Solo — Start and Stop

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).

Some Flash videos that might help you visualize the maneuver

Starting - Forward

Starting Forward

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.

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 of motion.
  • Complete the stop, only if necessary, with a small backwards J stroke.
Forward Stop using Backstroke

Forward Stop using Backstroke

Compound Backstroke

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.
Forward Stop  using Compound Backstroke

Forward Stop using Compound Backstroke


The most common problems that people encounter are:

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. Starting Backward

Backward Stroke

Compound Backstroke

Stopping - Backward

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.

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.

Some Flash videos that might help you visualize 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.

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Last modified: Thu Jun 22 17:35:16 2019