Tandem Canoe Roll Technique | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
How to roll a tandem canoe in whitewater. Rolling a tandem canoe. Photo: Virginia Marshall

Timing is everything when you roll with a partner

This technique article discusses how to roll a tandem canoe in whitewater and was originally published in Rapid magazine.

In an earlier issue of Rapid (Early Summer 2003), Jeffrey Bos taught the tandem canoe roll. Then, it was mostly a party trick, something to play with in the pool but seldom used on the river. I was excited about including it in Rapid so that tandem paddlers would at least give it a try. Because let’s face it, swimming sucks!

Although tandem boats haven’t changed all that much in eight years, attitudes about rolling have—more solo paddlers are rolling than ever before. Tandems aren’t harder to roll they’re just slower. The principals for rolling a tandem are the same: Get the boat up; then get in it.

Most confident solo rollers can actually roll a tandem canoe. So let’s put that person in the stern and focus on the bow paddler.

Really strong rollers can get a small bow per- son to tuck and just wait to be rolled up—a strategy used by many husband and wife teams. Effective maybe, but this isn’t the teamwork that makes tandem paddling so much fun.

Here are two ways the bow paddler can help get himself back in the boat. Both work, I’d argue one is just more contemporary.


The bow paddler switches hands underwater. Count, “One steamboat, two steamboat three steamboat,” then the duo rolls up together on the same side. I don’t like this for two reasons: You risk losing your paddle switching hands underwater, and when you roll up your paddle is on the wrong side. Besides, I’m a canoeist

and only have one good side—I can’t paddle, let alone roll on my left.


Let’s let the strong stern paddler roll the boat up. Meanwhile, the bow paddler sets up for an offside high brace roll or an offside low brace roll. What? Yup, these feel as awkward as they sound. I figured out the motion on my living room floor with a broom for a paddle. Both are quick to set up and offer enough momentary resistance to get your torso back in the boat. With an offside brace roll you don’t waste time changing paddle hands, plus you roll up in an aggressive cross forward position ready to paddle your swamped pig to the nearest eddy. 

This article originally appeared in Rapid, Spring 2012. Download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or read it here.

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