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I remember both good and bad times on canoe trips.
The good far outnumber the bad. This is due to advanced planning and preparation with a bit of luck thrown in.
Remember that once you are on the water, there may not be an easy bail-out along the route.
Plan for worst case scenarios and hope that they don't happen.
This is a long page. Use this index to navigate. Click on an item to go to it. Click on    to come back here.

There are two areas to look at here: basic equipment and optional equipment.
Always carry the basic and the longer or more remote the trip, the more attention you should pay to the optional equipment. (see Safety Equipment Check-list below)

Safety equipment is only good if you know how to use it, and you wear/carry it, making it easily accessible.

PFDs are number one!
Don't sit on it - WEAR IT whenever you are on the water. Recent design changes in PFDs give more freedom of movement making paddling easier. Most have pockets for essential small gear such as sunglasses, sun screen, safety whistle, snacks, maps, etc. Even if you are an excellent swimmer, you should wear a PFD in case of injury or becoming unconscious during a dump. When you choose a PFD, make sure that it is yellow, orange or red, and is DOT (in Ontario) approved. Your visibility is essential when someone is looking for you. PFDs lose bouyancy over time and should be checked regularly to make sure that it will keep you floating.

The law, in most jurisdictions, makes it mandatory for every canoe to have a whistle, a spare paddle, a floating throw rope, and bailer.
Equipment Check-list 
Do not go on a trip that is beyond your ability and level of experience. It is best to gradually expand your experience. Start out with an overnight trip, then do a few nights in an area with camping services. Once you get used to the day-to-day rhythm of canoe tripping, try a few nights in an area farther away from services and conveniences.
Similarly, gradually increase the level of paddling challenges. Begin with short distances on small lakes and rivers including short portages and work up to more longer distances and larger waters. You will only be able to do what your weakest paddler can handle.

Do not travel alone in remote areas. An injury, sudden sickness, canoe upset or loss of gear could turn into a life threatening situation.

Know the potential obstacles along your route - dams, rapids, long portages, etc. and plan for them. Pull off the water and scout rapids before you attempt to run them. If possible, scout both above and below rapids. Fast and/or rough water can appear quickly and overwhelm inexperienced paddlers.
Only very experienced white water paddlers with proper gear, including helmets, should ever tackle rapids above class 3 (see chart).
Swift waters and whirlpools can occur near dams. Water flow can change suddenly many kilometers both upstream and downstream of a power dam when the gates are opened by those dam (damn) operators. When in doubt, use the portage.
Arrange to go ashore for a break periodically to check your group members' condition.
Classification of Rapids
(under normal flow conditions)
Class Conditions
Small and regular waves; easily navigated passages. Usually navigable by novice paddlers.
Regular, medium sized waves; low ledges; sweepers; log jams may be present; passages clear though narrow and requiring competent maneuvering. Inspection usually required. At least one team member should be an intermediate paddler.
Waves numerous, high and irregular; exposed rocks; strong eddies. Inspection strongly recommended. Upper limit for open canoe. Usually navigable by intermediate to expert paddlers.
Waves high, powerful and irregular; dangerous exposed rocks; boiling eddies; passages difficult to reconnoitre. Inspection mandatory. Powerful and precise maneuvering required. Rapids of this class, and over, should only be attempted by expert paddlers in covered canoes.
River channel extremely obstructed; ledges; violent and fast current; abrupt corners. Reconnoitering mandatory but difficult.
Difficulties of Class 5 carried to extremes of navigability. Definite risk of life involved.

Drinking enough water is critical to your comfort on a trip. Plan on at least 1 to 2 litres per day. If it is hot, drink more. If you pee relatively clear, you have had enough. If you pee darker yellow, you haven't consumed enough. Dehydration is a major concern, since paddling is a strenuous activity.

For day trips, you can probably take enough water with you for the duration of the trip.

For Multi-Day trips, a filter/purifier will be necessary.
(see GEAR page)

The main concern in Ontario is Giardia (Giardiasis, Giardia Lamblia) or “Beaver Fever”.
More info: Health Canada > >   C Health > >
This parasite can cause severe diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms that could mess up any trip. The symptoms can last for weeks.

