How Do You Empty a Swamped Canoe?

Swamping a canoe can be a daunting experience, but it’s important to stay calm and take the necessary steps to empty the water out as quickly as possible. In this tutorial, we will guide you through the process of emptying a swamped canoe safely and efficiently.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

Before attempting to empty a swamped canoe, it’s essential to assess the situation and ensure your safety. If you are in deep water or rough conditions, it may be safer to seek help or wait for assistance. However, if you are in a relatively calm area and confident in your abilities, proceed with caution.

Step 2: Stay Balanced

When a canoe is swamped, it can become unstable and difficult to manage. To prevent further capsizing, make sure to distribute your weight evenly in the boat. This will help maintain stability and prevent further water from entering.

Step 3: Remove Excess Weight

If possible, remove any excess weight from the canoe. This includes items such as coolers, bags, or gear that may have contributed to swamping. By lightening the load, you’ll make it easier to maneuver and empty the water out.

Step 4: Bail Out Water

To begin emptying the water from your swamped canoe, locate a bailer or any container that can hold water. Start by scooping out large amounts of water using your hands or the bailer. Be careful not to lean too much on one side, as this may cause the boat to tip over again.


If you have access to multiple bailers or containers, recruit any available assistance. The more hands you have, the faster the process will be.

Step 5: Use a Sponge or Towel

Once you’ve removed most of the water with a bailer, use a sponge or towel to soak up any remaining moisture. Wring out the sponge or towel into the bailer or overboard. This will help remove any residual water and speed up the drying process.

Step 6: Flip and Drain

If your canoe has flotation chambers, flip it over to drain any water trapped inside. Make sure to hold onto the gunwales (the upper edge of the canoe) to prevent it from floating away while flipping it. Allow all excess water to drain before flipping it back over.


If your canoe doesn’t have flotation chambers, you can tilt it on its side and let gravity assist in draining the water. However, exercise caution as this method may be less effective.

Step 7: Re-Enter Carefully

After successfully emptying your swamped canoe, carefully re-enter it by placing one hand on each side for balance. Gradually shift your weight back into the boat while maintaining stability.


If possible, re-enter from shallow water or with assistance from another person for added stability.

Step 8: Safety First

Remember that safety should always be your top priority when dealing with a swamped canoe. Assess your surroundings before attempting to re-enter or continue paddling. If you are unsure about your abilities or conditions are unfavorable, seek help and professional guidance.

By following these steps and staying calm, you can effectively empty a swamped canoe and safely continue your journey. Always prioritize safety, be cautious, and enjoy your time on the water!

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Lindsay Collins