Canoeing for Couples Quiz Discussion

1      Introduction

1.1      Instructors

  • Jim Muller is a canoeist and winter camper involved in recreational & competitive canoeing since 1970.  He is a long time ADK member and a Leave No Trace Master Educator.  He has been certified as a Paddling and Basic River Instructor for Kayaks, Solo and Tandem canoes by the American Canoe Association.  He has received instruction in Outdoor Skills from the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, as well as, classes in Winter Survival Skills and Basic Map and Compass Skills.  He has a certification in Wilderness First Aid. In an undistinguished canoe racing career he completed in the Adirondack Canoe Classic 90-Miler, was a 5 time participant in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta and was bridesmaid in many other smaller races. In addition to paddling the lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park Jim has done multi-day canoe camping trips encompassing many New York State rivers including the Unadilla, Susquehanna, Chenango, Delaware, and Tioughnioga.  His Canadian canoe camping trips have encompassed Algonquin Park, the Broadback River in Quebec and the Spanish River in Ontario.
  • Kathryn Muller Certified Social Worker. Private practice focused on communications & relationships

1.2      Disclaimer / What this class is not

  • Not an “Intro to canoeing”
  • Selecting equipment
  • Water safety
  • How to read water
  • Not trip planning
  • Not couples therapy: If your relationship is lousy outside a canoe, this class won’t fix it

1.3      Benefits of Canoeing as a Couple

  • Shared experience; couples that do more together feel they have a richer relationship
  • Rewards of working as a team
  • Conflict resolution skills

1.4      Class Overview

  • Oriented to flat water paddling of lakes, ponds, Class I & II streams & rivers
  • Focus on “Sit & Switch” technique
  • Why people sit vs. kneeling: stronger contact points for balance.

1.4.1      Main Components

  1. Skills & knowledge – We are going to cover Canoe and paddle terminology; equipment and basic strokes
  2. Teamwork.  Both jobs (role definition & responsibilities) and managing expectations: Yourself (skills & roles); Your partner; Your equipment and the experience (e.g. recreation vs. exercise)
  3. Communications: The more you understand what is going on at the other end, the better you will know how to handle your position in the boat.

2      Skills Quiz

2.1      Question #1  Which items are parts of a canoe?

a. Bow

b. Athwartships

c. Gunwales

d. Keel line

e. Fluke

 Handout & review a canoe parts of the canoe / terminology

2.2      Question #2  The pivot point of your canoe is

a. The physical center of the canoe

b. About 2/3 from the front the paddle blade.

c. Dependent upon the canoe design

d. The center of gravity or balance point

e. Right under the middle thwart

 Pivot point / center of gravity / balance.  “Trimming” a canoe attempts to move center of gravity to the center point of the canoe

Example: Jim in front for fishing

2.3      Question #3  Which items are parts of a paddle?

a. Grip

b. Throat

c. Chest

d. Blade

e. Arm

 Parts of a paddle / Terminology:

  • Grip – The handle formed on the top of the paddle shaft
  • Shaft – The section of the paddle between the grip and paddle blade
  • Throat – The transition point between the shaft and paddle blade
  • Blade – The surface of the paddle that contacts the water
  • Powerface – The face of the paddle blade that contacts the water during a forward stroke
  • Backface – The face of the paddle blade opposite of the powerface
  • Tip – The extreme end of the paddle blade

 Most paddle blades are about 8-10 inches across the face and 18-24 inches long. Proper shaft length is dependent on torso length and paddling position in the canoe. Bow paddlers use a shorter stroke and may prefer a shorter paddle length. Optimum shaft length will vary with changing canoe positions and loads.

 Measuring for a paddle: Sitting in a canoe, your hand on the grip should be at eye level when the paddle is vertically position and its blade is in the water.

  • Flat-water ~50-56″ |  Racing paddles ~2″ shorter / White water ~2″ longer

2.4      Question #4  What is/are the advantage(s) of a bent shaft canoe paddle?

a. Bent shaft paddles are lighter

b. The bend counterbalances the angle in your elbow

c. It increases the amount of time the blade is vertical in the water view.

d. They are cheaper to make

e. Bent shaft paddles enhance steering ability in rough rivers.

 Bent Shaft is useful for Flat water / Cruising / Racing 7 – 15 degrees

2.5      Question #5  The phases of a paddle stroke include correctly.

a. The catch or plant

b. The propulsion phase

c. The recovery or return correctly.

d. The groan

 Phases of a stroke CPR: Catch, Propulsion, Recovery

2.6      Question #6  An efficient Forward Stroke should include

a. Reaching well forward

b. Torso rotation

c. A vertical paddle shaft

d. Paddling close to the boat

e. All of the above

The purpose of a forward stroke is to pull the canoe forward to the paddle position

  • Catch.  Employ torso rotation.  The paddle is vertical- get your top hand across your body.  Visualize setting a post and pulling the canoe to it.
  • Propulsion.  75% of the power occurs within the 1st 5-7″. Keep the paddle vertical and try to pull parallel to center line of canoe. Use your stomach and back muscles. Stop your stroke at your hip because it is inefficient to continue. When the paddle isn’t vertical you are either pushing down on the water or lifting water.
  • Recovery. Don’t worry about the paddle exiting the water. Focus on the tip of the blade making a arc out to the side-barely clearing the water.  To increase your tempo focus on a quicker recovery

2.7      Question #7  What stroke is used to stop a canoe that is going forward?

a. Pry

b. Draw stroke

c. Duffek

d. Back stroke

e. An Iverson

 The purpose is to stop &/or reverse the canoe. Use short controlled strokes. Ferry or spin.

