Start Smart: Team Paddling

Improve your speed and efficiency by synchronizing your strokes.

There's no such thing as a backseat driver in a canoe or kayak. Both bow and stern paddlers contribute to speed and steering, making it essential that they work together. Click here for reviews of six wilderness-worthy boats, and use the tips below to keep your craft cruising straight and fast.

In the Bow

You establish stroke cadence and provide consistent horsepower. Keep a sharp lookout for obstacles and initiate corrective strokes to avoid imminent collisions.

In the Stern

You're in charge of the canoe's heading, so stay in sync with the bow (yes, talk to each other) and anticipate sudden course corrections and changes in paddling sides.

Water Tactics

Always discuss routes and debate strategy when navigating specific obstacles. Stern paddlers should announce their general routefinding goals, and bow paddlers should sound alerts for shallow spots or snags. When describing hazards, shouting "Watch out!" is not helpful. Use the clock face method and always state the approximate distance ("rock at two o'clock, 10 feet").

Switch Positions

Place the strongest person in the stern, right? Not always. A powerful paddler in the bow can provide bursts of speed and initiate quicker course changes. Be sure to change seats occasionally to learn the demands of each position.

Paddling Technique

Place your top hand over the paddle's handle where your grip regulates the angle and torque of the strokes. Grasp the shaft several inches above the blade with your bottom hand to guide the paddle as it moves through the water. Swivel your torso as you rotate through each stroke, using your core muscles for strength.