wikiHow to Canoe

Four Parts:Getting to Know the EquipmentGetting into a CanoePaddling a CanoeLanding a Canoe

Canoeing is a lovely outdoor activity that allows you to experience the water without actually getting wet (hopefully.) While an article cannot compete with the act of actually getting out on the water and learning how to canoe, you will still learn the basics of canoeing by reading this guide (and will hopefully be inspired to get out there and test the waters!)

Part 1
Getting to Know the Equipment

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    Know your canoe. The canoe was developed by North American Native Americans, who developed a versatile and lightweight vessel for freshwater journeys. A canoe is an open, slender boat that tapers to points at both ends. There are several sizes of canoes, including those for one person, two people, or three or more people. The front of the canoe is called the bow, while the back is called the stern. The body of the canoe is called the hull. A canoe is classically propelled forward with a paddle.[1] There are actually many types of canoes, such as the Hawaiian outrigger canoe, sailing canoe, and dugout canoes which vary from this description. However, the typical canoe for the beginner is pictured above.
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    Know what paddles are. Paddles are what allow the canoe to move. When you grip a paddle and plunge it into the water, and draw backward, the boat moves forward. There are four parts of a paddle:
    • The Grip: You place your top hand on the grip. For example, if you were paddling on the right side of the boat, your left hand would be on the grip, and your right would be on the shaft.
    • The Shaft: This is the pole that makes up the majority of the paddle. You place your hand in the middle of the shaft. If you were paddling on the right side of the canoe, you would place your right hand in the middle of the shaft and your left hand on the grip.
    • The Throat: This is what connects the blade to the shaft.
    • The Blade: This is what most people picture when they think of a paddle. It is the large, flat object at the bottom of the paddle. The blade is what pushes the water while you paddle, thus moving the boat forward.
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    Wear your life vest if you have them. Life vests are always recommended while boating. Most American states have specific laws about life vests, including mandatory life vest use or at least having them in the boat.
    • Wear it properly. If a life jacket is too small, or not fastened properly, it will not work optimally.
    • A life vest is needed for emergencies, and you will not usually have forewarning when an emergency is imminent. Although uncommon, sudden accidental capsizing is always a possibility.
    • Even if you are an expert swimmer, you can be hit unconscious by a capsizing boat and drown if you do not have a life jacket. Or you can find yourself miles from land, a distance not safe to swim or advisable to do so. Just because you are a good swimmer does not mean you should forgo the life jacket.
    • If you are canoeing for the first time or don’t feel very comfortable around water, and are a non-swimmer or weak swimmer, life jackets are especially important.
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    Consider other gear you could bring on your canoeing trip. What you bring depends on the length of the time you are planning on being out in the water. A short paddle out to a fishing spot will be different than a week-long voyage through the Adirondacks. [2]:
    • Water shoes. These are great if you plan on canoeing to a destination and then getting out and exploring. Water shoes are easy to swim in (which is good if you accidentally capsize) and make it easy to walk along the shore, especially one that is rocky.
    • Clothes that can get wet or dirty. Even if you don’t capsize, there is a definite chance that you will get splashed--either accidentally or on purpose. Canoeing can also be sweaty work, and occurs in an outdoor environment.
    • Swimsuit. Your clothes will likely get wet, and swimsuits are usually more comfortable to be in than wet cotton underclothes. Also, swimming often accompanies boating activities.
    • Protective hat. Ideally, your hat should be wide-brimmed, able to get wet, and have a chin-strap or a clip to attach to your shirt. Canoeist are often exposed to the sun from the sky and reflected from the water. Also, wind gusts can snatch away your hat in a moment.
    • Sunglasses with protective strap. The glare from the water on a bright and sunny day can be brutal. Even with a hat, sunglasses protect your eyes and increase comfort. Ideally, have a "sports strap" to prevent your glasses from falling overboard.
    • A dry bag. Dry bags are waterproof bags that are great for bringing on canoeing trips. Store a camera, your cell phone, an extra jacket, car keys, etc. in the dry bag and it is guaranteed to remain dry. If it will be damaged if immersed in water, it should be in the dry bag.
    • Water bottle. Canoeing can be a real workout, and the outdoor exposure to wind, sun, and reflected sun from the water can be dehydrating. Unless it is a short trip or just "paddling around", having water available is highly recommended.
    • Bailing device. Typically, this will be a detergent or bleach bottle modified into a "scoop", or sometimes a large sponge. If you do capsize, being able to bail (i.e., remove the water) from the boat can be important. It can also be nice to be able to easily remove water that finds its way into the boat.

