Rescuing a Swamped Canoe Raft
Many people raft canoes together on open water, perhaps thinking that the additional stability offered by the raft provides a greater margin of safety. This may be true in some circumstances, but rafting canoes does create additional hazards which should be considered.
Should your raft become swamped, then you have all your eggs in one basket. Recovering swamped canoes can be challenging and is definately worth practicing. All the paddlers will be in the water, so you will need a strategy for an “all-in rescue”.
Here is a short clip of a rafted canoe recovery and all-in rescue.
There are several tips which will make this process easier, and these start with the construction of the raft.
- Use quick release knots, and minimise the number of different types of knots wherever possible.
- Add buoyancy to the canoes.
- Plan to take the raft apart by releasing the knots on one canoe – this allows both to be recovered and minimises the risk of losing equipment such as poles which can remain firmly tied to the other canoe.
- Raft the canoes with a gap between them to reduce the chance of swamping.
- When swamped, continue communicating and ensure everyone understands their role (eg to hold paddles, untie knots etc).
- When the raft is untied, use one swamped canoe as a stable platform to perform an x-rescue of the other one. With sufficient buoyancy, someone can climb into the swamped boat to make this easier. Without this buoyancy, keep this canoe the right way up and the curve of the gunnel will prevent the other canoe from sliding off.
- Work out how to get people back into boats (even swamped ones) early in the rescue. This reduces immersion time and the chance of hypothermia.
All-in and swamped raft rescues are well worth practicing in a controlled environment (warm water, close to shore and in an on-shore wind) and with competent supervision. Alternatively, these recoveries can be included in canoe and kayak training and assessment courses and are part of the BCU canoe four and five star syllabus.