PADDLERsmart! Canada Knowledge Base

Module 04 - Safe Boat Operation



Prepare to enter a canoe by doing the following:


Step 1: Position the canoe so that it is parallel to shore.

Step 2: Load, secure and evenly distribute all of your cargo before boarding the canoe.

Step 3: If on moving water, hold the upstream end of the canoe tightly to the shore to keep it from being pulled into the current.

Step 4: If in shallow water, walk the canoe into ankle deep water before you attempt to enter.

Entering Your Canoe

Once you’ve completed the safety preparations to enter your canoe, you can enter by following these steps: 

Step 1: Place the paddle across the gunwales with the blade end facing the shore.

Step 2: Facing forward, hold on to both gunwales and lean the canoe towards the shore until the paddle braces itself against the shore, or against the waterway bottom.

Step 3: Slowly transfer your weight to the bottom center of the canoe, placing one foot at a time.

Step 4: Always maintain three points of contact when entering, exiting or moving around in the canoe.

Step 5: Whenever possible, climb directly into your paddling position.

Exiting Your Canoe

When exiting a canoe simply repeat the process in reverse. If you were paddling a tandem canoe, the paddler at the stern should be the last to exit.

How to Stabilize Your Canoe 

For maximum stability in a one-person canoe:

  • Always kneel in the center of the canoe when paddling by yourself.
  • Spread your knees as far apart as is comfortable to increase your paddling power.
  • Point your toes towards the stern or place them against the bottom of the canoe to elevate your ankles.
  • Use kneepads to stay comfortable on longer paddle trips (or just throw a towel down under your knees).

For maximum stability in a two-person canoe:

  • The stern paddler should enter the canoe first, while the second paddler steadies the canoe for them.
  • Once the stern paddler is seated, the second paddler should enter the canoe at the bow.
  • The stern of a tandem canoe is generally wider and will feel more stable.
  • The canoe will feel much steadier once the second person enters and the weight distribution balances out.
  • If you’re paddling by yourself in a two-person canoe, kneel in the center of the canoe. Placing your weight at either the bow or the stern will throw off your trim considerably.

You must be 100% confident that you’ll be able to safely re-enter your paddle craft if you accidentally capsize while paddling in deep water. You should practice falling overboard and re-entering in shallow water until you’re able to re-enter the paddle craft without assistance. Once you can do this, you can head for the deep. Until then, you’ll want to feel sand beneath your feet.


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