Canoe paddling - how many paddles before

How many paddles/strokes in the water do you do before you switch over to the other side? Assuming lake water, no wind, no wake…etc. I do one to two strokes and I have to get over to straighten it out. Is there a unique stroke that allows you to stay straight paddling on one side?

Unless paddling a whitewater boat
you should be taking three or more strokes on a side sit 'n switch style. Maybe not switching at all if using cruising style with J or pry strokes. Do you have a good canoeing book? Taken any classes?

You left a whole lot of info out, like: type of boat, how long, are you sitting balanced it the center or on bow seat paddling backwards, kind and size of paddle, type of stroke you are using, is your paddle verticle or oblique to the water, is the paddle face open, closed, or nutural, …

To get good answers you need to supply good info.



forward stroke
Kinda depends on the boat and you. You didn’t say, but assuming a solo touring canoe; maybe 5-8 strokes a side.

The top hand must be across the gunwale to maintain a vertical paddleshaft when viewed from the front. Keeping the top hand in front of your body changed a forward stroke into a sweep, which turns the boat.

You didn’t mention bent or straight paddle, but with either, isolate the stroke forward on the boat; the 15 inches where the blade is square to thye stroke. Carrying the blade behind your body results in a sweep, which turns the boat.

Take a straight blade out of the water when it reaches you knee; a bent when the blade comes to mid thigh.

There are three strokes that allow you to keep a canoe on course paddling on one side.

A thumbs up pry or stern rudder correction, the smoother thumb down J stroke correction and an uncorrected " Inside Circle" forward stroke, where the canoe stern skids to correct.

Email me and I’ll send more info.

J Stroke
I drive a yak now, but was previously a canoe paddler for many years. Using the J Stroke, I was able to maintain my direction for as long as I wanted to. The only reason I switched sides was to maintain balance in my ability to paddle either side comfortably.

Yer might want ta larn…

– Last Updated: Jul-30-07 9:57 AM EST –

de Canadian, de pitch an' de Indian strokes, too after yer git de "J" stroke down pat. Check out Bill Mason's 'Path Of The Paddle' DVD and book.

Fat Elmo

Great advice as always, CE.

What canoe?

– Last Updated: Jul-30-07 4:31 PM EST –

What canoe requires you to switch sides every 2 strokes to keep it going straight?

I spend about 85% of my time paddling on one side; it doesn't matter if it's my 12 1/2 foot whitewater boat with over 4 inches of rocker, or one of several 14 to 16 foot cruisers I have, with little to no rocker. It also doesn't matter if I'm paddling on a lake, or moving water rivers, class 1 through class 3.

The only reason I switch sides at all is to practice paddling on my off side; to maintain some semblance of paddling skills on my off side.
Or an occasional cross forward stroke when I'm attempting some attainment move in my whitewater boat.

What Elmo/CE Wilson said; learn to do the j-stroke & the stern pry..........

If you're paddling a very long solo boat, or soloing a tandem, you might need to adjust the boat trim, and get the bow down?


Souris River Quetico 17. Solo, I paddle it from the front seat facing backwards. Solo, I use a 6 gallon gas tank filled with water and placed under the front seat. I use a Bending Branches 52" Sun Shadow 14-degree bent shaft paddle (it was mentioned that 7-degree would be a better choice for solo paddling this canoe).

“…type of stroke you are using, is your paddle verticle or oblique to the water, is the paddle face open, closed, or nutural,…”

I really can’t impress you with an answer. I just put the paddle in and paddle. I will pay more attention to where my top hand is (The top hand must be across the gunwale to maintain a vertical paddleshaft when viewed from the front.)

I could probably benefit from a DVD.

try a straight shaft
with a symmetrical grip. You arent in a good location in the boat to do hit and switch (where bents shine).You are basically steering fron the rear (new rear) and that tends to make the boat really skid out unless you do a correcting stroke.

Your paddle would be fine in a small solo boat where you sit in the middle.

A straight shaft paddle makes mastering the J or Canadian easier…sure the J can be done with a bent but its not comfortable with a dedicated grip(you only want to grip the paddle one way)…try a J…its thumbs down. With a bent you realy have to resist the temptation to have the paddle blade tilt away from the boat with the thumb up . That puts on the brakes big time The blade should actually point at the boat and thumb down…the little shove away gives the correction…not the paddle angle.

Thanks for giving us a better picture…I think that what you are getting from the way you are paddling is not unreasonable but its quite a bit of work! Its all about physics and that you are doing all the work in the rear of the boat.


– Last Updated: Jul-31-07 4:50 AM EST –

I don't like switching to go straight, and I only use it when my stroke rate is too high for me to make a correction stroke to go straight, or when the going gets (too) tough for me, which mostly happens when I am getting tired paddling against a very strong head wind. Otherwise I only switch paddling sides after 30-80 strokes (depending on the wind and the kind of canoe I'm paddling in) to prevent fatigue and overuse of the same muscles and 'undertraining' of one side (no matter what kind of paddle I am using, straight or bent-shaft).

hit and switch
is a very powerful tool for upwind travel as there are no correction strokes.

However just like the kayak forward stroke it requires much practice to get it right.

Its a high cadence paddle style with light bent shaft paddles. for the marathon guys that use this

Hit and switch has applications in touring too and freestyle (for when you want to practice moves but need to go upwind fast. FS moves often work downwind)

I make hundreds… Then switch and paddle a long time on that side…

“Paddling Straight -Easy As Walking
Just remember, it took you two years to learn to walk.”

— from “The Complete Wilderness Paddler”

in my solo racing canoe
I do around 4-8 strokes per side to keep the boat going straight.

Long trip…
I just came back from a long trip that required a lot of open water paddling. I was solo-paddling a tandem MR Explorer (from a solo seat), and found that I got in a good rhythm with 3 or 4 strokes on each side. I seemed to make good headway that way (ask the guys paddling tandem with me how difficult it was to keep up with me at times). I actually prefer heeling the boat over and paddling Canadian style, which can eat up miles if you have the time, but I didn’t have the time and needed to eat some miles.