tipped canoe

Canoes can tip over easily if proper balance is not maintained, sudden movements are made, or if there are strong currents.

If you ever have a tipped canoe, you can use the Capistrano flip or shakeout method. You should prepare for emergencies, carry first aid kits, and have backup plans.

In this blog, we will talk about how you can right your canoe if you are solo, with a partner or even in different situations like on an ocean or beach.   

Key Takeaways on How to right a tipped canoe

Do canoes tip over easily – No, canoes are generally stable on the water and not prone to tipping over easily without external factors influencing their stability.

What to do If my canoe capsizes – If your canoe capsizes, remain calm and stay near the canoe, holding onto your paddle, empty the water from the canoe, get back into the canoe, and bring the canoe back to shore.

What not to do If my canoe tip over – Avoid panicking, standing up, climbing onto the canoe, separating from the canoe, and struggling.
You should not start collecting your gear if your canoe is tipping over. If the canoe drifts away due to turbulent water, you shouldn’t go near it.

What should I do If I can’t re-enter the canoe from the boat – If you can’t re-enter the canoe from the water, stay calm and assess the situation. Secure the canoe and seek assistance from others nearby. Consider alternative methods like pulling yourself to the stern end of the canoe or using flotation devices to help you stay afloat and use the signal to call for assistance.

What to do if your canoe capsizes?

  • Flip the canoe back upright: Roll it over so it’s right-side up, even though it will still be full of water. This step is crucial to start the recovery process.
  • Position yourself along the side of the canoe: Once the canoe is flipped, position yourself along the side and grip the middle. This will help you stabilise the canoe and prepare for the next step.
  • Grip the edges and lift the canoe: With a firm grip on the edges of the canoe, use your body weight to lift the canoe out of the water and onto its side. It will require some strength and coordination.
  • Flip the canoe over and drain the water: Push it down and away from you so that it flips over and drains out. This will help remove the excess water from the canoe.
  • Empty the water and get back in: Once the canoe is right-side up and drained, empty any remaining water from the canoe. Then, carefully get back into the canoe and maintain your balance.
  • Bring the canoe back to shore: Once you are back in the canoe, paddle or use your hands to bring the canoe back to shore. Take your time and be cautious to avoid any further mishaps.

While you’re solo – Righting and Re-entering

Although it may not be simple, a few techniques may be used to right and re-enter a capsized canoe. 

  1. Pull yourself to the stern: Pull yourself to the stern to balance your canoe. This will make it simpler to turn the canoe around and get back in.
  2. Use a stirrup: To help you pull yourself into the canoe, a stirrup is a rope or strap that you can extend from the gunwales. This approach could work well. However, it might only be doable if you have a stirrup.
  3. Empty the water first: Before attempting to re-enter the canoe, it’s crucial to drain as much water as you can. The canoe will be lighter and easier to control as a result.
  4. Use a paddle float: To assist in stabilising the canoe as you re-enter. You can attach an inflatable device called a paddle float to your paddle. If you are in choppy water, this strategy might be extremely useful.
  5. Practice beforehand: Practising righting and getting into your canoe again in calm water is the greatest method to prepare for a solo canoe capsize. You will get the abilities and self-assurance needed to manage a real-life crisis as a result of this.

The ShakeOut: Alternative Method for Solo Canoe Re-entry

In the case of a tipped canoe, the ShakeOut technique is used to re-enter a solo canoe. 

By shaking or lowering the canoe’s gunwale, you may assist the water drain from the canoe more rapidly. 

Pushing the boat away from you while the gunwale is lowered also helps the water flow from the canoe more quickly. Before trying to get back in, this approach seeks to drain the canoe of as much water as possible to make it more stable.


  • The ShakeOut method likely aims to provide a technique for solo paddlers to re-enter their canoe after a capsize without assistance.
  • It may involve a combination of body movements, weight shifting, and leveraging the canoe to regain stability and re-entry.


  • Improved stability: By shaking out or lowering the gunwale to remove water, the canoe can become more stable, making it easier to re-enter.
  • Faster water removal: The ShakeOut method aims to remove water from the canoe more quickly, reducing the time spent in the water and minimizing the risk of hypothermia or other hazards.
  • Increased self-reliance: Mastering the ShakeOut method can enhance solo paddlers’ self-reliance, allowing them to regain control and re-enter their canoe without relying on external assistance.

While you’re with your partner – The Capistrano Flip

The Capistrano Flip is a technique used to rescue a swamped canoe and get it back upright while you’re with a partner. 

What is the Capistrano method?

  • Keep the boat upside down: After the canoe has tipped over, both paddlers should get into the air pocket under the canoe. This air pocket is created when the canoe is upside down in the water.
  • Right the canoe: While both paddlers are in the air pocket, use both hands to right the canoe. This involves flipping the canoe back upright so the canoe hull faces up.
  • Ensure the canoe is not swamped: Once it is upright, check to ensure it is not swamped with water. If water is in the canoe, use a bailer or any available container to remove the water.
  • Reenter the canoe: Both you and your partner should reenter the canoe from opposite sides, ensuring the weight is evenly distributed. This helps to maintain stability.
  • Resume paddling: You can continue canoeing once you and your partner are back in the canoe. 

Re-Entering the Canoe from Water When water is Turbulent (after tipping over),

Here is how you can re-enter the canoe in turbulent water:

  • Flip the canoe Over: Turn it over to the right side if it is upside down. This will make getting back into the boat simpler.
  • Swim to the Stern: Grab hold of the canoe’s gunwales (sides) while you swim to the stern (rear) of the craft.
  • Kick Your Legs and Pull Yourself Up: Leg-kicking will help you climb aboard the canoe. Pull yourself up and over the gunwales with the aid of your arms.
  • Climb into the Canoe: Climb into the canoe from the stern once you are on top of it. To prevent toppling the boat once more, go gently and cautiously.
  • Reposition Yourself: Put yourself back in your original seat in the canoe and start paddling.

It’s important to remember that you should hang onto the canoe until assistance can arrive if you cannot get back into it. This is crucial if you’re paddling by yourself or on choppy water.

And if the water is turbulent and drifting away from the canoe, you should stay away.

How can I safely reenter a swamped canoe with limited upper body strength?

  • Reentering a flooded canoe might be difficult, especially if you have little upper body strength.  
  • The first step is to remain composed and evaluate the circumstance. Once calm, grasp onto the thwarts or gunwales to steady the canoe. 
  • Empty the canoe’s water with a bailer or a sponge. You can scoop out the water with your hands if you don’t have any tools. As you get ready, position yourself in the middle of the canoe and aim your feet toward the bow. 
  • Use your legs to help lift yourself as you slowly raise and climb over the canoe’s side. You can lift yourself using a paddle or a rope if you have little upper body power. 
  • Try rebalancing the canoe by moving your weight towards the middle once inside. The canoe paddle can also be used to steady the boat.

Best Way to Right/Flip a Capsized Canoe

Solo Canoe

  • Roll the canoe over so that it’s right-side up; it will be full of water.
  • Position yourself in the middle of the canoe and grip the edges.
  • Lean back and use your weight to lift the canoe out of the water.

Tandem Canoe

  • Flip the canoe back upright. Water will still be in it.
  • Position yourself along the side of the canoe and grip the middle of it.
  • Lean back and use your weight to lift one side of the canoe above the water line.
  • Use a bailer or a bucket to scoop the water out of the canoe.

Rough Water or Strong Currents

  • Stay next to the canoe and hold onto your paddle.
  • Try to flip the canoe over so that it’s right-side up.
  • If you can’t flip the canoe over, try to swim to shore while holding onto the canoe. 

How do I bail out excessive water from the canoe after reentering?

Here are some of the common methods for bailing out excessive water from a canoe after reentering:

  • Bailing: Locate a bailer and start bailing out the water quickly. As you remove water, the canoe will rise out of the water and regain flotation.
  • Sponging: Use a sponge or towel to soak up the water and wring it out over the side of the canoe. Repeat this process until most of the water is removed.
  • Tilting: Tilt the canoe to one side to allow the water to flow out. Then, tilt it to the other side to remove the remaining water. Repeat this process until the canoe is mostly dry.
  • Pumping: Use a bilge pump to remove the water from the canoe. This method is particularly useful if you have a lot of water to remove.

What not to do If my canoe tip over & Re-Entering?

When your canoe tips over and you need to re-enter it, there are certain things you should avoid doing. 

