Canoe Paddling Techniques

Effective canoe paddling techniques are essential to having a fun and safe canoeing experience. By learning just a few simple strokes, you will have a much more efficient and safe time in your canoe. Whether you are going on a week-long camping trip or just enjoying an afternoon on the lake, these seven strokes will help you master your technique and give you complete control of your canoe.


*J-Stroke: The J-stroke is one of the most valuable canoe strokes. When properly used, it keeps you on a straight course and allows you to make corrections in your direction without a pause in your paddling. Begin with a basic forward stroke and then twist the paddle into a rudder position, sweeping it to either side in a "J." This allows you to use the momentum of the stroke to steer the canoe. Once perfected, the J-stroke makes paddling easier and more efficient in flat water.

*Draw Stroke: By drawing your paddle toward the canoe and then applying forward power to the paddle, you can maneuver your canoe while maintaining forward momentum. The draw stroke can be used by the paddler in the bow (front) of the canoe to correct for the stern (back) paddler, by the stern paddler to keep moving forward in a straight direction without having to change sides frequently or to quickly change the direction of the boat.

Dip the paddle into the water vertically about an arm's length away with the blade of the paddle facing you. Quickly draw the paddle toward the boat being careful not to get the paddle caught under the boat. Being proficient at the draw stroke is necessary during whitewater canoeing; the draw stroke enables a quick change in direction to avoid hitting rocks or other obstacles.

*Sweep Stroke: This wide, sweeping stroke allows the bow paddler to contribute to the steering of the canoe from the front and can be used to dodge obstacles in your path such as hidden rocks or trees. This stroke is unique in that it steers the canoe away from the paddle regardless of which end of the canoe the sweep stroke is performed in.



*Pry stroke: Moving forward is the primary goal when paddling a canoe, but the pry stroke is handy for making corrections in your course when moving in a straight line becomes a little difficult. By tilting your paddle at an angle in the water, you can guide your canoe forward and slightly to the left or right, while still applying most of your energy to the forward stroke.

*Forward stroke: This is the classic canoe-paddling technique. The forward stroke is the easiest to learn and acts as the basis for all the other strokes. Just dip your paddle into the water and swing. Keep your torso straight and pull from your shoulders to make a clean sweep, using all of your energy to move forward. The forward stroke propels the boat forward but it can also be used to turn the boat. To continue paddling forward, alternate paddling sides every four to five strokes.


*Rudder stroke: By using your paddle as a rudder when the canoe has forward momentum, you can quickly make sharp turns from the stern of the craft. Angle the paddle in the direction you want to turn, and let physics do the rest.

*Back stroke: The back stroke is used for stopping and slowing the canoe as well as moving the canoe backward. By paddling backward from the bow and the stern, you can quickly do a U-turn with your canoe. If the canoe has forward momentum, an abrupt back stroke will create a very fast turn. Make sure you are ready for it.


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