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WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you were on a canoe trip and one of the fully loaded, fully decked canoes capsized far from shore? Which re-entry method would get people out of the water the fastest, reduce the risk of injury to paddlers or damage to boats, and provide good stability? This scenario is often debated by paddling instructors because factors such as heavy canoes, cold water and overall remoteness can put a group of paddlers at significant risk. The usual approach is to perform some form of canoe-over- canoe rescue, where the rescue canoe pulls the capsized canoe from the water, turns it upright and then provides a stable platform for swimmers to re-enter. The three most common rescues are:

1) Canoe-over-canoe with gear lashed in 2) Canoe-over-canoe with gear tethered 3) Parallel rescue

This is where the debate begins! One can advocate that lashing in gear will avoid hang ups

below the gunwales of the overturned canoe, but tethering can be used to move gear completely out of the way. On the other hand, bringing the capsized canoe up onto the rescue boat parallel may increase stability. All are valid perspectives, however they all fail to alleviate a very real and limiting fac- tor associated with fully-loaded, fully-decked canoes: weight! A loaded canoe is heavy, and its weight greatly increases

the amount of physical effort needed to right it, thus increas- ing the risk of injury and usually the amount of time capsized paddlers stay in the water. So what is the right answer? The Tandem Bailer Re-entry. The speed at which capsized paddlers can re-enter the canoe using this method makes it a practical and efficient way to resolve a capsize in this situation. Here’s how it works:


While in the water, both paddlers rotate the ends of the cap- sized canoe, bringing it to an upright and partially-submerged

position. This can happen quickly and with little effort if the canoe has significant flotation. The fact that the swim- mers can perform this action themselves reduces the risk of injury to individuals in a rescue boat who would otherwise be responsible for lifting and pulling the heavily laden canoe.


One at a time, the swimmers return to a seated position in the cockpits of the partially-submerged canoe. The lower freeboard of the canoe combined with the stabilizing effect of water within the hull allows swimmers to re-enter easily. Even in the event of an injured paddler, a rescue canoe can raft up and create a stable platform to pull the individual onto.


The second canoe simply comes alongside and grabs on to the partially-submerged canoe, allowing paddlers to bail without having to worry about the risk of a second capsize.


The paddlers remove all water from the canoe by bailing. Due to the amount of space taken up by gear and end flota- tion there is little room left for water, and most of what does collect in the boat is in the cockpit areas where it is easily ac- cessible, so bailing can be completed surprisingly quickly. Ob- viously the process is much faster with two bailers. Although less common, the same righting, re-entry and bailing process can be used on solo, fully-loaded, fully-decked boats. Bailing also has the added benefit of warming paddlers who may be cold from their recent submersion. The main objective in canoe rescues is to get paddlers out

of the water quickly while reducing the risk of injury. When it comes to a capsized, fully-loaded, fully-decked canoe in open water, the Tandem Bailer Re-entry is the fastest and safest rescue. So go ahead, bail on your buddy. And don’t forget to bring a second bailer! Corey Locke is a Paddle Canada Instructor and Instructor Trainer in various canoeing disciplines based in St John’s, Newfoundland.

Day two of a canoe tripping and lake/style canoe maintenance and upgrade clinic facilitated by Dave Wooldridge.

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