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6/14/2022 12:50 pm  #1

How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

Okay, so it seems I'm going to be doing a 9-day trip in Algonquin this summer... in a canoe. If there's anyone on this board who isn't already aware, I solo camp out of a sea kayak. I've rarely paddled a canoe, I strongly dislike paddling a canoe, and it's been years since I've so much as sat in a canoe. 

But the "I hate" part comes mostly from being bad and inexperienced at paddling a canoe. So all you canoeists, please give me advice and YouTube links that will give me a chance of learning how to be somewhat competent at paddling a canoe. I don't want to hate this camping trip. 



6/14/2022 1:30 pm  #2

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)


I should have linked to one of the 'let me google that for you' sites which is just a passive aggressive way of saying...couldn't you google it?

It's really quite a pleasure paddling solo in a a good sense of accomplishment when you assess your strengths and weaknesses and can make the adjustments to get it done with minimal effort and maximum 'smoothness'.


6/14/2022 4:25 pm  #3

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

I expect your paddling is pretty decent by now. The strokes are the same basic motions whether your kayaking or canoeing, but if you have a preference for one type of stroke like a draw vs a pry then in a canoe you'll need to work on strengthening the "other" one since you can't just switch sides every stroke. 

What in particular do you recall disliking about paddling a canoe? That might help focus the feedback. 


6/14/2022 8:09 pm  #4

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

Tandem or solo? Solo I suggest a kayak paddle. But if you are tandem, maybe try a kayak paddle. 


6/14/2022 11:18 pm  #5

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

Well, it's going to he different for you that's for sure, but hoping you enjoy your return from the dark side even if it is brief. 

Assuming you are in a tandem.  You'll be sitting higher, so the motion and feel of the boat will be very different.  In the kayak your backside is roughly at water level, here you'll be several inches higher.  If you are in the bow, you are providing the power.  If you are in the stern, you provide some power as well, but you provide steering.

I think you'll find that the paddle handle will go higher during the stroke and the paddle will be more vertical at entry to the water than you're accustomed to.  That creates different stresses on the shoulder and wrist.  The blade will follow the contour of the boat during the stroke, you'll notice quite a difference in the bow and stern of a canoe compared to the middle of a kayak. 

Be sure to get a paddle that fits you, in terms of length, weight, and thickness where you hold it.  I am sure you will be a very strong paddler, but I'll say this anyway - I switched to a fairly narrow-bladed paddle a few years ago.  My previous paddle was a fat, long beaver tail shape, it was heavy, and the resistance in the water was tearing up my elbow.   Knowing you, you'll be logging a lot of nautical km's, so you want something you can swing around all day and be ok the next day. 

Dunno if this generalist junk helps in any way or not, maybe it just gets you thinking.

You remind me of a joke john Pinette used to tell as part of a bit called "hiking is a walk that sucks."  he said "...what is a kayak anyway?  A canoe for people who don't have friends?"


6/15/2022 12:31 pm  #6

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

I second using your kayak paddle, you are already familiar with it. I find a kayak paddle helps me go a little faster and a little easier to go straight, but it drips more water into the canoe. When I use a canoe paddle I refuse to do a steering stroke and instead I just switch sides every 3 strokes or so, do they call that a racing stroke? Of course, the canoe paddle gives better control which may be a consideration if you did a lot of twisty river travel.


6/15/2022 1:00 pm  #7

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

Sorry, I thought it would be clear that the only way I'd ever be paddling a canoe is because there will be someone else in it with me! If I were solo then I'd be in my kayak, as God intended. 

@PaPaddler: yes, I could Google it (and have). But there are a million resources and a million instructional videos, and I have no way of telling the good from the bad because I know nothing. So I turned to those who do.

@RobW: See, I don't think the paddle strokes are at all similar between a canoe and a kayak - which may well mean my canoe paddle stroke is just that terrible. What I dislike about paddling a canoe is that a) it seems to be an incredible amount of work compared to a kayak and b) making the boat go where it want it to go. 

