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Like most things, canoes are perfectly safe if used in the manner in which they were designed. In actual fact, you have to work pretty hard to flip a canoe over because of its relatively flat bottom. Granted, if you stand up in a canoe, it is likely to turn over but then again, you're kind of asking for trouble if you do something like that.
The key thing to bear in mind when you are in a canoe is to keep your centre of gravity low as this will keep everything stable. Also, remember to balance along the length of the canoe. If someone leans over the side, the other person should counterbalance a little by leaning slightly to the other side.
Getting in the Canoe from a Dock
When getting into the canoe, the most effective procedure is to have the heaviest person get in the back seat and then the second, lighter person can get in around the middle. The middle is the widest part of the canoe and therefore the most stable. Once the second person is in the canoe, they can then grab hold of the gunwales (sides) and creep up to the bow seat. Laying your paddle across the gunwales also helps you maintain balance while creeping up and eliminates the need to reach back for it after you are seated.
If you are taking small children with you, they should get in after the bow and stern seats are filled. Children should sit on the floor of the canoe rather than on the crossbars to maximise stability.
In the Canoe
Once everyone is in place, the main paddlers should move forward in their seats so that their knees are on the bottom of the boat and their backside is perched on the edge of the seat. This puts your centre of gravity lower and will allow you to paddle more powerfully and efficiently with the least amount of sideways motion. Novice canoeists may find that their lifejacket or a soft coat will help to minimise knee strain.
The weather can change very quickly if you are out on a big lake and you may encounter waves even if the water was calm on the outward journey. Also, if you are sharing the lake with motorised watercraft, it is likely that you will have to cross a wake. Rule number one is DO NOT PANIC. Simply turn the canoe so you meet the waves straight on and plow through. Unless they are very large, facing the waves side-on will likely not tip your canoe but it will make things feel far less stable than if you meet them bow first.
Getting Out of the Canoe
Disembarking should be done in the reverse order.
Steering a canoe efficiently can cause quite a bit of frustration for the novice canoeist. The best advice is to do a little as possible and when you do need to correct the course, do it with the least amount of effort. This will ensure you don't get stuck in a cycle of overcorrecting yourself. If the two paddlers are well matched in terms of strength, major adjustments to the course will be unnecessary. When this is not the case, it is best to have the most skilled paddler in the stern seat in order to compensate for the increased steering responsibility.
There are two different schools of thought regarding what side the paddlers should paddle on. Recreational canoeists tend to paddle continuously on one side until they tire and then switch. This is usually done so that most of the paddling is done on the strong side but tends not to work so well when both paddlers are left or right handed.
Competitive canoeists switch every five or ten strokes. This has the advantage of minimising muscle fatigue and ensuring that the paddlers are more evenly matched for longer periods of time.
Balance is the name of the game when canoeing and the more evenly matched in weight and strength the paddlers are, the more efficiently they can use energy and the faster they will go.