Paddles: Most people will use a paddle to propel their canoe. Some canoes can be outfitted with oars to be rowed like a boat, and some people may elect to use a kayak paddle for solo canoeing. In some rare cases, some people use small electric or even gas powered engines to move their canoe.
Just like the tire is the part of the vehicle touching the road on your car, the paddle is the single most important accessory (next to a PFD) for your canoe. You can use a board to paddle, but you will be exhausted and blistered in a very short period of time.
Paddles come in two basic styles, straight shaft and bent shaft. They both serve different purposes and should be used in specific situations.
Bent shaft paddles are very popular with those who go touring with their canoe or travel long distances on flat water. Typically bent forward at 14 degrees, the paddle does not waste any forward energy in the stroke, where a typical straight shaft paddle expends 20% of the stroke going in the opposite direction you want to go in. Bent shaft paddles allow for easier paddling over long distances and on smooth flat water can help you attain very good speed. Four miles an hour in a 17 foot canoe is easily achieved in flat water if you and your partner are paddling efficiently and are in average health.
Straight shaft paddles are more of the traditional canoe paddle. Although straight shaft paddles waste about 20% of the stroke, they are much easier to use when maneuvering or in whitewater. You don't have to spin the paddle around 180 degrees in your hand if the blade angle is facing the wrong way. If you plan to do any moving water above Class II-, you should use straight shaft paddles.
Paddle length is also very important. You can not gauge the proper length of your paddle by walking into the store and finding what is comfortable. You will be paddling your canoe sitting, not standing. The best way to gauge how long of a paddle you should get is to get into your canoe, and measure the distance from the nose to the waterline. This is how long your shaft should be. Paddles are sold by total length, not shaft length so you need to measure the length of the blade, and then add your nose to water measurement to that to get your paddle length. If this sounds too complicated, or it is not practical to get your canoe home and not have any paddles, 52" to 58" is typically a good range for a paddle.
Paddles come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, styles, and prices. You should avoid cheap, department store paddles. These will only wear your hands and arms out, and typically do not have a wide enough paddle to get the most efficiency from your stroke. The paddle you select should have a wide paddle, smooth handle, free of burrs or rough edges. It should be laminated if it is wood and the tip should be reinforced with a composite material. It should feel light and comfortable in your hand, and the grip should fit your palm well. A good paddle will cost between $60 to $300. You also need to remember that if you plan to do white water or touring, you need to have a second set of paddles. Most people that do touring will carry one set of bent shaft, and one set of straight shaft. It is important to have two sets of paddles in case your paddle breaks or is lost. You know the old clich� about being up the creek, and your not going to make much headway with a branch.
Personal Floatation Device: A personal floatation device or PFD is a very fancy name for a life jacket. Gone are the bright orange life jackets of our summer camp days. Today there are a wide variety of PFD's available to support an active life style. You should always where your PFD. Any experienced paddler will tell you that capsizing is an incredibly disorienting experience.
You should avoid the inexpensive, bright orange life jackets. They are not comfortable, they make it difficult to paddle, which then encourages you not to wear them. There are a number of good PFD's that are comfortable, allow mobility, and are very practical with features like vented pockets.
Your PFD should be of the proper size to accommodate you as per the manufacturers specifications. This information can typically be found on the large card attached to the PFD by the US Coast Guard, which is required on all new PFD's in the United States. If the PFD is not the right size for your frame, or weight, do not get it. When you try on your PFD, you should have a friend grab the back of it and pull up. If the collar comes over your neck, the PFD is too small, or you do not have your straps adjusted correctly. In a emergency situation, if the collar comes over your neck, and you are unconscious, the PFD will actually drown you.
Children have special needs when selecting a PFD. All of the same rules apply but you need to follow the manufacturers specifications for weight, height, and size on the PFD. Never put an adult PFD on a child. Never attach a rope to your child's PFD to the boat. Some people actually do this so if the canoe capsizes, the child will not float far from the canoe. If the rope becomes tangled, especially in moving water, the child could actually be held underwater and drowned.
A quality, comfortable, PFD will cost between $50 and $150. If you live on a lake, or river, and tend to have a lot of company, buying a few of those bright orange PFD's are fine to have on hand. If you do this, make sure to buy a couple of different children sized ones. It is a coast guard requirement that there is a PFD on the boat for each person. Most states require that children wear a PFD at all times.
Throwable PFD: When canoeing you should carry at least one throwable PFD. There are a number of different products you can use. If you are on flat water, or tour on flat water, you can get some of the large cushion style PFD's with two straps and secure a 30' length of rope to it. Not only can this be used as a throwable PFD, but you can also use it as your knee pad when paddling. People who canoe in whitewater, typically get a throw bag. A throw bag is a rescue device with a length of rope from 30 to 75 feet which is buoyant. You simply pull a length of rope out, and toss the bag at the person in the water.
The Coast Guard requires one throwable PFD on a personal watercraft with at least 30 feet of rope. Make sure if you do not have a throw bag, that the rope is secure and not loose in your canoe. Again, in a capsize situation, the rope can work against you, tangling you up, and holding you underwater.
Painters: Painters are lines attached to the bow and stern of your canoe. Painters should be 15 feet in length and secured so they are not loose in the canoe. These lines can serve a number of useful purposes, ranging from tying up your canoe, tying up to another canoe or small craft to toe, a grab line if you capsize, etc.
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