Open Boating - Canadian Canoe

"Canoe" is a funny word in English - in the strict sense it means an open boat paddled with a single blade paddle, but in Britain it has come to be a generic term covering open boats (whether paddled with single- or double-bladed paddles), kayaks and sit-on-tops. That's why you'll often hear people in paddlesport referring to "open boats" or "Canadian Canoes" just to make sure you know they mean the strict sense of the word "Canoe".

Unlike whitewater kayaks, many canoes can carry a lot of equipment, so they are great for multiday tours on rivers and lakes, as well as daytrips. There aren't that many opportunities for long tours in the UK (the Tay and Spey in Scotland, or the Wye on the Welsh borders are the classics), but if you fancy a lazy week on the Dordogne, or any number of wilderness canoe trails in North America, there are plenty of places to take quite basic open boat skills into real adventure terrain. See, for one example, An Open Boat Odyssey. For daytrips, canoes can tackle many of the easier rivers we do in kayaks - in skilled hands, the right sort of open boat can tackle many of the harder rivers, too.

Paddling below papa (volcanic ash) cliffs
Paddling below papa (volcanic ash) cliffs on a 5-day Whanganui River trip (New Zealand)

The Canoe can be paddled sitting or kneeling, solo or tandem, and BCU star awards expect you to be able to improvise a sail, for going downwind on flat water. Just to make it entertaining, you can also propel the boat with a long pole, like a punt, which is useful for going upstream in shallow water. Having the canoe pole split in two makes it easier to fit in the boat, and you can use it for your improvised sail, too ! Sailing and poling are skills for flat and slow-moving water, and aren't relevant at all if you want to open boat on fast rivers.


A group shelter, two halves of a canoe pole and some slings - sailing across Selset reservoir

Canoes come in different shapes and sizes, optimised for different types of water and conditions. Some boats (such as the Coleman Canoe that the club used to have) are intended to be used on flat water, perhaps in windy conditions, and are shaped to be easy to drive in a straight line (often with a bit of a keel). Boats for moving water are more manoeuvrable - they have more "rocker" which means that the keel-line is not as deep at the ends. In fact, very few canoes have what yachtsmen would think of as a keel at all. Boats for flat water often have rather flattish or V-section bottoms, the latter forming something of a keel, whilst boats for moving water have cross-sections leaving nothing that a sideways-drifting boat could catch on a rock to cause an upset.

Like whitewater kayaks, there are types of open boat which are intended for harder whitewater, or for playing on waves - these tend to have flat bottoms with lots of rocker, and hard chines leading to flared sides and then tumblehome (the boat gets narrower towards the gunwhale). The higher the performance of the boat, the more skill is needed to drive them at all. Eventually, canoes merge into boats that are almost indistinguishable from whitewater kayaks, except that under the spraydeck, the paddler is kneeling, and only a single-blade paddle is used. Paddlers would tend to refer to this as a "C1" rather than an open boat.

A number of SOC members paddle open boats - most of them are also kayakers and tend to paddle canoes only on lakes and the easier rivers, but we have a few who do specialise in the single blade paddle, and you will see them on some of the harder rivers too.


Pat pilots his open boat down the Tees Racing Stretch in fairly high water

A few trips in the SOC programme will be specifically noted as open-boat-friendly, often Lakes trips in the summer, but also some easier river trips. These are splendid occasions for learning how to drive a canoe, or, if you can already do so, for taking the whole family ! This is not to imply that open boats are unwelcome on other trips, but you will need to be a bit more skilled on trips not so marked since kayakers tend to manoeuvre rather differently and not always realise what an open boat is about to do...


The River Tees from Yarm to Preston Park - a family-friendly trip on a gentle river, ideal for open boats.

On flat and slow-moving water, and in nice weather, it's unlikely that you'd need any of the usual winter whitewater clothing, but mishaps do happen, so a buoyancy aid is essential for everyone - a sun hat might well be more use than a helmet. We do strongly recommend helmets on faster moving water (grade 2 and above), or when learning new techniques, as a swim cannot be ruled out, and it tends to be shallow bouldery rivers that most often cause one. It's good practice generally to get into the habit of wearing buoyancy and helmet on all water (even in the pool) as this reduces the risk of forgetting to don them when it might really matter. You're protected against someone else losing their balance and flailing a paddle or pole at your head, too !


Upstream "attainment" is always a challenge - tandem paddling like **** versus solo poling on the Tees

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