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A beginner’s guide to canoeing

By Cara MacDonald, KSL.com | Posted - Jun 8th, 2019 @ 7:09am



Editor's note: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. The owner and operator of this site does not recommend or endorse any specific products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in the article. Reliance on any information provided by the site owner and operator is solely at your own risk. Always make sure you have the proper equipment, physical condition and experience level before trying any outdoor activity.


SALT LAKE CITY — Utah provides a mix of world-class, white-water rivers and accessible reservoirs and streams, making it a paradise for both beginner and expert canoeists.

Still, those getting into the sport face a number of obstacles, from the cost of a canoe to the difficulty of learning how to paddle and not tip over. Tim White, canoeing instructor at the University of Utah’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism department, told KSL.com how to overcome these obstacles.

“Canoes are one of the most versatile ways to travel on the water,” White said. “Rafts, kayaks and paddleboards all have their places, but canoes can carry people and their gear in a wider variety of conditions than most other methods.”

Getting started

“To start canoeing, find a lake in calm (non-windy) conditions,” White explained. “Most all canoes are tandem (2 person), and generally the paddlers will paddle on opposite sides. It’s important to communicate and work together. The person in the back (stern) of the canoe will do most of the steering.”

Canoes have a reputation for being “tippy” or difficult to maneuver, according to White. As such, synchronicity and communication between paddlers is key to keeping a well-balanced watercraft.

“Different canoe shapes can feel more or less stable to begin with, but most people adapt quickly and find their balance,” White reassured. “As for maneuvering, getting a canoe to paddle in a straight line is a skill; but once learned, it can allow a paddler to cover a long distance efficiently. Check out YouTube for videos on how to perform the ‘J’ stroke.”

Once paddling is understood, the process of canoeing becomes far simpler, according to Canoeing.com. Taking the time to learn paddle strokes and techniques to get out of sticky situations (like broadsiding on a windy day) will help greatly.

The harder part is learning how to get into the canoe, as well as how to load it successfully, according to Canoeing.com. Too much weight in the front of the watercraft makes it difficult to steer, while weight that is low in the canoe makes it less prone to tipping. Read more about how to effectively pack your canoe from REI.

Rent or buy?

“Beginners should rent canoes or take a canoeing class before they buy to become familiar with the different canoe options available,” White said. “Most of the local universities rent canoes, along with REI.”

If you’ve rented a canoe several times, really enjoyed it and are ready to purchase one so you can go as often as you’d like, it’s important to take some time to find the right canoe for your needs. How many people are you trying to carry (two or six)? How long would you like your canoeing trips to be? Do you want to do trips on rivers or lakes? Read more about picking the right watercraft for you here.

How to transport a canoe

Getting your canoe to your destination in one piece is a great way to start your trip. Take some time to properly secure your canoe before driving with it.

“Canoes can be easily transported on most cars,” White explained. “Roof racks help, but foam blocks can be used and are usually available from rental operations. Canoes are carried upside down on a car’s roof.”

Foam blocks are secured to your boat and then to your car, according to Paddle Boston. They recommend using more than one strap to secure the boat and tying the canoe to the car at both the bow and stern, as well as the sides. Even more secure ways to tie down the canoe include roof-mounted racks and trailers, the organization said.

Canoeing safety

“To begin canoeing, make sure you prevent any problems before you head out,” White said. “Have adequate food and water not just to survive any mishaps, but to also keep everyone happy on the adventure. Always wear a PFD (life jacket) on the water, zipped up and buckled.”

White also suggested wearing additional layers (fleece and raincoats) in the canoe and having dry clothes waiting in the car for when you are finished.

“Carry a whistle and a light to signal other boaters if you are on a body of water that has motorboats,” he said. “Get a feel for the canoe and how it moves before taking on any big challenges. As you become more efficient, you will be able to accomplish more and do bigger trips.”

Canoeing.com offers a few other suggestions to ensure safety on your expeditions:

  • Know how to right a tipped canoe. Practice in still water without anything valuable in your boat, and either learn from a professional or do research on the right technique. This video provides some background on the canoe righting process.

  • Prepare for inclement weather. Thunder and lightning storms, and wind storms can all cause very bad situations for canoeists. Water conducts electricity, putting you in a complicated spot during a lightning storm. Additionally, wind storms can cause you to completely lose control of the canoe and put you in dangerous situations. Understanding basic weather forecasting will help a lot in becoming an avid canoeist.

  • Learn from an experienced guide. They’ll teach you valuable skills and help to bring you home safely from your first few excursions.

Canoe maintenance

“Most modern canoe constructions are easily stored with minimal maintenance,” White explained. “The biggest factor would be keeping them out of the sun.”

Certain types of canoes, such as wood or canvas canoes, require more care. So, pay attention to the specific needs of your boat when you purchase it.

Where are your favorite places to canoe in Utah? Comment below.

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