Part 2
Getting into a Canoe

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    Position the canoe perpendicular to shore. The bow of the boat should be closest to the shore or dock, while the stern should be further out. If you are ok with getting your feet wet, you can simply push the boat out so that it is floating in very shallow water (it should not be touching the bottom) and then climbing in from there. If possible, have someone hold the canoe so that it stays in one place.[3]
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    Decide who will sit in the bow and who will sit in the stern. The more experienced paddler should sit in the stern. The person sitting in the bow just has to paddle, while the person sitting in the stern will paddle while also steering. (Steering is covered in Part Three.)
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    Get into the canoe. You should push the canoe out so that most of it is floating, bow first. Keep a hold on the boat so that it does not float away. The person sitting in the bow should go first. Hold the boat steady while the person steps into the boat, crouches low and grasps the sides of the canoe. She/he should then slowly make his way up to the bow, making sure to keep his weight balanced by holding onto both sides of the boat and keeping his weight in the center. Once she/he is settled, you should put your foot into the center of canoe and then push off of the shore with your other foot while keeping both hands on both sides of the canoe. Lower yourself into your seat.
    • If you are getting into the canoe second, you can also get into the boat (making sure to keep your weight centered in the middle,) sit down, and then push off from shore with your paddle. Place the paddle directly behind you and push off from shore. You may have to push more than once.
    • If you are getting into your canoe from a dock, you do the same things. However, you will want to keep the boat horizontal to the dock, rather than perpendicular (like you would if pushing off from the shore.)

Part 3
Paddling a Canoe

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    Sit in the canoe. Leaning forward will put unnecessary strain on your back, and leaning too far backward will be inefficient. Leaning to either side will put you in danger of tipping over. Place one hand on the end of the paddle's grip, and the other hand grasping around the shaft in the center above the blade. Make sure that one paddler starts out on the right, and the other on the left. When either of you gets tired, switch sides. Unless you are turning, you always want to keep your paddles on opposite sides in order to paddle forward as efficiently as possible.[4]
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    Paddle forward. Reach forward with the paddle, set the paddle in about up to the throat, pull back. Be sure your strokes are even, not too deep or too shallow. Be sure the stroke is complete, and not taking out the paddle too soon. Paddling is typically at a slow, steady rate--this is not a race!
    • Hold the paddle over the water so that the top hand is near your face (not chest), and the arm nearest to the water is stretched out straight. Stick the entire blade into the water so that the shaft is nearly perpendicular to the surface.
    • Pull the paddle through the water, along the side of the boat. If the paddle stays close to the side of the boat, your body should be able to maintain its upright position without leaning to the side.
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    Know how to turn when you are the paddler at the stern. If you are in the stern, you will be the person who does the most steering. When you are heading in a straight line, you may notice that the canoe begins to veer either to the left or to the right of the straight line. This could be because of a current, or because one of the paddlers is paddling harder than the other. Whatever it may be, you will want to correct the canoe and get it back to the straight line. In order to do this, you will want to paddle on the same side.[5]
    • Another way to steer is to perform a ‘J’ stroke. To accomplish this, place the paddle directly behind you, with the paddle parallel to the side of the canoe. Sweep your paddle out and towards the bow of the boat, creating a ‘J’ shape. If you want to turn right, do a J stroke on the right side of the boat. If you want to turn to the left, do the stroke on the left side of the boat.
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    Paddle backward. Paddling backwards is essentially the same as paddling forward. Place your paddle behind you and sweep it forwards in the water, making sure to lift your paddle all the way out of the water after you have performed the stroke. This will propel you backwards.

Part 4
Landing a Canoe

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    Position the canoe perpendicular to the shore as the paddlers head toward land. Slow the canoe speed, if you don't want to run aground, by dipping your paddle blade into the water so it's perpendicular to the canoe. If there are two paddles, both paddles should be in the water on opposite sides of the canoe. You can also paddle backwards in order to slow the boat down when it is moving forward.
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    Extend the bow paddle out the front of the canoe to break the impact with the shoreline. You will want to be moving at an extremely slow pace at this point. Hitting the shore too hard could cause damage to your canoe. If hit extremely hard, it could even propel you from the boat.
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    Exit the canoe by reversing the steps in the "Getting into a Canoe" section. Always make sure to keep the boat balanced. Once one of the paddlers gets out of the canoe, that person should hold the boat steady for the other paddler.
    • If you are tying up to a dock, tie the boat down before getting out of the canoe if possible. This will keep the canoe in place, allowing you to focus on keeping your weight centered while you get out of the boat.


  • The stern person should try to place her paddle in the water at the same time as the bow person. The canoe will move faster if both paddlers are moving in rhythm with each other.
  • Practice canoeing on a pond or lake rather than a stream, river or other moving water.
  • If canoeing alone, sit in the stern of the canoe for maximum control.


  • The canoe may tip over if you attempt to stand upright in a canoe or lean over the side.
  • Never canoe without wearing a Coast Guard approved life-jacket.

Things You'll Need

  • Canoe
  • 1 Paddle per Person
  • Life jackets

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