A question of balance

When paddling solo for long distances in a heavy laden canoe, is it better for the paddler to sit in the stern with the load evenly distributed throughout the length of the canoe forward, or for the paddler to sit just aft of center, with the load evenly distributed in front and behind said paddler?

With out a bow paddler
I would rather be toward the center. On a tandem I do alot of steering by front rudders, posts etc. when I am out by myself I sit in the middle, admitadly of a solo boat so my paddling position is close to the water.

up to you
Some prefer the stern because the beam at the stern seat is so much narrower than it is midships. I’ll use either depending on conditions and load.

In rough water it’s bast to have the weight in the center of boat. Keeping the ends light makes it easier for them to respond to waves.

sit backwards on the bow seat
if you dont have an interfering thwart. This will be a better position if you have to stand for any reason than if you used the stern seat.

I see folks do this all the time on rivers when they have brought alot of tucker and kit (because they can!).

There is a little trade off however. If you are so far in back of the center that your paddle cant reach in front of the center, you are limited to basically moving the stern around where the bow is going and lose some control of the bow placement. Sometimes this isnt a big deal. Sometimes it is…waves current etc.

I always trip solo however in a solo canoe so reach isnt an issue and placed in the center I have control over each end of the boat…In a tandem boat this only works if you either have a real wide center seat(!) , prefer to kneel and heel the boat so you can reach the water or long arms.

I have learned (the hard way) not to put essentials in back of me…I cant reach them very well in the center.

the former
and that’s because i solo a 16’ classic tandem canoe. on the bow seat, facing ‘backwards’ with gear in front of me. on a long river trip, i even took out the stern thwart so i could easily get my portage pack in the canoe. boat was still plenty stiff, worked a charm.

Centering the weight
Angstrom is right about the boat being much better able to ride waves if the heaviest part of your load is near the boat’s center. Another advantage of doing this is that the boat will respond much more easily to turning strokes. Put too much weight out toward the ends and it will take tremendous effort to make the boat pivot, but keep the heavy stuff in the middle and you will maintain a much better ability to maneuver.

I prefer to stay as near to the centre as possible and use a “solo C” ( draw into forward stroke into a J stroke). In an up wind paddle the bow will always tend to “fall off” and if you are in the stern you can’t control this very well, in a downwind situation the bow will “weathervane” and only allow you to run directly down wind.

Width isn’t really an issue as you can shift to one side and lean the canoe(which also shortens the waterline) I have a friend who solo freestyled a 26’ northwoods canoe just to prove this point to some non believers

FreeStyle by definition allows the use

– Last Updated: Aug-12-07 10:14 AM EST –

of cross strokes while Canadian style doesnt(you have to switch hands if you want and why would one want to?) Thats Canadian style your friend did in a 26 foot canoe. Very cool. The longest one I have used was 25 feet and the best boat I have Canadian style soloed was Steve Cayards 12 thousand dollar birchbark...what an honor!

An Old Town Tripper XL paddled kneeling in the center and put into a pivot got going so fast all the little canoes scattered and I threw up.

And as for going upwind if you can weight the bow down it helps in tracking ( a fine balance between steering and wet)..thats a little hard when you are back of center.

– Last Updated: Aug-12-07 8:20 PM EST –

I think as long as your trimming(load distribution) is sound, it comes down to where's your efficiency & comfort area in paddling the particular hull/beam.


Up a bit
I move up, but not too far. I turn the boat around and paddle from the bow seat. Solo it’s generally better to be forward, but you have to reach out further to get your paddle in the water. Over long distances this can add to fatigue.

By sitting in the bow seat I’m forward somewhat but not so far that I’m at the widest part of the canoe.

Been there…
You want the canoe to be fairly balanced, preferably with you slightly behind center. You do want the bow slightly higher or even with the stern. The only time you want the bow lower is if you are paddling into strong headwinds.

A low bow can cause the canoe to “bow around”. I had this happen on the Wisconsin trip. I was trimmed a little too bow heavy.

I also think the canoe performs better for tripping with the power(your paddle)behind center.

for the excellent replies. I’m paddling the Llano R. in Texas in Sept. 105 miles in 9 days. Lot of class 1 rapids, headwinds. This advice will help. This is a good forum.