Solo Inside and Outside Landings

Landing a canoe against a dock, river bank, or rock outcrop is an important skill when out for the day or in the middle of a longer trip. Before you start practicing landings make sure you are comfortable with paddling solo in a straight line. Make sure you can go at least 25m with very little deviation.

To start with I want to clarify what I mean by inside/outside landings. People often find the terminology 'inside/outside' confusing when dealing with landings since they are thinking about the shore not the paddler and canoe. The direction that you turn is the same as an inside or outside turn or circle on open water:

Outside Turn Inside Turn
Outside: The turn is away from the solo paddling side (or stern side in tandem *). This means that the paddle is between the canoe and dock at the end of the maneuver. Inside: The turn is towards the solo paddling side (or stern side in tandem). This means at the end of the landing the paddle is on the far side from the dock.
outside trun image inside turn image


The 'right way' to execute a landing depends a little on conditions, where you need to land, and having time to practice - what works for me may not work for others. I have assumed you are using a symetric canoe with some rocker and some tumbleholm. If you are in a canoe with a straight keel line and a v-bottom you will find turns and landings more difficult. The following provides a starting point and some alternative options.

Inside Landings

Most people find inside landings easier to execute when just starting.

  1. With less than 1/2 of a canoe length to the dock initiate the turn with a reverse sweep. A partial reverse sweep, no more than half way, is usually good enough. If you are coming in on an angle a hard 'J' or 'C' will probably be enough. Make sure you have a good heel (tilt) on the canoe. Moving your weight slightly forward might also help.
  2. As your canoe comes around level out the canoe to stop the turn. Use a light backstroke with a little sculling draw to stop the canoe.

A common problem here is to much continued motion towards the dock. It is kind of cool to 'bump' the dock but it also shows lack of control. The reverse sweep is appropriate for landings because you want to stop the forward motion of the canoe; unlike an inside turn where you want to continue forward motion.

When you have this landing working well try initiating the turn with a running bow draw (duffek), or cut. Freak out your friends and prove you really are a contortionist by using a cross bow jam with the canoe still heeled to the inside.

Stop turn with running draw
Stop turn with back sweep

Outside Landings

The outside landing is a little tricker to master. This is because the turn is often initiated with a sweep which adds to the forward motion, unlike the inside landing where the reserve sweep stops the canoe. For this reason, when you are comfortable with the canoe motion, using a cross cut, or jam may work better. The second set of strokes are just alittle harder to execute correctly. The jam requires deep water.

  1. When approaching the dock initiate the turn with a forward sweep and heel the canoe well. As the canoe starts to turn transition to a running draw behind your paddling position to pull the back end around and stop the forward motion. The turn is generally started a little less than one canoe length away from the dock. If you are coming in on an angle than 1/2 canoe length should be OK. Shifting your weight a little forward also helps. A good heel is important to executing this maneuver.
  2. As your canoe comes around parallel to to the dock level out the canoe (remove heel) and back stroke enough to stop the canoe. Depending on the speed you may have to apply a pry or push away alittle to the stern.

Over rotation is the biggest problem I find with this landing along with stopping the overall motion towards the dock. Removing the heel as you come around and adding a small push away behind you will help.

When you feel comfortable you can try two alternatives to initiate the turn: a) Initiate with a jam or forward running pry (look really cool and do this one handed). Initiating with a Jam is probably the hardest of the landing maneuvers. b) Initiate with a cross cut or forward running cross draw (cross duffeck). When to use these depends on conditions, water depth, shoreline (dock), and your abilities. The most difficult thing about using these alternatives is stopping the forward motion of the canoe.

Stop turn with stern draw

Stop turn with jam or running pry

Weight Turns:

I have found practicing weight turns very helpful when working on solo turns and landings. These turns give you a feel for how the canoe is going to turn anyway; with practice you can actually do landings without a paddle.

A weight turn is basically turning the canoe without using a paddle using any small amount of inertia in the canoe from the last stroke (or two), body rotation, or hull shape. You can turn the canoe and control the turn rate using just your weight.

Practice on a on a calm, wind free, lake. Start by paddling in a straight line then pull your paddle out of the water and heel the canoe over. It should turn one way (or the other) depending on the how the canoe is running. The key with weight turns is the ability to move your weight and adjust the amount of heel.

There is no magic in weight turns - in all cases they need to be initiated and the canoe heeled, the heel (edge) is held through out the turn. The amount of heel and trim can be used to control the rate and size of the turn.

Weight turns are initiated in three ways (or a combination of ways).

  1. Paddling - use of straight through strokes or J strokes to impart a very subtle amount of turning inertia to the canoe. The trick is to add enough that the canoe will turn in an expected way when heeled but when running flat it will continue in a mostly straight line for at least several seconds.
    • To do an outside turn use a straight forward stroke for the last stroke.
    • For an inside turn use a 'J', it may have to be a slightly stronger 'J' than normal, or 'C' as the last stroke.

    When first trying out weight turns just pull your paddle out and see where things go. Control the speed of the turn by adjusting the amount of heel on the canoe. Try moving your weight backward and forward to see how different positions change the rate and direction of the turn. With practice you can actually get the canoe to turn the direction you want without the last stroke cheat.

    To slow or stop the rate of turn level the canoe (no heel) to increase the drag on the stems of the canoe. Weighting the back end of the canoe also slows the turn in some cases. Conversly un-weighting the back end of the canoe by moving forward, slightly, will allow the back of the canoe to swing or wash out freely. Increasing the amount of heel will excentuate this effect.

  2. Use of the shape of the canoe to initiate a turn. When the is canoe weighted toward the trailing or leading end it will have have some natural tendancy to turn (see edging) based on the amount of pitch and heel. Except in extreme cases any existing inertia and force from the paddle will overwhelm this natural tendency.

    A canoe weighted toward the trailing stem will typically turn toward the heeled side. To be most effective the trailing stem must be in the water so a canoe with moderate rocker (more more) will be difficult to initiate a weight turn.

    A forward weighted canoe will turn away from the heeled side. This direction initiation is very subtle and a forward weighted canoe will easily turn either direction with the trailing end skidding out. The rate and size of a turn initiated from a forward weighted canoe is very difficult to control.

  3. Use of body rotation and transferring rotation inertia to the canoe. Keep the canoe level when paddling, this will keep the canoe running in a straight line and will (hopefully) keep the bow and stern stem in the water providing the greatest resistance to turning. Rotate your upper body in the direction you want to turn the canoe then stop rotating at the same time heel the canoe to lift the stems out of the water. The energy from stopping will be transferred into the canoe and with less resistance in the heeled canoe it will turn.

    This method of initiating a turn is the most subtle and can be difficult to master.

Samples of Turns

180 degree - weight turn

90 degree - weight turn

No turn - weight turn

Here are a few additional clips

Final Thoughts:

*I have referenced the stern paddler when determining 'inside' or 'outside'. Moving water paddlers and some paddling organizations reference the bow paddler.

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Last modified: Sun Oct 21 14:51:23 2012