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Canoe Rescue Techniques

One thing you can count on when you take up canoeing is that at some point you'll end up in the drink, clinging to your half-submerged craft. And none of us looks forward to the sometimes long swim; towing or pushing our canoe to shore. There's a reason canoe rolls were invented. But rolling isn't always possible. Therefore, it's a good idea to have a few canoe rescue skills up your sleeve. The following techniques will work for all types of canoes in both river and lake situations.

Canoe-Over-Canoe
A solo paddler or a tandem crew can perform this technique. Any gear from boats being rescued should be first handed to the rescue boat and stowed below gunwale lines. The rescue canoe then maneuvers so it is 90 degrees to the overturned craft. The paddler or paddlers of the dumped canoe should swim to the end of their canoe that is farthest away from the rescue canoe and push down to help break the suction. This facilitates the rescuer lifting the end of the overturned canoe up onto the gunwales of his canoe. At this point, the paddlers of the canoe being rescued should swim to opposite ends of the rescuer's canoe and hold on.

The Catch
To begin your stroke, rotate your torso so you project your paddling-side shoulder forward. At the same time, plant your blade in the water all the way up to the throat of the paddle. The inside edge of the blade should touch the side of the canoe and the shaft should be absolutely vertical. The placement of the catch (or start) of your stroke is determined by where your blade can be inserted into the water with the shaft plumb and your paddling-side shoulder rotated as far forward as possible.

Canoe over canoe

The rescuer (or rescuers in the case of a tandem crew) will now slide the canoe upside down across the gunwales amidships until it is centered. The canoe is then rolled upright and slid back into the water. The now empty canoe is brought alongside the rescuer canoe and the gunwales of both canoes are hand clamped while the victims crawl back in one at a time.

Canoe over canoe

Boat Bump

The boat bump is primarily a river rescue technique. It is used to push canoes into eddies so a canoe-over-canoe rescue can be performed, or to push the canoe and victim all the way to shore.

Before starting a boat bump the victim needs to be on the upstream end of the canoe, swimming the boat on a ferry angle toward an eddy or shoreline. The rescuer paddles in 90 degrees to the victim's boat and pushes with the bow of his canoe just upstream from amid ships. Maintaining good angle, along with powerful strokes, make the boat bump effective. If done poorly, the rescuer can be more of a liability than a helping hand.

Paddling Awash

If you dump your canoe in flatwater and another boat is not present, one way to reach shore is paddling awash. It works best if the canoe has good primary stability. Simply crawl back in your swamped canoe and sit on the bottom of the craft and paddle it to shore. This is much easier than trying to pull or push the canoe while swimming. This obviously doesn't work in whitewater.

Paddling Awash
Paddling Awash

Swimming the Canoe Awash

If you dump your canoe in flatwater and another boat is not present, one way to reach shore is paddling awash. It works best if the canoe has good primary stability. Simply crawl back in your swamped canoe and sit on the bottom of the craft and paddle it to shore. This is much easier than trying to pull or push the canoe while swimming. This obviously doesn't work in whitewater.

Swimming Awash
Swimming Awash

Roll Out

If you dump your canoe in flatwater and another boat is not present, one way to reach shore is paddling awash. It works best if the canoe has good primary stability. Simply crawl back in your swamped canoe and sit on the bottom of the craft and paddle it to shore. This is much easier than trying to pull or push the canoe while swimming. This obviously doesn't work in whitewater.

Throw Bag Rescue

Throw Resue Bag

Use a throw bag station whenever running a rapid where the potential for a rollover is possible. Careful choice of throw bag location is important. The rescuer needs to be aware of where the victims and canoe will end up once successfully secured to the rescue line. It's also important that the person managing the throw bag has lots of practice in choosing a good location for the throw bag station, throwing the rescue line, and anchoring the rope once the victims have grasped it. Before the rescuer throws the bag, a whistle should be blown to alert the victims. An inexperienced rescuer is more of a liability than an aid.

Contributed By: Douglas Whipper

Canyon Canoeing Adventures "The Steamboat Springs Canoe School specializes in whitewater canoeing. CCA provides highly personalized instruction & trips for beginners to experts. Certified instructional guides will be your paddling companions in tandem camp; solo canoeing adventures".










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