Do You Get Wet Canoeing? (+Tips on How to Stay Dry)


Canoeing is one of the most popular water sports around, but it’s peculiar in that paddlers don’t necessarily have to soak themselves to have a good time. In fact, many first time paddlers are often curious about how wet that you actually get over the course of a canoeing outing.

Most recreational canoeists that paddle in calm waters don’t get very wet at all. There may be a few sporadic splashes from paddle strokes and wave spray, but that’s to be expected with any water sport. Still, there’s a small chance that a paddler may soak themselves if they capsize the canoe.

We’ll delve into all the potential ways that you can get wet over the course of a canoeing outing. Following that, we’ll go over effective methods on how to avoid being completely drenched by the end of your trip. Read until the end to find out exactly what to wear for your first canoeing expedition.

Ways That You Get Wet Canoeing

There are a variety of ways that the water can find its way onto you, even if you’re safely established in the dry interior of a canoe. Although most people stay relatively dry while canoeing, you should still familiarize yourself with these potential sources of water exposure to know what practices to avoid.

Occasional Splashes from Paddle Strokes

Paddling is the foundational element of canoeing. In order to move anywhere with speed on a canoe, paddling is a must. On a multiple hour long trip, canoeists perform hundreds—if not thousands—of paddling strokes to navigate the boat toward their destination.

Eventually, at least a couple of these paddling strokes will contact the water the wrong way, sending drips of water hurdling back in your direction. This may not seem like a lot, but over the course of a long paddling expedition, these water droplets add up.

Of course, these splashes are usually minor so they won’t fully drench you. However, they can be a petty annoyance if you’re intent on staying fully dry over the course of a canoeing trek. With canoeing, there’s really only so much that you can do to avoid the water.

Spray from Waves Crashing Against the Canoe’s Hull

In addition, wave spray is another prevalent means by which canoe paddlers get a tad wet.

This isn’t that much of a commonality in flat, calm water conditions. However, canoeists may have to face wave spray even on small, seemingly tranquil lakes and waterways because of other water-goers.

For example, the waves generated by speedboats and jet skis can be enough to send splashes up the canoe’s hull, particularly if these other water-goers are reaching high speeds. In high traffic areas, an otherwise calm lake may turn noticeably choppy, increasing the likelihood of you getting wet.

If you intend on paddling in a wavy area, such as a narrow river or the ocean water, be prepared for the backsplash. It’s far more likely that you’ll be on the receiving end of more incidental water splashes in these kinds of water terrains as opposed to smoother conditions.

There’s really nothing you can do on your part to prevent this backsplash, other than attempting to paddle to calmer waters.

Swamping Yourself Along with the Canoe

The last prominent way that you can get wet is by tipping over the canoe, throwing yourself and the canoe into the water.

Out of all the ways that you can get wet while canoeing, this is definitely the most noteworthy. When this happens, you’ll be thoroughly drenched for at least the next couple hours. Not to mention that the normally dry interior of your canoe will be extremely moist.

If you plan on staying dry over the course of a canoeing expedition, swamping your canoe is the foremost thing you want to avoid. Fortunately, it’s actually fairly difficult to capsize a canoe on accident, especially in flat water conditions. Even beginners that have never touched a paddle before in their life routinely avoid swamping the canoe during their very first session.

Recreational canoes are specially tailored for stability on flat waters, featuring a flatter hull that’s harder to tip over. Also, this type of hull design allows paddlers to more easily set their weight distribution evenly across the canoe, minimizing the chances of capsizing.

You can find more information about why canoes are fairly difficult to swamp by clicking over to How Hard Is It to Flip a Canoe? (+Tips to Stay Upright).

How to Stay as Dry as Possible While Canoeing

Now that you know all the possible causes of wetness while canoeing, you probably want to learn some tactics on how to best avoid soaking yourself unnecessarily. Below, you can find several useful tips and strategies on how to do exactly that.

Avoid Rough Waves and Harsh Winds to Keep Dry

The first way to keep away from the water is to plan your trip around a location that’s known to have favorable water conditions.

For most recreational paddlers, it’s a smart idea to stay away from whitewater and strong winds for safety purposes. Not many recreational paddlers have enough skill to properly navigate under these conditions, let alone paddle for an extended period of time.

Safety is always priority number one, but these conditions are also not supportive of your goals to stay dry. With larger waves smacking against the canoe’s hull and strong winds blowing mist in your face, you can expect to get much wetter in these conditions relative to calm waters.

In the event that the weather doesn’t look likes it going to cooperate, you may want to consider pushing back your canoeing trip to a different day. If not for the fact that you want to stay dry, do it for the sake of your own safety.

Paddle in an Appropriately Sized Canoe

Another helpful tip to keep dry is to select a canoe that’s ideal for the amount of riders that will be paddling. There are different sized canoes for different amounts of riders, such as solo canoes, tandem canoes, and multi-rider canoes.

Many people overlook the fact that canoe size plays an important role in the overall stability of the canoe out on the water. Regardless of whether there are one, two, three, or more paddlers, the weight must be evenly distributed across the canoe. This minimizes the chances of the paddlers flipping over the canoe and getting themselves wet.

