How to Secure Gear in Your Canoe

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A steep hill leads up to a lookout tower in the fog

How do you secure gear in a canoe? Fast currents, big waves and winds can grab hold of storage bags and carry them off very quickly. Unsecured bags can be miles down river or downwind before you have a chance to begin looking for them.

This article provides tips on how to keep gear in your boat.

Flat-water Trips

On short trips across calm, protected waters, secure your gear by one of 2 approaches:

  • Running pack and dry bag straps around the canoe's thwarts.
  • Tying short load lines from each storage bag to the thwarts.

These techniques won't keep your gear bags in place in the event of a capsize. But they will keep your gear connected to the boat so it's easier to collect should your boat go over.

More Challenging Journeys

On journeys that involve rough water or rapids, you'll want to make extra sure that your gear remains securely in place inside your canoe. This is important because:

  • Bags that are tied in loosely can "bob out" and get caught up on rocks, stumps or trees.
  • Properly secured dry bags and dry boxes provide added buoyancy (as long as they're sealed correctly and the weight of the items inside does not exceed the weight of the water the bag displaces). This added flotation can mean the difference between a sunk, pinned canoe and one which is quickly righted and paddled to safety.

Basic Tie-down Techniques

The most common way to secure equipment loads in place is with a single tie-down line. This involves running the tie-down line from a secure anchor point (usually one of the thwarts) over, under and around your bags until they're lashed securely in place. This approach works best when bags are already wedged securely under your thwarts. A single-line tie-down may loosen up during travel if your bags start shifting around.

Customizing Your Canoe

Tying everything down with a single line can be cumbersome, so many experienced canoe campers customize their boats to make securing gear easier and faster. Common methods include:

  • Gluing D-ring patches to various points inside the canoe hull to be used as anchor points for a number of short load lines.
  • Drilling a series of small, evenly spaced holes just below (or through) each gunwale, then tying anchor loops (made out of nylon cord) through them. These anchor loops can then be used to string load lines from point to point quickly.

Shake Down Cruises

It's a good idea to go on a short "shake down cruise" before any long canoe camping trip. Loading up your gear and paddling a local stream or lake will help you ensure that everything fits and that your canoe handles well when fully loaded.

You may even want to capsize your boat during your test run, to find out how effective your tie-down techniques are and whether or not any of your dry bags or boxes leak. Remember—it pays to test your gear and your skills before you get too deep into the wilderness.