class 1 rapid safety

any thoughts on how to improve rapids navigation?

Manoeuvering a 2 person canoe can be a bit difficult, I know the person at back has most of the control but sometimes you need the person at the front to help drag you round an obstacle and that person happens to be my partner with not a lot of power :slight_smile:

I remember the first year we went, we did a class 1 rapid with all kit in the canoe and I still don’t know how but we managed to get stuck on a rock sideways… full on such that we could not get off the rock. We were there for a minute and leaning slightly almost got the canoe full of water. I managed to push off the rock with the paddle a bit later and off we went. I saw the rock but was dragging the paddle on the left side to try and turn round it but needed her to give some hard paddle strokes on the right bow to get it round but failed :slight_smile:

You improve by doing.
We scouted a WW river today for a paddle on Saturday, and we had gully washing rain storms last night.

The river was at flood stage, and I was lusting to go.

It would have been twelve miles of a continuous wave train with some big time rapids.

Fifteen years ago, I would have cringed just looking at it

Doing your class I rapids, or any others, you need to be constantly looking way ahead and picking your line. You in the stern can do rudder strokes or sweeps on your side to steer you well away from rocks. Your bow paddle should learn to do some draws, and at the least be on the look out for rocks.

If at the last minute the bow paddler sees a rock they should automatically be prepaired to use there paddle to push the bow to either the left or the right of the rock, so you won’t slam into it which will put your boat out of control.

It would pay you guys to pick up a book on the basics of WW paddling.

Lastly if you go sideways into a rock or log, lean down stream or into the impediment rather than up stremm which will just put the gunnels under water.

Hope this helps a bit

Jack L

I strongly encourage you to seek out
some instruction. Our canoe club puts on two paddling schools annually. One of them, recreational paddling school, would teach you in a weekend how to execute the moves Jack described among a few others that would make your paddling lives exponentially better. If you can find a weekend school you’ll not only profit greatly by gaining the skills you need for situations like the one you described, you’ll also have a great time and probably pick up some new paddling buds.

Great advice
about getting out of the boat on the downriver side. You risk getting jammed against the canoe and swamping it if you get out on the upstream side. That is a key safety point to learn and stick with.

Stay with the boat without losing your paddle if you dump.

Locate your partner immediately and make sure you agree on your next move which should be working the boat to shore to dump it out.

Wear you PFD. And use a borrowed cane until you get this all figured out :slight_smile:

recommended books to start with?

My advice is, if you’re tripping this
summer, is not to run rapids in your loaded canoe if the course and strategy is less than immediately obvious.

When we were picked up on Basswood Lake after a long spell in Quetico, there were a couple of sheepish guys on the launch, too, with their torn aluminum canoe.

They were novices like us. They had been on the Basswood River and got tired of portaging gear and boat, so for what looked like an easy rapids, they tried to run it.

Their boat was torn, they lost some gear and most of their food, and they had to beg food from other parties until they, like us, were scheduled to be picked up.

My thoughts:
I agree with the others above, especially about leaning into the obstruction and getting instruction. Here are a few other thoughts:

First, in rapids, there is a lot to be said for having the bow paddler in charge. The bow paddler is 12 - 15’ closer to the potential problem and doesn’t have someone’s big head in the way. The bow can decide where to go & the stern then just needs to follow. Second, Communication - both when planning the route through and when it’s OH XXXX a ROCK! Third, Scout first - You will have some idea of what is there, you can make a plan (that will change but that’s Ok), you will know about the sweeper that is just over the open channel, and you will start to calibrate your eyes. Fourth, back paddling is often your friend. You can slow things down and you can get a back ferry going - that can be a really good thing with a loaded tripper. Finally, learn how to get that boat to dance and have fun.


always thought the stern had the most control?

To a point
as the stern is farther from the center of rotation. But to steer from the stern only is folly. Its like steering a loaded shopping cart backward. Go to a crowded supermarket and see how precise your steering is when the rotating wheels are at your end. Now imagine how much better it would be if the wider end of the cart had casters too.

In moving water the stern sets the overall course. The bow paddler adjusts for rock avoidance with draws and cross draws. If the bow paddler does some quick powerful draw strokes, the stern obeys and does a corresponding draw of cross draw to keep the boat in line straight down the river. Sideways is rarely good in a touring situation.

So the bow is in charge at times and the stern should not quibble.

Read, get instruction and practice with an empty boat. Call out the stokes for your bow person. Get her to lift some weights or do some yard work that mimics paddling strokes.

It is very interesting to paddle with a skilled paddler. I had a famous guy in the bow of my canoe once on the S Platte R in Denver. He could control the boat from the bow seat without my help. Very educational. Canoeing is a bunch of simple skills that take a lifetime to perfect.

first thing I’d suggest you do is go to your local library and see what books they have on canoeing

you can learn a lot right there

i would say the essential skills you need to learn are steering strokes, how to read the river, eddy turns, and ferries, esp upstream ferry - those are all basic skills. add to them teamwork and communication, which I consider as essential to tandem canoeing.

if you go around a sharp bend in the river and see a log crossing the channel, you need to do something, and usually do it fast - either “eddy out” or spin the boat 180 degrees and ferry over to bank so you can get out - same for rapids if something unexpected, or just to be able to get out on the bank and scout.

