I want to go out in a canoe onto a large lake and stay out for the entire weekend. I have checked the whether and determined that it will definitely be excellent weather and very calm all weekend long.

I am concerned about a few things: being hit by another boat, drifting to shore where animals could mess with me, or having them swim out to me, or tipping while sleeping despite calm weather forecasts. And of course I might be overlooking something else dangerous.

Is it safe for me to sleep in my canoe with it adrift on the lake?

I am interested in the answer in general, but I would first consider doing it on the great lakes in northeastern USA, starting with Lake Ontario.

  • Of course, this will not be able to take place until after I manage to get back to civilization, as per my other questions. This will be my vacation to unwind when I return. ;)
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:25
  • Also, there may be legal concerns, but those I will ask about in a separate question, probably tomorrow.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:30
  • 2
    I'm not quite sure why you are worried about animals 'messing' with you, but... If you are asleep, then you are not in command of your canoe and would be a hazard to navigation for other boats. And, starting with Lake Ontario seems like a, well, bold move... Go into shore, tie up, sleep there.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:43
  • 3
    Being hit by a boat is a big concern. It is not safe.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 22:56
  • Sleeping adrift in canoe, foregoing something as simple as an anchor, is so pointlessly unsafe it is the canoeing equivalent of taking a nap laying in the middle of a city street. There is really no justification for taking such a risk. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


For the specific question of drifting on the Great Lakes, doing so is effectively suicide.

First, there's the matter of traffic. The Great Lakes are a major shipping lane, with upwards of a hundred lake freighters, numerous ocean-going freighters, barge traffic, and other ships traveling at all times -- not counting small private vessels. There's a very real risk that your canoe will drift into a shipping lane and be run down, without the other vessel ever being aware of your existence.

Second, there's the weather. The Great Lakes are not known for their calm temperament -- every year, boaters drown when storms abruptly form or blow in. If you're asleep, you're not keeping a weather watch.

Third, there's the surface condition. The Great Lakes are large enough to get ocean-like waves: even if the weather is calm where you are, it's quite possible for high waves to roll in from some other part of the lake. A drifting canoe is almost certain to turn broadside to these waves and capsize.

Fourth, there's the size. Lake Ontario has places where you can wake up to find yourself 25 miles from shore; the other lakes are even bigger. Can you picture yourself paddling that far, possibly facing adverse winds, rough seas, and ships so big they can't even see you?

If you really want to sleep in a drifting canoe, do it in a pond where you're not facing these hazards.

  • As a compromise you could think of bringing an anchor, so you can be adrift yet close to shore. You still get the drifting experience that way. You also still get some of the dangers that way, being tipped by waves and bad weather in particular, but at least ones you've awoken into the drowning scare of a lifetime you'll be close to shore.
    – Monster
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 5:42
  • Thank you. I was concerned about those things, but I wasn't sure how severe any of them could actually be. You make it sound even worse than I had feared. Oh well.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 12:52
  • 2
    Also add a battery and a light. If you're on the water at night you will need, at minimum, a white light. This light needs to be displayed, whether you are anchored, underway or adrift, between sunset and sunrise.
    – B540Glenn
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 14:11
  • @B540Glenn Yes, thank you. I was already planning on asking a question about the legal implications of this question. If/when I do, that will be a good part of an answer there. Especially shoving off in NY, which has ten tons of laws about everything.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 16:32

It’s certainly not “safe” by any typical definition but I’m assuming you mean “safe” by the standards of a canoe trip on a big body of water.

So I think regarding going to sleep in your canoe, like going on the trip at all, you need to identify and manage the risks. How well you do that determines your safety. Sleeping sounds like a very large / possibly prohibitive risk management challenge. Any time you do something unusual, you are operating without the data provided by large numbers of other people. So you have to exercise more diligence up front in anticipating and addressing risks.

I think you can generally put risk in three buckets:

  1. Risks to other people, including risk of needing a rescue that puts others at risk.

  2. Risk of death or permanent serious injury to yourself (you can think of this as a risk to other people, ie your loved ones who are affected by your death or disability, or to your community which may be deprived of your ability to contribute)

  3. Risk of personal discomfort and inconvenience.

Anything involving a public waterway involves all three.

Normally your alert human mind is a big part of your system of managing risks, as well stated in another answer. So if you are taking that element out of play, you had better devise an extremely robust system of managing those risks. It may involve sea anchors, excess flotation, a companion to keep watch while you sleep, radar, lights and reflectors (including possibly radar reflectors although efficacy data on those is weak), choosing very carefully where you attempt to sleep, etc. You may go through the exercise and come to the conclusion that you can’t responsibly do this. You may also look at a given itinerary and decide either that sleeping is safe, or that the itinerary is unsafe asleep or awake.

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