Monday, October 3, 2016

Canoeing Advice for Old Folks -- (Elderly + 70 Years-Old)

I just came back from a little canoeing adventure in Oregon, and I've been thinking about a bad experience where I capsized my canoe.
I'm 74 years-old, so my lost of critical functions -- lack of strength and balance -- are a concern.  As we age we lose a lot of muscle and our balance gets poorer, it's a fact of life.  
I try to do balance and strength exercises to be fit leading up to a canoe trip, but they don't help much anymore.
I've also tried swamping my canoe in our backyard pool to practice a self rescue.  My 12' Old Town Pack Canoe fills with water, but doesn't sink until I try to get into it.  Then it sinks to the bottom of my feet.  
That's not a completely bad thing because coupled with my personal floatation device (PFD) I have a relatively safe platform to cling to.

That is unless it's severely windy, freezing cold, or nobody is within shouting distance.
In the last few years all of my canoe trips have been solo, so I've learned to take some precautions to return home safe.
Here are my suggestions for staying alive:

1. Always wear your PFD.

2. Always carry a whistle, compass and map of the area (in a waterproof case).

3. Always carry a -- easy to reach -- knife with a serrated edge.  All of my gear (fishing rod, tackle box, landing net and paddle) is on a leash, so it would be relatively easy to get entangled and possibly trapped under my canoe.
4. Always carry a spare change of clothes in a dry bag.  Rain pants, a paddle jacket and a wool or poly sweater will suffice.
5. Always carry a first aid kit, space blanket, headlamp, canteen of water, a Sierra cup (to boil water) and a means of starting a fire.
6. Don't go canoeing alone in windy conditions, and if it gets windy while you are on the water get to shore to wait it out.
7. Don't go canoeing alone in cold conditions.  If the water is below 50° you have just a few minutes to get out before hypothermia sets in.
8. Don't canoe beyond your safe swimming distance.  For me that's about 150' from shore with waterlogged clothes.

9. Be especially careful when entering and exiting your canoe.  Most canoe capsizes occur within 5' of shore.

10. AVOID DOCKS IF POSSIBLE.  I learned this just a few days ago.  Most older folks don't have the upper body strength to pull ourselves up onto a dock, and without immediate help you could be hypothermic before you can make your way around a long dock and back to shore.

I usually try to launch and exit my canoe at a beach, so if I do fall it's usually in a few inches of water, not several feet as found at a dock.

Canoeing is a passion that I've enjoyed 60 years.  
Nearly all of my canoe trips these days are solo, and I believe I'll be just fine as long as I adhere to my few simple rules.
One Last Thought
If you plan to canoe in alone in wilderness areas here's one more item you might consider carrying for protection from predators.

SEE: Backcountry Travel -- Packin' Iron

"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment." - Will Rogers

Happy paddling

Update August 2018:

I just came across a pretty neat video of an old gentleman getting in and out of a canoe at a dock.  SEE...

I tested his instructions... I put my pack canoe in our swimming pool, the water is about about 14" below the concrete deck, and experimented with this gentleman's method.  It was easy and worked perfectly smooth.  Thank you Hornbeck Canoes.

I'm going to Voyageurs Park next month and have been worried about having to get in a canoe from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center dock.  I feel much better now.  75 year-old canoeists should still avoid docks whenever possible.

Happy Paddling

Update Monday, May 3, 2021 

I’m now in my 79th year on planet earth and solo canoeing is one of my few passions left.

Last year was horrible in every way possible. I didn’t get enough exercise, I lost even more strength, and my balance is not at all good.

However, I did manage -- last week -- to go canoeing two days in a row, albeit only a couple of hours each day.

I admit that getting in and out of a canoe is a challenge, but in shallow water it is safe and doable.

My biggest struggle is standing up when exiting. That can be improved with exercise, so I’ve added squats to my daily regimen.

Here’s a helpful video for Solo Canoeing - Entering and Exiting

Happy Paddling

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