Any advice for paddle shaft protection

where the shaft of a canoe paddle gets scratched up from sliding alongside the gunnel? The scratches are minimal now, but over a few years might seriously affect the paddle. Is there a slick friction free tape or something will hold up to this kind of friction? Is this another break-it-in with use and forget about it thing like scratches on gelcoat?

Thank you, MickJetBlue

One solution is to remove the grip and
either get a long piece of heat-shrink tubing, or a piece of Dynel sleeve and some West epoxy. The heat shrink tubing is used by Mitchell and Clinch River for woven carbon paddle shafts, where it is really important to prevent local damage to the shaft weave. Various wooden paddle builders use Dynel sleeve. Once slipped over the (de-varnished and clean) wooden paddle shaft, the Dynel is wet out with epoxy. The Dynel resists wear, but, unlike Kevlar, Nylon, or Polyester, it does not fuzz as it wears. You might be able to get Dynel sleeve at

These are the best solutions, but you can also just keep applying good quality varnish.

Shaft wear
A few folks wrap the lower end of the shaft with leather – check out Turtle’s Algonquin Guide paddle shaft:

Some folks don’t bother to wrap their shafts, but simply beat the hell out of ‘em. Check out the old Bill Mason videos for some serious shaft bashin’ – or take at look at his paddle at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough. Now there’s a piece of “firewood” if ever I saw one… and he didn’t waste time re-varnishing that sad old thing… but it still got him where he was going. Also see his daughter Becky’s video as well: thunk, thunk, thunk… (she can out paddle me any day of the week even with all that racket).

Personally I try not to rub or pry off the rails because I enjoy paddling as silently as I can, but sh*t happens and I occasionally whack the rails, it just comes with the territory. I periodically sand and re-varnish as needed, it’s just routine maintenance – no biggie.

You must not be paddling…
correctly. Your paddle should not be touching the gunnel.

Why add any weight to a paddle that should be as light as possible?

I know that this does not answer your post, but you might want to think about it.



paddle shaft scratches
If it’s a wood paddle - if you sand it lightly with 220 grit…start with 150 if scratches are serious, and give it a couple of light coats of Watco oil occasionally in the off season and let it dry thoroughly for a week or so, the wood will always be totally protected and you can just use the paddle and enjoy it.

The old adage of
"Different strokes for different folks" comes to mind after reading your replies, and I appreciate them greatly. Similarly, there are different schools of thought on paddling technique, and what works best for someone can’t be all that wrong. I often slide the paddle shaft along the gunnel when solo paddling, and sometimes when in the stern at tandem.

I haven’t mastered the Indian stroke yet, but will work on it next spring. While I am doing the conventional ‘J’, I prefer some gunnel sliding, especially when working the wind.

I came up with another idea, and I’ll post the results next spring. I’m going to glue strips of plastic molding(for paneling around the house) to the sides of the aluminum gunnels. A wooden shaft should slide on them much smoother than the aluminum gunnel. When they wear out, they can be replaced. Can’t wait to try this!!! Happy Thanksgiving! MickJetBlue

Don’t rub de paddle!
Whenever my paddle shaft touches the side of my canoe I am reminded of the words of Wilfred Morrison a turn of the century Adirondack guide who spoke to a young Herbert Keith on his maiden voyage up the Oswegatchie River. “My lan, I’m glad you do not know anything about paddling, for you won’t have to unlearn any bad habit. I won’t let you learn anything but de right way so dat you will be some use and help to me. Don’t rub de side with de paddle! Don’t rub de side with de paddle!” Rubbing the paddle was one evil Wilfred wouldn’t tolerate.

size matters?
It’s one thing if you are soloing a Bell Magic and another if you are in a MR Malecite. All the canoes I solo in are relatively beamy (Solo Plus, Supernova, Malecite) I’ve got no trouble sliding my shaft along the gunnel or prying off of it. The wider the canoe, the more I tend to it. It doesn’t seem to bother well oiled wooden paddles enough to worry about.

Different strokes.

to rub or not

– Last Updated: Nov-23-05 9:15 AM EST –

This seems to be a personal thing. Usually people who paddle the latest canoe designs and have expensive paddles get anal about using the gunnel. Staying off the gunnel is NOT a prerequisite to good paddling.

I regularly use the gunnel for pries and see no problem with it. Bill Masons quote comes to mind, "Some people say you shouldn't pry off the gunnel but I have been using mine for many years, and haven't worn it out yet."

technique is key…
During my first couple years of paddling, I too had a paddle that I figured would eventually wear out from the scratches and gouges that came from sliding and prying off the gunwales.

