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There are 7 basic canoe strokes: Forward Stroke, Sweep, Draw, Cross-Draw, J-Stroke, Pry, Brace

  1. FORWARD STROKE – Standard stroke that moves the canoe forward

  2. SWEEP STROKE - Used to exaggerate the movement of front left and right

  3. DRAW – Moves the front of the canoe abruptly to the left

  4. CROSS-DRAW – Moves the canoe abruptly to the right

  5. J-STROKE – Moves the canoe forward while steering the canoe straight

  6. PRY – Can be used on either side and moves the canoe abruptly to the left or right to avoid objects

  7. BRACE – Steadies the canoe while persons enter and exit. Used by either paddler.

NOTE: The first three strokes are executed by the front person ONLY and usually on the left side of the canoe. ONLY the person in the rear uses the J-STROKE and the PRY. Paddle face is always perpendicular to the direction of the stroke. The hands work in one fluid motion on the forward stroke. Power comes from the grip hand. The top hand pushes the paddle forward pivoting on the grip hand to get full extension of the stroke. The distance between the top hand and the grip hand is wider than the shoulders. Paddlers should paddle in unison and the front position should NOT change sides. Front calls out obstructions. Rear position is in command. Both use the brace, in which the paddle is held parallel to the water and slightly below the surface. The J-stroke is executed smoothly by briefly twisting the paddle shaft 90 degrees at the tail end of the full stroke while pushing the paddle face outward in a “lazy” J motion.

To pass to the right of an object in the river ahead, the front executes a cross draw, pulling the bow to the right of the object. Immediately, the rear prays on the left side, moving the canoe stern to the right.

You can ferry a canoe across a river by the stern angling and holding the bow upstream slightly into the current. The canoe will move directly across the river.

To drop in for a rest or lunch in the middle of the stream, the front person draws (or cross-draws) the bow directly into behind the rock. The stern will swing around and the canoe will remain still, with no anchorage, in the slow water immediately behind the rock.

It is best to kneel on the floor of the canoe when maneuvering in rough water. That places the center of gravity lower and gives the paddles quite a bit more power. A seat floatation device can double as a knee pad.

When paddling a canoe alone, sit towards the middle. It is best to have a keel canoe when paddling alone. A canoe with a slight keel is necessary for lake travel and open streams. A no keel canoe is more maneuverable in white water.

Always be aware of rough water and obstacles ahead in the stream. A portage is better than an accident. Every canoe should have a long bow rope to assist in docking and securing the canoe and in lowering the canoe over rocks and terrain on portages. A canoe on its side on dry land can also serve as a shelter.

A canoe can be loaded with equipment. It will handle well loaded. Secure stored equipment in dry bags to the cross bars in case of a capsize.

Enter a canoe by stepping on the center line ONLY! Hold on to the gunnels to move about. A canoe will float if overturned, so people should hang on to the canoe for safety. Life jackets are recommended.

Author’s Notes: There are many different kinds, brands and size canoes. I have had a 17 foot, 65 pound Grumman aluminum canoe. Just buy or rent what you like best. Would I like to have an extra-light, Kevlar shorter canoe or a river kayak? Of course. Remember suntan lotion and water to drink. And of course your favorite snacks and lunch. What fun I’ve had canoeing the Current, the Black, the Manistee, the Red Cedar, the AuSable Rivers and lakes with my wife and Jim and Lou and David and Brian and Erin and Tommy, drifting along with the brookies and camping and rapids and haystacks and portaging and sliding down troughs. I first learned canoeing at Camp Marymount in Williamston County, Tennessee, where I earned my canoeing merit badge toward my rank of Eagle Scout.


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