Les Palenik/Shutterstock.com
Les Palenik/Shutterstock.com

How to do a back ferry in 3 easy steps

When you’re paddling downriver with a buddy and spot trouble up ahead, few manoeuvres can get you out of a jam faster than the tandem back ferry. It’s extremely effective in everything from moderate currents to powerful rapids, especially with a loaded canoe. While the move can be tough to wrap your head around, it’s tougher to unwrap your canoe from a mid-river boulder. Here’s how to do it.

  1. When an obstruction comes into view, such as a boulder, sweeper, logjam or large standing wave, the stern paddler steers the canoe toward it. This may seem counterintuitive, but by pointing the bow in the direction you *don’t* want the canoe to go, the stern will swing in the direction you *do* want to go.
  2. Both paddlers start back-paddling hard. The combination of back-paddling power and the current hitting the side of the angled canoe causes its net movement to shift sideways. Now the bow paddler maintains the desired angle with reverse sweeps and cross draws. It’s important to maintain an angle that’s not too wide, however, or the canoe will slip downriver too quickly; too tight of an angle will keep it stationary.
  3. Once the canoe has moved sideways enough to avoid the obstacle, the bow paddler can straighten it out with a draw or cross-draw, depending on which side the person is paddling on. The stern paddler can speed things up by adding in an accompanying draw or pry.

To see a video of a back ferry in action, click here.

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