coming back alive
Canoe Safety


Make a checklist and go over it mentally before pushing off each time you canoe.

1. Canoes should be equipped with at least two paddles.

2. Every canoe should have two lines, a bow line and stern line.

3. An extra throw rope (for emergencies) should be stored safely in each craft.

4. Store any loose ropes safely. Loose ropes are deadly. Lines should be tied and wrapped before departing.

5. Attach a whistle (or other attention getting device) to your life vest to signal for help.

6. Carry a First Aid Kit inside the canoe. Store kits inside waterproof coverings.7. Take a repair kit with you. Include quick repair items like duct tape, sealant, waterproof tape and other materials


When canoeing, it's important to always remain in your seat or on the floor of the canoe. Never sit on the sides of a canoe or stand. Canoes easily tip over with only the slightest movement of weight.

Some canoeists tie paddles to the boat to avoid losing them during a spill. Do not do this. Tied paddles become extremely dangerous if the canoe does tip.

Even the most seasoned veterans never travel alone. Water safety specialists recommend traveling with at least three people in your party or two separate crafts. Also, be certain to let others staying behind know where you're going and when you're expected to return

A Good Tip

Practice capsizing and re-entering your canoe before you head out.

Practicing and perfecting the proper rescue techniques will help you to avoid panicking in a real emergency.

Canoeing Dangers

High water
This condition can change water levels and rapids quickly. High waters can usually be found in the fall and spring. It can also be found after extended rainy period or dam releases upstream. Be sure to call ahead to find out current water levels.

Cold Water
In the early part of the summer the water temperature can be below 50 degrees Faharenheit. Exposure to this cold wateris dangerous. Wearing a wet suit or dry suit is recommended. If you do not have those, wear layer of wool or pile clothing.

These are obstructions found in the river such as fallen trees, branches, and rocks. Stay clear of these hazards and be sure to watch for more downstream.

Dams and other man made obstructions
Many obstructions such as dams are well marked with signs and many have booms in the river to keep you away from the dangerous parts of the dams.

Portage trails are usually well marked.

If the portage trail is not well marked look around and walk down some possible trails without moving your equipment. Don't go far or you could get lost.

If You Capsize

In open water such as lakes or very slowly moving water, stay with your canoe. Even full of water it will help support you and your crew.

However, if you capsize or swamp in fast moving streams, get away from your canoe. Moving canoes filled with water can pin or crush paddlers against rocks or trees.

Any canoe can break apart even in the smallest streams if it is filled with water and comes in contact with an immovable object.

Float on your back, feet downstream. Don't try to stand. Rocks or other objects can trap your feet and the force of the water can hold you under.

Even in flat water conditions, the easiest approach is often to first have another canoe rescue the unfortunate swimmers by having them hold onto the bow and stern of the rescue boat and get towed back to the shore.

Once the paddlers are safe, the rescuers can then haul the upended canoe back to the shore where the entire group can bail out the boat, dry the gear and poke fun at the skill level of the soggy paddlers who dumped

Strainers are any obstructions on the water.
Canoe Rescue Techniques

If the dump takes place a long distance from shore, and the water conditions are suitable, it may be possible to put things back to normal by doing a canoe-over-canoe rescue. This is done as follows:

  • The swimming paddlers swim over and hold onto the bow and stern of the rescue boat to preserve their strength. They do not swim up and grab the gunwales at the centre of the rescue boat and in doing so, send the crew of the rescue boat into the water.

  • One of the people in the rescue boat moves to the centre of their canoe, grabs one end of the upended boat and lifts it up onto their gunwale. It will probably be necessary to rotate the swamped canoe a bit to break the 'seal' with the surface of the water, otherwise you will be trying to lift the several hundred pounds of water held into the boat by an airlock.

  • The canoe is then pulled (upside-down) over the gunwales of the rescue canoe until it is fully out of the water, and completely drained.

  • After this, it's a simple matter of turning the boat over and sliding it back into the water. It is pulled parallel to the rescue boat and the gunwales of the canoes are 'locked' together to make it easier for the dumpees to climb back in.

Of course, this can be complicated by the fact that there may be significant amount of gear either tied into the dumped canoe, or floating around it.

Always remember that people come first, and gear comes second. Worry about rescuing people and getting them back into their boat before you think about the packs and paddles.


Kayaking Safety

The most important factor to safe kayaking is having the knowledge and experience to judge the level of potential danger and the ability to accurately compare it to your groups capabilities leaving adequate margin for error.

The most likely fatal accident is due to cold shock or hypothermia following a capsize and subsequent failure to execute a rescue.