@MartinG: see above. You think there's any chance I'd be solo paddling a canoe?  Why would I put myself through that? Would a kayak paddle even work in a normal canoe? I mean a normal length kayak paddle, a 220 cm. I imagine it's at least 30-40 cm too short. 

@MooseWhizzer Dave: thanks, all of that is very helpful. As you say, it gets me thinking. 

@solos: interesting that you're also suggesting a kayak paddle. I just assumed Martin was being... Martin. Most of the trip will be open water, and the river we're going down won't be super windy. If I can actually use my kayak paddle I'll feel about a thousand times better about all of this. 

Last edited by Uppa (6/15/2022 1:01 pm)

     Thread Starter

6/15/2022 2:05 pm  #8

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

So ...

WIth a kayak paddle you kinda sorta get a 2-for-1 because the recovery from 1 stroke is the power of the 2nd stroke. So ya, you can move faster with less effort. 

In addition a kayak will be narrower at the water line which (skipping technical references to John Winter's "The Shape of the Canoe") means that the hull itself will move faster with less effort. 

BUT when it comes to the mechanics of a single stroke, they are the same. 
- a good paddle stroke will have a vertical shaft, keep the blade close to the hull, start forward and the power stroke will end at the hip
- kayak strokes can be "lazier" because a wide, sweeping paddle stroke in a kayak will be corrected by an equally inefficient wide sweeping stroke on the other side
- a solo canoe stroke will have a C shape providing a small correction at the start and small correction at the end, you have probably already developed this movement with your kayak stroke
- a bow canoe paddler on flat water makes few correction strokes and mostly focuses on forward power
- a bow canoe paddler on moving water, especially twisty creeks does a lot - sometimes most - of the steering strokes
- a stern canoe paddler won't do a C stroke for a variety of reasons - much longer boat in front of them so less turning to start with, not in the right position to have leverage for the start of a C stroke, and the bow paddler is already providing turning pressure towards their offside simply by paddling, no matter how good their stroke is
- a stern canoe paddler will use a combination of J-strokes and stern draws to tweak direction while moving "straight" (like that every really happens with a canoe or a kayak)
- stronger stern draws and prys will be used for stronger turning motions

I expect that after your years of kayaking all of your paddling technique and paddling muscles are way better developed than the last time you tried canoeing. :-) 

Nothing wrong with using a kayak paddle, it's been done lots of times, especially on parent-kid trips. You are right that you will probably want a longer paddle than you usually use. Even paddling stern you will still be higher up from the water whether sitting or kneeling and the canoe will be wider. Generally the bow paddler position is wider than the stern. 

Worst case, you take a kayak paddle, decide it ain't working, and have an extra piece of gear to portage. 


6/15/2022 2:32 pm  #9

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

This made me laugh right away:  Sorry, I thought it would be clear that the only way I'd ever be paddling a canoe is because there will be someone else in it with me! If I were solo then I'd be in my kayak, as God intended. 

That's why I figured you'd be in a tandem. 

Should I end up in Hell at the end of my toilsome life journey, I'll figure it out soon enough that I'm on a portage that never ends.  For you, you'll know right away if they hand you a brand new canoe paddle.

So we'd best remain in good standing in the eternal ledger book. 


6/15/2022 5:11 pm  #10

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

Uppa wrote:

I just assumed Martin was being... Martin. 

Yeah I was! LOL

Your 220 double blade would be bonkers in a canoe, like constantly bonking the gunnels. The alternative would be a good Ottertail. I have faith in you, you will figure it out.


6/15/2022 9:00 pm  #11

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

If this is going to be a one-off experience, and assuming your group has canoe paddling experience, just sit in the bow as much as possible. You said it's mostly open water, so sitting in the bow you won't have to do too much in terms of different strokes.

If you do stern, you'll probably be better off using the goon stroke instead of the J stroke. The J is more efficient, but it's less intuitive and takes more time to learn and get good at. 

Goon vs. J:

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6/21/2022 1:56 pm  #12

Re: How to paddle a canoe (no, this is not a joke)

I can't speak for the rest of the forum but i am VERY interested to see the video you post of your canoe experience...the highs, the lows...the grimaces as a diehard kayaker!


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