Lessons from the Trail: How to Strap a Canoe on a Float Plane

Episode 2 of the Côte-Nord Adventure with Jim Baird

By Jim Baird

It was pitch black and windy when we drove onto the beach in front of Natashquan village. There are no trees in the area as the surrounding land is windswept and pocked with many small ponds. I managed to round up enough sticks for a fire, and we soon raised beers in celebration of our arrival. Before long, the wind died down and we listened to the soothing sound of waves breaking on the beach in front of us. It seemed to be the perfect place to catch some Z’s, yet a healthy dose of apprehension kept me awake after we turned in.

Accidents are very rare, but if a canoe became dislodged in flight, there is a chance it could take out a tail wing, resulting in a "problem,” as my pilot puts it.

While Daniel of Labrador Air Safari tightened a ratchet strap, we noticed the side wall of my canoe bending inwards (see at 1:44 and 2:00 in the video). We were just north of Natashquan village at Labrador Air Safari’s base, and in the midst of attaching our canoe to a float plane.

This was my first time using a Nova Craft Canoe made out of the new expedition-grade material Tuff Stuff. Though the material has impressed many by its ability to withstand a fall from a 100-foot building, the side walls on Tuff Stuff canoes are not as ridged as those on the ABS Royalex boats I’ve used on previous fly-ins. “Is dat okay for de canoe?” Daniel asked. “No problem,” I replied with confidence. I’ve seen videos of Tuff Stuff canoes wrapping around mid-river boulders and bouncing back to shape.

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Common sense tells us that properly strapping a canoe to a float plane is paramount. Accidents are very rare, but if a canoe became dislodged in flight, there is a chance it could take out a tail wing, resulting in a "problem,” as Daniel puts it.

Here’s how to secure a canoe to a float plane using ratchet straps:

1) Attach the hooks on the end of the ratchet straps to the loops provided on the bottom of the Transport Canada approved external load rack. The rack is attached to the float plane’s struts. Then, if possible, lay the straps out on the dock beside the plane.

2) Lie one canoe gunwale on the float, and then lean the boat up against the external load rack.

3) Run the ratchet straps over the canoe haul at the front and back of the canoe. Secure the hook on the end of the strap to the upper loop on the external load bracket. And then pull the excess length of strap through the ratchet mechanism. Note: Make sure the straps lay flat along the canoe’s haul and are not twisted.

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4) Tighten the ratchet straps until very tight. The canoe should not budge with a firm shake.

5) Using two smaller ratchet straps, secure the bow and stern carrying handles to the rings anchored at the front and back of the pontoon.

6) Tightly tie off the excess lengths of strapping to the float plane struts.

Note: Using much the same method, some float plane operators use ropes for this process instead of ratchet straps. The main difference in using ropes is that once they’re tied over the canoe’s haul, they are then firmly tied together in the middle using another length of rope. Whether using rope or ratchet straps, fastening the ends of the canoe to the pontoon (step 5) is a crucial step.

Once unstrapped, our canoe immediately reverted back to its original shape, and the hour-and-fifteen-minute flight left us 118-miles from the nearest road. It was eerily quiet and overcast, yet warm as we began paddling north on massive Lac Fonteneau. The 25-mile long wilderness lake is the headwaters of the East Natashquan, we had it all to ourselves.

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— Check out more LESSONS FROM THE TRAIL WITH JIM BAIRD, including Episode 1 of the Côte-Nord Adventure: Getting There

This summer, C&K will be rolling out new episodes of Jim Baird’s Cote Nord Adventure series, presented by Nova Craft Canoe.

About this Series: Come along with Adventurer Jim Baird, his girlfriend Tori, and their dog Buck as they paddle a wild and seldom traveled river of Quebec’s breathtaking Côte-Nord region. Watch the story of their adventure unfold in this 15-part video series as they use and learn a variety of wilderness travel skills, including everything from whitewater paddling maneuvers to axemanship and, when unwanted visitors show up, operating a bear banger. You’ll get to see things from the dog’s perspective too. So grab a paddle, and get ready for a 14-day journey that begins 118 miles from the nearest road.