Capsize Recovery - Peer Rescue

The concept of buddying up with one or two others sailing canoes has been around for as long as the sport has existed. Recent moves within the club to formalise this process have raised the issue of what is the most appropriate action to take if one of your buddies capsizes.

First Ask for Help

If you are buddied up in a group of three, ensure that the third member of the party has seen the capsize. Shouting and blowing your whistle may form part of this.

Form a plan. Consider the peculiarities of both your boat and the casualty's boat. Other factors to be taken into account are the proximity of the shore, and the anticipated wind strength and direction. One possible plan, for a casualty who is unable to self-rescue, is described below.


capsizeThe next stage is to make contact. One method of doing this is to get up wind of the casualty, drop your rig, and paddle to the casualty. When you arrive let the casualty know what you are planning to do.

Right the boat

Righting the boat will be much simpler if you have the wind blowing over the hull on to the sails. This stops the wind power flipping the boat, and making it re-capsize on top of you. The capsized boat's leeboard may prove to be a useful lever for righting the capsized boat. If something is not working ask yourself what you need to change. Asking the casualty to remove the capsized boat's rig may provide a solution.

Get the casualty back in the boat

The rescuer steadies the boat from the upwind side (clear of the flapping sails), while the casualty climbs in from the downwind side. The chief barrier to climbing back in is freeboard. Freeboard can be reduced by the rescuer tipping the casualty's boat, or if necessary, by part filling the casualty's boat with water.

Empty the boat

The casualty steps from their own boat into the rescuer's boat, then the casualty and rescuer roll the casualty's boat on to its side, to empty out much of the water. The remaining water can be bailed out.

After care

If the casualty is not wearing a wet or dry suit, encourage them to go ashore to get warmed up (you did remember to bring a change of clothes didn't you?). Hypothermia is insidious and well worth avoiding.


capsizeThe rescue described above requires a lot of strength and skill on the part of the rescuer. A second boat, rafted up on the upwind side of the rescuer's boat, will do much to increase both stability, and the chances of a successful outcome. The sailor in the upwind boat does not get involved in the rescue, and simply concentrates on keeping the rescuer's boat upright.


capsizeWhile outriggers increase the chances of completing a successful self-rescue, they do pose some problems when assisting others. Outriggers for sailing canoes should be of a size and volume that assists rather than hinders the sailor in performing a peer rescue. The extra stability provided by the Solway Dory design of mini outriggers allow the casualty to climb directly into the rescuer's boat and (providing they are positioned correctly on the rescuers boat) they still allow a sailor using them to come alongside a capsized boat.

Strategies of last resort

Two key principles are: rescue the person not the boat, and do not put yourself in danger. To this end it may be necessary to abandon the casualty's boat. If you do this then two rescuers should raft up on each other, and pull the casualty, one limb at a time, into one of the boats. If a second boat is unavailable, and the shore is not too distant, then it may be possible to sail to shore with the casualty clinging to the bow of the rescuer's boat. Having the casualty on the bow allows the rescuer to monitor the casualty. I would advise against attempting to pull a casualty into a monohull without first rafting up on another boat for stability. To do so is a high-risk strategy that is likely to result in a serious "all in" situation.

"All in" rescues

If you do find yourself bobbing in the water next to your buddies, then you will have to self-rescue. On the positive side you will have the advantage of having someone to steady your boat while you climb back in.

If the situation feels out of control do not be afraid to set off flares. Studies of canoeing accidents have shown that paddlers often delay setting off flares, until they are too cold and exhausted to do so successfully. Your would-be rescuers are unlikely to be too concerned if they respond to a distress call, and find that you have already managed to get the situation under control yourself.


Steve Robinson





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