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Canoeing Merit Badge

Canoeing Merit Badge Guide

Earning the Canoeing merit badge will introduce you to the wonderful world of canoeing. The skills you learn will embark on a lifetime of canoeing experiences.

The word canoe originates with Christopher Columbus and his report that the Arawak Indians from the West Indies used a seagoing boat, or keno, made from a hollowed-out tree trunk.

The American Indians of the northeastern woodlands used the boats that we call canoes. The birch-bark canoe they perfected had a wood frame covered with sheets of birch bark that were sewn together with white pine root and sealed with pine or spruce resin.

In the 20th century, canoes made of new materials in new shapes and designs replaced the wood-canvas canoe.

Aluminum canoes appeared in large numbers after World War II when several aircraft manufacturers retrofitted their production lines to build canoes from metal.

Today, plastics and other advanced materials are used to make boats for many kinds of recreational and competitive paddling.

Canoeing Merit Badge Requirements

canoeing meirt badge requirements
  1. Do the following:
    • Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in canoeing activities and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
    • Review prevention, symptoms, and first-aid treatment for the following injuries or illnesses that could occur while canoeing: blisters, cold-water shock and hypothermia, dehydration, heat-related illnesses, sunburn, sprains, and strains.
    • Discuss the BSA Safety Afloat policy. Tell how it applies to canoe activities.
  2. Before doing the following requirements, successfully complete the BSA swimmer test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
  3. Do the following:
    • Name and point out the major parts of a canoe.
    • Describe how the length and shape of a canoe affect its performance.
    • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different materials used to make canoes.
  4. Do the following:
    • Name and point out the parts of a paddle. Explain the difference between a straight and bent-shaft paddle and when each is best used.
    • Demonstrate how to size correctly a paddle for a paddler in a sitting position and a kneeling position.
  5. Do the following:
    • Discuss with your counselor the characteristics of life jackets most appropriate for canoeing and tell why a life jacket must always be worn while paddling.
    • Demonstrate how to select and properly fit the correct size life jacket.
  6. Discuss with your counselor the general care and maintenance of canoes, paddles, and other canoeing equipment.
  7. Do the following:
    • Discuss what personal and group equipment would be appropriate for a canoe camping trip. Describe how personal and group equipment can be packed and protected from water.
    • Using the containers and packs from requirement 7a, demonstrate how to load and secure the containers and other equipment in the canoe.
    • Using appropriate knots, including a trucker’s hitch, taut-line hitch, and bowline, demonstrate how to secure a canoe to a vehicle or a trailer, or if these are not available, a rack on land.
  8. With a companion, use a properly equipped canoe to demonstrate the following:
    • Safely carry and launch the canoe from a dock or shore (both, if possible).
    • Safely land the canoe on a dock or shore (both, if possible) and return it to its proper storage location.
    • Demonstrate kneeling and sitting positions in a canoe and explain the proper use for each position.
    • Change places while afloat in the canoe.
  9. With a companion, use a properly equipped canoe to demonstrate the following:
    • In deep water, exit the canoe and get back in without capsizing.
    • Safely perform a controlled capsize of the canoe and demonstrate how staying with a capsized canoe will support both paddlers.
    • Swim, tow, or push a swamped canoe 50 feet to shallow water. In the shallow water, empty the swamped canoe and reenter it.
    • In deep water, rescue a swamped canoe and its paddlers by emptying the swamped canoe and helping the paddlers safely reenter their boat without capsizing.
  10. With a companion, use a properly equipped canoe to demonstrate the following paddling strokes as both a bow and stern paddler:
    • Forward stroke
    • Backstroke
    • Draw
    • J-stroke
    • Push away
    • Forward sweep
    • Reverse sweep
    • Rudder stroke
    • Stern pry
  11. Using the strokes in requirement 10, and in an order determined by your counselor, use a properly equipped canoe to demonstrate the following tandem maneuvers while paddling on opposite sides and without changing sides. Each paddler must demonstrate these maneuvers in both the bow and stern and on opposite paddling sides:
    • Pivot or spin the canoe in either direction.
    • Move the canoe sideways or abeam in either direction.
    • Stop the canoe.
    • Move the canoe in a straight line for 50 yards.
  12. Use a properly equipped canoe to demonstrate solo canoe handling:
    • Launch from shore or a pier (both, if possible).
    • Using a single-blade paddle and paddling only on one side, demonstrate proper form and use of the forward stroke, backstroke, draw stroke, push away stroke, forward sweep, reverse sweep, J-stroke, and rudder stroke. Repeat while paddling on the other side.
    • Using a single-blade paddle and paddling only on one side, demonstrate proper form and use of a combination of a forward stroke, rudder stroke, and stern pry by canoeing to a target 50 yards away. Repeat while paddling on the other side.
    • Make a proper landing at a dock or shore (both, if possible). Store canoe properly (with assistance, if needed).
  13. Discuss the following types of canoeing:
    • Olympic canoe sprint.
    • Flatwater and river touring.
    • Outrigger.
    • Marathon
    • Freestyle.
    • Whitewater.
    • Canoe poling.

