How to Paddle a Boat with your Significant Other

A step by step guide* to paddling a canoe** with your spouse, guaranteed to either strengthen your relationship, or end it in divorce. Results may vary.

*based on a true story.

**canoe can be substituted for kayak, rowboat, tandem paddleboard, you get the idea.

Step One: Pick Out a Boat.

Do not base your decision on anything logical, like your collective paddling and steering experience, how the boat handles in the particular waters you are heading out into, etc.. Rather, base your decision on irrelevant facts, like “that kayak looks really fast”, “I like the color of this boat”, or “that one reminds me of the canoe my dad had, even though it’s actually nothing like the canoe my dad had”.

It’s not the same size, style, brand, or material as my Dad’s canoe. BUT IT’S RED!

Step Two: Decide Who Sits Where

Again, it’s important that you do not make any rational decisions based on silly things like, you know physics. No, instead you should shout “I LEARNED HOW TO STEER A CANOE IN SUMMER CAMP!”, as you dive into the rear of the boat, ensuring your partner has absolutely no say in this matter. Completely ignore the fact that summer camp was 28 years ago, and your spouse has about 50 lbs of pure muscle mass on you. Oh and that he used to regularly white water paddle for fun, for years. Whatever.

Step Three: Start Paddling.

Do not, I repeat: DO NOT discuss any sort of technique or paddling pattern before leaving shore. Just start haphazardly paddling. This isn’t your first rodeo!

Step Four: $#&@

As the boat begins to spin in an uncontrolled fashion because your one stroke is the equivalent of 5 of his, start yelling and accusing each other of “doing it wrong”. For bonus points, throw insults, like “You really SUCK at this” (actual quote from my husband.) Ignore the dock attendant as he politely stifles a chuckle at the situation unfolding in front of him. When he yells “ya’ll have fun out there now!” reply with an adamant “OH WE WILL!” in a tone that sounds more like a threat than a response.

We will have fun, damnit.

As the canoe erratically faces one direction, then the next, then spins nearly 360 degrees, be sure to continue with the verbal jabs towards your spouses paddling abilities (or lack thereof) – either out loud or under your breath , until one person eventually concedes.

How to Paddle a Boat with your Significant Other
International sign of “you’re on your own. ” Nary a paddle to be seen…

Step Five: Paddle Solo. Do Not Show Weakness.

You’ve won this fight! You’re the captain of this ship now! FULL STEAM AHEAD! Look at how well you are controlling this canoe all by yourself! You’re steering in a straight line, you’re making progress up the river…but man that headwind is tough…and…is the current getting stronger? Wait, ARE we actually moving?

It doesn’t matter. Don’t show any sign of weakness. When your partner shouts from the front “just let me know if you need any help!” smile and shout back between gritted teeth “I’m fine! You just relax up there!”

Keep paddling, and contemplate how this doesn’t bode well for your upcoming adventure race that undoubtedly contains a tandem kayak portion…

Step Six: Switch.

After enough time has passed and you feel as though you have proven that you “don’t need no man” to successfully paddle and steer a canoe (in this case, approximately 75 minutes), agree to pull over to the sandy shoreline and switch positions in the boat. Silently sigh in relief…your shoulders were starting to feel like they were on fire.

Step Seven: Be a Useless Paddling Partner.

Ignore your spouse struggling to gain traction in 3 inch deep water. Forget trying to help steer to avoid that downed tree. Take selfies instead! If you are feeling particularly sassy, occasionally ask if they want help paddling, but be sure to ask at the most inopportune times, like when they clearly have everything under control. Remind them through your actions that you didn’t require help, they’ll be fine on their own. Passive aggressiveness is a surefire way to keep the spark in your relationship alive.

How to Paddle a Canoe with your Significant Other
Doin it for the ‘gram.

Step Eight: Come Together as a Team

Maybe it’s the 6 foot carp (I swear it was that big) that tried to flip your canoe and brought you back to your senses, but eventually you realize what an asshole you were (both) being. Realize your boat rental time is about up, and that you have to make a straight line about a quarter mile across the river back to the boat dock, fighting a relatively strong cross current the entire way. Without saying a word to each other about yoru plan, magically fall into perfect paddling rhythm, make it across, and dock the canoe like a well practiced canoe racing team.

Step Nine: Marvel at the Fun you Just Had.

Walk back to your car hand in hand, and proclaim that this was the best afternoon ever. Because despite being stubborn, bull headed, competitive athletes, you both love nothing more than spending time in nature, together. And if arguing over paddling a boat is the worst of your fights, you’re doing pretty damn well at this marriage thing.

(But the next day…decide to rent separate kayaks and paddleboards instead.)


Special thanks to Geoff. There’s no one else I’d rather paddle in circles with.

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.