Recovering a Runaway Boat

When it comes to dealing with a runaway boat, think physics. I’m not talking about the space-time continuum, but simple energy and force. A boat full of water is out of control: mass × force = life of its own. You can’t change the force of the river, but you can change the mass of the boat. An authoritative boat-over-boat to dump the water takes just 10 seconds—practice is key, which is why kayak instructors have this on lockdown. Flip the boat onto your deck, rock it back and forth just once and then flip and fire it off into the nearest eddy. This works on all but the juiciest of rivers.

Tethered towing has fallen out of favor un- less the river is pretty mellow (do you really want to be tied to that sea anchor?) but you still have to get the water out first.

The last option is the bow plow, but all you can reasonably expect is to direct the energy, rather than control it. Again, think physics: set the swamped boat on a ferry angle and make the river do the work. Your job is to bump and prod it to keep the angle. If you’re downstream, you can try ramming your bow into the open cockpit and then working it to shore. Beware, though, heavy boats have a life of their own.


This story originally appeared on page 23 of the Early Summer 2012 issue of Rapid magazine. Read the entire issue here.

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Jeff Jackson has been teaching kayaking since boats were long and eddy turns were nervous. And yes, he used to be cool. Rapid contributor since way back in 1999. Guiding on rivers has taken him from the Yukon to China, and his Alchemy column explores the values and lessons life on the water brings. When not teaching outdoor education at Algonquin College, he spends his time guiding, fly fishing, building mountain bike trails and conducting risk management research.


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