Types of Canoes

type of canoe

The canoes you learn to paddle are likely to be whatever boats are handy the aluminum fleet at a camp, the canoes of a local watercraft organization, boats available to your family or neighbors.

As you move beyond the basics, you might want to find a canoe of size, material, and design that better matches your activities on the water.

1. Wood and Wood-Canvas Canoes

Wood and wood-canvas canoes are works of art and beauty made by skilled craftsmen. They can be made from a variety of wood, such as cedar, birch, or ash. Depending on the type
of wood, they can be relatively lightweight.

Some wood canoes have a protective fiberglass outer layer. Wood-canvas canoes have a wooden frame overlaid with canvas that has been sealed with a resin. These boats are easy to repair, but they require a lot of care and maintenance, including careful storage.

2. Aluminum Canoes

aluminum canoes are durable and relatively inexpensive, factors that make them common at many summer camps.

They can be noisy on the water and can get hung up on rocks in shallow passages, but they withstand hard use and are the only canoes that can be stored outdoors for long periods without suffering damage from weather or ultraviolet light.

3. Fiberglass Canoes

Fiberglass canoes also are sturdy, but they vary widely in weight, quality, and price. Fiberglass can be formed into many different hull shapes, and boat designers have created fiberglass canoes for different kinds of canoeing activities.

Fiberglass canoes also are easy to repair and glide over rocks easily.

4. Polyethylene Canoes

Polyethylene canoes are tough, inexpensive, and reliable, but usually are reinforced with aluminum tubing to prevent the hull from flexing too much.

Polyethylene canoes return to their original shape when banged or dented, but tears or holes in the material are tough to repair. However, they are heavier than canoes made from other plastics.

5. Royalex® canoes

Royalex® canoes are made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a tough, rigid plastic that is stronger and more flexible than aluminum, fiberglass, or polyethylene.

These boats are nearly indestructible and return to their original shape if bent or dented. Repairs are seldom needed, but when they are, they can be difficult to do.

Royalex® canoes are the choice of many experienced paddlers for running rapids and embarking on extended expeditions.

Part of a Canoe

parts of a canoe

The body of the canoe is the hull. The front end is called the bow, and the back end is called the stern. Each end is covered with a triangular reinforcement called a deck plate. Ropes attached to the bow and stern are called painters.

Amidships is the midsection of the canoe. The length of a canoe spans from the tip of the bow to the tip of the stern, and the width of the canoe at amidships is its beam. The length of the hull that comes in contact with the water is the waterline.

Gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”) are rails that run along the top edge of both sides of the canoe. Gunwales add strength to the hull and help it keep its shape. Braces, called thwarts (pronounced “thoughts”), span the width of the canoe and provide rigidity and support.

Some canoes also have a keel, a ridge that runs the length of the bottom of the canoe along its center line. A keel improves a canoe’s ability to travel in a straight line but hinders its ability to turn.

A portage yoke allows you to carry a canoe upside down on your shoulders. It can be built into the canoe and serve as an additional thwart, or it can be detachable.

A portage yoke allows you to carry a canoe upside down on your shoulders. It can be built into the canoe and serve as an additional thwart, or it can be detachable.

To complete the second requirement of the canoeing merit badge, you can read an article about the BSA swimming test

Outfitting Your Canoe

Outfitting Your Canoe

Whether you are setting out for an hour of paddling or a week of wilderness exploration, your canoe must be outfitted with essentials to propel it and to protect its passengers.

1. Personal Flotation Devices

A personal flotation device (PFD) for each person is the most important piece of gear you have on the water, perhaps even more vital than the canoe itself. PFDs work only if they are worn and if they fit well. For guidelines on selecting, fitting, and caring for PFDs, see the chapter titled “Safety.”

2. Wateeproof Containers

Watertight or waterproof containers keep food, sleeping bags, and other items dry. Dry bags are extremely durable. They are made from a heavy plastic and generally have a roll-up watertight closure and shoulder straps and hip belts for portaging.

