Are Canoes Easy to Tip? (And How to Avoid Tipping)

So, you’re planning on buying a canoe for years of fun with the family… but you probably have one burning question, just how easy is it to tip a canoe?

From what we see in movies and television, it seems like canoes are tipping all the time. This can make one worry about the safety of their family, gear, and even pets.

Are Canoes Easy to Tip?

As long as everyone in the canoe is doing the proper procedures, gear is tied down properly, and you have the proper canoe for the load, a canoe will not easily tip. However, anyone can tip a canoe by leaning too far from the side or putting too much weight on one side versus the other.

To clarify: while it is pretty easy to purposefully tip a canoe, a canoe will not tip on its own, particularly on flat water. If you are using your canoe properly and following canoe safety instructions, your canoe will not tip.

In fact, there are many canoe enthusiasts who claim to have never once accidentally tipped a canoe during many years of enjoying their hobby!

If you want to learn canoeing 101 and keep yourself and your family from tipping your canoe, keep on reading. We will break down the basics so you can begin to enjoy your new favorite hobby as soon as possible.

How Not to Tip

First and foremost, let’s discuss how not to tip a canoe in the first place.

Center of Gravity

You need to understand what makes a canoe tip, and that concept is called a high center of gravity. This means your weight is high and thereby makes tipping easier.

A good example of this is how it is easy to make a tall person with long legs tip by going for their knees. In this way, the number one thing you can do to make a canoe not tip is to lower your center of gravity. Many professional boaters do this by kneeling instead of sitting.

Don’t Touch Tree Branches

If you have tree limbs approaching, duck. This lowers your center of gravity. Grabbing at the branches or even pushing off of them with a paddle will do the opposite.

Lean Downstream

Leaning downstream counteracts the force of the water flowing under the canoe, so if you are caught up against an obstacle it will automatically free you without ruining the center of gravity.

Stay on the Centerline

People often tip canoes by entering or exiting the canoe. This is usually because they step on the side of the canoe and throw off the center of gravity. If you imagine the centerline as a tightrope, and never step off of it, you will not tip the canoe.

Are Canoes Easy to Tip? (And How to Avoid Tipping)

Practice Makes Perfect

Part of beginning any new hobby is taking a few practice runs to make sure you work out the kinks before you invest a lot of money into it, or in this case, before you put yourself in potential danger.

For this reason, we recommend taking a canoeing safety class, or, if unavailable, going to a safe body of water (such as a pool or small shallow lake) and practicing what to do if the worst happens in your canoe.

One benefit of doing this is not only will you and your family know what to do in case a canoe flips, but you all will also gain a better understanding of where your canoe’s limits are, and what tipping feels like. For this reason, it is best to practice in the canoe that you have purchased. All canoes will have their own individual tipping points.

The most important thing to practice if you plan on canoeing on your own with a singular canoe is deep water re-entry.

This is where you are in deep water (where your feet don’t touch the bottom) and you flip the canoe back over and get back into it. If you can perfect this skill, you will be able to overcome all kinds of potential situations with ease.

If your family plans on having two canoes, you can also practice many rescue tactics. You can even train yourselves to use one canoe to flip the second canoe back over.

We will go over both of these scenarios and how to accomplish them. Remember: just reading this information is not enough. You must get into a safe non-moving body of water and practice these drills with your family.

Single Canoe Deep Water Re-Entry Method

While this drill will likely be very difficult for you and your family, you will feel more at peace knowing you can do it. This is for extreme situations.

Ideally, you would need to swim the canoe to shore where you can then bail out the water and get everyone dry and situated again. If that can’t happen, here is what to do.

First, tuck your paddles (if you still have them) under the seats so that you have your hands free. Then, you and your partner need to attempt to lift the boat from the bow and stern.

You aren’t actually trying to flip it, here. You are instead breaking the seal the rim of the canoe has with the water, and to release some of the water that is trapped inside.

Once you have done this, you will both swim under the canoe and get a firm grip on both gunwhales in the center of the boat. You are then going to lift the canoe up and over to get it right-side-up.

This will take a lot of strength and maneuvering, but it is possible. Scissor-kicking or any other treading that gives you more upward force will help.

This method is also called the Capistrano method. Once you are back in the boat (you will need to counter-balance your partner as each of you takes turns climbing in) it will still be necessary to get to shore to bail out the access water. Even a couple of inches of water will ruin your center of gravity.

Two Canoe Rescue

Bring your canoe perpendicular to the capsized canoe, so that the two look like a T with the bow or stern of the capsized canoe hitting the center of your upright canoe.

With the assistance of the capsized passengers, lift the bow or stern of the capsized canoe up and over the center gunwhales of your canoe.

Once the capsized canoe is centered over your gunwhales, you will then carefully roll the canoe over so that it is right-side-up, balancing on your gunwhales.

You will then carefully slide the canoe back into the water, making sure to keep a hand on it so that it does not float away from the capsized passengers.

You can then turn the canoe so that it is parallel to your canoe, and hold onto the center gunwhales as the passengers climb back onboard.

Remember to lower your center of gravity by kneeling in the canoe or sitting on the bottom instead of the seats.

Canoeing Safety Tips

Now that we know how not to tip a canoe and how to upright a canoe, let’s talk about necessary gear and safety preparations for if the worse occurs and you lose the entire canoe because you cannot upright it or get it back to shore.

If You Capsize in Flatwater

If you capsize in calm waters, stay with your canoe. Point your feet downstream in order to protect your head, and stay with your canoe until rescue comes or you can paddle to shore.

If you Capsize in Whitewater

Get away from your canoe if you capsize in rough waters. Moving canoes that are filled with water will pin you up against rocks or other obstacles, potentially crushing you.

Be sure to float downstream feet first to get through the whitewater, and do not attempt to stand up.

If You are Rescued by Another Canoe

Hold onto the bow and stern of the rescue canoe until it can paddle you to shore, with your feet pointing downstream. Do not panic and hold on to the center of the canoe, as you will capsize that canoe, as well.

People First, Gear Second

In any situation, make sure people are safe and either back in their canoe or back on dry land before you go finding paddles and gear. Hypothermia is one of the leading causes of death to boaters, so it is more important to get people out of the water than it is to find replaceable gear.

Helpful Gear

To complete this article, let’s discuss some helpful gear that is essential for resolving the issues caused by capsizing a canoe.


This one is a no-brainer. Regardless if they can swim or not, everyone should be wearing a properly fitted life vest at all times.

Coldwater can easily cause blackouts, as can hitting heads on rocks and other obstacles. Lifevests will keep them on the surface so you can save them.

Bilge Pump

A Hand-operated bilge pump will help you remove water from your boat after you upright it.

Paddle Float

This inflatable bladder slips over your paddle and gives you extra flotation. This will help you upright your boat as well as reenter.

Signaling Device

A signaling device will help you get assistance in case the worse happens and you lose your canoe or your canoe is irreparably damaged on an obstacle.

Are Canoes Easy to Tip? (And How to Avoid Tipping)