan.
 
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Foxyotter, I have practiced water reentries with open canoes but never needed to preform reentering while paddling. I usually capsized my flat water canoe on rivers or near shore so I just pulled the canoe to shore.

On the one white water trip I took I made several in water reentries with my equipment secured inside the canoe. My white water canoe had both front and rear airbags and a saddle so that when conditions allowed I was able to roll it upright if I capsized without leaving the saddle. The first time I practiced rolls with that canoe was in a swimming pool with some kayak friends.

Leaving my equipment loos while paddling on flat water makes transitions from water to portages quick and easy. I also find it quicker and easier to right an empty canoe while in the water.
 
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I've practiced emptying and reentering my solos in calm water. Some boats I could easily flip and drain the water. Others not so much. The larger the float tanks and the closer to the gunwales they were the easier it was. On my homemade boats the float tanks are flush with the gunwales and they're a snap to empty. On commercial hulls I could easily empty a 34lb canoe but could not get a 40lb canoe upright and dry (still had quite a bit of water in it).

In warm water, with gear, in rough conditions, I'm fairly confident I could re-enter. Likely after repeated attempts.

In cold water I'm much less confident. Time just isn't on your side.

Here's me practicing more than a couple years back:

Alan
 
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Very nice info and video Alan. I find climbing over the stern or bow easier then climbing over the side. Tandems or with others steadying a canoe seemed very easy compared to solo. I can empty the water on lighter solos in same manner as video. For heavier and larger canoes if I start from one end while picking up over head sliding hands along gunnels while rotating when I see most of the water out I quickly flip and bail remaining water. Obviously the heavier the boat boat the harder all of it gets. I experimented with removing my PFD to compare. My results was that the added floatation is a huge plus and the added challenge of PFD climbing back in was a none issue. One more reason to almost always wear your PFD.
 
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Has anyone been in a situation where they really needed to do this? I have dumped on rivers which has always been easier to pull to shore and dump. I have also dumped getting in and out of canoes by shore. Otherwise I am not out in conditions where my brace, balance and what not created a situation I causing me to dump. Lake Superior along Grand Island I was in some pretty intense clapotis waves but only felt close to dumping while launching. Even kayaking in some sketchy conditions on Lake Superior I felt balanced and confidant in my brace. I have been paddling and backcountry traveling for a long time and I don't have any crazy stories. Don't get me wrong I have had plenty of situation that could have gone south but I was prepared for the condition with appropriate gear and knowledge. So the train to calamity doesn't leave the station.
 
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I have for 30 years been on the instructor staff of an 8-day BSA training program to certify adults (mostly college age) who will wish to be hired and to work for BSA resident camps as experienced guides to take scouts on 5-day wilderness treks. Part of the canoe training segment is for them to demonstrate that they are safe and can perform far from shore deep water canoe rescue amd reccovery techniques. My big open question to them is "How is it that you might have gotten yourself into this situation in the first place?" Did you set out in weather you had no business paddling in? Were you so pressed for time that you felt you had no choice? Did you have novice paddlers who you knew could not effectively control themselves or their canoe? Why did you not wait out the conditons, or at least make progress near shore, even if it meant a longer distance to travel?
 
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Has anyone been in a situation where they really needed to do this?

The closest I came was dumping a couple hundred yards from shore (an island) on a partially frozen lake with air temp just below freezing. I was test paddling a canoe I was building and it didn't have any float tanks installed yet. I thought about reentry for about 5 seconds and decided it would be a waste of time and energy to try and reenter and that I was likely end up even wetter by the time I was done (my head was still dry). The water was neck deep so I was able to walk rather than swim to shore, though I did have to break through some ice to get there. The canoe half fully of water made a nice ice breaker pushed ahead of me.

Alan
 
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Alan a picture is worth a thousand words, thanks for the video. I intend to practice the reentry technique that you used when the weather warms up in the spring.
 
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I found flotation makes a huge difference when it comes to flipping a canoe and emptying it of water. I could barely do it with a 34lb Bell Magic with factory float tanks but I couldn't do it with a 40lb stripper with no float tanks.
However the canoe in the video weighed about 50 pounds but it was super easy to flip over and empty because the float tanks were flush with the gunwales, which allowed the canoe to float very high when upside down so the gunwales didn't tend to scoop any water when flipped.

I imagine a small float bag tied into either just the bow or stern would make a big difference.

And like Foxyotter said a PFD is very important. Any time I flip a canoe over while swimming I'm forced under water, even when I kick with my legs to add power to the flip. More personal flotation would make it easier to flip a heavier canoe.