I really hate to see people trying to steer a tandem from the stern only, especially if they are not really using a J stroke, but only ruddering - it works, but slower than a J “Stroke” and takes you out of sync with the bow paddler. much stronger and more effective steering strokes for rapids are the draw stroke (the strongest, most effective) and sweep strokes (both bow and stern paddlers do the same stoke at the same time) - you use steering strokes to change the “direction” the boat is pointing, then forward strokes to move across the current, then more steering strokes to strainghten up after you have dodeged the rock. just changing the angle of the boat will not do anything for you to avoid a rock - the current takes the boat where it wants to go - you have to move it across the current after you change the direction - its not like a car where you just turn the wheel and the car moves right - you have to “steer” move over, and then “steer” again. The most common mistake I see beginners make (and not just beginners either) is to underestimate the force and speed of the current - as a general rule, start your manouvers sooner than you think you need to, and finsih a bit sooner as well - momentum helps you to finish the turn - oversteering is just as bad as understeering.

so go to the library or book shop and see what you can find - go to a lake and practice spinning your boat with both of you doing draw stroks, and then using sweep strokes - then switch sides adn do it again until it becomes routine. and then practice backpaddling in unison - you have to be going faster or slower than the current in order to manouver a canoe in a current - backpaddling (in control) will slow you down and give you more time to study what is up ahead -

generally, doing nothing is the worst thing you can do, as that puts the river in control of your boat instead of you controlling it.

rapid navigation
I was taught - by Bob McNair - that the bow person controls the boat (at least in moving water). The stern should respond to what the bow does. Bob was legally blind, and it was amazing to watch him paddle. The stern may set the overall plan to negotiate a rapid, but the bow should be making the immediate decision and the stern following.

Sounds nice in theory, but when I paddle
tandem, I can control the canoe better from the stern, and the only thing I expect from the bow paddler is spotting rocks that I may not have seen.

The notion about the bow paddler being the leader will only work when the bow paddler is a) plenty competent and b)the stern paddler feels that s/he can trust the bow paddler’s decisions.

When I have paddled stern the person in the bow has been a relative novice. There’s no way I could rely on that person to make executive decisions.

Same here.
I am normally in the stern, and I normally pick the root. Naturally she does her share with quick draws, and sweeps and getting us by a a rock that I don’t happen to see, but I can and do zig and zag us through boulder gardens quite nicely.

Jack L

I have known excellent whitewater tandem boaters who maintain that the most experienced paddler should be in the bow, but that has only worked for me when the stern paddler had some notion of how to execute effective stern steering strokes and was able and willing to interpret the bow paddlers intent and follow their lead instinctively.

It is possible to paddle easier whitewater with a relatively inexperienced bow paddler in a tandem canoe and I have done it many times. I used to paddle the Hiwassee and Nantahala Rivers with one of my daughters in the bow when they were both really too young and inexperienced to perform effective bow draws and cross-draws. It helps to have a tandem boat set up so that the paddling stations are closer together such that the stern paddler is sitting closer to the center of rotation, but that is not usually possible in a tandem tripping boat.

Basically, Mattt described the technique. The stern paddler points the boat in the intended direction with quickly-executed, powerful steering strokes (primarily stern pries and stern draws), then paddles forward, then points the boat back downstream. The bow paddler just continues to do forward strokes.

The problem with this type of technique is that in stronger current moves need to be planned well in advance. If a rock is dead ahead and the stern paddler plans to go around it on his or her onside (the bow paddler’s offside) a strong stern pry is effective in pointing the canoe in the intended direction, but it also pushes the stern of the boat the wrong way. It is much easier to get around the rock quickly if the bow paddler pulls the bow in the intended direction with a cross-draw stroke. It is also not always possible for the stern paddler to see barely submerged rocks dead ahead.

Back ferries are great when properly executed, but I have found that they are often ineffective with an inexperienced bow paddler. During a back ferry, the bow paddler at the downstream end of the boat is in a much better position to control the ferry angle, but this is a tricky job, especially when they are looking downstream.

Communication is good and it is wise to plan one’s route at the top of a rapid and talk things out, but as a practical point it is usually not possible to do much communicating in the midst of a rapid. It is hard to hear over the water for one thing, and there is often to little time for discussion when unforeseen obstacles loom up ahead or plans go awry.

The best course of action would be to teach your bow partner how to do a decent bow draw and cross-draw. (Bow jam strokes which push the bow in one direction or the other are used infrequently in whitewater because of the unfortunate tendency for the paddle blade to stick on an underwater rock, wedge against the moving hull, and catapult the bow paddler over the gunwale.) That way you in the stern could set the general course but your bow paddler could effectively pull the bow away from any obstacles that loom ahead suddenly.