Using what they've learned about canoeing, these canoeists race to the finish line.

Copyright © iStockPhoto/Joel Blit

Get Ready to Launch Your Canoe

First of all, you need strong swimming skills to safely operate a canoe. Although it's no substitute for the ability to swim comfortably in deep waters, always wear a life preserver. It can mean the difference between life and death in the event your canoe capsizes.

Before you take your canoe out into water, you should practice paddling strokes (which we'll learn more about later) at the side of a dock or swimming pool by kneeling and paddling in the water. This will allow you to focus on strokes rather than the canoe, balance or other issues. Next, you can paddle in tandem with another person. Finally, you should practice paddling on both sides of the canoe so that you can not only become a stronger paddler but also become able to adapt to many different paddling positions.

Depending on the distance from your vehicle to the water, the canoe can be carried in a variety of ways. The most common method to carry a canoe is to have the paddlers on opposite sides at each end of the canoe, supporting the bow and stern.

When you are ready to launch the canoe, the bowman and sternman should position themselves at either end of the canoe and gently lower the canoe on its keel. Then, move to the center of the canoe on opposite sides so that you are facing each other. Spread your hands a distance apart, grip the gunwales, bend your knees, and lift the canoe. If launching at a dock, pace the bow or stern of a canoe in the water so that it slides in the water at a slight angle. Crossing hand over hand, gently ease the canoe into the water.

Has anyone ever told you to never stand up in a canoe? That's one of the most important things you need to know. When entering a canoe, the remember is to keep your weight centered and low. This gives you the most stability. If you're loading at a dock, turn the canoe so that it's parallel to the dock. Before you get in, put the rest of your equipment in the canoe. Your paddle(s) should be stowed on the far side of the canoe with the blades under the bow and stern decks. Next, have your partner steady the canoe while you step into the center. Grasp both gunwales for support. After you're in a kneeling position in the bow or stern, steady the canoe so your partner can step in and sit down. If you're canoeing by yourself just approach your canoe in the middle, grab both gunwales for support and lift your body over the side and into the canoe.

If you're loading from a beach, slide the canoe as far into the water as possible. Next, your bow paddler should step directly over the keel in order to avoid placing extra weight on the hull. He or she will grasp the gunwales and slowly walk forward. As the sternman, you'll push the canoe into the water, wade out slightly, push off with the rear foot, and step into the canoe. Again, if you're canoeing solo, once you wade out in the water with your canoe, get to the middle of the canoe, grab both gunwales and lift your body into the canoe.

While canoeing is both physically and mentally rewarding, it can also be dangerous under certain conditions and if proper safety precautions are not taken. If you capsize, hold onto your canoe! No matter what happens, stay with your craft. It's also a life preserver and will support you indefinitely. Never leave your canoe to swim to shore.

To get back into your canoe, go to the middle, because this part offers the most stability. Hold onto the closest gunwale and kick your legs up to a horizontal position in the water. Then, press down on the near gunwale and reach for the far one. Keep your elbow up, and kick yourself across the canoe. Roll and let your hips drop inside. Start paddling again. If you lose your paddle, kneel down and use your hand to paddle.

We've learned the basics of canoeing safety, so let's get moving! Discover just how important the paddle is and learn all about paddling strokes on the next page.