Bailing . . .
The Importance of a ‘Dry’ Canoe
There’s a very good reason why OC6 / V6 are not fitted with self-bailing apparatus; be they scuppers or electronic gizmo - put simply, it’s recognised as a necessary ancient skill set that forms part of the sum of the whole, in being able to overcome the elements, which can contribute to a crew’s success or failure.
Water intake into the canoe void, is a micro-management accumulative issue, which if ignored will doubtless cost you speed on account of fatigue. First of all you need to recognise it as an inevitable problem that will not take care of itself.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out, carrying significant weight over and above the canoe, its crew and accessories, equates to increased drag. The hull sinks deeper, increasing the wetted surface area, leading to increased friction / drag and the added weight alone is a hinderance.
In short, the minimal consequence of failing to bail frequently, leads to accelerated rates of fatigue and slower hull speeds.
Water is Heavy Stuff
1 litre (L) of water weighs 1 kilogram (kg) / 2.20 pounds of water (lb wt.) Consider then, 1” (20mm) depth of water along the length of an OC6 canoe equates to approximately 100L of water which equates to 100kg (220lbs) - which, if you assume you can bail-out at speed, approx 1L per scoop, you will require x 100 scoops to empty the canoe based on 1kg per litre of water.
Keeping the Canoe ‘Dry’
Starting dry and keeping it that way is optional, but should be considered a matter of ‘best practice’. Regardless if lining up for a 500m sprint or 50km change race, start with the canoe free of water.
Bailing regularly must become part of your team’s regime when training, so as to be second nature. Bailing is as much a part of canoe paddling as is getting wet. Crews with skilled ‘bailers’ ensure the hull remains ‘light’ which helps keep the crew fresher for longer - and happier!
Free Surface Effect
Water moving side to side, forwards and backwards, affects the stability of the canoe, this is called, ‘free surface effect’. Moving water causes shifts in forces (weight) acting on the hull and in rough water this can be a serious factor affecting stability.
Keep the Floor Free From Debris
Hats, water bottles, shirts and other ‘crud’ on the floor, will hinder the person bailing and can result in an incandescent moment - ensure there are no loose items which will get in the way as the person bailing is likely to chuck the item/s overboard!
Bailer Design, Location, Quantity
An OC6 / V6, should have a minimum of 2 bailers (sometimes 3) ideally hung on a bracket or stuck using velcro adjacent to seats 3 and 4 on the right side (or left side if person seated here is left handed - see further on)
Consider a bailer at seat 2 when paddling downwind races for when the water ‘pools’ towards the front bulkhead.
Including a lanyard (line) can prevent loss in the event of a capsize or indeed of having the bailer slide away down the canoe if dropped (when canoe surfing - it’s mandatory).
Bailers are an essential item of safety and a canoe should never leave shore without them.
The ability to bail well - is a learned art and you will need to have the right type of bailer to do the job. A bucket sized bailer is more of a hindrance than a help. More, in this case, is not necessarily better. It’s just too big to be effective.
Under normal paddling conditions, bailing is carried out by one individual (usually seat 3 or 4) while the remainder of the crew continues to paddle.
Bailers should be small and easy to manage, being as their main use, is in the collection and removal of relatively small amounts of water - in the absence of a capsize.
A bailer, must have a thin lip, so it can literally scoop water up from the hull floor as you drag it along the bottom - should be of soft plastic so as it can conform to the hull shape and have a handle so you can get a good grip on it. Bailers shaped from plastic (5ltr chlorine bottles or similar) which when shaped, hold around 2ltrs and are ideal.
Have a look at the design of the traditional bailers fashioned across the Pacific from timber and use them as a guide when you create your own. The bailers you use should be sufficient for paddling Moloka`i or lining up for a sprint race. You don’t need bailers to be proportionally larger or smaller relative to how rough the ocean is, maybe just take extras in case of swamping / capsize.
A large bucket isn’t efficient or effective. It cannot be effectively scraped along the hull floor as the lip tends to be too round to get that last half inch of water out. At the other extreme, when trying to bail out large amounts of water, the bucket holds too much water and becomes too heavy to be practical.
Speed is the key to good bailing. You have to do it quickly, so the job is done and you can get back to paddling.You want to be able to scoop up water quickly and off load it quickly in small amounts.