Proper weight distribution can be hard to achieve if there are too many or too few paddlers seated onto one canoe.

For example, solo paddlers often take tandem canoes out to paddle if no solo canoes are available. Although a tandem canoe can work for a solo paddler, balancing out the canoe evenly can be a struggle.

In fact, solo paddlers have been known to reverse the orientation of the canoe so that the bow is at their back. They then paddle from the inverted bow seat so that they’re positioned closer to the canoe’s center of gravity, which is better optimized for even weight distribution.

You can find additional tips on how to paddle a tandem canoe on your own by clicking over to Can One Person Paddle a Two Person Canoe? (Facts to Know).

If tips and tricks like these are not implemented, the bow or stern will lift out of the water, putting the paddlers at a greater risk for swamping. Frankly, it’s best to just avoid this problem altogether by finding the right sized canoe to paddle on the water.

Perfect Your Paddling Technique to Minimize Splash Back

Lastly, paddling form can greatly reduce the amount of splash back that comes your way when out canoeing.

Some beginners have a tendency to be super aggressive with their paddling strokes. They recklessly smack the water and forcefully pull at the paddle shaft in the hopes of moving the canoe along faster. These brash movements will inevitably result in water spattering right back at the paddler. For those of you that want to stay dry, this is something you’re going to want to avoid.

Fortunately, the art of paddling is less about brute strength and more about calculated precision. You can paddle the canoe along at high speeds as long as your paddling technique is on point. Paddling doesn’t have to be a sloppy showcase of physical prowess with water splashing everywhere.

This is good news because this means that it’s possible to reach your preferred destination in a timely fashion while still remaining relatively dry. Just make sure that you pay close attention to your form and rework it to make each paddle stroke more energy effective.

If You’re Only Getting a Little Wet, is a Bathing Suit Necessary?

With all this talk of how dry you can be while canoeing, you’re probably wondering whether or not you can get away with wearing one of your normal outfits for a paddling exhibition. After all, it’s not like you’re going swimming, right?

In short, a bathing suit isn’t mandatory for canoeing. However, there definitely are certain things that you should wear and other things that you shouldn’t wear while preparing for a canoeing trip.

Regular Street Clothes Don’t Bode Well with Canoeing

Since canoeists do get exposed to some moisture from the surrounding water, you should avoid water absorbent clothing fabric as best you can. You should skip popular clothing items such as jeans and cotton sweatshirts, as they fall well within the category of water absorbent fabric.

Synthetic blend fabrics are better suited for canoeing because they tend to dry a lot more quickly. This way, if you do end up being on the receiving end of a big splash, you won’t be drenched for the rest of the trip.

You may also want to consider purchasing a paddling jacket to wear over your clothes. There aren’t many better ways to keep your upper body dry than to wear one of these high quality, water resistant pieces.

As far as footwear goes, you should refrain from wearing expensive shoes. Even though flipping over a canoe is unlikely, there’s still a chance that it may happen. It’s best not to put your shoes at risk for the sake of one canoeing expedition.

Instead, it’s advised that you go with a waterproof option, like waterproof sandals or river shoes. These footwear options will definitely help to keep your feet dry. Plus, you won’t have to worry about losing them in the event of a capsize. If you’re wearing flip flops, however, you might end up losing them to the depths below.

Dress for the Water Temperature, Not the Air Temperature

I can safely assume the question that’s running through your head right now. It’s probably something along the lines of: “Why dress for the water temperature as opposed to the air temperature?”

The thing that most people don’t realize is that the water can feel extremely cold even if the air temperature seems rather neutral. Under these circumstances, being drenched in water can ruin your entire canoeing outing. Trust me, feeling trapped on a canoe while shivering cold does not make for a fun experience.

Generally, if the water temperature is anywhere below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you should strongly consider putting on a wet suit (source). Not only will a wet suit keep you warm, it will also be a solid precautionary measure against hypothermia should you accidentally flip into the water.

As a quick reference, wet suits work by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the fabric. Overtime, the heat dissipating off of your skin warms up this trapped water, which helps to stabilize your core body temperature.

This may seem like overkill, especially since recreational canoeists don’t get wet often in flat water conditions. Nonetheless, you can never be too careful.

Always Wear a Personal Flotation Device

As a final note, you should always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) whenever you canoe. Regardless of how skilled you think you are, you’re always at risk for being swamped, even when it seems like everything is running smoothly.

This guideline supersedes any qualms that you may have with being exposed to water on a canoeing trip. You shouldn’t allow an aversion to the water put your health at risk.

Although recreational paddlers stay relatively dry for the most part, you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to avoid wearing a PFD. A sudden capsize can creep up when you least expect it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Bottom Line

Being relatively dry at the end of a brief canoeing journey is actually somewhat common in calmer waters. Since paddlers never have to physically plunge into the water in order to canoe, they can stay safe in the dry confines of the canoe’s interior.

But even if you do douse yourself, it’s nothing to be ashamed of! In fact, most of the people I’ve seen swamp themselves actually have a better time because of it. They laugh it off and have a story to tell when they get back to shore.

So whether you care or don’t care about being wet, just go out and try canoeing! Either way, it should make for an entertaining experience.

Sources: 1

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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