How to Canoe

Categories // Paddling

How to Canoe

Canoeing is easier than it looks.  By learning just a few basic strokes, you can turn your canoe on a dime or keep it going straight for long stretches.  With your life jacket on and a paddle in your hand, canoeing is a safe, fun, and scenic way to travel.  And best of all, you don’t have to carry any of your gear!

Where to Sit
In a canoe, the person in the back (stern) has more of an effect on the canoe’s direction than the person in the front (bow).  That’s why you should put your strongest paddler in the back.  This is the person who really needs to know the steering strokes, so they can keep you on a straight course.  

Getting In
You can keep from tipping your canoe by always stepping on the centerline of the boat.  Keep your weight low and move gently.

How to Paddle
The basic canoeing stroke is called the forward stroke.  That’s what the person in the front does.  The person in the back can also use two different steering strokes: the J stroke and the C stroke.  Each person paddles on an opposite side of the canoe.  If they switch sides, they should both switch.  Of course, in a pinch, you can both paddle on the same side to get yourselves out of trouble. 

Hold the paddle like this: if you’re paddling on your right, put your left hand over the grip of the paddle so your fingers are pointed down toward the blade (the flat part).  With your right hand, grip the neck a few inches from the top of the blade.

Forward Stroke
Stretch your right arm out straight in front of you and dip the tip of the paddle into the water.  As you pull back toward your body, bend your lower arm and use your upper hand to press away from you.  When the blade is about even with your hip, pull the paddle out of the water and reach forward for another stroke.

Steering the Canoe
The paddler in the stern has two good options for steering the canoe.  If you’re paddling on the right, the C stroke will turn the bow (front of the canoe) to the left.  The J stroke will turn the bow to the right.  (Everything is backwards if you paddle on the other side.)  Doing either of these strokes with much force will slow your canoe down, so if you’re trying to keep up a good pace, adjust your course by doing a J on every second or third stroke, depending on what you need.  This will keep your nose headed in the right direction without your having to stop and make a big turn.

J Stroke
Begin the regular Forward Stroke.  When you reach your hip, rotate your paddle (while it’s still in the water) about 90 degrees, until the blade is parallel with the canoe.  The wrist of your top hand will roll as if you’re looking at your watch.  Push your paddle away from the canoe a little so the whole stroke looks like a J.  Then lift your paddle out and reach forward for a new stroke.  This take a little practice, but don't give up!

C stroke
To turn your canoe’s nose the other way, roll your paddle to the side (until the blade is parallel with the canoe) and push it in a big C shape or a "sweep" that ends at your hip.

To stop quickly, both paddlers can do the backpaddle stroke.  Put your paddle in at your hip and press forward.  It’ll stop your canoe right away, especially if you both do it at the same time.

Pry and Draw
Two other strokes are really useful for making tight turns.  In the pry stroke, turn the paddle so the flat of the blade is facing you and insert it at your hip.  Push out with your low hand while you pull back with your upper hand. 

With the draw, you do the opposite.  Straighten your arms (with your paddle in the air), reach straight out from your hip, put your paddle in the water, and pull it toward you. 

If the bow-paddler does a draw and the stern-paddler does a pry, or vice versa, you can turn your canoe.  Practice doing it both ways until you and your partner are good at turning your canoe however you want.