A bucket sized bailer becomes even more of a problem with covers on. Covers reduce the space to such a minimum, it’s hard to get the bucket to squeeze into the space and near on impossible to use with any speed.
The very point of using the smaller sized bailers which are efficient and shaped ergonomically, is so you can biomechanically undertake the task well, while allowing for a fast ‘bailing’ rate . . .
Which Seats Bail
Water will move to the ‘belly’ of the canoe and this can vary between canoe designs. For example, Hawaiian Class Racers are straighter in the mid section. The water collects between seats 3 and 4 in almost equal proportions, so who bails depends on hull trim - crew weight etc. However, in Force Fives and Bradleys, the water tends to collect further back at seat 4 as with the Mirage. It’s easy to test this principal in flat water when stationary. Seat 4 is generally your primary bailer. Tahitian designed va`a also vary according to design.
Bailing must be fast and efficient and the entire process can be practised on land or on flat water. In order for the bailing seat paddler to ‘take ownership’ of this role, they could have their own personal bailer and have it mounted within the canoe to suit - practising on shore and on flat water the required skills sets and ensuring all the crew know the drill, is essential for the smooth execution of bailing. Every crew member should know how to bail.
In the Context of Change Races
It’s not uncommon for a paddler to find themselves in seat 3 or 4 during a change race, but not be familiar with bailing or the process. This may be because they sit 2 and 5 at other times for example.
They may forget to bail, cannot bail properly, do not know the procedure, they may be a ‘dial a crew paddler’ not versed in how you do things.
Be sure all paddlers are proficient in bailing and know your crews approach, it’s a basic but valuable skill set.
Every action needs a system. Whereas some teams rely upon the steerer to ask if the canoe needs bailing, the better solution is to develop a system, whereby the bailer instinctively knows when to bail - thereby lessening the load on the steerer to have to think about it - if the steerer has water around their feet, seat 4 has already failed to do their job.
The classic mistake to make, is to rush the unzipping procedure and to jam the zipper or worse! Because this zipper is used more - maintain it, reinforce it, add a lanyard and toggle to it, use extra cooking oil spray etc to ensure this zipper is bullet proof and working optimally. Seat 4 should take time to ensure the zipper is working and free from snags.
If you are right handed, you may find unzipping with the left hand awkward, which may increase the chances of a snag - practice and if more comfortable, use your predominant handedness to unzip. A zipper snag is about as bad as it gets mid race in rough water!
When 4 bails
When a ‘hut’ is called and you switch to paddling on the left, call out ‘Four bailing on the next!’ (next ‘hut’) so as when the next ‘hut’ is called, commence the bailing process.
You make this call when you are paddling on the left, so as when the call is made, seats 1, 3, 5 will be paddling on the left so as to better stabilise the canoe.
When the ‘hut’ is called, call out ‘Four bailing!’ and proceed to go through the process. When finished and back paddling, call out ‘Four paddling!’ or similar so that seats 3 forward, know they have a full crew.
Without this level of communication, it is extremely frustrating for the paddlers forward of seat 4 who cannot see what is happening - they will feel the canoe slow and the drag increase when you’re bailing, but need to know what is going on in relation to when seat 4 is ‘In’ or ‘Out’.
When 3 bails
When a ‘hut’ is called and you switch to paddling on the left, call out ‘Three bailing on the next!’ (next ‘hut’) so as when the next ‘hut’ is called, commence the bailing process.
You make this call when you are paddling on the left, so as when the call is made, seats 2, 4 will switch to be on the left.
Alternatively, depending on sea state and other factors, it may pay to call when on the right, so as seats 1 and 5 are on the left - seat 5 can better protect the ama in sync with the steerer, than seat 4. Seat 5 is sometimes referred to as the ‘keeper’ - the ‘protector’ of the ama.
When 5 bails
Not commonly practised, but in the case of some canoes or if there is excessive water in the hull void it can be a factor to consider. Below is a Tahitian canoe being bailed crewed by Team Hawaii racing in Tahiti. In many ways, seat 5 is an ideal position from which to bail as it is the least disruptive and keeps the power seats engaged and the timing seats maintaining cadence. Additionally the steerer and seat 5 can work together to make this a smooth and no fuss operation within their rear third of the canoe. The downside - most water pools in seats 3 and 4.
