When you are taking a trip in a canoe there are a few basic requirements you must know to have a good time in your canoe. It does not matter if you are going on a wide, calm lake, a meandering river or in a white knuckle rapids knowing how to guide a canoe to the destination you want is needed. For the beginner, this can be a very slow and delicate process. You must give yourself enough time to be sure you know exactly what to do once in the water. You will find with practice and proper mechanics that steering your canoe will be as easy to you as steering your car. There are a few different strokes that you will need to learn.
The forward stroke is the simplest stroke that is used to propel the canoe forward through the water. If you are with a partner and in a two person canoe this will be the only stroke the person in the front of the canoe will ever have to use. All the steering should be done by the person in the back of the canoe. This forward stroke should follow an imaginary straight line through the water, not the curve side of the canoe. If you would follow the curvature of the canoe it will send the canoe slightly off course with every stroke. The stroke that goes along with this one is the back stroke. The back stroke is used to slow and stop the canoe.
The draw stroke can be done by reaching out away from the canoe with the paddle and pulling it back towards the canoe through the water. Be sure not to go to far or you will probably get soaked.
If both people in the canoe do this at the same time and on the same side this will cause the canoe to move laterally through the water. It is possible to steer with this stroke but it is not efficient or recommended. The only time this stroke can be used with efficiency is while in shooting rapids. This means while in any kind of shooting rapids the bow partner can use this stroke to quickly steer the canoe out of the way of any obstacles.
The “J” stroke is a stroke that is used by the stern (back) person to affect the forward path of the canoe through the water. To perform this stroke, begin using the forward stroke, but push the paddle away from the canoe about half way through the stroke. If this is done correctly this will push the rear of the canoe in the opposite direction of the stroke. The best way to explain this is that if the stroke is done on the right side of the canoe, the rear will be pushed left.
The “C” stroke is this sort of combination between the forward stroke and the draw. You will begin the forward stroke with your paddle as far away as you can reach. At about the halfway point of this stroke, curve your paddle back towards your canoe. If you preform this stroke on the right side of the canoe, this will draw the rear of the canoe to the right.
You want to be sure that you and your partner are paddling with equal energy on opposite sides of the canoe. If one person is paddling harder than the other, this will cause the canoe to drift off course. Be sure to work together and everyone will have a safe and fun time.