Canoe Safety

Get Close to Nature by Canoeing Safely

  • People have been traveling by canoe for thousands of years. Just check out this Pesse dugout canoe that dates back to 8,000 BC.

    Today, instead of bark and wood, we're fortunate to have canoes made of fiberglass and aluminum. The "tippy" design hasn't really changed all that much, but with a little practice, canoes are an ideal way to stay in shape or just relax and take in some beautiful scenery.

    No matter your skill level, it's important to use good judgment and preventive measures to stay safe.  In 2013, 219 people died and 110 were injured while canoeing or kayaking, according to the American Canoe Association. Often, this is a result of paddling on a river or lake that is too challenging for one's skill level.

    Don't Rock the Boat, Baby

    While canoeing is one of the safest outdoor activities, according to, there always is a chance your canoe will tip over. Most drowning occurs when a boat capsizes or someone falls overboard, according to an article in Field and Stream magazine.

    If this happens, don't panic. Stay upstream of the boat to avoid being pinned between the boat and a rock. Angle your way up to shore instead of paddling straight, stay behind the canoe and hold on to it for floatation.

    Field and Stream offers more detailed advice on surviving capsize.

    Here are some additional tips for experts and beginners, alike:

    • Always wear a lifejacket
    • Have someone steady the canoe so you can get in without tipping
    • Canoe with at least three people, or two crafts
    • Join a local canoe club or take lessons to learn about canoe safety
    • Never attempt rivers or rapids beyond your ability; progress gradually from one skill level to the next
    • Never stand in a canoe away from shore; always sit on the seats
    • Do not canoe in inclement weather
    • In waterproof bags, bring some extra clothes, sunscreen, a first aid kit, snacks and water, and a map
    • Carry a canoeing whistle, just in case you need help; yelling can't be heard from very far away
    • Tie your equipment to the canoe in case it tips over
    • Bring a rope to pull a swimmer to safety or tow another boat

    It's also important to know the area you plan to canoe. Is the water high and fast or low and slow? The Lower Mississippi River, for example, is for experienced paddlers, but countless lakes, marshes, rivers and streams throughout the U.S. are perfect for beginners. Just be sure to do your homework. Calm waters can conceal rocky crevices, deep water or other lurking dangers.

    Other Resources

  • Learn how to Enjoy Safe Boating and Water Sports

    ​National Safe Boating Week is May 21-27. It takes a lot more than having a boat and a pair of skis to prepare you for fun on the water.

    Safe Boating Tips

Drowning Can Happen in an Instant

About 10 people drown every day in the U.S. from non-boating related incidents. There are lots of ways to stay safe this summer.

Learn More