How To Canoe Solo
While it isn’t as easy as paddling an inflatable fishing kayak alone, it is possible to successfully solo paddle a canoe.
Whether you are out for a trip on the lake by yourself, or if (like in the photo to the right) you have company that cannot work a paddle, knowing how to properly pilot a canoe by yourself – even if all you have is a two-person canoe – is a handy skill to master.
Here are a few tips to take your unaccompanied canoe skills to the next level.
While it is possible to sit in either the front or rear seat while you solo paddle a canoe, positioning yourself near the center makes it much easier to control. Sitting at one end of canoe will pop the other end up out of the water, giving you less hull surface area in contact with your lake, pond, or stream. If you get any kind of breeze it will act like a sail, and push your canoe with the wind.
The most comfortable option for central positioning is to add a center seat. There are companies that make snap-in seats like this for popular canoe brands like Old Town Canoe and others. Just drop it in and you are good to go.
If a seat isn’t an option, kneeling in the canoe a little behind the yoke will put you in the right place. This position will slightly lift the bow of the canoe, which will give you greater control when you turn. At the same time it will put a little more weight in the stern, helping you stay straight when you glide.
One of the downsides of kneeling in the center of a canoe is you are positioning yourself where the boat is the widest. That will make switching sides when you paddle much harder than it is at the narrower stern.
The good news is there are several different paddle strokes you can use to control your canoe from only one side. Probably the best is a good J Stroke – here are the steps:
- Power – To start, insert the paddle blade into the water while keeping the shaft vertical. Draw the paddle toward the stern in a straight line.
- Transition – As you pull the paddle blade past your body, twist your hands both down and out at the same time. If you do it correctly, the thumb of your hand on top of the paddle will point toward the water, and the paddle blade will rotates about 90 degrees. It should now be orientated parallel to the direction you are traveling.
- Correct – The result of the pry stroke is to push your canoe away from the side you are paddling on. The simplest way to perform this stroke is to place the shaft of the paddle against the side of the gunwales beside you while holding the blade parallel with the center line of your canoe. Slightly lean the canoe towards the side you are paddling on, and then slice your paddle down into the water using an angle that directs the paddle blade under your canoe, then use your canoe gunwales as a fulcrum and draw the paddle handle towards you. Lean into it with your body weight if you need more power. A pry either forward or aft acts like a draw, and will push your bow or stern away from the paddle.
- Return – If you find yourself drifting off course, you can correct your line by dragging the tip of your paddle blade through the water for a few inches as you draw it back forward for the next stroke.
If you are a visual learner, here is a good YouTube video that gives you the basics:
Practice Makes Perfect
Mastering the art of solo paddling a canoe can significantly increase your time on the water, as you no longer need to recruit a partner to go out with you. But like any skill it takes time to do it well, so make time to practice going it alone. And while you should always have the proper flotation devices on hand when you go out in a boat, this is doubly true when you work a canoe by yourself, as you may dump from time to time until you get the hang of it.