Don’t Panic: Feeling panicked when your canoe tips over is natural, but staying calm is important. Panicking can impair your ability to think clearly and make rational decisions.

Don’t Rush: Take your time and assess the situation before attempting to re-enter the canoe. Rushing can lead to further accidents or mistakes.

Don’t Try to Flip the Canoe Upright: If you cannot flip the canoe back over, don’t force it. This can cause unnecessary strain on your body, which may cause you to drown and damage the canoe.

Don’t Climb on the Upside-Down Canoe: While climbing on top of an upside-down canoe may seem like a good idea, it can be unstable and increase the risk of injury. Instead, try to position yourself on the hull until help arrives.

Don’t Neglect Safety Equipment: Make sure you have the necessary safety equipment, such as a personal flotation device (PFD), whistle, and bailer, readily accessible. Refrain from using these essential items to avoid putting you at greater risk.

How do you handle tipped canoes in different environments?

There are multiple environments where you can find yourself in a tipped canoe situation.

Calm lakes, ponds, or water parks

  1. Keep your cool and try to remain in control of the situation.
  2. If the water is shallow, you can try to standing in the canoe and flip the canoe back upright.
  3. Once the canoe is upright, remove any water using a bailer or tipping it to the side.

Fast Flowing River or Streams

  1. Safety is the top priority in fast-flowing water. Ensure you wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and have the necessary skills and experience.
  2. If the water is shallow and the current is not too strong, you can stand up and flip the canoe back upright.
  3. If the water is deep or the current is strong, swimming the canoe to shore is safer than flipping it back upright.
  4. Use caution and be aware of any obstacles or hazards in the water that could pose a danger.

Ocean or at Beach

  1. Tipping a canoe in the ocean can be dangerous due to waves, currents, and tides. It is important to have proper training and experience before attempting to canoe in these conditions.
  2. If the canoe tips in the ocean, prioritize your safety and the safety of others. Stay with the canoe and try to swim it to shore if possible.
  3. If the conditions are too challenging or dangerous for canoeing, waiting for assistance from lifeguards or other experienced individuals is best.

Emergency Preparedness on the Water

Carrying First Aid Supplies and Basic Medical Knowledge

Carrying a first aid kit is essential for any water activity. A well-stocked first aid kit should include wound dressings, cleaners, splints, medicines, and other assorted hardware. 

Additionally, having a basic understanding of medicine might help you react effectively in a crisis. You can save a life by knowing CPR and other life-saving methods.

Creating Emergency Plans for Different Scenarios

Before heading out on the water, it’s important to have a plan in case of an emergency. This can include identifying potential risks and hazards and planning how to respond to different scenarios. 

Always have a plan to right a canoe and face emergencies whenever you go out to the water with a swim buddy or alone. 

Tell someone else where you are going. Having someone watching from the shore, ready to take action should you need help, is wise. Plan for every possible incident and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible.

Instances, where most of the canoe gets capsized can be sudden thrust of outboard canoe motor which leads to imbalance, while transporting the canoe or sudden movement in the canoe.

Knowing How to Signal for Help in Distress

In an emergency, knowing how to signal for help is important. This can include using flares, flags, or other signals to indicate that you need assistance. 

Some tools that will come in handy:

  • Marine Radio/Signaling
  • Sound Signaling Equipment (horn, whistle, etc.)
  • Visual Distress Signals (flares, flags, high-intensity flashing lights, etc.)
  • EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)


  • Arm signal: Outstretch your arms on each side and make slow, repetitive gestures from top to bottom.
  • EPIRB: An electronic device used to signal an emergency location.
  • Radiotelephony: Signal transmitted by radiotelephony or by any other signal system.
  • SOS: Signal transmitted in Morse code by sound or light, represented as “…—…”.
  • Shotgun: Firing a shotgun or other explosive signal at intervals of about 1 minute.
  • Boat distress flag: Displaying distress flags N and C from the International Code of Signals.
  • Signalling device: Continuous sound with any fog-signalling device.
  • Multi Star Red Flare Rockets or shells that shoot.
  • High-Intensity Flashing Lights: Use a bright lantern, flashlight, or other high-intensity flashing lights to signal for help.

What if my canoe gets damaged in the water after a collision with something?

Assess the damage: Determine the level of your canoe’s damage before taking any further action. Ensure the damage is a small fracture, a hole, or any other kind.