A Duluth pack is made from water-resistant fabric but does not have the watertight seal of a dry bag. Other good waterproof containers include 5-gallon resealable buckets and waterproof map cases.

Simple plastic bags such as resealable freezer bags and heavy-duty garbage bags work well, too. When using garbage bags, double-bag all items and close the bags with a thick rubber band.

Then place the garbage bags in a duffel bag, stuff sack, or other container to protect the bag from being punctured or torn.

3. Portage Yoke

When you pick up a canoe and carry it over land from one lake or stream to another, you are portaging. The trail you follow is the portage. Canoe yokes come in handy when carrying the canoe on your shoulders.

4. Ropes

Ropes on a canoe should float and should be securely stowed when not in use. Those used for tethering gear must be as short as possible so that they do not become entanglement hazards.

Painters ropes attached to the bow and stern of a canoe are helpful for tying up ashore or for maneuvering the craft through shallow or dangerous waters.

Use 1⁄4-inch or 3⁄8-inch brightly colored polypropylene lines that are about 15 feet in length. To keep the painters out of the way, coil or loop them and slide them under a shock cord attached to the deck plate.

Also have about 60 feet of brightly colored 3⁄4 to 3⁄8 inch polypropylene rope to use for rescues. Polypropylene rope is waterproof and floats.

Practice using the throw rope before you need to use it. A throw bag, with flotation in one end and polypropylene rope stuffed inside, also can be used for rescues.

5. Bailer and Sponge

Canoes are bound to take on some water no matter how calm a lake or stream. A large sponge secured to a thwart with a very short bungee cord is handy for sopping up puddles and wiping out the inside of the canoe when it gets dirty.

6. Knee Pads

Have something comfortable on which to kneel because you never know when you will paddle from this position. Knee pads can be purchased at sporting goods stores.

A piece of closed-cell foam also will work. The pad should be 1⁄4 inch thick, between 6 and 8 inches wide, and about 3 feet long.

Also Read : Kayaking Merit Badge

Personal Flotation Devices

A personal flotation device (PFD) should be worn properly every time you paddle a canoe, whether on a peaceful lake, a slow-moving stream, or a whitewater river.

The following are brief descriptions of the five types of U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFDs. For recreational canoeing, Type III PFDs generally are worn.

Personal Flotation Devices

1. Offshore Life jacket (Type I)

Designed to turn most unconscious victims faceup in rough, open water, Type I PFDs have
a lot of flotation in the chest, shoulders, and upper back areas.

They are not designed for recreational paddling but for passengers on cruise vessels, such as ferries on large bodies of water.

2. Near-Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II)

Designed to turn an unconscious victim faceup in calmer, inland waters, Type II PFDs are shaped like a horse collar and are not as bulky as Type I PFDs. They come in four sizes ranging from infant to adult and are inexpensive.

Their design places all the flotation in the front and around the neck, which makes them uncomfortable for paddling trips but adequate for short periods of recreational boating and instruction.

3. Flotation Aid (Type III)

Designed to keep a conscious person floating in a vertical position, but may not prevent an unconscious person from floating facedown. Type III PFDs most often are used for water sports such as waterskiing, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.

They are available in many styles, are comfortable to wear, and have the same buoyancy as Type II PFDs. Generally, Type III PFDs have a zipper or buckle closure and adjustable side straps.

4. Throwable Device (Type IV)

Designed to be tossed to a nearby person in the water, Type IV PFDs are ring buoys and seat cushions with straps used for throwing. They should never be used in place of a wearable PFD.

5. Special Use (Type V)

These PFDs have special characteristics and limitations. For example, some Type V PFDs, like the swift-water rescue vest, should not be purchased unless the paddler has had special training to use it.

Also Read : Exploration Merit Badge

6. PFD Care and Maintenance

Proper care and storage of PFDs is essential. Allow your PFD to drip dry, and store it in a well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight. Sunlight causes the fabric to fade and the
flotation material to weaken.

Never use a PFD as a kneeling pad or seat cushion in a canoe, and never cut or alter your
PFD. This includes gluing or sewing patches on the fabric that covers the flotation material.

Finally, do not repair tears or holes in the material. If the fabric is ripped or if buckles are missing, replace the PFD.

The following is information in answering the tenth requirement of the canoeing merit badge.

Type of Paddling Strokes

Good position and body mechanics lead to effective paddling. Whether you canoe with a partner or alone, either kneel in the canoe or sit solidly on a seat for stability and more efficient paddling. Think of yourself as part of the canoe, locked in place.

