Canoeing for Fun.

The following games and relays can do much to liven up an instructional session in that a game or relay during or at the end of the "learning" session, will help to keep interest at a high level throughout.
Many of the following relays and games will be useful when organising a canoe carnival, or activities as a part of a camp etc.
At all times, the contestants must wear a PFD.
If there are insufficient PFD's for all participants, then a part of the relay could also be the exchange of PFD's.
Strict supervision is required for the changeover of PFD's, to ensure they are correctly fitted and do not sustain any damage in the "rush".

Canoe Race

The canoes are lined up on the edge of the beach/riverbank about 3M apart. The cubs (2 per canoe) line up about 20M away from their canoe in a line.

On the order to go, they run to their canoe, push it into the water (clear of the bottom), climb in and paddle the required course (eg. around a marker and back to the start point.)
Variations -

  • Standing at the side of the canoe to start
  • One person only per canoe
    • using single paddle
    • using a double-blade paddle
  • Two or three in the canoe but only one paddle (paddle options as above).


Have the pack divided into teams of any convenient size. The team can be in pairs or singles (depending on the ability level of your pack). The race proceeds as above, but with a change of paddler after each "lap" of the course.

Run - Swim - Paddle race

The canoe is anchored a convenient distance from shore, depending on the ability of your participants (up to 50M for scouts). Each contestant is numbered to correspond with a canoe. The contestants line up about 50M from the edge of the water. The race then consists of running to the water, swimming to the canoe, boarding the canoe without capsising it, and paddling back to shore.
Variations - Paddle back using
  • a single paddle
  • a double paddle
  • just using paddlers hands

Paddling and Towing Race

The canoe is paddled to a bouy placed a convenient distance from the shore. On reaching the boat, the canoe is capsised and the paddler swims back to shore, towing the canoe.
When he/she reaches the shore, the canoe is to be emptied and then beached properly.

Paddle & Carry Race

Each team paddles over a pre-determined course and back to the beach. They then pick up their canoe and carry it up to 25M to a marker, and back to the water. They then re-paddle the water course to complete the race.

If using canoes that are light enough for experienced senior paddlers, the race can be run with only one person in the canoe, with the porterage being over a shorter distance.

Capsize Race

In pairs, over a course of about 100M, a "standard" race is started. At a pre-determined point, or when a whistle is blown, the teams jump out of their canoe, keeping it upright. They then have to re-enter their canoe and continue paddling to the end of the course. (note - light enough canoes to carry are needed of course).

Sunken Canoe Race

The canoe is filled with water and the contestants (usually two per canoe) get into the canoe and paddle to the finish using only their hands
The race can be made more difficult by having the canoes travel around a marker bouy and back to the start.
Another variation is to start the race as per the Capsize race above, but with the canoe actually being capsized mid-race, then paddled back full of water.

Backwards Race

This race can be done with single or double crews, and as a single race or as a relay.
The canoeists sit in the canoe in the correct positions, but the race is paddled backwards, using the backwards stroke.
A variation of this race is to have them paddle out to a marker position forwards, then to reverse their track to the start point, paddling backwards for this half of the race.

The Turn-Around or Reversing Race

The canoes start on the water's edge, about 3M apart. Two bouys are set up, one approximately 10M from shore, and the other a convenient distance further out. The contestants float their canoes, then sit facing the shore and paddle backwards out to the first marker. They then turn around (by back paddling, side paddling or forward paddling) and race to the second marker, where they turn around as before, and race to the finish.
As a variation, ban the use of side paddling and back paddling during the turns, so they have to turn using a wide circle.

Upside-Down Race

The canoe is capsized and filled with water. The crew of two or three lay on the bottom of the upturned canoe, and paddle with their hands around the course.
There are several variations possible for this race -
  • Have the crew sit astride the canoe
  • use a paddle instead of hands
  • have the crew swim the canoe around the course.
  • combine any of these variations as required

Stern First Race

There is only one paddler per canoe for this race. The contestant sits in and faces the stern of the canoe, causing the bow to extend high on the air behind him/her. Then, using hands (or a paddle), the paddler attempts to paddle the canoe to the finish line.

Towing Race

In this event, various articles may be used for towing, such as canoes. people, logs etc.
Each canoe is drawn up at the edge of the water, with the item to be towed beside it. On the starting order the contestants (2 per canoe) run to their canoe, attach the equipment to be towed by way of the painter, and paddle to the finish line.
If canoes are being towed, two passengers could be placed in each towed canoe, however the passengers are NOT to assist in any way by paddling etc.

Tin Plate Paddling

Crews of from 1 to 6, depending on the size of the canoe, will give good results. Each member of the crew kneels in the bottom of the canoe and has a tin plate in their hand. The race is then conducted as a normal canoe race.
As the number of crew increases, the need for teamwork becomes more important. Fairly good speed can be gained by a well coordinated team.

