Proper technique

Appreciate all the help I have been given on this board. I have been doing alot of on-line reading and it seems as if my technique is wrong. I have been canoeing a few times and never had a lesson. Tandem I have been in the rear and provided power ( I am the stronger paddler) I have been trying to match the power of my “weaker” front paddler and compensating by using a “rudder” to correct course. From what I have read I (the stronger paddler) belong up front and my “weaker” rear paddler corrects course using draw stroke. Is this correct? Also if solo do I switch from side to side to maintain heading or is “proper” technique to keep my course using J and draw?

Thanks again for all the help


stronger paddler
in the bow is coomon among racers, but otherwise either the more experineced paddler or the control freak should be in the stern.

As for solo, you can do either a corrective action as part of your stroke if you want to paddle on just one side. Look up J stroke for a starter. If you want to maximize speed, you will be switching sides frequently instead of using corrective strokes. Good technique will allow you to get in more strokes before you have to switch to stay on course. Wind, boat design and boat trim will also affect how oten you switch. Every three or four strokes works for me.

a lesson would be useful
If you are the stronger paddler any deficiency in the straightness of your power phase is going to be magnified and you will have to correct more.

A draw is not a correction stroke. A J or a modification of that is.

The engine goes in front and the correction comes from behind. There is not much power needed to make a correction.

Stern draw not a correction?
If I was padding tandem, which ain’t likely, and if I was paddling stern, then if the boat was turning towards my side I’d use a stern sweep or a draw to correct.

That’s not a correction? What else would you call it?


Path of the Paddle
If you are interested in learning tandem or solo tripping technique (as opposed to marathon sit & switch or ww playboating), Bill Masons “Path of the Paddle” Videos are pretty good.


steering vs. correcting
it’s all interpreting terminology of course, but I agree with Kim,

the J-stroke is meant for correcting the yaw caused by the forward stroke of the stern paddler or the solo paddler.

A strong J-stroke can be used for steering though, and then also by the bow paddler as an alternative for the forward sweep stroke- in some design this works very well, in others not so good.

Yo Tommy, put a bench seat in my RR
Been kneeling a lot. The control in open waves is unbelievable.

I can lean it to the rail in rolling surf waves and keep on paddling. I know you’ve been searching for a kneeling canoe with deck for big open water.

I’ll take some photos.


Pivot point
moves forward when the craft is underway.

Thats why the bow paddler has little to do with controlling the direction of the canoe…the lever arm is shorter from the bow stem to the pivot point than from the pivot point to the stern.

Any sweep in the propulsion phase of the sternpersons stroke is going to magnify itself requiring a harder correction and the J could be regarded as a kind of stern pry. The stern pry is common in moving water to bring the boat back on course and the J because of its relative lack of braking action is used on flatwater.

You could regard it as overpowering the bow paddler but not in the way you may have thought.

Many tandem recreational canoeists come to enjoy the smaller paddler in the stern providing the finesse. If the bow paddler does sweepy strokes following the rail and not the “keel line” it matters less that they are stronger as they have less impact on initiating any turn.

Of course you may have to adjust trim.

For what it is worth
Speaking about tandem:

We, (my wife and I) were told the same that the power paddler belongs in the bow, but it just didn’t work out for us so we went back to me in the stern and she in the bow and have been happy paddlers/racers ever since.

If you are happy in the stern, and she is happy in the bow, my advice is to stay that way.

The mistake you are making is doing the correction strokes by using rudders and J strokes.

You should learn the “sit and switch” method of paddling.

It is nothing more than she paddling on one side while you are paddling on the opposite side.

You both stay in sync, and that is your job to make sure you are, since she can’t see you, but you can see her. - Naturally since you are more powereful then she is the boat will start to turn in the opposite direction from the side you are paddling, so as soon as you notice it start to turn, you call a “hut” and you both simultaneously switch sides.

You will probably find out that if there is no wind to influence your paddling that you will have to “hut” about every seven or eight strokes

-Practice it and see how you make out.

  • If it works out for you then you can both start learning various other strokes such as her learning a “cross bow rudder” and a “post” for quick fast turns.

    You will still have to from time to time do sweeps and rudders depending on the wind conditions and or current if you are in rivers.

    There are other times where if you want to turn you naturally both paddle together on the same side which is on the opposite side that you want to turn, and then you can both do sweeps for a even quicker turn.

    good luck



Steering from the bow
I think its wrong to say that the bow paddler has little to do with controlling the direction of the canoe. Its actually easier for the bow paddler to initiate a turn with a draw or cross draw than it is for the stern paddler using a sweep or reverse sweep. I paddle tandem with my daughter quite often, and she can pull us into a turn from the bow a lot easier than I can from the stern.

I do agree that correction strokes are usually done from the stern.