When paddling, maintain a smooth rhythm with your paddle, keeping your strokes steady and crisp and in sync with your paddling partner. Use your arms to guide your paddle, but power the strokes with the larger muscle groups of your abdomen, shoulders, and back.

Practice the forward stroke, backstroke, draw stroke, push away, forward sweep, reverse sweep, and J-stroke using the following key principles.

  • Maintain good posture.
  • Center your body over the boat.
  • Paddle in the box.
  • Rotate from the waist.

1. Forward Stroke

Bow paddlers, stern paddlers, and solo canoeists all can use the forward stroke.

Step 1 – Hold the paddle by the grip and shaft, your hands about shoulder-width apart, and
twist your torso to move the paddle forward. The catch should be well forward but within
your paddling box.
Step 2 – Keeping your grip hand over the gunwale and lower than the top of your head, submerge the paddle blade, then use the muscles of your abdomen and back to pull the canoe ahead of the paddle. The sensation should be that the paddle remains stationary in the water while the canoe moves to it and then beyond. Keep the paddle vertical and close to the boat through the power phase.
Step 3 – Bring the blade out of the water near your hip and flip it sideways, or feather it, so that it will cut through the wind as you swing the paddle ahead to begin the next stroke. Tandem paddlers can synchronize their strokes to keep a canoe running true.
Forward Stroke

2. Backstroke

Stop a canoe’s forward progress and move it backward using the backstroke.

Step 1 – Place the paddle blade in the water near your hip; keep the paddle vertical and close to the boat as it enters the water and through the power phase.
Step 2 – Push the blade forward until you can no longer keep it vertical. Feather it back to the starting point and repeat the stroke.

If you are on a long trip, a slower recovery allows more time for your arms and torso muscles to rest between strokes.

3. Draw Stroke

The draw stroke moves your canoe toward the paddling side.

Step 1 – Begin the stroke by rotating your torso until your shoulders are parallel to the centerline. Reach out with both arms, keeping the paddle shaft vertical and the blade facing the canoe, and place the blade into the water up to the throat. (Keep your center of balance over the centerline of the boat; leaning out can capsize the canoe.)
Step 2 – Keeping the blade vertical and submerged to its throat, feel the blade catch in the water. Draw the canoe straight toward the paddle using the muscles of your torso.
Step 3 – Slip the blade out of the water sideways just before it touches the canoe.
Draw Stroke

4. Pushaway Stroke

A pushaway stroke moves the canoe away from the paddling side.

Step 1 – Start with your shoulders parallel to the canoe’s centerline. With the paddle shaft vertical, place the paddle blade into the water, even with your hip, and close against the side of the canoe (without touching it). Twist from the torso and perform the catch next to the canoe, even with your hip.
Step 2 – Using the muscles of your torso, push the canoe away from the paddle as far as you can while still keeping the paddle vertical and the blade submerged to the throat. Do not lean your body over the canoe.
Step 3 – Recover by turning the thumb of the control hand toward you and feathering the blade back to the boat next to your hip.
Pushaway Stroke

5. Forward Sweep

In all the sweeps, the paddle moves in an arc, or a part of a circle. The forward sweep turns the canoe away from the paddle and the reverse sweep turns the canoe toward the paddle. Bow paddlers, stern paddlers, and solo canoeists all can do forward and reverse sweeps.

forward sweep
Step 1 (stern) – Begin with your grip hand at your side near the gunwale and your shaft hand extended out from the side of the canoe. The paddle blade should be perpendicular to the water. Be sure to keep the blade completely in the water throughout the stroke.
Step 2 – Twist your torso as you pull the blade in an arc. Sweep from the bow to your hip when in the bow seat and from your hip to the stern when in the stern seat, making the widest arc possible without leaning.
Step 3 – Lift the paddle out of the water and feather it just above the water’s surface.
Repeat the stroke as needed to turn the bow to the offside.
Forward Sweep

6. Reverse Sweep

reverse sweep
Step 1 – From the bow, begin with the paddle horizontal to the water and perpendicular to the centerline, about even with your hip. From the stern, begin with the paddle extended behind you and parallel to the side of the canoe. Twist your torso and reach without leaning to submerge the paddle blade.
Step 2 – Reaching the paddle out as far to the side as you can without leaning your body or the canoe, sweep hip to bow when in the bow seat and stern to hip when in the stern seat, making the widest arc possible.
Step 3 – Lift the paddle blade out of the water just before it touches the side of the canoe, feather it, and swing it back into position to begin another stroke.
Reverse Sweep
I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!