How to Get Into a Canoe (Without Flipping it, Falling in, and Looking Dumb)


Getting in and out of a canoe looks a lot harder than it actually is and it can be a tricky process. No one wants to look clumsy when heading out on the water, so it’s important to learn exactly how to get into a canoe, without looking dumb.

  1. Have someone hold it while docked
  2. Bend your knees
  3. Face front
  4. Put right leg in
  5. Bring right hand over
  6. Put left leg in
  7. Bring left hand over
  8. Slowly and fluidly bring your body in, staying centered

There are many little things to take into account when getting ready to head out on the water with a canoe, and the best thing to do is learn what is needed before starting. The more prepared you are, the cooler you look!

Getting In

There are two different ways you can get into a canoe, and it really depends on where the canoe is placed in the water.

The most common way to enter a canoe is by a shallow shoreline. This is when a canoe is launching from a beach or lake shoreline.

Usually, this means that the back half of the canoe or the stern is still on land. Shallow shorelines are common because there is a decreased chance that the canoe will flip.

The other way is when you are getting in when the water is already deep, like from a dock.

Entering from the Shore

Step 1: Get Someone to Hold the Canoe Still

If canoeing with a partner, it is much easier to get in a canoe. Remember to make sure that half of the canoe is in the water and the other half is still on land.

Have your partner hold the stern of the boat tightly, or, for greater stability, have your partner sit at the very end of the stern, which is the last foot of the canoe.

A partner sitting on the end of the canoe will keep the canoe from slipping into the water and keep the canoe from wobbling when as you step inside. It’s best that if you are nervous about getting in, that you go first.

Step 2: Bend Your Knees

Many people will choose to walk into the water and enter in at the bow of the canoe (front); however, you can enter the canoe at the stern where your partner is holding it, and slowly walk towards the bow using a paddle to keep steady.

Either way you decide to enter, you need to bend your knees. If entering from the back and walking forward, bend your knees and hold the paddle in your non-dominant hand until your leg is inside the canoe.

Side Note: It is always better to enter the canoe by putting the dominant foot in, followed by the dominant hand.

Step 3: Face Front

If unsure of what partner should enter the canoe first, it is better that it is the canoer who will be at the bow of the canoe.

Facing front while entering a canoe is pretty much common sense. Getting in a canoe is hard enough. There’s no need to do it while walking backward or trying to turn around inside the canoe.

Step 4: Dominant Leg Over into the Canoe

With your knees bent, shift your weight to the non-dominant leg and put the dominant leg over and inside of the canoe.

Don’t try to put the dominant leg all the way over to the other side of the canoe.

Step 5: Grip with Your Dominant Hand the Opposite Side of the Canoe

With the dominant leg inside, take your dominant hand and use it to grip onto the opposite side of the canoe.

This is now the time to step closer to the canoe. Move your dominant leg over so that it is on the same side of the canoe as your dominant hand.

By this time, one side of your body should be leaning towards the opposite side of the canoe that you are getting in on.

Step 6: Place Non-Dominant Leg Inside

Then, gripping the side of the canoe firmly with the dominant hand, swing the other leg over and again bend the knees.

Do not try to stand straight up in the canoe when getting in, as this will likely cause you to fall out or the canoe to tip over.

Step 7: Put Non-Dominant Hand Over

With both legs inside the canoe, bent knees, and your dominant hand on one side bring your other hand in and grip the side of the canoe you got in on.

At this point it should look like you are preparing to sit, or that you are in the process of doing a squat.

Step 8: Sit Down

This step is simple. All that has to be done is that you bring your body down to the seat in a slow, but fluid motion. Don’t rush it!

It should be like coming home from a long day at work, squatting over a comfy chair and slowly sitting down in it. A slow, fluid, and satisfying sit.

The partner can then enter in the back the same way and then both canoers can push off from the shore using their paddles.

Getting in from the Dock

The other way to enter a canoe is relatively the same process except that it is in deep water. This happens when the canoe is docked.

First make sure that the canoe is tightly tied to the dock so there’s no way of it floating away as you enter.

If available, have a partner hold onto the side of the canoe close to the dock as you enter.

Repeat the same steps for getting in the canoe and then when the partner is getting in, hold onto the dock so there is more stability for them.

At this point, untie the canoe from the dock and push away with a hand or paddle.

Getting Out Without Tipping the Canoe

Getting out of a canoe can be a little trickier and might feel a little more unstable but if done slowly, can be less stressful and less risky.

Step 1: Secure the Canoe

If going back to the shore, simply paddle until you get back on the shoreline, at this point anyone is the canoe can hop out and drag the canoe to the shore.

If docking the canoe, paddle close to the dock and both canoers can reach for the dock. Pull up close to it, and then tightly tie the canoe back in place.

With either method you are using make sure that the canoe is secure and will not float away.

Step 2: Grip the Canoe

This time, make sure that the side of the canoe you grab is the one closes to the dock. If you are exiting on a shoreline, go ahead and grab the canoe on the side of your dominant hand.

Step 3: Return to a Squatting Position

Again, DO NOT stand straight up! Tipping usually happens when someone in the canoe stands up straight.

Ease up until you are no longer touching the seat of the canoe and the knees are bent. This should look and feel like it did when first entering the canoe.

Step 4: Bring One Leg Over and Corresponding Hand Over

Take the dominant leg and swing it over and immediately bring the dominant hand over as well.

Both hands should then be on one side of the canoe. Your dominant leg should be out of the canoe completely.

Step 5: Bring Other Leg Out

Scoot close to the side of the canoe that you have both hands on. Then, turn slightly and swing your left leg over and out.

Then let both hands go, stand up straight and help bring the canoe onto the shore.

Side Note: If the dock you are exiting on is higher and you are not able to swing a leg over on it, the grip the dock, and pull up. Then swing a leg over, just like exiting a pool from the deep end.

Unflipping a Flipped Canoe

Flipping a canoe can happen even if everything is done right. The first thing that needs to be done is making sure that the paddles are located and secure.

A flipped canoe is just one of the many reasons that you should always be wearing a life jacket. A lot could go wrong when a canoe is flipped, especially in rough waters, and life jackets will save your life.

As soon as the canoe has flipped, both canoers should take one end to make sure the canoe doesn’t sink.

Make sure that everyone in the canoe is safe and that all canoers can handle the water. It is much easier and better to replace a canoe than a human life. If the canoe cannot be saved, but a life can. If needed, ditch the canoe.

Then, with two canoers at each end, the canoers should position the canoe over their heads and start swimming to whatever shore is closest.

Keep your feet up to avoid hitting rocks. Also, remember that as you stand you will have to lift the full weight of the canoe.

If close to the shore when the canoe is flipped, both canoers should swim until they can stand. Then, completely submerge the canoe in the water, turn it upside down, and then lift it out of the water so it will sit right side up.

Remember to take things slowly both entering and exiting a canoe, always wear a life jacket. Remember that you can look cool, have fun, and be safe if you’re prepared first!

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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