After having taken a number of classes, developing freestyle techniques, instructor training etc., the same paddle I sanded and re-oiled several years ago now only has a few scratches after hundreds of hours of use.

I do use the gunwales for quick correction prys, especially in fast water. I almost never use a J-stroke anymore, as there are more efficient strokes and methods to keep a canoe going straight; faster with less effort. If the paddle is being slid along the gunwales, it will be slowing the canoe down. The issue for many is whether or not they consider it a significant enough problem that they need to be concerned about.

For me personally, I am a “lazy” paddler, and like to take the fewest number of strokes, get to where I want to go quickly, and expend the least amount of energy. My paddle only touches the gunwales on a pry, never on a forward traveling stroke.

How much does it bother you?

– Last Updated: Nov-23-05 3:04 PM EST –

It's pretty much up to you. As already pointed out, it's clear that different people see this different ways. A number of them say the paddle shaft shouldn't ever touch the Gunwale and if that happens you are doing something wrong, but are any of those same people going to go down in history as canoe-paddling Gods like Bill Mason? Bill Mason said that using the gunwale as a fulcrum was a great way to reduce effort expended on basic J-strokes, not to mention powerful prys. I don't think contacting the gunwale is wrong anymore than not contacting the gunwale is wrong.

My canoes have vinyl gunwales, and I find that a cheap Bending Branches paddle holds up fine when pryed against the gunwales, but a nice cedar paddle gets *dents* in the shaft from that sharp right-angle bend at the top of the gunewale if I pry or slide the shaft there. Those dents are tough on my hands, so I can't really tolerate them. I sanded them out, and now I try to avoid hard gunwale contact. If I had wood gunwales, I'd still be prying and sliding away.

PJC has leather sleaves (cinched on with a shoe-lace type of connection) on his paddles, not to protect the paddle shaft from dings and scratches, but because they are the same paddles he used ages ago with an aluminum canoe, and it eliminated the noise (I think I've got my facts straight - he can correct this eventually otherwise).

Velcro strap

– Last Updated: Nov-23-05 2:44 PM EST –

I use a length of velcro strapping about 1/2 inch wide (two sided). Just pin one end of the strap to the paddle shaft with a thumb tac then tightly wrap the shaft to the top and then back down again. Cut off any extra material. The velcro sticks to itself when wrapping back to the starting point. It's very durable and has a good grip.


I’m a Trojan man myself.
Stop scraping your paddle and your gunwales!

Really, the correct answer is to use better technique. Only if I’m really prying hard do I even touch the gunwales. On my sloppy Js it’s the heel of my hand that touches, not the paddle.

If you really love the paddle you’ll dress it up and oil it as it wears, all things wear with time and use.

Gaffer Tape? Yeah, sticky. Shelf paper.

3M automotive clear tape
The stuff you see on the tips of hoods, rocker panels, fenders, and various places the owner is trying to avoid getting rock-chipped.

It is expensive.

I paddle with paddles I make
and some have western red cedar as the outer laminate. They get beat up mostly from riding in the jeep or laying upon the gravel bar. Not much from sliding along the gunnels. I will pry off a gunnel or sometimes get lazy and let it slide.

It is not going to hurt a good paddle to get banged up or even scratched or gouged. Just sand and oil it when you get home.

Varnish is bad, in my opine.

This thread has run it’s course, but I stumbled on this link that seemed appropriate for this conversation:

Paddle Shaft Protection
I always use the gunwale as a fulcrum when doing Canadian or J stroke, a pry or a one-handed pry etc. Pushing out with the bottom hand requires energy when paddling and thus I avoid it. Yes, I experience some gunwale waring so I touch it up once a year. Big deal! I protect my paddle (Clement, laminated spruce or pine) with a chafing colar made of cord. The colar also acts a grip which is nice when the shaft is narrow or you have a large hand. I do not use glue when attaching the colar. Start by making a loop the length of the proposed colar and rap the cord around the shaft and the loop. When reaching the end of the colar put the end of the cord being wrapped through the loop and pull it under the colar until secure. I usually cover it with varathane etc.

Hey, you have a Clement ! Not many
of those around. I have three Clement canoe paddles and also a rare double bladed canoe paddle. Two of the single blades have been repaired and modified several times for whitewater use. I think the standard canoe paddles were quite well made, but my 9" wide “whitewater” Clement was poorly thought out. It and most like it were cross-laminated, which made them so stiff that they typically broke right at the end of the shaft taper.

I kind of agree with you about prying off the gunwale, although I’m not really aware of having to push off or pry most of the time. Slalom paddles with hollow carbon shafts are GOING to contact the boat seam a lot, so there is no choice but to sleeve them with something.