How to Canoe in Wind & Waves

canoe in wind and waves

To paddle a canoe successfully in high wind and waves is tricky business. Some skilled paddlers love the challenge and even look for waves and river rapids to run. But wind and waves can quickly turn a recreational canoe trip into anything but fun.

Here are some tips to handle these conditions…

Reconsider Your Canoe Trip

If you’re on a day-long or multi-day trip and don’t have time to spare, this may not be an option. But if you’re at the family cabin and are after an enjoyable couple of hours in a canoe, plan it for a day (or time of day) without whitecaps on the lake!

Work on Your Paddle Strokes

Before canoeing in a situation with high wind and waves, learn basic paddle strokes and become skilled at them. Not only will that give you more confidence in inclement conditions, you’ll be able to handle those conditions better.

Head Into the Waves at a 45º Angle

A canoe is least stable when it’s parallel to the waves. That’s the scenario you want to avoid if at all possible. If you have to position yourself that way for a short time (say, to change direction) keep your hips loose and your paddles in the water for extra stability (we’re assuming you’re in a tandem canoe with one other paddler).

If you head directly into oncoming waves, you’ll likely get plenty of splash over the bow of the canoe. But heading into them at a 45º angle helps lessen that splash while still giving you good stability in the water.

If the wind and waves are behind you, one of your challenges will be to keep your canoe from broaching—an abrupt change in direction caused by a wind gust or extra big wave. Again, strong paddle skills are the key.

Tack Your Route into the Waves and Wind

If the wind and waves are at a 45º from where you’re heading—perfect! But if not, you may need to using a tacking strategy—zig-zag your way toward your destination so you can stay at a good angle into the waves.

Keep Your Weight Low

Keep the weight of people and any gear as low and centered as you can in the canoe. Many experienced paddlers like the position of sitting on the front edge of their seat with their knees on the floor of the canoe. If that position suits you, it will add to stability.


These canoeists are on their knees, keeping their weight lower in the canoe—good technique for wind and waves as well as rivers

Keep Paddling

Anytime your paddles leave the water, the canoe will be at the mercy of the wind and waves for a brief moment. So keep a strong forward momentum, especially heading into the biggest waves. Have we mentioned you should learn basic canoe strokes and get skilled at them?

Stick Close to Shore When Possible

If you must be out in these kinds of rough conditions, say if you’re on a multi-day trip and are on a schedule, stick close to shore when possible. In the unfortunate event of a capsize, you’ll be glad the shoreline is only 15 feet away instead of half a mile.

Be Watchful of Hazards in the Water

When you battle wind and waves in your canoe, it’s natural to focus on just getting to your destination. But also be watchful of hazards like fallen trees and boulders near the water’s surface that could cause problems.

Canoeing in wind and waves isn’t a lot of fun for most of us, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be able to manage them successfully.

Happy paddling!

Can we help you choose a canoe paddle that’s perfect for you? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you...