When 2 bails (downwind)
Not commonly practised, but during a downwind race, where the bumps are steep and drops-ins are coming thick and fast, IF the added weight up front of water is contributing to inertia and the drop-in, this is a good thing.
Of course it may reach critical mass, where it is no longer of help, but a hinderance - the problem comes in unzipping because it is more than likely you will take on as much water as you are bailing - possibly more.
If you’re taking on lots of water with covers zipped up - you already have a problem with your covers.
When you do make the call to bail, it may be the steerer will need to come off-line slightly in order to mitigate water intake.
Bailing is best commenced when the stroker is called over to be on the left - so as 1, 3, 5 are on the left.
The Critical Issues
Be clinical and fast
Communicate - when bailing - when back paddling
Bail small amounts of water, frequently
Do not bail lots of water, infrequently
Do not ‘pour’ water out of bailer
Flick upwards in fresh breeze, left or right in light winds
Consider wind direction
Consider wave direction - angle at which water may enter canoe
Safe guard ama as best you can
Do not jam / tear zipper when unzipping
Maintain control over your paddle
When finished, hang bailer back up
Zip up fully - avoiding snagging - communicate!
Holding cover Flap Upwards
With your non-bailing hand, holding the cover open and upwards, supposedly to prevent water spilling over from the side from the non bailing side; this assumes the windward side of the canoe, when it could be the side from which you are bailing - therefore it’s a random micro-mangagment issue, which you will need to consider at the time.
It’s not insignificant as to whether the designated bailer is left or right handed and it will determine to some degree the technique developed for bailing . . . a left handed paddler, bailing with the right hand, just may not be as efficient as doing so with their natural hand.
In reality you can bail with either hand, which ever is more natural. If you are a ‘lefty’ consider having the bailer set up on the left (be careful in the case of change races). If you want to use your left hand, then you can reverse procedures to suit.
Unzipping with Left
Bailing with Right
(assuming seat 4 bailing)
Called out after ‘hut’ for seat 4 to change to the right.
Hold paddle in right hand.
Unzip carefully with left
Once unzipped, hold left flap upwards.
Shuffle as far back on seat as possible (covers make it restrictive)
Place paddle inboard on the right, blade forward, shaft on the seat.
Brace paddle with right upper thigh.
Tuck right flap behind shaft of paddle with right hand.
Remove bailer with right hand and proceed to bail.
Bail until satisfied you have cleared as much as reasonably possible.
Re hang bailer.
Retrieve paddle with right hand
Zip up with left
Unzipping with Right
Bailing with the Left
(As for above, reversing hands for controlling paddle, bailing and zipping, mount bailer on the left)
Unzipping with Left Hand
Bailing with the Right
Sitting on Left Gunnel
(assuming seat 4 bailing)
Called out after ‘hut’ for seat 4 to change to right.
Hold paddle in left hand.
Unzip carefully with the right
Once unzipped, move outboard to gunnel.
Secure paddle and gunnel with left hand.
Remove bailer with right hand
Proceed to bail.
Bail until satisfied
Come in board to the seat
Hang bailer with right hand
Zip up with right hand
Sitting on the gunnel - will cause the ama to compress and while this makes for added stability, it will slow the canoe, however in rough waters, where the middle seats contribute to stability, this can be a good thing to gain this added security. Sitting on the edge of the left gunnel, the right hand bails while the left holds the paddle and covers open.
Bailing with the left hand in this position is problematic and best achieved with the right due to the configuration of the canoe.
The Bailing Action
Scoop water quickly and with minimal movement, throwing with a flick more or less directly upwards if there is a fresh breeze. In light winds, flick up and to the right or left accounting for wind direction.
Avoid using big arm and shoulder motions. Do not ‘pour’ the water out over the side. This is slow and inefficient. Be sure not to throw behind you and into seat 5. Consider wind direction.
Speed is the Key
Bailing needs to be done quickly, very quickly. In some respects, you’re less concerned with how much you take with each scoop but rather the speed with which you do it.
Fast bailing rates will clear the canoe quickly, whereas being slow and methodical, means the cover is open for longer, potentially allowing more water to enter in over a longer period of time.