Winds and/or rough seas will cause the capsize, the rescue failure will be due to lack of practice, insufficient rescue equipment, inadequate flotation in the kayak, or separation from the kayak or paddles.

Most often the victim is paddling alone and carrying no distress signals or an entire group is in trouble making it impossible for the paddlers to take care of each other.

  • You must have the skills, knowledge, and equipment adequate for whatever conditions you might encounter.

  • You need a clear understanding of the potential hazards and you must stay alert for them. This includes knowing the latest weather forecast.

  • You must practice in advance with safety equipment and rescues.

  • You should be able to swim and know when not to swim (when the water is under 60 degrees F.)

  • If you capsize on a windy day you must never lose a firm grip on your kayak and paddle. Losing them is frighteningly easy, as your kayak can blow away faster than you can swim.

  • You should have a plan of action (and a back-up plan) worked out in advance for any emergency including capsize and separation from your kayak or separation from your group. A plan will help prevent the panic and feeling of helplessness that can immobilize the unprepared.

  • You should be wary of goals which may be clouding your judgment. Getting to work on time or preventing your friends from calling the Coast Guard is not worth the risk to life.

  • You should get a comfortable life jacket and wear it whenever you paddle. You must have plenty of secure flotation in both ends of your kayak.
Kayaking Hazards


Paddling in wind and rain or wet rough seas without adequate clothing can lead to hypothermia, but the greatest danger is from total immersion in chilling water as the result of a capsize.

It is imperative to get a capsize victim out of the water as soon as possible and then to add clothing and watch closely for signs of hypothermia.

The victim may not recognize the symptoms in himself and, if hypothermic, may even become belligerent towards you and your concern.


Wind is one of the sea kayaker's most dangerous adversaries, it can increase in velocity quickly and make control of a kayak and paddle difficult if not impossible.

Making headway into very strong winds is a struggle. It is possible you could be blown offshore or blown onshore into dangerous regions, such as big surf or a rocky coast.


When the wind picks up the waves soon follow. Waves make a capsize more likely and can get you wet from splash or spray. Waves can create difficult control problems and broaching if they are approaching from the side or from the stern quadrants.


The size of surf is difficult to judge from seaward, but you should be able to differentiate the less violent spilling surf from the abrupt dumping surf more likely to damage you or your kayak.

A dumping surf on a steep beach can be extremely violent. You should avoid surf if possible. You can often find a much smaller surf, and a place to land in an area protected by a point of land or an island.

If landing in surf is a possibility bring a helmet.


Novice paddlers who might be easily intimidated by the large but relatively harmless swell on the open ocean can be lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent calm of inland waters.

This might be justified in good weather on a warm lake, but some areas affected by tidal currents can become treacherous.;A calm place can become very rough in a few minutes. Even mild currents can take you well off course

Know Your Equipment
  • Check your equipment for damage and wear.

  • Check that your kayak has flotation, secured both in the bow and stern adequate to float a swamped kayak level and minimize the amount of water that must be removed.

  • Flotation in only one end will allow your kayak to become vertical in the water, making reentry virtually impossible without the help of a large boat.

  • Check that your spray deck fits tightly enough on the cockpit rim so as to be resistant to being popped off by a wave dumping into your lap. Shock cord loses its elasticity and stretches with time and use so it may need to be readjusted later. Make sure novices don't use a spraydeck until they can show they know how to remove it.

  • capsized canoe
    Practice rolling your kayak in a pool before heading out onto open water.
  • Practice capsizing and "wet exits" so you know how to remove your spray deck and climb out (if you wear gloves, can you find the grabloop with them on? Can you do it underwater with your eyes closed?)

  • Practice alternate spraydeck removal methods in case the primary one is unavailable. Some include: grasping the shock cord in back, reaching down inside through the waist tube and with palm up pushing the straight fingers out to one side, leaning to the side at the hips to create a fold in the fabric to grab, pressing down on the coaming rim and pushing the fabric out to the side to grab with your fingers. Since none of these will always work practice them all and place them in order of likelihood of success for you and your equipment.

  • Be careful with your equipment so as not to create a trap with your ropes, loose gear, spray deck, paddle leash (don't use one in breaking surf), PFD's straps, or footbraces (shoelaces and some sandals) that could hold you or your feet and prevent a "wet exit".

  • Carry repair kits for your kayak and paddle, as well as for yourself (first-aid kit
Whatever water sport you choose to enjoy, make sure that your are properly prepared, both physically and mentally for any challenges you may encounter.