Many paddling skills are best learned through expert, hands-on instruction and practice. The techniques below are happy exceptions. They're easy to do, and they can make a huge difference to your stability and safety in a canoe.
Most capsizes are caused by occupant movement and weight shift. This is actually great news, it means you can control the most significant risk factors.
- Safety starts at the shore. For stability, stow cargo securely, low down, and as close to the centerline as possible. Keep everything (cargo and people) centered from side-to-side and end-to-end.
- If the canoe has a capacity plate, don't exceed the recommended load. If rough water is a possibility, under-load the boat to increase the freeboard - the distance from the water to the boat's upper edges.
- Don't stand up or move around in a canoe if you can avoid it. Such shenanigans enormously increase the risk of capsize.
- If you must move around, always maintain three points of contact with the boat. If one foot is moving to take a step, both your hands should be holding on to the boat.
- Keep your shoulders inside the gunwales. Make a game of it. Imagine the sides of the canoe extend vertically as invisible walls that your shoulders must not touch.
- Dropped something overboard? Don't lean out and grab for it. Use your paddle to rake it back to the boat's side. Or paddle the canoe over to the item you're retrieving.
- Beyond these basics, here are several more things you can do to increase your safety.
- Get some real-life lessons to learn balance, stabilizing strokes, and safe exits and entries.
- Paddle in groups. One canoeing motto is "Less than three shall never be." so that there are always two boats to assist a third in difficulties.
- Use canoes with inherent buoyancy or buoyancy chambers, or equip your boat with float bags.
- Wear a PFD and proper clothing to help you stay afloat and warm in case of capsize.
Have fun on the water, and, as the old canoeing adage goes: Keep the open side up.
Mandatory Kayak and Canoe Equipment
Paddling Distress Signals
Canoe and Kayaking Checklists