Will a Canoe Sink ?

Sinking is probably the first thing that comes to mind when considering the risks of canoeing. However, many factors work together to determine the risk of a canoe capsizing or sinking.

A canoe will sink if it lacks floatation aids, used in harsh weather conditions, or if it carries above its weight limit. Besides, the material used to construct the canoe and user errors (such as sitting at the wrong place or swamping the canoe) can also make it sink.

In this article, we shall look more into what can make a canoe sink and when a canoe cannot sink. You will also learn the necessary precautions that you can take to evade the risk of sinking. Continue reading.

What Can Sink a Canoe?

A canoe can sink if it carries about its weight limit and lacks floatation aids to boost buoyancy. Also, harsh weather conditions and poor constructions are also culprits that can cause a canoe to sink.

Lack of Floating Aids

Although a canoe is naturally buoyant, it is necessary to boost the buoyancy using floating aids. They are like balloons found at the bow and stern, and they keep the canoe afloat even if it is swamped. Most of the canoes have floating aids. However, in case you buy a canoe without the floating aids, you can purchase and install them yourself.

Here is a YouTube video to guide you on how to add buoyancy aids to your canoe:

In addition to keeping the boat from sinking, floatation aids also help the canoer in case of an accident since they can hold on to them until help arrives. Additionally, it is easier to retrieve a canoe with floating aids than one without.

Poor Construction of a Canoe

A minor mistake in canoe construction can have serious repercussions. For instance, a canoe that missed a spot when using waterproofing PVC or gum during construction will get swamped shortly after getting into the water.

This increases the risk of sinking especially if the canoe lacks floating aids. It is advisable to buy a canoe from a reputable dealer to avoid such cases.

Harsh Weather Conditions

Although it is possible to canoe in harsh weather, a canoe fits best in calm weather. When the weather is turbulent or when in whitewater rivers with rapids, the canoe may take in water and sink.

Fortunately, most canoes are buoyant enough and will not completely sink even in such conditions.

The Material of The Canoe

Traditionally, canoes were made of wood, which is still a common material used by craftsmen. Wood is naturally buoyant; thus, a canoe made of wood remains close to the surface, even without floating aids. However, it is likely to sink to the bottom if the wood gets water-soaked, and there are no floatation chambers.

Aluminum is the material commonly used to construct commercial canoes. Although it is a dense material that sinks, canoes made of aluminum do not sink since the floatation aids enable the canoe to stay afloat below the waterline. The same applies to other materials used to make canoes, such as molded plastic, graphite, Kevlar, and fiberglass.

Canoe User Mistakes

Minor mistakes made when canoeing can lead to accidents. For instance, if you carry above the canoe’s weight limit, you affect the canoe’s stability and raise the chances of capsizing. Another common mistake is a wrong sitting arrangement based on body weight. Ideally, if two people are in a canoe, the heavier person should sit at the back and the lighter at the front.

However, if the canoe has more than two people, the heaviest person sits in the middle and the heavier one of the remaining canoeists sits at the back. Also, the lightest person sits at the front. This sitting arrangement helps balance the canoe and minimize the risk of sinking.

Here is a YouTube video that explains how to correctly position yourself in a canoe:

What Cannot Sink a Canoe?

Heavy rains and a heavy canoeist cannot sink a canoe. As long as the canoe has floatation aids and the weight it carries is well balanced, it cannot sink.

Given that a canoe is smaller than most watercraft, there are myths about what can sink a canoe. Here are some of of the factors that cannot sink a canoe:


It is possible to canoe in heavy rain without capsizing or sinking. It is hard for the rainwater to fill up the canoe to the extent of having it sink, especially if you are headed to the shores. Nevertheless, canoeing in the rain needs a canoeing expert.

Carrying a Heavy Person

Gone are the days when heavy people couldn’t canoe for fear of capsizing or sinking the canoe. Most canoes have high weight limits, which are way above the weight of a heavy person. As long as they are seated at the right place, that is, at the stern, you can safely canoe without fear of sinking.

How Do You Avoid Sinking a Canoe?

You can prevent a canoe from sinking by adding floating aids and ensuring you are always within the weight limit. Also, practice good canoeing skills and check the weather predictions before leaving to avoid canoeing in poor weather. 

Add Floatation Aids

If your canoe lacks floatation aids, ensure that you add them before your next canoeing trip. Sure, you may want to avoid them since they may take up the space where you could store your luggage. However, you would rather use the space than risk going into the waters without implementing safety measures.

Examples of floatation aids that you can add are airbags or floats. You can also add sponsons, which are a projection of the hull to help with stability. Remember irrespective of the type of floatation aids you use, always confirm that they are not damaged before you leave.

Carry The Right Weight

Carrying above the limits of the canoe makes paddling complicated and increases the risk of sinking. Therefore, learn the weight limit of your canoe and stick to it. Moreover, remember to account for the weight of the people, gear, and luggage when checking whether you are above the weight limit.

Check Weather Predictions Before Leaving

Bad weather conditions can turn a good canoeing trip into a nightmare. Therefore, check the weather prediction before you embark. If a storm or heavy rains are expected, consider postponing your plans.

Otherwise, if the weather is unfavorable, you are at a higher risk of sinking even if you carry the right weight and have floatation aids.

Practice Good Canoeing

Learn the canoeing basics, such as paddling and distributing weight in the canoe. Suppose you are not a good canoer, practice canoeing in a calm water body. Avoid taking the canoe far from the shore before you perfect. It is easier to save yourself and your canoe in an emergency if you are experienced.

Choose The Right Canoe

It is paramount to choose the right canoe to ensure that it will paddle well and meet your needs. When picking your canoe, consider your weight, height, and skill level. Also, learn how to use the canoe. For instance, if the canoe is just for recreational purposes, avoid going into deep seas to prevent the risk of sinking.

Use an Outrigger

An outrigger is a device installed by the side of the canoe to increase buoyancy. The outrigger can be a single or double outrigger. These devices also stabilize your canoe, enabling you to paddle better and carry more weight.

It is also easier to withstand waves and heavy winds, especially if you have a double outrigger. If using the outriggers, watch not to hit rocks or other obstacles.

What Do You Do If Your Canoe Sinks?

If your canoe sinks, strive to flip it back to an upright position. Swim to a safer place if possible, and if not, stay and signal for help. If the canoe floats, climb on it to get the bigger part of your body out of the water.

As much as you prepare your best to avoid sinking, unexpected accidents may still happen. When they do, strive your best to save lives and minimize injuries and damage. In case your canoe sinks, you should:

  • Flip the canoe back to its upright position.
  • Start swimming if you can but if it is dangerous, stay and wait for help.
  • Signal for help. Keep an emergency radio and flashlight in the canoe to help you in such cases.
  • Climb onto the canoe to help keep the bigger part of your body out of water.


Most canoes are naturally buoyant, allowing them to stay above the waterline. However, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is always good. Therefore, ensure that you have flotation aids to guarantee that your canoe doesn’t sink even if it swamps.

Moreover, practice all canoeing does and don’ts to the letter to avoid the cases that increase the possibility of a sunken canoe. It also helps to learn what to do in case your canoe sinks.

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