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How To Steer A Canoe

Canoeing is a really fun way to get out and enjoy nature whilst getting some good exercise. If you love being out on the water and you love spending time outdoors then canoeing could be the perfect activity for you.

How To Steer A Canoe

Once you have got all of your equipment ready and you know how to climb into the canoe and get it out on the water, you need to be able to steer and control the canoe. But how do you steer a canoe? 

Your mind goes blank and you fear drifting straight forevermore, unable to steer and turn. You kiss your family goodbye wondering if you will see them again or if you will be stuck moving endlessly without being able to steer.

Well no more! We are here to help you navigate the There are different methods for directional control that you can use,

and some important tips that you should always keep in mind. So make the most of today’s guide to find out how to expertly steer a canoe! 

Communication And Preparation

If you are paddling with a partner, it is vital that you communicate with each other both while you are paddling and before you set out.

Make sure that you are both familiar with the route or the area by looking at a map beforehand and considering any potential hazards or obstacles. 

You should also make sure that you check tide times or water currents in the body of water that you will be canoeing on. 

You will need to decide where you are going to sit. The paddler in the back seat will have more control over the direction of the canoe, whereas the front paddle will contribute more to the speed of the canoe based on how much power they use. 

The person at the front will also be in a better position to see any hazards or obstacles and navigate.

You need to consider the weight of the paddlers as well – the kayak will be better balanced if the heavier person sits in the rear seat. 

Once you are out on the water, make sure you are both on the same page in terms of where you are headed, what speed you want to travel, and what kind of strokes you should be doing. 

The navigator at the front will need to tell the paddler at the back when to change strokes to control the direction of the canoe. If you want to keep the canoe on a straight path, then you should paddle on the alternate side of the canoe. 

If you are canoeing alone then you will be in control of the speed and the direction of the canoe. You should still prepare for your outing by looking at a map and checking the conditions of the water. 

Practice In Shallow Water 

Once you are out on the water, it is a good idea to practice your strokes and maneuvers before you get out into deep water or onto a strong current.

This is especially important if you and your paddling partner have not canoed together before. 

Practice a basic forward stroke and a reverse stroke, getting into the same rhythm. You should also practice changing direction and braking.

Synchronization is very important. The front paddler will usually set the pace, as they cannot see the back paddler. 

Forward Stroke And Reverse Stroke

To move the canoe backward and forwards is fairly simple. Place one hand on the top of the paddle against the butt, and the other on the shaft of the paddle.

How To Steer A Canoe

The hand on the top pushes the paddle down into the water out ahead of you whilst the hand on the shaft pulls the paddle towards the rear of the canoe, creating a lever-type motion that pushes the canoe forwards. 

To reverse, push the paddle into the water behind you with one hand whilst pushing it towards the front of the canoe with the other.

Both paddlers will need to be paddling in sync and on opposite sides of the canoe. If you paddle on the same side, whether going forwards or reversing, you will end up changing the direction of the canoe. 

Moving Sideways

If you want to move the canoe from side to side, push the paddle into the water out to the side of you instead of in front of you. Only reach as far as you can without compromising your balance, or you could capsize the canoe.

Pull the paddle towards you and the canoe will move sideways. For this maneuver, both paddlers will need to paddle on the same side. If you paddle on opposite sides you will counteract each other and the canoe will stay still. 

The J Stroke

The J stroke is the most important paddle stroke when it comes to changing direction. It allows you to keep moving forward whilst steering so you don’t lose your momentum.

Begin with a forward stroke, pulling the paddle towards the rear of the canoe. Once the paddle becomes level with your hips, you need to turn it so that the blade is parallel to the canoe rather than perpendicular. 

At this point, push the paddle away from the canoe at a 45-degree angle. The forward stroke is the straight line of the J and the angled stroke is the curve of the J,

hence why it is called the J stroke. Both paddlers will need to paddle on the same side of the canoe, or the movements will counteract each other and the canoe won’t change direction.

If you push the paddle out to your left, the front of the canoe will turn to the right. If you push the paddle out to your right, the front of the canoe will turn to the left. 

Using Your Bodyweight 

Shifting your body weight from side to side can also change the direction of the canoe. However, this can also cause the canoe to become unstable.

You should try to keep your body weight as central as possible and engage your core to maintain control. Once you become more experienced,

practice in shallow and calm water experimenting with shifting your body weight to see how it affects your directional control. 

Avoid Fatigue

Remember not to let yourself get too tired, or steering the canoe will become very challenging. Take breaks if you need to, and gradually build up the time that you are out on the canoe so your stamina can increase. 

Final Thoughts 

And there you have it, how to steer a canoe! It can seem daunting at first, but once you have mastered the basics, you will be steering like a pro!

Just remember to take your time at the start and don’t be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake or two along the way, everyone starts as a beginner!

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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