Big Canoes

Big Canoe

Big canoes are integral to the history and culture of First Nations, the Fur Trade and now, modern canoeing. They range from 22 to 40 feet and can carry up to 18 people. Big canoes are tremendously versatile and can be used on lakes, ocean and can even run rapids on rivers. For millenia, Big Canoes were Canada's transportation, using our extensive waterways as highways. They were originally designed by First Nations out of birch bark with wooden frame or dugout logs for carrying large loads and moving larger numbers of people.
Today they are a great vehicle to get larger groups of paddlers out on the water to experience nature and undertake many journeys.. Big canoes are stable, fast, manoeuvrable and versatile in the hands of skilled paddlers. The canoe pictured here is a Tlingit dugout based in Whitehorse.

Big Canoes can be used for many activities from floating class rooms to wilderness expeditions. In the hands of a trained team of paddlers there is tremendous potential.



The RCABC Big Canoe Paddler course is designed for people who will be paddling in the center of the canoe and not leading in the stern (or bow). Big canoes are remarkably versatile in the hands of a skilled team of paddlers and can be manoeuvred with agility. The carrying capacity and community and team building aspects, plus the ability to accommodate paddlers that are less skilled or physically able make a Big Canoe Paddler level course a good choice for:

  • High school outdoor programs
  • Youth programs and organizations
  • Brigade paddlers
  • Big canoe expedition paddlers
  • Canoe clubs
  • Community groups
  • Team building for any group

PREREQUISITE – RCABC Lakewater Level 1 (tandem) and/or 2 (solo) or equivalent

DURATION – As needed to complete the content

Outline of RCABC Big Canoe - Paddler Level: Big Boat Paddler - Leader

The Big Canoe Paddler Level content develops the ability of the team to do the basic manoeuvres needed to safely paddle on lakes.

  • Starting and stopping
  • Turns while stationary and under power
  • In addition, many other skills are needed to work together as a team and achieve your goals.
  • Learning commands
  • Switching sides
  • Launching and Landing

Big canoes are very stable but canoeists should never assume that capsizes will never occur. To address this, the course has a strong emphasis on safety and risk management.
The rich history of big canoes is incorporated into the paddler level course as.

Back to Top...


Big canoes can carry a large number of paddlers and must have a leader to determine the course of the canoe. The RCABC Big Canoe Leader course is for those interested in leading a team of paddlers. Big canoes can be used in a wide variety of situations (see introduction) and this course allows leadership skills to be honed according to the need, be it lake, ocean or river. Big canoe leaders are needed for:

  • School and outdoor program instructors
  • Youth program leaders
  • Brigade teams
  • Big canoe expedition paddlers
  • Canoe club trip leaders

PREREQUISITE - (Equivalencies are considered)

  • RCABC Basic Tandem Paddler (I)
  • RCABC Basic Solo Paddler (II)
  • RCABC Basic Tandem Moving Water (If leading on rivers)
  • RCABC Advanced Ocean Canoeing (IV) (If leading on the ocean)

DURATION - As needed to meet the course requirements

Outline of RCABC Big Canoe - Leader Level: Big Boat Paddler - Leader

Leading a big canoe and crew of paddlers requires extensive skills, good communication and an attitude for safety. The content of the RCABC Big Canoe Leader course is divided into the following categories:

  • Paddling and practical skills
  • Various usages such as ocean, river, sailing, poling, rapids etc.
  • Communication & Leadership
  • Transportation and portage
  • Safety and rescue
  • Trip length and related issues
  • Boat design and gear

Back to Top...


This program is still in development and details will be posted as soon as they become available. There are currently several RCABC Big Canoe Instructors with RCABC, but the popularity of big canoes is rising and RCABC wishes to increase the number of instructors.

Back to Top...


Back to top