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Trading places in a canoe Photo: Dan Caldwell

Switching paddling positions while afloat is easier than it seems

Like any maneuver in a tandem canoe, switching paddling positions on the fly requires good communication. The key to a smooth, dry transition is ensuring only one person is moving in the canoe at a time.

Start by stowing your paddles. Then, have the bow person spin around so that both paddlers are facing one another.

Next, one person can leave his seat and move to the middle of the canoe. Always keep your center of gravity low and use the gunwales to brace yourself. Step over the thwarts and yoke carefully.

Once in the middle, this person should kneel down and curl up in a ball, leaving space between his body and the sides of the canoe. The second person will be traveling over top, so make yourself as small as possible. Once settled, let the second person know he is safe to move about.

The second person can now get up and slowly make his way to the other end of the canoe. When it comes time to pass the crouched person, straddle him. Distribute weight evenly side to side in the canoe, brace yourself on the gunwales and stay as low as you can.

Once comfortably seated, the second person can let the crouched person know he is safe to move into his new paddling position. That’s all there is to it.

Decide who takes which role, over or under, based on confidence. Having the smaller of the two paddlers crouched makes it easier to pass over top. However, this also leaves the bigger person to travel over, a potentially unstable position.

It’s a lot easier than it looks. If you’re in a loaded canoe or lousy weather conditions, your most prudent bet is to head for shore and make the change with the help of dry land. Less-than-confident paddlers will quickly gain nerve after successfully completing this technique. It also helps improve balance and awareness of a canoe’s stability.

Practice a couple of times and you’ll be ready to perform this efficient, fun maneuver to trade places on the go— from the shore, you’ll look like a pro.


This article originally appeared in Canoeroots & Family Camping, Early Summer 2013. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.

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Published in the heart of canoe country, Canoeroots celebrates the rich tradition and heritage of canoeing with the gear, adventure and soul of today's canoeists. Every issue is loaded with canoes, news, techniques, gear and tips from the very best outdoor writers and photographers. In 2008, we merged Family Camping magazine with articles, stories and product reviews for North America's largest outdoor audience—camping families. Canoeroots & Family Camping is the best combination to come along since the S'more.