How To Empty A Swamped Canoe Using The Parallel Rescue (Video)

A fast and simple way to save a flipped canoe

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While there is no one perfect way to deal with a swamped canoe, there are a few techniques that work better than others depending on the situation.

For tandem canoeists, this parallel rescue is a great one to practice and learn because it can be adapted for a variety of situations. It is the fastest, simplest way of getting an overturned canoe upright and drained.

If you are in swift-flowing water, it is very useful to be able to right a capsized boat with both boats parallel with the bank to avoid broaching. You can also get the swimmer out of the water and into your boat first, where they can have a breather and even help you with the curl.

Parallel Canoe Rescue
Two canoeists work together to empty a flipped, red canoe in a marshy bay. | Photo: Leo Hoare

How to do a parallel canoe rescue

Words by Leo Hoare

The rescue appears precarious with the rescuer standing and seeming to lift a boat full of water. You need to do it carefully to protect your back. If you perform it hastily or unskilfully you are likely to do yourself some damage. Use this rescue only if the situation makes it clearly the best choice. Once you learn the proper technique, however, you’ll realize that the boat you are holding acts as a balancing aid, making the rescue very stable. Even the slightest of paddlers can master the parallel rescue if they understand the key: you are not lifting, but tipping the water out.

Make contact with the swimmer(s) and either get them into your boat or holding onto the side. In moving water or strong wind, make sure they are on the upstream or upwind side of your boat.

  1. Approach the capsized canoe so it is parallel to your boat, making sure to keep your body square on so you’re not twisting for the next steps. Kneel on one knee (rifleman stance) in the center of your canoe, reach down and grab the near gunwale of the capsized boat with your fingers on the inside and your thumbs on the outside.
  2. Keep your back STRAIGHT throughout, use your leg muscles to stand up.
  3. As you stand, slowly and smoothly raise the gunwale until it rests on your own gunwale, sliding it upwards and allowing the canoe to drain.
  4. Don’t worry about the last little bit of water—this can be bailed later. Extending your arms from the curl position, flick the boat away from you.
  5. Immediately drop down into kneeling stance again and grab the now-upright canoe.
  6. Assist the paddler(s) back into their boat.

Tip: Looking straight ahead, rather than down, will encourage you to keep your back straight.

And that really is it—this is the fast, dirty rescue that works. If it takes you more than 10 seconds once you’ve mastered the technique, then you’re doing it incorrectly. Practice in different conditions so you have the parallel rescue in your toolkit when you need it.

Leo Hoare is a top-level coach who develops and delivers British Canoe Union programs in both Europe and North America and runs Getafix Coaching.

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  1. Standing up in a canoe for any reason is the stupidest thing that could be done. Top that off with reaching over the side and resting the gunwale of upright canoe on the gunwales of the rescue canoe and you’ll more than likely be uprighting two canoes. Stick to over the rescue canoe at a right angle.


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