Canoe Strokes You Must Learn

It is crucial to know how to paddle your canoe correctly if you plan on taking it out on the water. Paddling correctly is the only way to control where the canoe goes. When operating a tandem canoe, the front paddler, known as the bow, paddles on one side. The back paddler, known as the stern, will then paddle on the other side. There is no need to change sides or hand positions unless one’s arms are tired and needs rest. If you’re solo canoeing, navigating the boat straight or making any turns is done by paddling on only one side. Maneuvering your canoe requires special strokes that’s more about skill than strength. Keep reading to find out the basic canoe strokes that you must learn to paddle correctly.

Forward Stroke

You may think that everyone knows how to make a canoe go forward, but that’s just not the case. Many newbies make the mistake of thinking they know how to forward stroke when they actually don’t. Paddling the canoe with your blade too far out from the canoe makes the boat go forward, but it also makes it turn. In order to make the boat go forward without turning, you should reach out as far forward as possible, submerge the blade completely in the water and pull the blade back towards you on the side of the canoe.

Backwards Stroke
Backwards Stroke

Backwards Stroke

The backwards stroke is the opposite of the standard forward stroke and is done when you need to quickly put the boat in reverse. You’re going to reach back with both of your hands and extend the paddle into the water slightly behind your body and then pull forward. The backward stroke is not only used to stop the boat, but also to slow it down in rapid moving water. The backward stroke can also be used to pivot the canoe by having the stern paddler forward stroke on one side and the bow paddler on the opposite side.


The J-stroke allows solo paddlers to keep the canoe going straight without changing the side you’re paddling on. To J-stroke, you’re going to reach as far forward as possible and submerge the paddle blade underwater. In order to make the boat go forward, you’re going to pull the blade back towards you beside the boat. You’re essentially moving the paddle in the shape of a J, hence the name J-stroke.

Sweep Stroke

With a sweep stroke, you do just as the name implies, you make sweeping motions with the paddle blade in an arc. This stroke moves the canoe away from the paddle. The blades push the water, not only allowing the canoe to move forward, but it also turns the canoe. You can turn more rapidly by trying out different arcs.

Draw Stroke

When you need to move the canoe sideways or dock your boat, you’re going to use a draw stroke. Do this by reaching out as far as you can with your bottom hand and plant the paddle in the water. By pulling your shaft hand towards the inside, it moves the canoe in the direction in which you’re paddling.