Learn How to Canoe

Read tips for buying a canoe, what types of canoes are offered and the basics of getting started on the water, including directions on how to steer a canoe.

| May/June 1982

Canoeists, like the Water Rat, know the joys of paddling on a lake or river, flowing along in harmony with the earth's natural forces and often enjoying glimpses of her untouched beauty that the shore-bound never have a chance to view. Furthermore, waterways that are deep enough to accommodate motorized boats tend to be heavily trafficked . . . but narrow and twisting streams, broad flat swamps, and shallow inlets where only small craft can venture remain far more wild. And the canoe — with its quiet grace, speed, ease of handling, light weight, versatility and relatively low cost — is the ideal boat for exploring such reaches.
If you're hankering for adventure, then, or simply want to enjoy the wonders of nature that can best be found off the beaten trail, canoeing could be your ticket to freedom. Learning how to handle one of the narrow, tippy vessels will take some practice, of course, but the following guidelines for choosing equipment and mastering the basic paddling techniques should put you on your way to becoming at ease on the water.


Choosing a Canoe

A new canoe of good quality will cost you a hefty $400 to $2,000, while a used one will run from $100 on up. As a novice, you'll want to rent your equipment until you're familiar with the various styles of craft and know which will best meet your specific needs. Check with camping stores or boat dealers for information on nearby canoe liveries.


The sleek river runners come in a confusing variety of sizes, designs, and materials . . . simply because there is no perfect, all-purpose canoe. You'll want to choose the style most suited to the type of paddling you'll be doing. For example, will you be cruising on flat water or running the rapids? Do you plan to travel as a solo paddler or with a partner? Are you primarily interested in fishing, racing, or canoe camping? These factors — and a good many others — can influence your choice of equipment.


Canoe Design Considerations

In general, it's best to select the longest canoe that suits your needs. Although they're lightweight, the shorter craft (those from 10 to 13 feet) tend to ride low in the water, offer little room for gear, and are typically slower and more unstable than are longer canoes. So, even if you intend to paddle solo, you'll want to choose a 14-footer, at least.


Most canoeists prefer a 16 to 18-foot craft. The standard 17-foot size travels swiftly when powered by two paddlers, has the capacity to carry a good bit of gear, and is easy to handle in white water. Canoes over 17 feet have an increased capacity (meaning that they ride higher in the water than would a shorter canoe loaded with the same weight), but in gaining that advantage they sacrifice maneuverability. Therefore, craft 18 feet or longer are used primarily for cruising on flat water.

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