by T. Edward Nickens


A strong back ferry has pulled me from the teeth of nasty rapids, allowed me to sideslip into prime fishing holes, and helped me cross swift rivers to access better campsites on the far bank. A weak back ferry got me turned over in Alaska’s Aniak River where I very nearly bought the eternal farm. I prefer the strong variety. Here’s how to move a canoe sideways in strong current.

Step 1:
As you approach the river obstacle–a sharp bend, boulder, or grizzly bear–move the stern of the canoe toward the desired direction of travel. As the bow paddler backpaddles, current against the angled hull will push the vessel left or right.

Step 2:
Both paddlers backpaddle, maintaining an angle just steep enough to the current to keep the boat moving sideways. The maneuver is tricky and requires communication. Too much of an angle and the boat will be swept downstream. Not enough, and you won’t move sideways. Just enough, and safety–or the far shore–is within reach.

From the May 2012 issue of Field & Stream magzine.

Illustration by Robert Prince