Safety first: Ensure your safety and the safety of others in the water. If the damage is severe and risky, prioritise getting to a safe location.

Repair kit: If you have a repair kit for your canoe, use it to patch a hole or seal any leaks. The repair kit should include items necessary for repairing the specific material of the canoe, such as fibreglass or plastic.

Temporary fixes: If you don’t have a repair kit, you can use temporary fixes to minimise water entry and make it back to shore. Options include using duct tape, adhesive patches, or even a tarp secured tightly over the damaged area.

Bail out water: If your canoe has taken on water due to the damage, use a bailer or any available container to remove the water from the canoe. This will help prevent further instability and make paddling easier.

Get assistance: If the damage is severe and you cannot fix it safely or continue paddling the canoe, ask other boaters for aid or call for assistance. It’s critical to put other people’s and your safety first.

Prevention for the future: To prevent damage in the future, consider the following measures:

  • Use protective gear: Store critical items in hard, waterproof containers to protect them from being knocked about during collisions.
  • Install a canoe spray deck: If you frequently paddle in rough waters or carry a lot of cargo, consider installing a spray deck on your canoe to protect it from waves and spray.
  • Improve your paddling technique: Proper technique can help minimise the risk of collisions and damage. Consider taking courses or workshops to improve your skills.

From Where can I learn safe canoeing – Capistrano Flip method

Here are some ways how you can learn safe canoeing and the Capistrano Flip method:

  • Paddling.com: Paddling.com provides a step-by-step guide on how to empty a swamped canoe from the water, which includes the Capistrano Flip technique.
  • The Art of Manliness: The Art of Manliness offers a guide on right a capsized canoe. It mentions the Capistrano Flip as a two-person technique and explains the steps in reentering the canoe once it’s nearly empty of water.
  • Paddling Magazine: Paddling Magazine provides information on rescuing a swamped canoe with the Capistrano Flip technique. They outline the six steps involved in completing the flip.
  • YouTube: There are instructional videos on YouTube that demonstrate the Capistrano Flip technique. These videos demonstrate how to empty a swamped canoe and perform the Capistrano Flip.

FAQs – Handling Tipped Canoe

Can a patient or disabled person right a tipped canoe?

It depends on the individual’s physical abilities. Some patients or disabled persons may be able to right a tipped canoe, while others may not. 

Why keeping calm during a capsizing situation is important?

Keeping calm during a capsizing situation is important because it allows individuals to think clearly and make rational decisions, which can increase their chances of survival.

What if I’m not wearing a canoe life jacket and my canoe capsizes?

You could be at risk of drowning if you’re not wearing a lifejacket when your canoe capsizes.

Stay next to the canoe, hold onto your paddle for flotation, or swim back to the shore.

How much weight of a canoe a normal person can easily flip inside the water?

The weight that a person can right if a canoe has tipped in water will depend on their strength and experience. The average canoe weight limit of a 14 ft. canoe is 700 pounds, and a 16 ft. canoe can hold an average of 940 pounds.

What should I do if my canoe capsizes while alone on choppy or rough waters?

To right a tipped canoe, use pushing gunwale or T/X-rescue techniques. Expel water via tilting or bilge pump. Reclaim canoe accessories/gears, and stabilise the canoe. And if it is challenging, swim to shore with a canoe for flotation. 

Is it safe to flip a swamped canoe back upright in deep waters?

Flipping a swamped canoe back upright in deep waters is generally safe, but it can be challenging and dangerous to do so without proper training and safety equipment. 

What risks are involved in capsizing and reentering a canoe during cold weather?

In cold weather, capsizing a canoe carries risks like hypothermia and gear loss. Wear suitable gear and a secure life jacket, and learn self-rescue techniques to stay safe on the water.

Can I use a paddle float to assist in reentering a swamped canoe alone?

Using a paddle float helps solo paddlers reenter swamped canoes. It’s an inflatable attachment on the paddle, stabilizing during reentry, ideal for rough waters by keeping a low center of gravity.

Are there specific reentry techniques for canoes with outriggers or stabilisers?

Yes, there are specific re-entry techniques for canoes with outriggers or DIY canoe stabilizers, such as the Canadian re-entry technique, capsize recovery with outriggers, and paddle float rescue. 

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