Brace strokes provide stability, allow the paddler to [re]center their weight in the canoe, and providing a righting force when the canoe is tipping. Recently I had discussion a with another instructor about the proper low brace. I think we came at the definition from two different stand points: a brace providing stability when doing rescues, when the other paddler is standing, getting in/out of the boat, where there might be a tipping moment; or a brace is done when the canoe is tipping in rapids, from a large wave, or other unexpected incident in progress. Neither of these is wrong, but the situation and execution are different depending on the need at the time.
The most powerful brace is when the paddle as parallel to the surface of the water, weighting the shaft hand, and lifting the grip hand (using a class 1 lever). This brace is used when the canoe is tipping toward the paddling side, prevent a capsize. When paddling tandem this stroke may be balanced using a righting pry or high brace.
Commit to the brace, get your weight on the paddle. This will allow you to take some weight off of the boat and pull (flick) the boat back under your body.
Remember - all of this is done in a spit second as the canoe is tipping. Practise is important to make the move automatic. In flat water I suggest having someone standing in the water holding the stern (behind the paddler) and tipping the canoe without warning. The clip provided here was done on flat water to provide a clear view of the brace motion - the practical application will be a more dynamic situation.
How to do a low brace from Expert Village
Low Brace and Righting Pry (tandem) from Mathew Head (MUN)
Master the Low Brace from Rapid Magazine
Although the low brace described above is very effective at righting the canoe, it may not always be necessary or practical when only stability is required. Stability can be provided using a sculling motion on top of the water (sculling brace), it is not necessary to have the paddle either outside of the canoe or parallel to the surface of the water. Certainly the strongest brace comes from a low angle paddle, but extending the paddle/head/weight outside of the canoe when then canoe is not actually tipping may also be asking for trouble. When the canoe is in motion adequate supporting force can be provided using a pitched blade on the surface of the water rather than sculling. Switching from a running blade to sculling may be necessary as the canoe slows to a stop.
When lake paddling, maintaining stability is often done though just paddling. Keeping your paddle in the water, and the canoe moving, is important for keeping the boat upright. If things start to feel uncomfortable, adding a low brace might help, but it also slows the canoe (stop) leaving you less stable.
A little more information that might be helpful from Paul Bull through Paddler eZine.
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