How To Canoe – A Complete Guide

How To Canoe

Learning how to canoe is a fun way to spend a day out on the water with your friends or family. Canoeing is a classic summertime activity that just about every kid learns how to do if they’re lucky enough to go to summer camp. Whether it’s been a while since you’ve been in a canoe or you just haven’t had an opportunity to try, learning to canoe is much easier than you may think!

There are several steps to take to ensure you have the safest and most fun experience possible. In addition to how to paddle, we’re going to cover what gear you’ll need, how to pack the canoe, and how to get in and out of the boat. Before you know it, you’ll be heading out and hitting the water!

Dress for Success

One of the most important things to remember when you’re getting ready for a day out on the water is that you need to dress appropriately for the conditions. It’s very easy to end up with hypothermia or sunburn if you’re not wearing the attire for the weather you’re going to be facing.

For cooler weather or rougher waters:

  • If you find that it is supposed to be a chilly day or you are planning on canoeing on raging or rough water, you should wear layers for extra warmth.
  • The layer that is closest to your skin should be fairly water-resistant and not absorbent. Clothes designed to wick moisture away from your skin would be a good choice.
  • Next, add an insulating and warming layer. Fleece and wool are a fantastic choice for this layer.
  • Feel free to add a warm jacket and a wool cap if it is supposed to be very cool.
  • Make sure you wear the correct footwear. Rubber boots are a great option, as they do a good job of keeping your feet dry.
  • A helmet is a great choice to have when facing rough water.

For warm water and weather:

  • When the forecast calls for a hotter day and the water is nice and warm, you can wear shorts and a t-shirt. If you prefer pants, going with a pair that are made from material that dries quickly is a great idea.
  • If it’s supposed to be a sunny day, it would be smart to wear a hat to protect you from the UV rays.
  • For shoes, you have several options. You can wear water shoes, old sneakers, or sandals. You are also welcome to wear rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.
  • Always make sure to bring sunblock and bug spray

Canoeing 101

Before you can jump into learning how to canoe, you need to know the basics: How to get in and out of the boat and how to pack it.

Getting In a Canoe

Entering the canoe is easiest when you have a partner that can hold it for you. If you are boating solo, you can secure both ends to the riverbank or the dock to steady the boat.

  1. Once your boat is steady, crouch down low with your knees bent. Hold onto the closest side of the boat with both hands.
  2. Face the front of the canoe and put the leg closest to it in the boat, as close to the center as possible. Bring your hand over to hold the other side of the canoe.
  3. Slowly but swiftly, bring the rest of your body and your other leg into the boat, remaining as centered as possible.

Exiting The Canoe

  1. Make sure your boat is somewhere that it can’t float away. Either secure it to the shore or to a dock.
  2. Grab the side of the boat that you’ll be exiting from and stand in a low crouch facing that side.
  3. Swing either leg out of the canoe and use the corresponding arm to grasp the dock or shore.
  4. Pull yourself out of the boat.

Where to Put Your Gear

When packing your boat, there are a couple of important things to remember:

  • Always put heavier stuff in the middle. If you’re fishing, placing your tackle bag in the center keeps the weight away from either end and allows the fishing supplies to be within reach when needed.
  • Lightweight things can go at either end, just be sure to distribute the weight evenly.
  • Be sure to keep anything that you may need to grab quickly in a spot that’s easy to get to. This includes a first aid kit and food and drink.


Canoes gain the momentum needed to move them via the boater paddling. Whether you are in the canoe alone or you have a partner, paddling your boat forward a fairly simple maneuver, although it may take a while to truly get the hang of it.

  1. Either sit or kneel in the canoe, facing forward. You will be positioned in the middle if you are canoeing solo, otherwise you’ll take either the stern or bow position, depending on what you and your partner decided on.
  2. You’ll hold the paddle with inside hand on top and the water-side hand down further. Keep your hands about 2-3 feet apart, and make sure your knuckles are facing out.
  3. Moving the paddle ahead of you, enter the water at least 2 feet ahead of you. Ideally, you’ll want to put the blade into the water as far forward as you can while keeping your body in place.
  4. Pull the blade through the water towards the back of the boat in a straight line.
  5. Lift the blade and repeat.
  6. You can switch sides if you find you’re drifting towards one side or the other and you want to keep the boat moving in a straight line.


All in all, canoeing is a family friendly activity that anyone can participate in. Whether you want to go on a calm lake or a rough river, canoeing is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors.