ARNPRIOR, ONT. -- For those interested in a new COVID-safe activity more than a year into the pandemic, the RA Centre in Ottawa is promoting canoeing as an option.

Canoe club member Mark Scott says he was still out on the water well into November last year, and adds canoeing is the perfect activity for seasoned paddlers and beginners, alike.

“It’s very easy to paddle six, or eight, or ten feet away from other canoes,” says Scott. “Or if you’re paddling as a family group, you’ve got mom, dad, and a couple kids in one canoe.”

Canoeing holds all the characteristics of other popular COVID-safe activities, like hiking or biking: being outside, keeping distance from others, and engaging in physical activity; but Scott says it brings a different element that you can’t get many other places.

“It’s what you get to see,” Scott says, recalling a time not too long ago when he was out paddling and watched a bald eagle dive into the water to catch a fish, not 100 yards from his boat.

Scott isn’t the only person with boats on the brain. At Ottawa Valley Canoe and Kayak near Arnprior, Bill Burton says they are seeing demand for boat and equipment rentals like never before.

“I mean, it’s a natural social distancing thing,” says Burton of the overwhelming business they’ve received during the past year. “People are realizing that they are very fortunate in the city of Ottawa to have access to nature.”

“The other thing that’s important about canoeing in the National Capital Region is you don’t have to travel far,” says Scott, pointing out that those in the area have easy access to the Ottawa, Rideau, Gatineau, and Mississippi rivers. “And one of the things that’s important with COVID is that you not travel long distances.”

For those new to canoeing, looking to test the waters, Scott says it is easy to get started, with only a few pieces of equipment needed - aside from the boat and a paddle. Boaters need to bring a lifejacket, a bailer to scoop out any water that gets inside the boat, and a bundle of rope.

There are variations of different canoe strokes to be learned as well, skills the RA Centre’s canoe club is willing to help with.

“Starting in May and June we’re going to have actual training sessions, for flat water for people who’ve never been in a canoe,” says Scott.

As for securing a boat and paddle, the RA Centre can supply those pieces, but at rental stores like Ottawa Valley Canoe and Kayak, Burton says they are already booked well into the summer.

But Burton says there’s no better way to enjoy the outdoors during these restricted times.

“What a more Canadian way to do it than hop in a canoe.”