first thing I'd suggest you do is go to your local library and see what books they have on canoeing
you can learn a lot right there
i would say the essential skills you need to learn are steering strokes, how to read the river, eddy turns, and ferries, esp upstream ferry - those are all basic skills. add to them teamwork and communication, which I consider as essential to tandem canoeing.
if you go around a sharp bend in the river and see a log crossing the channel, you need to do something, and usually do it fast - either "eddy out" or spin the boat 180 degrees and ferry over to bank so you can get out - same for rapids if something unexpected, or just to be able to get out on the bank and scout.
I really hate to see people trying to steer a tandem from the stern only, especially if they are not really using a J stroke, but only ruddering - it works, but slower than a J "Stroke" and takes you out of sync with the bow paddler. much stronger and more effective steering strokes for rapids are the draw stroke (the strongest, most effective) and sweep strokes (both bow and stern paddlers do the same stoke at the same time) - you use steering strokes to change the "direction" the boat is pointing, then forward strokes to move across the current, then more steering strokes to strainghten up after you have dodeged the rock. just changing the angle of the boat will not do anything for you to avoid a rock - the current takes the boat where it wants to go - you have to move it across the current after you change the direction - its not like a car where you just turn the wheel and the car moves right - you have to "steer" move over, and then "steer" again. The most common mistake I see beginners make (and not just beginners either) is to underestimate the force and speed of the current - as a general rule, start your manouvers sooner than you think you need to, and finsih a bit sooner as well - momentum helps you to finish the turn - oversteering is just as bad as understeering.
so go to the library or book shop and see what you can find - go to a lake and practice spinning your boat with both of you doing draw stroks, and then using sweep strokes - then switch sides adn do it again until it becomes routine. and then practice backpaddling in unison - you have to be going faster or slower than the current in order to manouver a canoe in a current - backpaddling (in control) will slow you down and give you more time to study what is up ahead -
generally, doing nothing is the worst thing you can do, as that puts the river in control of your boat instead of you controlling it.
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