His family praised members of the public who went to help during the incident on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are deeply shocked of course but I am so incredibly heartened by those who helped,” they said.
“My family and I would like to express our deep gratitude for all those involved.”
They told the BBC: “He was devoted to the care of his disabled daughter and his final act of love as a father was to sacrifice his life to save hers.”
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokeswoman said: “Emergency services were called at 5.20pm to Bude Canal following reports of concern for the welfare of two people in the water.
“A woman in her 20s pulled from the water by members of the public and was taken to hospital by land ambulance.
“A man in his 80s was confirmed deceased at the scene. His next of kin have been informed.
“The death is not being treated as suspicious and a file will be prepared for the coroner.”