How to Right A Flipped Canoe Properly (With Illustrations!)


Canoeing is a low-impact and incredibly safe way to cross flat water.  However, as with any watersport, there is an element of danger if things of awry, so here’s a few tips and tricks on what to do concerning a flipped canoe!

Firstly, you should tip a canoe at least once in a controlled environment with warm water and a safety crew standing by.  It’s the only way to be properly prepared for the real thing.  Also, before going out either snap your pack’s waistclip, lumbar strap, or some other clasp to the yoke or a thwart so that if you tip, your gear won’t lie at the bottom of a lake or river.  An even better way to do this is to tie or carabiner a rope through all the packs’ lifting straps (or any strong point) and tie them off to one strong point on the canoe so that you can perform the next steps more easily (read on and you’ll understand).

Let’s say you’re out on the water, just getting from point A to B, when suddenly, you’re partner sees a shiny dabloon in the depths below!  “What luck!” they’ll proclaim, reaching hazardously over the side.  The next thing you know, you’ve got water up your nose and your friend has become a mild annoyance.  What to do?  There are a number of ways:

Screw you, I’m not an artist! What do you think this is, Deviantart?

Hopefully you’re close to shore, like, 20 feet from being able to touch bottom.  You don’t want to haul your canoe upside down and full of water far (not to mention your now-soaked gear), trust me.  But let’s say you can.  Simply have the canoe upside down, lift one end out of the water then the other.  Once you have the upside down and relatively water-less canoe above your head, flip it and carry on like nothing happened.

Of all the things to happen, this one is the most shameful but easiest to remedy.

If you flip in the middle of a larger body of water, or during a crossing or something where you can’t get to shore, but have some friends in another boat or canoe nearby, then you’re in luck.  Getting a boat out of deep water with another boat nearby is one of the easiest things to do with a bit of practice.  Once your asshole friends have stopped laughing at you, basically all you have to do is put your sunken canoe over top of the rescue boat perpendicularly so the water drains out.  Pushing down on the side away from the rescue boat helps getting on the other craft, and then you flip it (once it’s dry) and off you go!  I actually had to do this exact maneuver to help out some young folks who had tipped at dusk on the French river last week, and it just goes to show how handy this kinda crap can be.  Remember, your gear is holding on for dear life under the canoe and you should get it out and into your rescue canoe first!

Swimming lessons and “eggbeater” water treading really pay off here.

God help you if you flip in the middle of the lake with no other boats in the area and can’t make it to shore.  Flipping the boat can be done, but it’s certainly no picnic.  Basically you do the same operation as when you bring it to shore, but since there’s no ground to push against, you’ve got to support the weight of the canoe by spin-kicking like a mofo.  Remember to do one end at a time, try to utilize your lifejacket as much as possible by snugging it down to as low as it’ll go on yourself, and remember to give it all you’ve got because your life legitimately could depend on it.

I’ve seen entire rescues go back to square one because the people didn’t know how to get in the boat. I laughed.

A quick note on getting into canoes in deep and shallow water.  No matter where you’re launching from, whether it’s a beach, rock, or dock, step into the middle of the canoe first and try to put a paddle across the gunnels so that you’ve got a more solid boat to get into.  Hands down it’s my biggest pet peeve when someone tips a boat because they’re too high up and expect a canoe to work as a floating dock.  In deep water, you can’t leverage yourself against the side to get in, it just won’t work and you’ll get water back in the boat.  Instead, have one person wrap themselves around the bow/stern of the canoe, acting as a stabilizer, and hop over the opposing end by hoisting yourself up and over the point.  Once you’re in the canoe, make sure you make the canoe as stable as possible so your partner can do the same.

Safe paddling!

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