There are basically three methods for making safe drinking water:
1. Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes, then store the water in containers.
2. Using a filter/purifier with at least 1 micron efficiency. These must be maintained and stored properly to retain the filter's efficiency.
3. Chemically treat the water with chlorine or iodine. The downside to this method is a possible after-taste that many people don't like. The chemicals must be added to the water in the right ratio and must be left for a few hours to be effective.
Pack sufficient food for the duration of the entire expedition and add a couple of days food in case of being windbound, extra hungry, etc. Don't expect to "live off the land". Hunting, fishing and gathering will not sustain you over a multi-day trip. As well, you need to get licenses for fishing and hunting.

You will be burning more calories than normal, so include high energy foods (nuts, "GORP", trail mix, candy, cereal bars, energy bars, etc.)

Any food that needs refrigeration will rarely last more than a day, especially in hot weather. Food poisoning cannot be prevented by cooking spoiled food.

Check Park regulations about using canned foods. Some allow it, some do not. In most cases, parks allow reusable plastic/nalgene and metal containers, but do not allow one-time use containers.
Dried or freeze-dried foods are the easiest to use. They don't contain water, so they are much lighter to carry. Some vacuum packed foods are good, but will weigh more. Don't forget salt, pepper & other seasonings. Pack all foods into dry sacs. Organize food either by day or by meal type.

In some areas, especially in July & August, Fire Bans may be in effect and in some parks, collecting and burning firewood is prohibited because of the impact on the environment. You can still use a stove (see GEAR page).
A stove is easier to light than a fire is to make (especially in wet weather).
Be sure to take enough fuel for the trip.
Most people are worried about bears in camp. Raccoons can do just as much damage to your food supplies. Most of the damage occurs at night when raccoons and bears are active.
Two things have to be done to prevent (or at least minimize) animal access to your food.
1. Get rid of attracting smells.
2. Put the food, etc. out of reach.

Never take any kind of food into your tent!!

Getting rid of smells involves keeping your campsite and the area around it clean. Burn garbage or seal it in a bag and hang it with your food. Burying garbage only creates a slight challenge for the wildlife, so don't do it.
When you clean up after a meal, do it away from camp, keeping in mind that soap should not be used in a river, lake, pond, etc. and that any leftovers or scrapings need to be disposed of away (50m if possible) from camp so that you don't transfer the smell to other gear.
Clean fish on a rock away from camp and wash up before you return to camp.

For information on putting the food out of reach, see the wildlife page in the section on Bears.
In addition to food, you should store any "aromatics" such as personal care items (deodorant, toothpaste, sunscreen, food-soiled clothing, and any garbage).

Prior to getting on the water, establish who is the group leader. This person should be experienced and there should be agreement by the group members to follow the leader's decisions. If you have a large group of canoes, it may be necessary to designate someone to be the "sweep". This is the last boat in the flotilla, who makes sure that no one goes astray.

Any medical problems that a group member has should be shared with the group leader.
The location of medications and First Aid kits should be known by all group members.

Everyone in the group should be aware of the meaning of the whistle calls (everyone should have whistle):
One blast = "Pay Attention".
Two blasts = "Everybody group-up".
Three blasts = "Emergency" or "Help".

Spend time on the first couple of days of a trip to get the inexperienced paddlers practiced in the strokes and emegency procedures.

The group leader should be aware of the canoe containing the weakest paddlers. Their progress will determine the rest stops needed and how far the group can go in a given day. This would also determine camp site locations.
Any group member wanting to vary the water or portage route must consult with the leader first.
So you are in the bush, away from everyone. Hygiene is still important in two areas.

1. Health
Wash your hands frequently - after "using the facilities", before and after preparing food and eating, and after cleaning fish. Use purified/filtered water when doing so. Use soap, away from water sources & camp, if possible.
Wash dishes, pots, etc. with soap after use.
After washing them, rinse in a chlorine bath (a bit of bleach in the dishpan), and rinse in clear, potable water.
Don't reuse unwashed utensils, pots, etc.

Go to the "toilet" at least 20m away from the camp site and water sources and cover the hole afterwards.
Include diarrhea and stomach medications in the first aid kit.

Do not consume food that is possibly spoiled. Don't try to cook it into acceptability.
"When in doubt, throw it out".

2. Social Acceptance
Not bathing, etc. can have negative affects on your relationships with fellow paddlers. This is important when you are close together in tents, canoes, etc. If you don't want to swim-bathe, there are showers that can be rigged up. (see GEAR page)
Remember that if you are going to use soap, do it as far away from water sources as possible (50m).
This is a must for multi-day trips. Leave a copy with family, outfitter, local police, etc. It should include the following:
- Put-in and Take-out locations,
- Route map showing approx. campsite locations,
- Group members' names,
- How long the person you left the float plan with should wait before initiating a search.

