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Unswamping A Canoe

Every canoeist manages now and then to swamp a canoe, so it's important that you know what to do. In fact, it's best if you intentionally swamp your canoe in calm water and practice the techniques you'll need. That's what I've done here.

Since even a canoe full of water will float, stay with it. You'll be safer and more visible to other boaters. If it's upright, swim it to shore.

If the canoe is upside down AND you're in flat or slow-moving water you can stand in, raise one end of the canoe to the water's surface. Push down on the opposite end while lifting one gunwale to break the water's suction. Lift the canoe clear of the water, let it drain a few seconds, then roll it upright and guide it to shore.

Deep Water
You can re-enter a canoe in deep water, but you will need to practice this.
Place your hands on both gunwales (gunnel), near the wide section of the canoe, or in the middle of the bottom, depending on your arm length and strength. Pressing down with both hands and using a strong kick, lift your body upwards until the hips are across the nearest gunwale. Roll onto your back and sit in the bottom of the canoe before bringing your legs in... then use your paddles or hands to propel yourself to shore.

Swift Current
If you swamp in swift current, get to the upstream side of the canoe, grab the end nearest the safest shore. Then staying upstream of the boat, use the rope to tow it ashore. This position will prevent you from being pinned between the canoe and anything it may hit.

Other River Safety
If you're thrown clear of the canoe, flip onto your back, and point your feet downstream to act as shock absorbers from any obstructions you might meet. Never attempt to stand up in swift-moving water. Your foot could get caught under an obstacle and the current could trap you underwater. Worry about catching up with the canoe after you've reached safety.

Remember that life is always more valuable than property. You can replace the canoe. And don't forget the basics: wear your lifejacket and don't boat alone.

Video Courtsey of:
Missouri Dept. of Conservation

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More Articles

 • How to Empty a Swamped Canoe in Water
 • Canoe Over Canoe Rescue
 • Additional Rescue Techniques
 • Using the River's Currents to Propel Your Canoe
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