5 tips to help you prevent and respond to a canoeing emergency

November 3, 2015

Canoeing allows you to enjoy the open water, have fun with friends and family, and witness Canada's pristine wilderness. At the same time, it's important to stay safe and how to properly react in an emergency. Here is a guide to the emergency manoeuvres you need to know.

5 tips to help you prevent and respond to a canoeing emergency

Have the right equipment

  • Canoeing with a personal flotation device (PFD) and a helmet is essential. Most people who drown while canoeing do so because they weren't wearing a PFD.
  • It's also a good idea to have a "ditch kit," which contains survival gear in case you completely lose your boat.
  • It should be in a waterproof bag attached to you and contain a fire starter, a signalling radio, compass, first-aid kit, water purifiers, and a small tarp for building a shelter.

Cold water safety

  • Canadian waters can often be extremely cold, even during warmer months, which is something important to keep in mind while canoeing.
  • Even water between 10 to 15 degrees Celsius can result in "cold water shock" and eventually hypothermia.
  • As a result, it's important to wear a wet suit when you're canoeing on waters that are colder than 15 degrees Celsius, and if possible, you should even consider a dry suit.
  • It's also important to know how to respond to hypothermia quickly and prepare for such emergencies.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of hypothermia, which include shivering, turning blue, loss of dexterity, or unconsciousness, then it's important react properly. Strip off wet clothes, apply heat to the core parts of the body such as the torso, head and neck, and seek immediate medical attention.

Have a throw bag handy

  • You should also have a throw bag handy and know how to use one. These are bags tightly packed with ropes that you can quickly use to rescue someone from drowning or going downstream.
  • You should practice utilizing this piece of equipment in a calm area to learn how to accurately deploy this piece of equipment.

Learn important life-saving techniques

  • There are plenty of ways you can go overboard in a canoe. If you find yourself in rough waters, go into the "defensive position."
  • This means lying on your back with your legs pointed downstream. If you can grab onto your boat, use one hand to swim and one hand to drag your boat.
  • Make your way to shallow water but try to keep flat on the surface of the water as you swim.
  • You should also try and learn Towing and Bulldozer techniques for helping a swimmer with your own canoe, as well as first-aid methods for helping a drowning victim.

Canoe with a partner

  • Try to canoe with someone more experienced than you, especially if you're going on a longer canoeing trip.
  • If you have no experience yourself, you should think about taking a water safety course to give you the basics on paddling, recovering from an accident, and how to conduct yourself on the water.
  • You should also provide someone else you know with a "Float Plan" regarding where you're canoeing and how long you expect to be gone. This person can contact authorities in case of emergencies.

All of these tips are designed to help you prevent and respond to emergencies while canoeing. By taking them into consideration, you should be able to have a safer canoeing experience while you have fun on the water.

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