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How to Survive When Your Canoe Tips Over

More than 200 sportsmen drown or succumb to hypothermia in boating accidents each year, most when the boat capsizes or the sportsman falls overboard. Statistically, no other hunting or fishing activity has a higher fatality rate. Here's how to protect yourself.

THE CAPISTRANO FLIP

Because cold water conducts heat from the body much more rapidly than air, it's vitally important that you get out of the water. Canoes and narrow-beam boats can often be righted by a maneuver called the Capistrano flip. Turn your boat completely over [1], then duck into the pocket of air trapped beneath it [2]. Hold the gunwales at the center of the boat (if there are two of you, face each other a couple of feet apart), lift one edge slightly out of the water, then scissor-kick and push to break the boat free of the surface and flip it upright over that lifted edge [3].

THE GEAR

What you need to know about PFDs

You can't survive if you're unconscious, and sudden immersion in a cold lake or river may cause instant blackout. A Type I or Type II PFD that turns an unconscious victim faceup, permitting him to breathe, is best. Self-inflating Type III jackets or suspenders, which are the most comfortable for hunting and fishing, also work well as long as they include a flotation chamber at the back of the neck.

The Rules

Four ways to stay alive once you're in the drink

RULE 1: STAY WITH THE BOAT

Never attempt to swim to shore unless there is absolutely no chance of rescue and you are absolutely certain you can make it. In 50-degree water, even the strongest swimmer will be lucky to swim three-quarters of a mile before succumbing to hypothermia.

RULE 2: REENTER IF YOU CAN

Getting back into a swamped craft without tipping it over isn't easy. If weight is evenly distributed inside a boat with an outboard, crawl up over the motor. A solo paddler with a partly swamped canoe may be able to scoot in from the side, then rock the craft back and forth to empty water.

RULE 3: CLIMB ON TOP

If your boat is large and can't be righted, climb out of the water and onto the upturned hull. Arms raised and lowered is a universal distress signal, as is waving an oar.

RULE 4: STAY WARM

If you can't get out of the water, cross your arms and legs to protect areas where heat escapes the fastest. Treading water will reduce your survival time by a third.

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