If nothing else reentry practice gives you something canoe related to do on those days where it feels too hot to paddle. I always mean to try it on a windy day in the waves but somehow can never quite motivate myself.

Alan
 
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Definitely an interesting discussion. Kathleen and I spent many years paddling whitewater on day trips with our canoe club In Vancouver. Our goal was always to improve our skills to facilitate our extended trips on northern Canadian rivers, primarily in the NWT. On these day trips we continued to push ourselves: surfing deeper holes, ferrying across stronger currents, running rapids down increasingly more difficult routes. We eventually capsized, which was the inevitable outcome. Sometimes we were rescued by canoe-over-canoe, but usually we self-rescued. We followed the mantra: hold on to your paddle, grab the painter, get to the upstream end of the boat, check for your partner. Eventually we were able to swim the canoe to shore. We felt very confident. But then, our Mad River Explorer, fully air-bagged, with virtually no gear, rode high, and was fairly easy to haul, even in moving water.

We never tried to get back in the boat during self rescue. Only once did I see one of our club members do this. John was an excellent paddler, and very strong. He was paddling his MR Explorer solo, also fully bagged. He capsized in a Class II+ hole, which was recirculating him. He turned the boat right side up, manhandled his way aboard over the stern, and paddled away. I was very impressed.

Not everyone has those skills, though. I was once paddling Kathleen’s Mohawk XL 13 solo, on the Adams River in BC. Sally was paddling solo nearby, and, somewhat inexplicably, over she went. Sally was young, fit, experienced, and a better paddler than me. We were only about half-a-mile above the infamous and dreaded Class III Adams Canyon, with the current accelerating. I did the canoe-over-canoe, and said, “OK, Sally, roll back into your boat.”

”I can’t. I’ve never been able to do that.” I was very surprised, and towed her and her boat to shore, ferrying across the current. It was not easy.

Once, I was taking what could be called an advanced whitewater course on Vancouver Island. At one point the instructor asked each of the four students, all of us solo, to paddle into a deep hole and surf until we capsized. He wanted to see our self-rescue skills. The current was quite strong below the hole, and the river was filled with rocks, many of them quite large. Even with my canoe fully bagged, and virtually no gear, I went around three bends before I reached shore, at which point I was completely played out.

And now I come to my point. Kathleen and I generally wilderness trip in the NWT on our own. Fully-loaded boat, with a spray cover. Very cold water. You might think that I am full of hubris, or full of something else, but we are not going to capsize In calm water next to shore. If we were to capsize it would be in at least a Class III rapid, which has not happened so far. (All that practice with our canoe club.) Based on my preamble, I doubt that we would be able to quickly or easily self rescue. We have also paddled on large lakes, and made some fairly long open crossings. We paddle as hard as we can to reach the other side. A sudden wind, with a capsize, would be very challenging, to say the least. Suppose we missed grabbing the painter? When we surfaced, we would likely see the canoe drifting away in the wind,. We would never be able to catch up. Bad news indeed.

I have never been tempted to load my canoe full of gear, capsize it, and see if I can get back in. I was impressed with Alan’s video. But that was on calm water with no gear. Not at all representative of conditions where Kathleen and I might capsize. But then we have never capsized while wilderness tripping. As suggested by yknpdlr, we are not going to put ourselves in that situation. Kathleen and I do paddle challenging conditions. But that doesn’t mean that we are foolhardy.
 
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I would practice deep water self rescue when my kids and nieces and nephews were young. All of the kids enjoyed the challenge, some were way better than others at it. I think it's been 10 years since I practiced it...I'm sure my kids would still have no problems, maybe I could do a surprise practice session?
MDB and I only once needed to self rescue, but tandem reentry is waaaaay easier than solo.
Here's a couple of my buddies practicing in one of my strippers on Long Pond. (ADK's) With a strong flip from two men, and full flotation chambers, they had a very dry boat when it came back down.

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Getting as much water out as possible is key, but if you are alone without someone to counterbalance on the other side you still have to somehow drag yourself in without flipping the whole thing over again - Alan does a great job in his video, but that requires a level of finesse that I am not sure I possess anymore. A paddle float makes it pretty easy to re-enter a flipped kayak, even for an aging codger like me, and with a bit of practice can be set up in a minute (or less if it is not an inflatable one). I haven’t tried it yet, but if you use a double blade in your solo canoe (which I mostly do) I think it would be equally useful there, once you have uprighted the boat and braced the paddle across a thwart or yoke.
 
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