Built into the float plan should be allowance for reasonable extra time for weather, unforseen portages, etc. Make sure that you have factored portaging time into the daily "on the water" time.
I usually add 1 day per 6 days on the water.
Float Plan Template 

Both the Equipment Check-list and Float Plan Template should to be used as guides only and do not replace knowledge of outdoor survival, canoe tripping or emergency procedures.
This website, and owners of this website cannot be held legally accountable for the use and/or misuse of these guides.

In recent years, several GPS "Trackers" have come on the market. These allow you to message someone your location and a brief message indication your situation. Examples are InReach, SPOT and, more costly, a satellite phone.

There are two schools of thought out there on how to pack a canoe.
1. Tether the packs, etc. so that in a dump, the packs stay "leashed" to the canoe, but float free.
2. Tie everything in tight so that the packs stay inside the canoe.
My preference is the latter. (#2) If you dump, the packs give extra bouyancy to the canoe. As well, if you end up in the water, you don't want to have to be concerned about getting snagged by tethers or that the tethers will snag on rocks, sweepers, etc., messing up the recovery.

If the campsite/firepit looks well used, it is probably a good one.
Check for bear scat & garbage.
When you arrange your tent(s) & tarp, and kitchen area, keep in mind the wind and drainage.
Make sure that you have figured out where to hang your food & garbage before it gets dark.
Establish, with group members, where you are going to dump wash water. As well, where they are going to bathe so that they have some privacy.

If you intend on using the firepit, check the wind direction so that the tent area is upwind of the firepit.
Put the fire out before going to bed.
Always pull canoe(s) onshore, turn over and tie to a tree or a substantial rock.
Look for a "Thunderbox". If there isn't one, organize with group members where the "latrine area" is going to be.This should be well away from the water.
BACKCOUNTRY CANOE REPAIR - How to keep a torn hull floating home.   

This article, written by Brian Shields, appeared in Canoeroots & Family Camping, Early Summer 2009 and was re-published online Thursday, 16 May 2013.
Nothing causes panic on a remote river trip like serious damage to your canoe. However, with a black bag of just five items and the skill of a drunken surgeon you can repair even large, gaping gashes in whitewater hulls.
Note This repair will probably not work on other hull materials.
Even though Royalex boats have a toughness approaching elephant hide, they can rip if a loaded or water-filled boat meets just the right knife-edged rock.
To patch a small tear you need heavy-duty duct tape, which means at least 13-mils- thick with a tensile strength of 45 pounds (look for Polyken by Covalence Adhesives) or Gorilla Tape. Normal duct tape is weak, barely adhesive and readily delaminates.
Clean the torn area inside the hull and flip the canoe over so you can slide your camp stove under the canoe below the tear. Apply the duct tape to the inside once the damaged area is clean, dry and very warm. Applying the tape to the outside of the hull or to the inside if the hull isn’t warm is just a waste of great tape.
If your ABS canoe wraps on a rock in fast current your hull will likely only become hideously creased, but it is possible that the hull will rip in an even more dramatic way.
Assuming you can drag the carcass off the rock, the repair requires a spool of 19-gauge stainless steel wire (from most hardware stores) and a four-inch nail.
Kick out the hull to its normal shape the best you can.
Heat the nail and melt holes on either side of the tear, then stitch the boat together with the wire.

Cover the fine stitching with proper duct tape on the inside after first warming the hull. With this unbraided stainless wire you can fix any number of things: seats, broken hanger bolts, thwarts, paddle shafts. Don’t leave it at home.

For chemists, there is a way to actually plug the hole left by a tear or puncture. Black ABS plumbing pipe will initially dissolve in acetone before setting to become hardened plastic once again. Before the trip, reduce a section of pipe to shavings with a rasp and pack a small amount of acetone in a can or padded glass jar. If you need to plug a hole on the trip, mix acetone and ABS shavings until they reach the consistency of gravy. Fill deep gashes with a few consecutive layers, allowing the acetone to evaporate and the ABS to harden between coats.
This gunk is about the only material you can use on the outside of ABS boats. Make your job easier by first backing it up with a warm application of duct tape on the inside.

With this tear kit you can float your way out of situations that would otherwise end your trip.