Canoeing Etiquette: At the Launch and On the Water

5-minute read

The canoeing world is full of wonderful people who love nature, love the water and enjoy being around others. If you remember to be considerate and respectful, you’ll have conquered 90% of canoeing etiquette.

two men with their canoes and gear on-shore

(Photo courtesy of Paul Villecourt)

If you’re not an experienced canoeist yet, here are some basic principles to follow. If you are experienced, this will be a good reminder for you:

At the Launch or Ramp

Sometimes you’ll launch your canoe at a boat ramp where there will be a long line of trucks with their trailers and motor boats.

DO NOT park at the ramp and unload and load there while you block those waiting to get their boats on the water. Get your canoe off to the side, get your gear out of your vehicle as quickly as possible, and go park. Then come back and situate everything for your paddle trip.

In other words, if your launch site is busy, be quick about getting on and off the water, and then out of the way.

For the same reason, once you’re on the water, paddle away from the launch as soon as you’re ready. You don’t want to block boats leaving or coming in from that launch.

If there’s a separate canoe and kayak launch on the same body of water as the bigger boat launch, that’s a better option for you. This is especially true on busy weekends and holidays. You’ll find it’s much quieter and more relaxed.

two canoeists ready to launch from a dock, with a bit of help

(Photo courtesy of @five2nine)

Around Bigger Boats

Canoeing on waterways with lots of traffic from bigger boats isn’t just about etiquette, it’s also about safety. You don’t want to tangle with a boat that’s 3 times bigger, 10 times heavier and 40 times faster than you and your canoe!

Give bigger boats the right-of-way when you share the same waters. That’s not just polite, it’s the law in many places. Be aware of them, how fast they’re going and the direction they’re heading—and stay out of their way.

Be visible to other boaters. Use a brightly colored canoe, PFD, paddle and/or clothing so you’re easy to see.

When you canoe on a lake or river with lots of other traffic, stick closer to shore when you can. If you have to cross big water or a channel, do it quickly. If you’re with a group, do it together so you don’t make a long string of slow boats.

At the Portages

If you want to embark on some wilderness canoeing in areas like the Boundary Waters or Northern Forest Canoe Trail, you have some portage etiquette to learn. Again, if you remember to be considerate and respectful of others, you’ve nailed most of it.

If the portage you’re crossing is busy with other canoe parties:

  • Pull your canoes and gear up on shore and over to the side until you’re ready so others can come and go at the same portage.
  • If you have to leave some gear behind and come back for it, be sure it’s well off to the side and out of the way. Keep it all together in one pile so you don’t overlook anything once you’re back to grab it.
  • Those carrying canoes always have the right of way on a portage. If you meet one, get off to the side as soon as it’s safe and let that person pass. If you’re behind one, be patient.
  • If you meet someone who’s carrying a similar load as you are, stick to hiking etiquette that says the one going uphill has the right-of-way.

two women prepare their canoes and gear for a portage

(Photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

Sometimes you’ll want to take advantage of a portage for a snack or lunch break. This is perfectly fine as long as your group and gear are well off to the side and out of the way of others who may come.

Here’s one that isn’t required, but will sure make someone’s day—if you’re done with a portage and have the time and energy, offer to help someone else who you can see is struggling.

(There’s a very cool story about that in this blog post: Wilderness Canoeing with Your Kids. Scroll down to the “specific memories” section!)

At the Campsites

Canoe campsite etiquette is generally the same as other types of camping—keep a clean camp, be sure to comb the area for trash and gear before you leave, follow the camping guidelines where you are.

Another important reminder—noise travels extremely well over the water. Especially calm water. Especially at night.

If you know there are other campers in your area, even on the same lake, practice strict quiet hours both in the evening and the morning. Keep your voices to speaking volume. If you must play music, keep it low enough so it can’t be heard at other campsites.

Here’s another way to make someone’s day: Before you leave that campsite, stack any leftover firewood next to the fire pit. Some campers even cut enough to leave behind for the next party that stays there.

 two canoes sitting at a portage

(Photo courtesy of Sharon Brodin)

If you think about the other people who are on the water as much as you think about your own time on the water, you’ll have no problem following good canoe etiquette!

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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