Canoeing Safety Statistics

Canoeing is dangerous. First I'm going to scare the Tilley hat off your head so you put your PFD on!

John Ruskey,

The American Canoe Association commissioned a study in 2007 that analysed the factors involved with and the numbers of canoeing and kayaking deaths over 10 years of safety incidents. You can read the report for yourself here! In 2004 there were 91 fatalities involving canoes and kayaks across the United States. I know I've been told stories by park access point workers about fatalities that were very recent at the time of my visit. They are not common, but they are always tragic and often avoidable.

I've summarized the report for you in the tables below, removing things you can't really change.

Table 1. Factors that prevent fatalities during incidents
FactorCorrelation with Deaths
Number of people involved

- 29 %

PFDs on board - 17 %
PFDs accessible - 14 %
Total operator experience - 13 %
Length of boat

- 11 %

Table 2. Factors that increase fatalities during incidents
FactorCorrelation with Deaths
Alcohol or drug use 11 %
Fishing 8 %
Whitewater 8 %
Dam/lock involved 5 %

The study looked at a lot of different things that can affect the safety of a trip. Longer canoes and kayaks seem to be safer, more people are more safe (solo trippers are less safe), and people in New Jersey are the safest in the country! Good job, New Jersey!

The length of the boat might just be a correlation, longer boats tend to have more people in them which is safer.

Personal floatation devices (PFDs) were naturally found to be in the company of canoists and kayakers that survived incidents. Safety training was also found to be a factor.

It goes without mentioning that alcohol was found to be a ridiculously strong factor in fatal accidents. You don't want to get tipsy on a canoe.

Anecdotally, in my own experience and what instructors tell me is that the number one cause for capsizing is the occupants not paying attention. If you don't notice that big wave, or one of you leans over without telling the other, you can easily capsize. Pay attention!