Starting and Stopping smoothly and under good control is a skill
that is difficult master for many solo canoeists. I hope I can provide
some ideas and suggestions that will help make these manoeuvres
easier. The write up and most of the video clips are for classic Canadian style paddling but the recommendations work equally as well for smaller dedicated solo canoes (with the exception of heel and moving back).
Level the canoe (no heel) and move back (for forward stops)
a little. This will dampen the turning motion of the canoe.
Make sure the blade of the paddle stays as close to the hull of
the canoe as possible. The paddle should be upright, the grip
should be outside of the canoe.
When initiating any stop be patient, don't try to bring the
paddle into the fully upright position, or even through to a reverse stroke,
until most of the momentum in the canoe is lost. There should
be little or no 'gurgling' noise or splash. The final
reverse portion of the stroke should only be used for minor
corrections. Patience is the key to executing a good
Make sure you are stopped. This sounds a little funny but
many instructor candidates have problems with this skill
because they don't know, or can not tell, when their canoe
is still moving.
Getting going is always a little tricky but with a little
practise you can start in a straight line and keep going. I
usually find a rolling J helps a lot for the
first few strokes. I often keep the canoe heeled when
starting off and make sure the blade on the initial stroke
is well under the canoe. If you are having problems getting
going move back a little and level out your canoe.
Initiate the forward motion with a very short forward
stroke. This stroke should not have a lot of power
just enough to get underway.
Keep the paddle vertical in the water with the
grip well outside of the canoe - the blade tip should be under the canoe. You might try a short draw (C stroke)
or pitched into the canoe at the catch.
Finish the stroke with a J or Canadian and roll
into the next stroke without exiting the water: a rolling
J or silent stroke. This allows you to have control
throughout the whole stroke and automatically provides
a little draw at the start of the stroke.
Once you are underway you can just provide a little
correction with every stroke.
Moving your weight back a little might help.
Once you are moving the canoe will naturally turn
toward the heel (your paddling side)
so you may not have to do any J strokes.
The most common problem people have is caused by trying to
start too quickly and using a long stroke. Remember
short strokes, be gentle, and keep the paddle as vertical in the
water as possible.
As an alternative to getting going you might want to use cross
forward strokes to get the canoe moving.
Andrew Westwood has
referred to the 2X4 method using two forward strokes (the
onside and the cross forward) and four stroke elements to provide
complete control of the solo canoe.
Stopping - Forward
The idea is to stop the forward moving canoe within the
defined parameters. There are two methods that I use that
don't involve tipping the canoe over; both involve moving your
weight back slightly - usually this just means sitting up a
little bit more, or sometimes leaning back. Taking the
heel out of the canoe will also help.
Backstroke (Classic Stop)
This is a more graceful looking stop
requires a little more finesse to execute. It
will not stop the canoe quickly.
Lean back, choke up a bit, and place the non-power face of the
blade flat on the water surface. The shaft of the paddle should be almost
parallel to the water surface with the grip outside of the gunwale. Your fingers
should be down toward the surface of the water. Your shaft hand should be on
top of the shaft. Tap the edge of the paddle blade on the canoe, this ensures
that you are initiating in the right place.
Initiate stop by slowly pushing the blade down into the water.
When first starting this motion there should usually be a slight pitch
to the blade facing the canoe. Careful since too much pitch will
pull the canoe sideways, too little (or opposite) pitch will cause
the canoe to turn. I usually draw the paddle forward while it is
still angled in the water until I am sitting upright.
As the momentum in the canoe is lost slowly bring the paddle
to a vertical position beside you. The blade tip should be close, or
even under the canoe, and perpendicular to the original direction
Complete the stop, only if necessary, with a small backwards
This is often called a power stop. Many canoeists find it
easier to execute but if you miss the proper
paddle placement it turns into a landing.
Lean back, choke up a bit. Rotate the paddle with the power face
turning toward the canoe until it is facing forward. The grip hand should be
high, almost above your head, with your fingers toward the back of the canoe.
Place the paddle, with
the powerface forward, into the water as far back as you can manage, and as close to
the canoe as possible. There will likely be a little pitch toward the canoe
unless you are a real contortionist; this is a good thing..
