What route to take canoeing downstream?

In one of my canoe classes the instructor said the best route to take while paddling downstream in seek the side of the stream where the current is moving the fastest. Follow the “bubbles” as he calls it. But I’ve also heard that this side of the channel should be avoided since this is also where debris and fallen trees will likely be and problems with strainers will occur. Any Opinions???

yes, I have an opinion
open your eyes and look for yourself. Often it’s good to swing wide in a corner so you can see what’s around the bend. Don’t forget to slow down if you don’t know what’s ahead. “follow the bubbles”??? never heard that one. Never heard of following the fastest current either. Personally sometimes I do, usually I don’t. Fast currents can interfere with playtime :-). “Last one off the river wins” is my favorite quote paddling.

It depends on what the flow is
and also what type of downriver paddling you’re doing.

On generally flat water with lilttle current, keep your eyes open and avoid the rocks and sticks. Sometimes being on the outside of a curve will prevent beaching in shallow water.

In moderate flow (but not whitewater, just moving water) the same rules apply: keep your eyes open, avoid the obvious obstacles. If there are bubbles, or floting debris, follow them if you want to stay in the current or if you’re racing. In this case, though, exercise caution going around blind bends…any strainers will usually (but not always) be on the outside of the curve.

In whitewater, keep your eyes open. Actually, before that, take some courses and read some books. Learn how to read whitewater. Following the bubbles can get you through or can get you in a heap of trouble, depending. Same goes for curves: The outside could harbor deadly strainers, but the inside is a good place for a nasty ledge hole.

In easy quickwater or easy rapids, learn how to pole a canoe. All problems will be solved, so long as you keep your eyes open.

Notice a common theme?


I paddle with my eyes closed, and
listen for the bubbles.

Follow you heart
and let experience be your teacher.

Paddlin’ on


Pain and suffering
is often where experience comes from…

Chances are good that the bubbles…
…are only there in the first place because that portion of the flow recently passed through a strainer. Had you been following that same portion of the current a little ways upstream from where you are now, you’d have hit the strainer too. Just learn to paddle your boat well (and you will learn to understand river current in the process), and then you will paddle any part of the river that suits you based on your judgement when you see it.

My advice is don’t take advice from anyone who has clear-cut “rules” to follow. Chances are good that they haven’t done much paddling.

Well the simplest way

– Last Updated: Aug-05-08 10:54 PM EST –

If you are paddling with friends... don't lead...

learn to read the water. Quite often ripply water surrounded by calm water indicates the ripple area is shallow. You can learn to read the water, it will give you the information you need.

The bubbles are probably from
the lead boater who was taken out by the strainer. Follow the bubbles. Now I’ve heard it all.

You are 100% right. There are no hard fast rules and decisions are made on the whim.

Paddlin’ on


time and experience and…
head for the deep water V. learn to back paddle effectively and slow down or back ferry your way clear of danger.

Rivers are like women !
They are all beautiful.

They are constantly changing.

They don’t go by logic.

They keep secrets hidden in their depths

They can be calm and serene

They can be wild and fast.

They can sooth you

They can anger you

The biggest difference is I can almost always “read” a river, and very seldom “read” a women.



Like everthing else, it all depends
I just took a first time paddler out last night on a small NY creek. There was plenty of flow to travel, if you choose the right, and usually only, path. The creek has a very soft bottom and lots islands too, just to add to the interest.

You can bet I was showing him how to see where the main current, or fastest water, is going. It’s the only way to get through. He did a fantastic job. I was very impressed. He’s had a lifetime of power boating on the Hudson River and I’m sure that helped.

As for the bubbles … yes, they can show you the route of the most water and fastest current, when they are there. If bubbles get produced by a small ripple or something that aerates the water, they tend to stay right in the main current.

The first time I had my young daughter out in a tandem where she was in charge of the bow, I showed her the bubbles and she stayed right in them. I guess I could have explained strainers and sweepers and blind curves and pins and death and drowning on her first canoe outing where she was really learning. But, I guess I just didn’t think it would be helpful, or much fun.

Just go paddle and learn NM

Iffin’ yer ett Beanee Weenees
yer bound ta have plenty o’ bubbles after yer fall in…

Fat Elmo