Even a gentle paddle requires more than just brainpower. It doesn’t require elite athletic ability but basic fitness is definitely advisable; particularly upper arm strength for portages, head winds or long distance trips. Learning the correct technique of paddling strokes will make you a more efficient paddler and the journey more enjoyable. The J stroke is a particularly useful stroke to master to enable better steering. It’s worth joining a local canoe club that provides training or undertaking a course. If you are more aware of your ability you will also have a better idea of what route and trip length will be suitable for your next journey.
A full set of canoeing kit is expensive. Clubs will let you borrow or rent essentials like boats, paddles, pfd’s and helmets but you may eventually like to get your own gear. Initially all you will need to do is turn up prepared to get wet and bring plenty of enthusiasm. The golden rule is to dress comfortably and be sun smart. Most people wear a swimming costume under quick dry clothes like board shorts and surfing wet shirts. Cotton clothing is not suitable as it is cold when wet. Thermal and fleece materials are good even when wet. You will need sunglasses, sunscreen and a wide brimmed or peaked hat. For any kind of glasses, bring a strap so they won’t come off in the water.
Wear shoes that can get wet or buy canoe shoes from a sporting store. Bring food and snacks that you like and that will give energy. Bring a waterproof bag or container if you have any electronic items such as cameras, mobile phones or car keys; or bedding and dry food. Always bring a towel and a change of clothes for afterwards. If it’s cold weather have a warm drink ready on your return.
If you are fitting out your own trip, the most important essential other than the boat and paddles is a personal flotation device (pfd). These provide positive buoyancy to keep you afloat and add an important layer of warmth. They should be worn at all times on the water and be snug fitting while allowing full movement. Young children should wear a PFD any time near or on water. You may also consider a spray deck or skirt to prevent water getting in your boat, a bailer or sponge to remove excess water, safety/throw lines for towing or securing boats and navigation items like topographical maps, tide tables and current charts (store them in a water tight case).