Bailing frequently means the covers are only open for short periods of time as you will only have a small amount to get out. Don’t delay too long!
Bailing should not last for more than around 60 seconds, certainly no more than around 4 ‘huts’. More than this and you can assume you have allowed too much water in the canoe or perhaps your technique is too slow and needs work.
When to Bail
How much water is enough to signal to bail? Under normal circumstances, when the designated bailer has water over their toes, it’s time to bail.
Some crews will wait to hear the steerer call for bailing, or ask if there is a need to bail, others will rely upon the ‘bailer’ to bail when they think it appropriate.
Knowing when it is appropriate to bail is a skill requiring confidence.
Communication is very important.
If you are paddling on a long upwind stretch and taking in lots of water, you will need to bail frequently. It may pay for the steerer to veer off from head to wind to reduce pounding while you bail and lessen the load on the paddlers.
With covers - do not leave open for too long if very rough. Better to bail frequently and over a short duration, than wait until you need to bail lots of water, which will take longer.
Without covers - in extreme circumstances, you may need to bail continually until out of the worst of it. If you are on a short upwind section, you may be able to leave the bailing until you turn to come back downwind or across wind as the loss of a paddler upwind can cost you a good deal of speed. When all is considered, bailing when paddling upwind can often be the best time to bail if conditions are not too extreme.
The procedures for bailing remains the same, without the complication of covers. However, without covers water entering the canoe can escalate when in rough waters making attention to bailing more critical.
Change Overs and Entering Paddlers
Entering paddlers bring water in with them. The type of clothing worn will have a strong bearing on just how much they bring in with them. Tight fitting, quick drying, low absorbent materials are preferable. You can experiment with various clothing to see just how absorbent they are, simply by soaking in a bucket of water, removing and wringing to see how much water squeezes out. Less absorbent clothing makes it easy to enter the canoe.
Some crews prefer to have seat 4 bail just prior to exiting the canoe, so that when they exit, the canoe is ‘dry’ - however this is counter-intuitive - better to have an entering seat 4 paddler bail after entering to rid of water (or simply have the in-situ seat 4 paddler bail after the change) just brought in during the change, plus what was there before.
When Not to Bail
Every time you open the covers, you increase potential for taking on more water. If you are in an extremely rough section of short, steep, fast moving, confused water, paddling upwind or being hit side on for example, opening the covers to bail, could allow more water to enter than you can possibly keep up with. This could actually create a dangerous situation. In this instance, it would be best to wait for smoother water or a point when the canoe changes course so the angle at which the water is striking is improved.
Steerers may need to alter course to keep the canoe drier for a period of time, so the covers can be unzipped and bailing can be done! This is especially true if paddling without covers and you are taking on large amounts of water.
Bailing the canoe when you only have a short distance to travel to the finish, neck and neck with another canoe and the hull is heavy with water, probably means you’ve left it too late. Bailing at this point will probably cost you the race and odds are you have failed to keep up with your bailing duties. Now the entire crew is paying the price, which emphasises the need to bail early, when you only have a small amount of water underfoot.
Factors Bringing Water into the Canoe
Pounding up wind
Poorly fitted covers
Poorly designed covers
Covers not zipped up properly
Jammed / broken zipper
Relief paddlers entering the canoe
Poor paddling technique - scooping water into canoe
Water run off from paddle
Rough waves from boats etc
Water enters canoe gradually from spray from any angle and from water transfer from blades and shafts of paddles. When paddling downwind, the canoe can bury at the nose and water may pour in around seat 1. Additionally, if the canoe stalls in the trough of a wave, the water can pour in at seats 3 and 4.
Note: Steerers can reduce the amount of water entering the canoe by taking a line which reduces swamping. This is often achieved by angling the canoe roughly 10º offline of directly on coming waves when heading up wind.
Bailing After Capsize
After a capsize in rough conditions, once you have recovered the canoe, but the hull is still full of water, you may need to re-capsize and recover the canoe once more to see if you can release more water from the hull. If you have covers on and this is the case, it can be extremely difficult to remove the water during the righting process (another article) . . .
Some good tips here from the False Creek Racing Canoe Club ladies in Canada.