The Canoe Sculling Draw

The Sculling Draw is an elegant side-slipping stroke perfect for dock landings and precision manoeuvring. This smooth-as-silk manoeuvre uses constant pressure on the power-face of the blade, giving you an added bonus of stability throughout the stroke. When done well, it takes a minimum of effort and creates the illusion of the canoe magically gliding towards your paddling side.


Start by placing the paddle perpendicular to the water just ahead of your knee and about four inches away from the hull. Your shaft-hand should be at gunwale height, with the throat of the paddle at the waterline. The paddle’s power-face will be toward the canoe. Now turn the thumb-side of your top (control) hand away from the canoe. This will angle your paddle’s power face slightly. Draw the paddle towards the stern, keeping the paddle’s path parallel to the gunwale and maintaining the same blade pitch and depth until you stop it behind your hips. The paddle should pull the canoe sideways; the angled blade is working like an airplane's wing.

Now reverse the pitch of the blade—turning the pinkie side of your control hand away from the canoe—and move the paddle toward the bow. The paddle will continue to pull the canoe sideways. Keep repeating the stroke using a seamless pitch transition and you will have a graceful, efficient side-slip.


Pitching the blade less and doing shorter passes makes for a smoother slide-slipping motion. Remember to keep the shaft vertical, maintain a constant pressure and use short, slow strokes. It is helpful to rotate your hips towards your paddling side so your shoulders are facing the stroke. With a bit of practice you will have an effortless stroke for moving you sideways.


Use my "Buttering Toast" drill to fine-tune your blade angle for a more effective sculling draw. Imagine that there's butter on the power-face of your blade and the water represents a piece of toast. Practice your sculling draw using different pitch angles—buttering the toast lightly or heavily. You'll find that different paddling situations demand varying amounts of butter.

Hey, it's useful! 

The Sculling Draw came in handy one spring day on the upper Petawawa in Algonquin Park. My husband Reid and I had just run a challenging rapid that ended in a pool just above a falls. Our two friends who followed us missed their line halfway down, took on water and finally sank in the waves at the bottom. As our companions swam for shore we ferried out to save the canoe and packs from the waterfall. Just as Reid reached for the overturned canoe, a gust of wind blew us several feet away. Using a vigorous sculling draw as both a sideslip and a brace, I was able to get us back to the canoe in seconds. I continued using my sculling draw to stabilize the canoe and to keep us in position as Reid did a quick canoe-over-canoe rescue above the brink of the falls. We then retrieved the packs and paddled the two canoes back to our wet and cold, but happy, friends waiting on shore. 

Becky Mason is the daughter of canoe icon Bill Mason. She shares her family's passion for canoeing and the environment through her Classic Solo canoe courses as well as her painting, writing, environmental activism, filmmaking and speaking projects. Her website:

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