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senior member (64)senior membersenior member
09/05/2017 10:39AM
Wasn't sure which forum was appropriate for this...

This is a little embarrassing so bare with me while I recount my tale:

I went canoeing in Western NC with my friend this past weekend and we capsized. Being inexperienced (only our second overnight trip - the first being in the BWCA last year), we had never capsized before. I was wearing my PFD; my friend - for reasons that are unknown to me - was not wearing his. Believe me when I say he learned his lesson. When we fell out, we went one direction and the canoe went another (somehow, the canoe did not flip). We couldn't get back to the canoe. I wasn't able to move very well in the water b/c of the PFD and since he wasn't wearing one, he attempted to swim to the canoe/shore. Luckily he and the canoe made it to shore but not before he nearly drowned trying to recover it. I eventually made it to the opposite shore with the paddles and picked my way over the rocks and timber to go around the inlet to get to him. We dried off, recuperated, made camp and paddled back very carefully the next day.

I should add that although we were on a lake, there was some kind of current at work that we were not expecting. It was a fairly large reservoir and we weren't far from the dam. Perhaps that had something to do with it. We were also in the middle of an inlet. There was a little wind but we didn't expect it to make for a difficult swim. I've heard/read stories of people drowning in still bodies of water and always wondered how that happens. Now I know.

So my question is, what's the best practice in this situation? How can you avoid losing your canoe in moving water? I know the first priority is your safety, so PFDs are imperative. But what if the canoe goes one direction and you go another? I know some whitewater kayakers use a tether. Is there such a thing for a canoe? Tying yourself to a boat doesn't sound safe to me. Any thoughts on this?

Also, please reserve your finger-wagging for my friend's stupidity in not wearing his PFD. I know this is the golden rule of boating and he broke it. He nearly paid for it with his life and it will never happen again.

Thanks for any advice.
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distinguished member(838)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/05/2017 02:05PM
Believe me, I am no expert on how these things move. I have not seen any studies or experiment (Youtube, maybe?). But my best guesses and inclination would be to NEVER tether oneself to any watercraft. My guess, ultralight canoes might act like a sail, and the tethered one might act like a diving rapala as drag force is applied, and I would say only the strongest might get ahead of this dangerous situation. The rest would quickly lose strength and drown.

Just let it go. Worst case, you would be out up to $4K, but infinitely cheaper than a funeral or extended hospital stay.

Yeah, PFD's. Saw a family in pontoon boat this weekend in front of our place in No. MN bouncing in the whitecaps and no one with PFDs, with two little kids on board with no PFDs.
member (31)member
09/05/2017 07:04PM
In whitewater they recommend 3 boaters in a group for these kind of problems also if there is an injury one guy goes for help while the other stays with the wounded. When by yourself all you can do is try to hold on to your boat (always from the upstream side) after a few swims it becomes automatic ;-) and try to save the paddle also (I have a story about that.)

09/05/2017 07:42PM
I always take a spare paddle strapped to the canoe. You may want to consider that option for the future. Most whitewater guides carry a knife for the purpose of cutting loose from entanglements, so don't create one by attaching yourself to the canoe or raft.

I'm sure your friend will be wearing his PFD in the future. When you go whitewater rafting, the guides will make sure it is on tight enough that it doesn't float up around your head. You should make sure it tight and fastened securely.

I don't know what kind of canoe you were paddling, but most canoes except for the very flat-bottomed ones have good "final stability" as long as you keep yourself vertical and between the gunwales. So try to learn not to get out over the gunwale. And practice your "braces" - high and low. I'm sure you will be more aware next time; experience is a good teacher as long as you survive. I'm glad you both came out OK.
senior member (86)senior membersenior member
09/06/2017 06:55AM
Were you on a TVA lake? They generate power and release water to accomplish this. I think there is a website that lets you know when they release water.
senior member (64)senior membersenior member
09/06/2017 11:06AM
I was on Fontana Lake which is fed by the Tennessee river but not sure if it's a TVA lake. However, I was just talking to someone about the effect of the dam and river on the lake. That explains the current. I'll check for info on water releases, etc. the next time I'm on a lake like that.
distinguished member(2994)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/06/2017 11:25AM
I've had a lot of experience sinking canoes in whitewater. Only once did I have the canoe get away from us and that was in huge currents on a northern Canadian river. If you have your gear properly tied in, the person on the upstream end of the canoe typically stays with the canoe while the downstream person gets out of the way. You do not want to be caught between a canoe full of water and an obstruction. Always swim with your feet pointing downriver. If you hit a rock, it is much better to do it with your feet rather than your head. Do not try to stand in strong currents. You risk having your feet get caught between rocks as happened on the Basswood river several years ago.

I have never heard of tethering yourself to a boat. That sounds very risky.

Running rapids is a blast, and not nearly as scary as some may think. Even the swim part can be enjoyable.

Also, it is good advice to never run wilderness whitewater in a group of less than two canoes. If you wrap your canoe around a rock, unsticking the canoe can be a major effort. I bring pulleys and really good quality rope just in case.
distinguished member(3994)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/06/2017 12:00PM
Glad that you are both ok. Swimming in a pfd is eye opening and worth practicing. Sailing small boats can provide practice with that as capsizing is part of the game. Best advice I can think of is to grab the boat fast! The sooner you grab it the less distance you need to swim to try and catch up with it. Get a hand on it while going over, if possible. Thinking that through now will help us all react fast when it happens.

I sort of think it was more a question of wind, even slight wind, than current. You were in the water and in the current. The canoe, however, being upright and empty, was more subject to being pushed by the wind.

And yes on the knife. A critical lifesaver when something gets tangled up. In the BW, I feel ok with it in my pocket but I know exactly where it is.
distinguished member(3994)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/06/2017 12:12PM
There's one exception to tethering yourself to a boat. Offshore sailing on big boats. Especially when solo. You really don't want to fall off and lose your boat in the middle of the ocean.

But that's pretty far removed from what we do on a lake.
distinguished member (489)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/06/2017 01:16PM
Every time that's happened to me, my first instinct is to not let go of my paddle. Second instinct is to grab the boat and do my best to guide it to a bank, or at least to stay with it until it stops its downstream progress.

I'm always in the stern seat because I'm bigger than my partner, so I'm rarely downstream of the canoe.
distinguished member (143)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/06/2017 02:55PM
There was post titled open water recovery. Good videos on how to deal in open water.
senior member (69)senior membersenior member
09/06/2017 04:25PM
Did you have painters (ropes tied to bow and stern)? Best kept loosely coiled and out of the way so you don't get entangled, but in a place they can be grabbed on the way out or while in the water. Easier to swim a boat to shore if you have a painter.
distinguished member (143)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
09/07/2017 09:26AM
09/07/2017 09:32AM
quote golanibutch: ""

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