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How To Paddle A Canoe

Canoeing is an excellent way to get out and enjoy the water. You can glide gracefully across the surface, covering great distances and taking in all of your surroundings. Learning how to control the canoe is very important to keep you safe on the water and to help you get the most out of your experience. 

Controlling the canoe involves learning different paddle strokes so you can adjust your speed and decide which direction you want to go in. This will enable you to navigate your route and avoid obstacles and hazards. 

But how do you paddle a canoe? It can look quite complicated and seem tricky to master, putting many of us off jumping in a canoe and giving it a try. 

Well, no more! Today we are here to help and have put together this useful guide on how to paddle your canoe! Keep reading for lots of helpful advice and examples of different paddle strokes for you to try. Let’s get into it!

How To Paddle A Canoe

How To Hold Your Paddle

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are holding the paddle correctly. There is a flat, grip section at the end of the panel called the butt. If you are paddling on the left side of the canoe then your right hand is placed on the butt, and vice versa. 

Your palm should rest on the butt so you can push the paddle down into the water. Your other hand grips the shaft of the paddle with your thumb pointing upwards. This allows you to pull the paddle through the water towards you. 

Helpful Tips For Paddling

Before we look at the different paddle strokes, there is some general advice that you should keep in mind. 

  • Ensure that your core muscles are always engaged. This will help you to put more power behind your paddle and to maintain balance and control of your weight. 
  • You should look towards your direction of travel – wherever your nose is pointing, the canoe will follow. 
  • Start slowly with gentle strokes, then gradually build up your power. This gives your muscles time to warm up and gives you an opportunity to get used to the balance of the canoe before you start moving quickly across the water. 
  • Switch sides as you paddle to keep the canoe on a straight path. You don’t need to alternate sides with every stroke, but if you favor one side then your canoe will stray off in one direction rather than staying on a straight course. 
  • Steer from the rear – most of the steering power when you are canoeing with a partner will come from whoever is sitting at the stern. It is easier to control the direction of the canoe from the back. 
  • Finally, remember that you don’t have to paddle constantly. Most water has a natural flow, and in between strokes you can let the canoe be carried a little by the current. This will stop you from becoming too fatigued and will allow you to stay on the water for longer.

Paddle Strokes

Paddle Strokes

The following paddle strokes can be used whilst paddling solo or with a partner. Communication is very important if you are paddling with someone else – make sure you know which direction you are headed and what stroke you are doing. If you need to change direction, coordinate who will paddle on which side to make sure it goes smoothly.  

Forward Stroke 

This is the most basic canoe stroke and a very important one to know before you get out onto the water. It is very simple – start with your hands in the correct position as mentioned above. With the hand that is on the top of the paddle, push the paddle down into the water a little ahead of you. 

The hand that is grasping the shaft will be pulling the paddle towards you through the water at the same time. When the paddle is level with your hip, bring it out of the water and repeat the same action.

The further you stretch the paddle out ahead of your before pushing it into the water, the further the canoe will move forward but the more tiring it will be and the more strain it will put on your muscles. 

To get more power behind your paddle, rotate your torso towards the side of the canoe that you are paddling from and twist your body as your paddle, but keep your hips central. If you are paddling with a partner, you should paddle on the alternate side of the canoe to keep it on a straight path. 

Backward Stroke

Backward stroke is very helpful if you want to slow down or stop the canoe from hitting an obstacle that you haven’t managed to steer around. It is very similar to forward stroke, but instead of placing the paddle in the water ahead of you, you place it behind you and push the paddle towards the front of the canoe rather than pulling it towards the stern. 

Draw Stroke

If you need to move the canoe sideways then you use the draw stroke. This is helpful if you need to avoid an obstacle or hazard in the water, you want to edge yourself closer to a bank or an item in the water. 

Reach out to the side and push the paddle into the water as far away from the canoe as you can reach without compromising your balance. Make sure the blade of the paddle is parallel to the canoe. Then you need to pull the paddle towards you to move the canoe sideways. 

J Stroke 

A J stroke allows you to keep the canoe moving forward whilst changing direction, ensuring that you maintain your momentum. This will help you to navigate more challenging routes and complete directional changes much faster. 

Begin with a forward stroke, but when the paddle reaches the level of your hip you need to turn it so that the blade is parallel to the boat. Swing the blade forwards at an angle of approximately 45 degrees, pushing it through the water. It is called a J stroke because the movement of the paddle makes a J shape – the straight line of the forward stroke and angled curve to correct your direction. 

Final Thoughts

And there you go, how to paddle a canoe! Once you have mastered the basics, paddling and experimenting with different strokes becomes quite easy. Don’t be disheartened if you struggle at the start, it takes time and plenty of practice to hone your skill. 

Remember to have fun while paddling and to keep your safety a priority at all times. 

Hi! My name is Adele Stevens, and I have a big passion for water sports. I love nothing more than traveling to my favorite kayaking spots on my days off and spending hours out on the water.

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