2.8      Question #8  The Draw Stroke moves the canoe ____________the paddle blade.

a. Away from

b. Towards

c. A&B

d. Backwards from

e. Nowhere


  • Purpose: Steering / “pulls” the canoe towards the paddle stroke
  • Very useful for a bow person / primary steering stroke
  • Perpendicular to center line of canoe
  • Don’t get paddle trapped against the side of the canoe


  • Purpose: Steering stroke
  • “Push” the canoe towards the opposite side
  • Reach out and try to get your paddle as parallel to the water surface as possible
  • Keeping your grip hand stationary use your bottom hand to swing an arc

Bow sweep Noon to 3

  • Stem sweep: take the full arc 12 to 6

J- Stroke

  • Slight modification of forward stroke to counteract mechanical advantage of stern
  • Two purposes: Forward momentum & corrective steering
  • Rotate wrist & ‘push’ the paddle blade outward

Use your canoe strokes as a team

2.9      Question #9. Which are basic paddling concepts?

a. Paddling on opposite sides

b. Paddling in cadence

c. Paddling exactly the same length

d. Switching sides for steering & to prevent fatigue

e. Buying your partner ice cream on the way home.

  • Paddle opposite sides
  • Paddle in synchronization
  • Paddle with cadence.  Regularity = predictability
  • Trim / balance your canoe.
  • Other factors being equal put the power in the bow. In most situations this is not possible due to size differentials.

2.10    Question # 10 The bow paddler is responsible for steering the canoe since they have an un-impeded view.

True or False

 Bow paddler

  • Better visibility: watch for obstacles
  • Set the cadence/ rhythm
  • Assist with steering

Stern paddler

  • Primary steering responsibilities
  • Changing sides
  • Asking for bow strokes
  • Using steering strokes
  • Switching sides to keep on track.
  • Why

Switching sides for steering

  • Avoid muscle fatigue
  • Frequency is dependent upon wind, strength differential, water current, course straightness and type of canoe (rocker)
  • Use the bow paddler’s head to align to destination point
  • Roughly every 5-9 strokes depending on
  • Timing of calling the switch. As the bow paddler starts their stroke call for change: “Hup / hut / switch”

Mechanics of switching

  • As you complete your stroke let go of the grip with your top hand & SLIGHTLY loosen the clasp of your bottom hand
  • Swing the paddle out in front of you and across the canoe
  • Let its momentum allow the paddle to slide through your hand such that your previous bottom hand is now at the top (grip) of the paddle shaft
  • Grasp the paddle throat with your opposite hand
  • Paddle
  • Can be done without affecting cadence

3      Managing expectations

“Positive Interdependence”  |  “We are in this boat together”  we literally sink or swim together. If one has a negative experience, BOTH have a negative experience

It is in your best interests to help your partner have a good time makes it more likely you will have a positive experience

Discussing goals for the trip / trip expectations: Recreation / exercise / sunning / birding / fishing / socialization

3.1      Question # BONUS Estimate how many questions you answered correctly.  How many questions did your partner answer correctly?

Assess you and your partner’s abilities in terms of fitness, mental state, strength, skill level, experience, comfort level, and risk taking: Example: John & Jim on West Canada. Middleville dump three times.

  • What are the weather conditions
  • Are you prepared for emergencies (extra clothes)
  • Veto power
  • Gottman’s map: the place in your brain where you store information pertaining to your partner.
  • Sample Paddling Decision Tree
  • Communication
  • What is our level of physical fitness
  • How does that compare to this planned trip
  • Degree of difficulty
  • How comfortable do I feel about being on this river and my skills

Positive / Negative balance.  5: 1 ratio needed to maintain your “emotional bank account”

  • Example: “Build me a sandwich”
  • Politeness counts communication climate:  building an atmosphere where your partner can say what they need to e.g. I’m tired, this is too hard for me

 Each couple has their own culture, however, communication is affected by volume and profanity

 Accusing / blaming / demeaning. You vs. we

 How we communicate can ratchet up the tension of communication

  • Example: white water rafting trip with 3 boats, 2 engaged in water fights

 Politeness is a habit and becomes engrained & reaction

 Have an awareness of partner’s ‘state’

  • Tolerance
  • Everyone makes mistakes


  • Delivery
  • Tone of voice
  • Timing

Be aware of distractions

  • “Jobs” take precedence


  • Don’t be too sensitive under stress, our tone of voice may be more ‘intense’
  • Some jobs require giving directions (not orders)

 Focus on behavior not traits

  • Example: Give me a bit more draw stroke vs. You don’t pull hard enough on your draw stroke.
  • Example: Volunteers walking in series & discuss plans for Sat night

 Special considerations

  • Wind can take voice away
  • Placement

3.2      Bow To Stern Communications

  • Bow talking away from stem
  • Bow person’s ear’s are in the wrong direction
  • No eye contact
  • No body language
  • May need to be louder than normal or repeat phrases; also keep it short and simple, lengthy statements may get ‘lost in the wind’

3.3      Summary

  • We learned a technique of canoeing called sit & switch paddling which is suitable for flatwater situations
  • We learned some basic terminology of canoes & paddles
  • We learned 5 basic paddle strokes: forward, back stroke, draw, sweep, and I-stroke
  • We covered basic tenets of tandem paddling: paddling on opposite sides, paddle in synchronization, paddle with a cadence
  • We covered why, when & how to switch sides
  • We discussed the importance of managing expectations and recognition of positive interdependence
  • We covered basic tenets of communication