Strangely Like an Elephant

– Last Updated: Jun-09-09 6:06 PM EST –

It's tough wading through several contradictory "Do it like me" pieces, all of which must work for those paddlers. Kinda like blind men and the elephant.

Kim is quite right, the pivot point moves forward with speed, with physics amplifying the stern's stroke, but there is more.

The reason tandem canoes invariably turn towards the bow's side is that stern paddlers often carry their blade behind their bodies and along the rail. This is a sweep, further enhanced by keeping the top hand inside the rails and then amplified by greater distance to the pivot point. [No, the bow paddler isn't "doing something" to make the hull turn towards her side.]

Keeping the top hand outside the rail, stacking the hands, and limiting rearward stroke travel to the knee if kneeling and mid thigh when sitting eliminates most stern paddler caused misdirection.

Another consideration is canoe trim. Tandems are horrible to handle when running bow down, so putting the "stronger", who is usually bigger, paddler in the bow without benefit of a sliding seat to trim the hull usually results in a problematical ride.

I've a previously published piece on the forward stroke[s] that may help. If interested, email me at


Men belong in the rear…the front of a canoe is a chick seat!

I disagree
having paddled FreeStyle for 13 years and taught for 11.

The bow can accentuate a turn but cannot initiate it very well…in tandem FS when we do a bow sweep or a bow draw it is less to initiate the turn than to communicate the intention of “turn that way” to the stern person. What the bow paddler DOES do very well is keep the bow turning either with a carve or a plant after the stern has started to skid…You get a half a****d turn with just the stern working and a quarter with the bow working…you can easily do a u turn with no power strokes with both ends working if you have momentum.

Anyone who has ever tried to do solo maneuvers knows that to iniate a turn from the bow without skidding the stern first is frustrating. Turns just dont work without a good skid to loosen the stem. Most likely the boat moves more sideways than turning.

Charlie if your response is to me
I realize you are the pro, but I think you are missing my point, or I missed the OP’s point.

He said that he had to keep correcting due to the bow paddler being weaker.

My bow paddler is also weaker than I am and it only stands to reason that the boat is going to turn in the opposite direction from my side if both of us are doing the same forward stroke.



Ok - I can agree with that
I was thinking of more of moving water rather than freestyle, but either way, its definitely more effective for both paddlers to be working together.

even if you were the same
strength and you both were doing absolutely spot on forward strokes parallel to the midline your craft would still veer away from the stern paddlers side. You are farther away from the pivot point. That is the reason for a corrective stroke from the stern.

In reverse the bow does the correcting. Physics is physics and a canoe is a sidewheeler in essence.

The couple that won the FreeStyle Nationals several years ago had the same problem. In a nutshell they in exasperation went to an instructor. Man “Tell her what she is doing wrong in the bow”. Then they did a demo paddle.

Instructor “She is doing nothing wrong…however you sir need to change a few things”… That launched a love of paddling and a couple that can make a canoe sing and dance in tadem…as one.

Because the man usually has more power he is the better engine and the engine is in the bow. There are two jobs to be done in a canoe. Develop power and develop finesse in going straight. Bow and stern. Often the woman is better at the latter. Sometimes womwn dont want to be in the stern; or because of the size mismatch if there is no gear to pile at one end of the canoe…the guy has to work really hard at not overcorrecting or sweeping his strokes while putting the pedal to the medal.

Bottom line is you are not overpowering her…you are doing something “off” and what might be minor error is magnified by your being in the stern and probably putting a lot of oomph in that error.

I disagree.
Please explain that in the same light when I am paddling solo.

The other day I was in a C-1 race. About five strokes and switch. Then five strokes and switch, etc.

WHY? - Your physics must be different then mine!

I don’t care where the pivot point is. If the power paddler is in the stern, the boat will turn in the opposite direction from the side he is paddling on after a given amount of strokes.(assuming there are no correction strokes from either paddler)



Maybe I need to go back and relearn high school physics, but as I see it:

If both paddlers are making proper forward strokes, parallel to the keel line, the force they exert on the boat is also parallel to the keel line.

The torque they exert on the boat will be the product of the force vector from their stroke and the perpendicular distance of that force vector from the “pivot point”. If both paddlers paddle with the same force at the same distance from the keel, with their stroke perfectly parallel to the keel line, the net torque is zero and the boat will not turn. Regardless of how far fore or aft each paddler is from the pivot point. One of the paddlers could be sitting on the pivot point and the other on the stern – the vector free body diagram doesn’t change.

Right or wrong?

net torque isnt zero
The stern vector is longer…The pivot point is a dynamic point. It moves forward with motion.

Now if both paddlers could paddle THROUGH the pivot point down the keel line the net force would have no sideways component at all.

At least thats what I have learned from the McGuffins and the Kraikers and ACA IT’s.

who ever
hates spiders more belongs in the back (j/k)