The paddle will be close to vertical already. Leave it there, far back,
until most of the momentum is lost.
Slowly (remember patience) pull the paddle forward as the canoe stops.
Just as the paddle reaches your body (backside) quickly rotate the paddle back
so the non-power face is forward. The paddle rotates with the power face turning
toward the canoe.
Complete the stop, only if necessary, with a small reverse J stroke.
The most common problems that people
1. Ensure that the grip hand is over, or preferably outside, of the onside gunwale.
2. The canoe turns toward the paddling side: a) This is usually caused by the blade being too far
out from the canoe. Remember to have the
inside edge of the blade touching the canoe. b) This also happens when
the backstroke is initiated with the wrong pitch. When initiating the
backstroke there should be a small amount of pitch on the blade
into the canoe (only a little or see problem two. c) You have gone from
the initiation to the full stop position (paddle vertical) too quickly. Remember to
slowly sink the paddle into the water and pull it forward as the
momentum in the canoe is lost. d) The backstroke is being initiated
too far forward. Start the initiation of the backstroke well behind
your seating position.
3. Side slipping out of the corridor. There is too much pitch (into the canoe) on the paddle blade when
initiating the backstroke. This is a very common problem with the
compound backstroke. Make sure at the initiation of the backstroke
that there is only a slight pitch to the blade.
Starting - Backward
Starting off backwards is a difficult manoeuvrer. This is
because most of us usually paddle forward so we do not have
a feel for how the canoe
goes backward. The canoe will also typically be stern heavy making
steering a little more difficult. Move forward and practise! Just like all of the other starting/stopping
skills keep the paddle vertical. Getting started backwards is
very similar to stopping the canoe when you are going forward.
Starting off slow with short, usually gentle, strokes is generally
the key; be patient and it will work just fine.
Start the stroke with the paddle a little out from the
canoe and the blade almost flat on the surface, but pitched
toward the canoe. Draw, or pull the pitched blade, into the canoe.
Gently paddle backwards moving the paddle through vertical
and finish up with a reverse J. I often find using an
underwater recovery (a rolling
reverse J) for the first few strokes make getting going easier
with a little more control.
The power portion of the stroke should be fairly short.
After you are moving start each stroke beside you, keep
the paddle vertical, and complete the stroke in-front of you.
Keep the strokes fairly short.
Starting the stroke too far back (behind you) makes the
canoe difficult to control. Keep your weight forward.
Switch the powerface so the non-power face is facing forward.
The paddle is vertical in the water with the blade near the
canoe. Pull the paddle forward and as it reaches your backside
flip the power face toward the front of the canoe, the non-
powerface turning toward the canoe. Finish off with a reverse J.
you are going backward so your power face is opposite what it is normally
for going forward.
I find a slight modification of this easier. Instead of flipping the
paddle part way thought the stroke let your hands slide around the
paddle (flip your hands instead of the paddle). This then becomes
a rolling reverse J.
After you are going switch to shorter strokes, starting beside you
and ending in-front of you.
Stopping - Backward
Usually paddlers find stopping a backward moving canoe much easier, the motion,
and execution has a much more natural feel. Again just the the forward stop the
key is patience; start initiating the stop fairly far forward in the canoe
and wait until most of the momentum in the canoe has been lost.
Lean forward a bit and place the paddle, slowly, in the water with the blade
as close to the canoe as possible, and as far forward as comfortable.
The grip of the paddle should be fairly high and outside the gunwale.
Slowly pull the paddle back toward your sitting position.
Complete the stop, if necessary with
a J stroke.
The first few times that you try and execute a nice smooth stop you will likely find that you
jiggle and wiggle like a bowl of jelly just to keep the canoe
in line. Don't worry this happens to
everyone and it slowly goes away as you become more comfortable with
the execution of the manoeuvrer.
The examples on this page are in a more traditional tandem canoe.
If you are paddling a solo canoe you can use cross strokes to start (and stop)
in both directions. The video clip below is in a smaller solo boat - only
onside strokes are used but if you search the YouTube channel there are examples
of cross forward and reverse strokes.