How To Pull a Canoe ?

What happens when you experience the unexpected when canoeing? Maybe someone in your canoeing party loses an oar, or for whatever reason are no longer able to control the boat themselves? Then how do you get this canoe back to shore with you?


Here’s how to pull a canoe:


  1. Tow an empty canoe behind you.
  2. Use a Flying V setup.
  3. Pencil rig the two canoes together.


If you’re a budding canoeist, you may understand that traditionally you get in your canoe, row with oars independently, then pull the boat onto the land when you’re done. If you need to pull the canoe to shore, you’re in the right place. Keep reading and I’ll show you how to do it.

1. Tow an Empty Canoe Behind You

If you and a friend are out canoeing and one of you can no longer operate your canoe, you don’t need to leave it behind. With the proper equipment and process, you can tow the empty canoe right behind you.


Follow these easy steps to tow a canoe:


  1. Tie a long and strong rope to the bow of the empty canoe.
  2. Thread the rope through the back seat of the occupied canoe and pull it all the way through.
  3. If you’re in a body of water with a potentially strong current, you don’t want to tie the rope off. Rather, wrap the rope a few times around the nearest thwart and secure it lightly under your knee. This setup will allow you to immediately release the towed boat if there’s any danger of capsizing without untying a knot.
  4. If you’re in a flat body of water, with no threat of strong current, you can use the rope to tie a knot. This will secure the second canoe to your canoe.
  5. Tie either a releasable clove hitch knot or a highway man’s hitch knot to the thwart closest to the back seat of your occupied canoe.
  6. Make sure you tie the towed canoe close to your canoe or you’ll lose stability and increase the likelihood it gets snared on something.

2. Use a Flying V Setup

The Flying V is also known as the V-Assist method, which allows people in two canoes to stay in the canoes and only paddle on one side.


The “Flying V” is a great option if you don’t have any rope with you. This method will effectively “tie” the two canoes together, without any rope, at the bow. It creates a V formation and allows easy travel through the water.


Here are the steps to the Flying V method:


  1. Bring both canoes together, side by side.
  2. Both canoeists will continue to row on the opposite side of the canoe. This will create pressure and help keep the two canoes together.
  3. If the noses of the canoes start to separate, you can grab the inside of the opposite boat and pull them together again. Occasionally, you may need to restart the Flying V.

3. Pencil Rig the Two Canoes Together

The Pencil Rig is the most complicated of pulling methods. This involves both parties remaining in their canoes but tying them together while on the water. Like the Flying V, this method allows each canoeist to only paddle on one side.


They can support each other to reach their destination.


While the Flying V is better for short excursions, the Pencil Rig is great for extended canoe trips, as the two boats are tied together.


These are the steps to set up the Pencil Rig:


  1. Tie a long and strong rope to the bow of the trailing canoe.
  2. Thread the rope through the yoke of the front canoe, which will bring the bow of the trailing canoe right to the yoke of the leading canoe.
  3. Pull the rope to the back of the leading boat and thread through the handle on the stern.
  4. Pull very tight.
  5. Loop the rope around the yoke of the trailing canoe, and pull as tight as possible.
  6. Tie a releasable clove hitch knot on the yoke.


Check out this YouTube video below if you’d like to see these three pulling methods in action. It’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to tie the knots and position your canoes effectively:

Materials Required

One of the best parts of these pulling methods is that you don’t need a lot of equipment. You only need to add a rope to your supply list outside of your standard canoe, oars, and life jackets. And in the case of the Flying V, there’s no additional equipment needed at all.


We recommend the SEACHOICE Heavy Duty Tow Rope from It’s both affordable and durable enough to handle rough water. It also floats, so you have the added relief of not losing your rope in a capsize event.

How To Get the Canoe Back Onto Land By Yourself

If you’ve had some trouble during your canoe trip, you may not be able to partner up and carry the canoes once they’re back on land. The good news is, canoes can easily be carried by one person when you use the proper technique.


Follow these steps on how you can lift and carry your canoe when you’re on your own:

  1. Turn your legs into a shelf by bending at the knees.
  2. Roll the canoe onto its side, with the bottom facing you.
  3. Grab the canoe with both hands and lean back, bringing the canoe onto your lap shelf.
  4. Reach into the canoe and grab the portage yoke to pull the canoe top toward you.
  5. Grab the opposite side of the canoe. At this point, the inside of the canoe should be facing you.
  6. Move both hands so they’re on opposite sides of the canoe, and swiftly pull the canoe over your head. This step may take multiple attempts to learn how to maneuver the weight of the canoe. (Rocking your body can help create momentum.)
  7. Make sure the portage yoke is comfortably balancing on your shoulders while you keep both hands on the inside sides of the canoe for stability.


Now you can carry the canoe to your final destination on land with little struggle. If you need a visual on this method, check out the video below:


Canoeing is a fantastic way to get some exercise while enjoying the beautiful scenery all around you.


However, it can be hard to recognize any of that if you’re exhausted, injured, or getting left behind by your party. By implementing one of the three pulling methods above, you can be sure your canoe trip will continue to be an enjoyable time for all involved.

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