Plan on one canoe for every two people. The supplies should be loaded into the center of the canoe, with the heaviest items being placed lowest in the boat, and the lighter items place on top of them. Remember that the canoe will almost certainly take on a bit of water from wet shoes, dripping paddles, etc., so don't put anything that must stay dry on the bottom of the boat. Some have reported success in placing a tarp down first, loading equipment on top of it, and then drawing the edges over the top of the gear. How ever you load the gear into the canoe, make sure you tie everything down. If the canoe capsizes during the trip, you want the gear to stay with the boat rather than go floating merrily down the stream - or worse - sink to the bottom. Try to remember that this is a possibility when you are selecting your gear. Don't bring anything with you that you cannot afford to leave on a river bottom (such as a borrowed tent, an heirloom axe, or a pair of designer sunglasses). Also try to remember that leaving gear on the bottom of the river is a form of pollution.
Canoe camping has one great advantage over backpacking in that you can pack a lot more gear into a canoe than you can into a backpack. Just don't overdo it. You will still have to carry everything during the portage.
Once the canoe is loaded, check its trim - that is, check that the bow and stern are at the same level. You don't want to have the either end sticking way out of the water, as that will make a canoe "tippy."
Before leading a group down a river, you should scout it first. During your scouting trip, you will be looking for hazards and evaluating river conditions. The trip should answer these questions:
- Are there rapids?
- Is the least skilled person with you able to navigate them?
- Is there an easy way to get off the river upstream from the rapid?
Another important reason to scout the river before bringing the group with you is so that you'll be able to choose the best camping site along the route. When you're going down for the first time, you might be tempted to settle for a sub-optimal site if you don't know there's a better place around the next bend.