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This article is by Colin MacKinley of the SeaCadets

Powerboats and Canoe Rescues

In general, canoeists provide their own rescue cover and are understandably wary of power vessels manoeuvering close by. In some circumstances however they may welcome assistance. These notes are intended as a guide for experienced powerboat drivers should they find themselves involved in rescuing canoes. The most fundamental rule must be: Be absolutely sure your assistance is needed before getting involved. If you are uncertain as to whether or not to assist, ask the canoeists first. When rendering assistance be conscious of your wash, not all canoeists (or canoes) are able to Eskimo Roll. In any rescue your aim must be to improve the situation, not worsen it!

Rescuing canoeists

Canoeists, whether in or out of their boats are very vulnerable if approached by power boats. Treat their rescue as a man overboard situation:

 - Approach as appropriate for your type of boat and the prevailing conditions.

 - Turn the engine off as soon as you have made contact with the casualty.

 - Tell them that you have done this, they will feel a lot happier!

Capsizing in a canoe can be very frightening and often beginners will panic both in the canoe and when swimming alongside it. Treat this as you would for any other panicking swimmer and remember that your instructions to the casualty must be slow, clear and precise. This is usually the best way to reassure them and calm their panic.

If you suspect that a canoeist is trapped upside down in their canoe then stop your boat a short distance away and stop the engine. They may free themselves and then may swim out and surface in any position. Put one of your crew into the water to perform a swimmer to canoe rescue:

 - Swim to the middle of the capsized canoe

 - Reach over and grasp the cockpit or the arm of the casualty on the opposite side

 - Pull

At all times the welfare of the paddler is more important than the recovery of their boat. Tired paddlers who have been swimming are very likely to have hypothermia. Their condition may deteriorate quickly when rescued and their condition must be assessed before continuing to pick up their boat. Hypothermic casualties should be transported in the recovery position with their head towards the stern of your vessel.

Rescuing canoes

A swamped canoe may contain as much as a tonne of water. This has to be emptied out before recovery. Resist the temptation to lift one end which will then empty of water and heave it over the side of your boat. Even if you succeed in lifting the canoe without injury you will probably break it if you try to lever the opposite end clear of the water.

The easiest way to empty a swamped boat is using the Curl rescue:

 - Hold the canoe on its side parallel to your gunwhale with the cockpit towards you.

 - Lift it a few inches and allow some water to drain out. It is easiest to do this with one person holding the rim of the cockpit and the other holding one end to balance the canoe, keeping it parallel to the water.

 - Do not lift a canoe only by the two ends, you will find it difficult to balance on its side and again may damage it if you lift it when full of water (the convenient toggles on the end are for swimmers to hold on to, not for lifting the canoe, let alone when full of water).

 - Lift it a few inches again and let some more water run out.

 - Continue until you can lift the canoe clear of the water.

One way to make this job easier is to tie two lines to your boat, pass underneath the canoe and then pull on them. Again make sure that the lifting is nearer the middle of the canoe than the ends. This technique is known as parbuckling and is particularly useful in high sided displacement boats.

Once the canoe is nearly empty it can be lifted onboard and drained completely alternately lifting one end then the other. Some canoes even have drain plugs!

Towing canoes

Avoid towing occupied canoes behind a power boat if at all possible. A capsize at even relatively slow speeds could cause a serious injury. If there is no alternative then rafts or two or three can provide mutual support while being towed. Pass a line through the bow toggles of the canoes to keep them together.

Empty canoes may be towed on flat water but are liable to swamp and capsize if there are any waves. They will then act as a gigantic sea anchor before you rip the toggle out or snap their bows off. Make sure that the tow is sufficently long to prevent the canoes slamming into your stern when stopping.

If possible lift the empty canoe into your boat and carry it to the shore. If you have also picked up the paddler then the boat will probably help to shelter them from the wind too. In some boats it is possible to lie the canoes along the deck on either side. If you have to place them across the gunwhales then they should be lashed to prevent them moving and either falling out of the boat or injuring one of your crew or passengers. Make sure that they cannot foul your engine or steering controls.

Author: Colin MacKinley of the Sea Cadets
Contact: http://homepages.rya-online.net/scc-boats/

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