Canoeing Solo, Tips and Tricks?

I recently bought my first canoe and I’m looking to learn how to canoe solo. Does anyone have any tips or tricks for not ending up in the water?
I’m mostly concerned with getting into and getting out of the water, as I have already tipped with a passenger attempting to launch this canoe.
Side note: I purchased this canoe from an experienced canoe-ist, and she claimed this canoe was virtually untippable. It’s a Pelican Explorer canoe.

Getting in or out of a canoe is easiest by stepping out over the bow or stern as there is less chance of tipping it sideways.

Find a qualified instructor. Solo paddling is a bit more complicated than tandem with a slightly steeper learning curve. Instruction will be the shortest route to competence.

Canoe should be in the water and parallel to the shore to enter and exit. It is a wet foot sport. Most unstable position for canoe is with one end on the shore and the rest in the water. Step into the center and keep your head and shoulders over the centerline of the canoe.


If you don’t have anyone to teach you, I highly recommend searching and watching youtube for advice. Not only does it not require us to know exactly what you are doing, but watching it done by someone explaining is easier to get than reading it alone. There are some very good canoeing videos out there.

Rule 1 of not tipping is your head should always remain inside the gunwales
2nd, your hips need to roll with the boat. Your body should always point up but your hips should roll side to side with the boat.
3 early on in your journey, learn to brace. A solid well timed brace can save many capsizes
4. you likely will not be able to recover that boat in the water, as in you will have to swim to shore if you flip. Keep that in mind in general, and especially as cold weather approaches
5. solo canoeing is one of the more technical things to do well. Watch videos, find some old guys, ask questions

Its great fun and very peaceful though. You’ll like it!

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There are very informative texts on the subject .Look up Bill Mason, Path of the Paddle and Paddle your own Canoe by McGuffin.

Once you learn to land your canoe parallel to shore and are willing to get your feet wet getting in and out is easy. A solo boat should have a seat around 6-8 inches behind the center of the boat.

Practice your C stroke in addition to the strokes you have already used paddling tandem. I like a kayak paddle into the wind and for a change of pace from a regular canoe paddle.

The key to getting in & out is to keep your weight centered and low. Consider putting your hands on the gunnels (the rails on top on each side) as you climb in. If you are getting in from a dock be sure that you step in the middle. When you are in the canoe keep your hips loose & your head & shoulders in the canoe.

That canoe may be a bit of a struggle to paddle solo at 38" wide and with the type of seats that it has. If you are paddling solo, you might consider picking up a kayak paddle.

The wrong action; at the wrong place, and the wrong time will prove that any canoe can be flipped/ tipped.
Think Titanic(one of the last photos of Titanic is posted), or her sister ship Britannic, which sunk during World War I after hitting a mine in the water.
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You have received some really good feedback…


With a bit of practice there is no problem, but for a real newby here’s what I usually suggest:
With boat floating and parallel to the shore, one paddler at a time,

  1. Grab the gunwales, one hand on each side about a foot or 18" in front of the seat - you should have to lean forward a bit
  2. step with one foot into canoe, on the keel line - use hands to steady yourself and keep boat level.
  3. sit down with one foot outside boat
  4. bring in other foot
  5. (optional) reverse the process to get out. Do it again for practice while retrieving your paddle from shore.

PS: Here’s a little (fun) video that demonstrates several things not to do. Like a demo of the role dumb luck can play in the absence of a concept of “bracing”, poor off-side paddling technique, the importance of wearing a PFD in even apparently pretty benign situations - but more to your immediate concern, the importance of using your paddle as a depth gauge when attempting to get out at an unfamiliar landing. For this last bit, skip to about 1:38.