I’ve taught several thousand canoe customers how to properly lift and put down a canoe. I’ve been doing it since canoes were heavy starting in 1976 – so for a really long time.
Your canoe is the single most important piece of gear you have when you are out in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Being mean to your canoe (rental or not) is just plain dumb. After guiding for many years, I got to witness countless people doing some really stupid things with their canoes. It wasn’t because they were rotten in most cases. They were just plain ignorant. On more than one occasion, I witnessed two seated people in a fully loaded canoe with the canoe aiming at the lake. They then would proceed to paddle with great effort literally paddling sand and rocks on a dry beach to attempt to propel the canoe to the water. Canoes don’t do well on anything but water at least in my experience. They float but don’t slide particularly on rocks and sand. They also do poorly when dropped or thrown. I’ve seen both, too. Why would one risk putting a hole in one’s canoe when 5 miles out in the woods? Without knowing how to properly lift and then put down a canoe, this is one of the easiest goofs committed.
But paddling sand is only one act of ignorance with canoes. There’s a bigger one. That would be carrying the canoe. Many things can go wrong with portaging a canoe. First off, you can injure your back despite it being a 43 lb. kevlar canoe if that is what you have. Why pull a muscle if you don’t have to? Sitting in the canoe for miles with a pulled muscle really can be a problem.
The way I show people how to lift a canoe emphasizes NOT bending one’s back. I’ve seen a bunch of “expert” vids on the internet and every last one of them completely ignores the issue with the back. Do you know why? These are all people who have been lifting canoes for a fairly long time. They most likely are not desk-jockeys. So, sure, they don’t have to pay attention and neither do I for that matter. But, that is the big flaw in all the “experts” teaching you how to lift a canoe. I used to give XC ski lessons and always shuddered when I had a client who had their friend teach them how to ski and it did not go well. I always heard that the friend was ” an expert and a racer”. Racers know how to go fast for themselves and that’s great but they don’t always make the greatest teachers by any means, especially with a newbie. A lot of newbies can become disenchanted with the sport if they “can’t get” what the “expert” assumes everyone gets what he is saying. So, long story short, you can learn from some experts, but sometimes they leave out important details because teaching someone else is really different than doing for oneself.
So, no bending your back. Well, you can bend it a little, but I prefer to make gravity and the canoe do the work. Roll the canoe up and roll the canoe down while keeping your back relatively straight.
I didn’t do any speaking in this video. There are a few sections where you can read about the moves you should be making and you can stop the video to read it. I’ve also listed the maneuver below as well. In each case, I’ve described the same movements a little differently in hopes that the principle will be broadened for the reader as a result. Well, there’s that and the fact that I don’t feel like watching the video again to see what I wrote on it. In your case, just hit pause and rewind it. You’ll get it.
In a nutshell, to pick up a canoe do these things:
1. First, move the canoe to solid ground. Don’t try to stumble around on unstable or slippery terrain. There is absolutely no reason that you have to pick up your canoe while standing in the water. In fact, you don’t need to wetfoot if you have a Souris River Canoe and various other makes.
2. With the canoe laying right side up, stand at the middle and grab a gunwale. Lift the side up so the canoe is resting on its opposite side.
3. Then, grasp the gunwale and pull upwards. Then grab the yoke, and roll the canoe up onto your thighs.
4. With the canoe rolled up onto your thighs, hold it there with one had between the yoke pads. The hand that can point to the front seat of the canoe, goes to the far side of the yoke and grasps it with your elbow pointing up to the sky. The hand that was holding the canoe between the yoke pads moves to the low end of the yoke that is resting on your thighs. Now, both of your thumbs are facing the front of the canoe. If they are not, you are going to need a different type of joint in your wrist and modern science is not yet there.
5. Your “across” arm pulls the canoe over your tucked head. The canoe goes on your shoulders but you do not want the wood from the yoke touching the back of your neck. Once on your shoulders, slide the canoe forward or backward to adjust the balance. Your thumbs are locked onto the gunwales in front of you.
To put the canoe down:
1. Find decent ground to stand on and widen your stance.
2. Put your right hand up the side of the canoe on the outside.
3. With your left hand, lift the left gunwale up and tuck your head so the yoke pad doesn’t remove your hat and glasses. You are rolling the canoe sideways off of your shoulder and cradling with your right hand or elbow if you are long armed.
4. The canoe is now cradled on your left side. Your high hand, the right hand, comes down from the gunwale and grasps the yoke -between the yoke pads- from the underside of the yoke – not the top of the yoke.
5. At this point, turn your body into the canoe and take out your left hand out to grab the gunwale that is against your body. Re-position your hands as needed to allow you roll the canoe down the front of you until the far side of the canoe gently touches planet Earth. Make certain that you allow the canoe to roll down the front of you and allow the far side of the canoe to touch the ground without bending your back. Many will actually get to the first part of Step 5 and then bend their backs lowering the canoe down to the ground instead of rolling it down.
Roll canoe, don’t bend back.
That’s all there is to it. Practice on your lawn. After just a few lifts, you will get really good at it.
Not having yoke pads on your canoe is NUTS! Order a set of clamp-on/no-drill pads right here.
Make sure you use bonafide canoe straps for car-topping your canoe!