Time Trials

This type of event can be used to good advantage when the number of canoes is limited. One canoe is sent over a course, and the fastest recorded time is the winner. Indeed, many of the events above could also be run as time trials.
This type of event is best run at the same time as other event(s) to avoid having many people idle while only one person is competing.

Standing Canoe Race

For this event - you need to make your own Risk Assessment beforehand.
The contestant stands in the bottom of the canoe approximately midway along it. Then, using a single or double paddle, the canoe is raced over the course while standing.
The race can be made more difficult and interesting by having the paddler standing on the gunwales.
This event can be run as a team event, by having two or more in each canoe. With more people the need for teamwork to avoid capsizing increases.

Gondalier Race

This is a variation on the standing race, with the paddler standing at either the front or rear of the canoe, possily with a non-assisting Gondalier passenger.

Obstacle Race

As with the time trial, this event is normally run one canoe at a time, with the fastest time winning.It is best run with two to a canoe to facilitate manouvering in, out and around the obstacle(s).
Any number of the above events can be incorporated into this event.

Plank Paddling

A plank 3M or 4M long, 5cm thick and 10cm wide is placed across the centre of the canoe. The two paddlers sit on either end of the plank and use paddles to propel the canoe through the course. The event is conducted like any other race.


The contestant stands on the gunwales just forward of the ballast tank, holding on to the gunwales just a little further forward. To propel the canoe forward the contestant crouches slightly & bends his knees. The back and legs are straightened suddenly, forcing the stern down and sending the canoe forward.
To start, the moveent should be done slowly, until the canoe gets under way As the canoe moves forward, the movements should be sped up until the maximum speed is reached.
To steer the canoe, the weight is shifted on to one foot, thus throwing the bow in the direction required.
Because of the effort required for this event, a distance of no more than 50M should be raced.

Kneeling Races

Many of the previous events could be quite suitably adapted to a kneeling type race. If the race is of any distance, kneeling pads and back rests are essential.

Canoe Tug-of-war

Two canoes are tied together with two or three metres of rope between them. A peice of cloth is tied to the middle as per normal tug-of-war, and a pole driven into the bottom of the creek opposite the cloth.
Two paddles are paced into each canoe, and the aim is to paddle their canoe forward far enough to pull the rear of the other canoe past the centre pole.

Torpedo Race

The canoe is turned upside down, so that as much air as possible is trapped under it. On the order to go, the contestant ducks under their canoe, comes up inside it, takes hold of the spreader and swims with their feet.
Because he/she is unable to see, steering is almost impossible, and the air will become bad fairly quickly, so the distance raced should be short and only one person should be under each canoe.

Follow the Leader

While not a competitive event, a good deal of enjoyment can be had from this kind of activity. use could be made in this activity to check and consolidate the skills that have been learned.

Canoe Chasings

There should be two paddlers in each canoe. When all canoes are in the water, the leader nominates "it". The nominated canoe then attempts to get close enough to one of the other canoes so that one of the paddlers is able to touch the other canoe. The role of "it" is passed to the touched canoe. Once "in", the new chasing canoe cannot chase the previous canoe, or at least must wait until they have chased another one first.
The playing area must be clearly marked and defined so that the canoes will not spread out too far and make it impossible to control.
There is to be absolutely no ramming of other canoes during chases.

Balance Pushing Contest

A piece of timber (about 3.5M x 10cm x 5cm) cis placed across the middle of two canoes, and resting on the gunwales. Each canoe needs two paddlers to keep the canoe steady.
The contestants move out to the middle of the plank and stand toe to toe, with the toe of their rear foot touching the heel of their front foot. The left hand is placed behind theor back. With the right hand they attempt to slap/bump their opponent (only on the right arm or some other nominated part of the body) so that he/she will lose balance and fall into the>As a variation, a pillow case filled with balloons could be used instead of the right hand.

Rafting Race

At least three canoes are required for each team, each canoe having two occupants.The course is set ut with two marker bouys, the first about 10M from shore.
On the start signal, the team paddle out to the first marker, then raft up, and negotiate the remainder of the course with the canoes held beside each other

Cork Scramble

Each crew consists of two paddlers. The contestants lie on the sand with their heads towards the water. The leader then throws a number of corks into the water.
On the go signal, the teams rise, run to and enter their canoe, and attempt to collect as many corks as possible. Br>The team with the most corks collected is the obvious winner.

Elimination Cork Scramble

As a variation on the above, one cork less than the number of teams is thrown into the water, and each team only attempts to get one cork. The team that misses out is eliminated, and the race can be rerun as many times as required.

Main Source - Pt Wolstoncroft S.R.C Leadership Training Camp notes, 18/2/1979,
which was prepared by Jack Hartley, Dip.P.E

© 2010 Ian Moggs, all rights reserved.
However - rights are given for copying and printing for personal use or use in cub-scout or similar groups.
Last updated 17th May 2011.

Email me anytime - i2 @ robian .net (without the spaces).