Canoe Sailing Safety & Skills

an Introduction

All adventure activities have an element of risk. The range of hazards encountered in all water activities is large. But we can make ourselves safer by recognising and managing them using knowledge, skills and experience. This section is about reducing risks to an acceptable level.

The Canoe

The characteristics of suitable design, shape and fitting out of a sailing canoe are quite specific. Not all canoes make good sailing canoes.

What to wear and take with you

Buoyancy aid, drysuits and spare gear.

Weather, Wind and Waves

Not all conditions are suitable for sailing a canoe. A working knowledge of environmental conditions is essential.

The sailor’s size, weight and ability

Not all sailing canoes are the same. The same can be said of canoe sailors. Understanding the implications of your size and weight helps you to choose the right boat and rig for safe and effective sailing and paddling. Your strength, mobility and technical ability will also come into play if you are considering activities in more challenging conditions, where the capsize risk is higher and paddling is harder.

Basic skills for sailing a canoe

People come into canoe sailing from many directions, some from a canoe paddling background, others from sailing dinghies or larger yachts and a few from none of these. If you need to develop some basic skills then here are some sources of information to help start filling in the gaps:

Skills - specifically for Canoe Sailing

The range of skills and boat handling techniques needed for sailing a canoe, particularly one with a larger rig, is quite significant. Appropriate skills to deal with the challenges encountered in different situations are shown in the “Competence Levels” that the OCSG has developed. Coming along to our meets is a good way to see and learn what is required.

Sailing your canoe upwind

Being able to efficiently sail upwind is an important skill to learn. We often sail on long narrow lakes and the wind usually blows along them so it is usual to spend half the time beating into the wind.

Sailing upwind - using tell-tales

Tell-tales are a useful indicator of how the wind is working with your sail. Being able to read the wind and adjust your controls to get the best out of your canoe will make you a faster, more efficient sailor.

Sailing upwind - using the wind shifts

Even when the wind blows along a lake, its direction will change from time to time. Recognising these wind shifts and tacking early to make better progress upwind is important so that you can stay together with the other sailors in your buddy group. Using the wind shifts can help you sail upwind much more efficiently than someone who ignores them.

Paddle Sailing

For the competent paddler, controlling a sailing canoe without a rudder.

Capsize Recovery - Self Rescue

Knowing how to recover from a capsize on your own is a big step in making sure that canoe sailing is safer for you. It is important that you understand the techniques and to practice them with help nearby.


Sailing in a Buddy Group

The OCSG doesn’t have a club house or any fixed base, so there is no rescue boat to help out if you don’t manage to rescue yourself following a capsize or other incident. We sail on various large lakes and can sail many miles from our launch spot. We have adopted a Buddy System to help provide back-up if one of our members needs help.

Capsize Recovery - Peer Rescue

The concept of buddying up with one or two other sailing canoes is very well established within the OCSG. There are a number of actions to choose from if one of your buddies capsizes. Trying these techniques in a training workshop or informally with a few others is much better than when you might need to act in a real situation.

We should all practice self rescue regularly so that we are confident about self rescue. But we also need to know how to help another canoe sailor who needs help.

Calling for Help & Safety Kit

An article inspired by a workshop provided by the RNLI, about calling for help and gear that we should consider carrying with us when we venture out on the water – whether for just a day sail, or right through to what to take on an extended camping expedition.