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Facing Waves [ TECHNIQUE ] HOW TO LAUNCH AND LAND IN ROUGH WATER


It is possible to launch or land your open canoe in waves and rough seas, however it’s best to avoid these conditions altogether by getting off the water before waves build to a dangerous point. Even in perfectly calm weather, canoeists should be constantly assessing the shore for landing points, protection and campsites. If caught out in the open when conditions change, it may make more sense to stay in even and small swells rather than risk navigating large breaking waves to reach land—it’s up to the paddler to weigh these risks. Sometimes, rough-water launches and landings will still be


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necessary. Landing in breaking waves can be an exhilarating challenge, but waves much larger than two feet tall give canoeists a very low chance of success. In most cases, this is considered an emergency situation on a canoe expedition—don’t paddle out in these conditions. If the waves are spilling onto a low-angled shore, it is much easier to land, as the height and steepness of the waves will not be outrageous, and the run-out onshore will be long. If the waves are dumping on a steeply angled shore or onto underwater features, however, swamped boats will probably result. The ideal beach for landing is low-angled and sandy. If the waves are


moving along the shore or at an angle, it will be fairly straightforward; waves moving perpendicularly in to shore will be more challenging but potentially more predictable. The key is for each boat to stay in control by not surfing, moving slower than the waves, keeping the boat perpendicular to the waves, and ideally paddling through breakers during a lull. One boat should move through the hazard at a time. Helmets are a


good idea in this situation. Avoid being in the path of a loaded canoe, whether or not it is under control or swamped. Try to choose campsites with multiple facets or undulating shoreline when possible, as no matter which way the wind shifts there will be areas of protection. In the event of a capsized canoe, one strong team of paddlers should


land, pull their boat well onshore then help the swimmers out of the water. The swamped canoe may be allowed to drift in, or a throw bag attached to it can be thrown to shore and the boat then pulled in. As boats come in, they should be quickly unloaded or suitcase carried out of danger.


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Zand Martin had more rough launches and landings than he cares to remember during his canoe trips across North America and Europe. This text is an excerpt from Martin’s book NOLS: Canoeing by the National Outdoor Leadership School used with permission from Stackpole Books.


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