Beaver tail or Otter tail canoe paddle.

What are the advantages and weaknesses of the the two types. I am thinking of trying an Otter tail for solo paddling a Madd River Kevlar Explorer 16, but have no experience with one.

I have two Fox Worx bent paddles and a Bending Braches Arrow straight.

Otter tail
paddle will, of course, have a slightly longer and narrower blade than the beavertail. It provides greater reach which I find useful when soloing wide boats. With slightly smaller blade area it will be easier to push, but the flip side is that it will lack power if you need it in a wind. When using an otter tail, my spare paddle always has more blade area in case I need it.


otter tail paddles
Paddles with long, narrow blades often can’t be used to best effect in the shallows since the blade can’t be fully immersed without doing a sweep stroke.

I have been using an ottertail

– Last Updated: Jan-24-13 1:49 PM EST –

...for about a year now fairly regularly. I have never used a beaver tail, but I have several other types of paddles: two bent-shaft carbon Bartons, two Quimbys (one bent touring, the other straight freestyle), and a Grey Owl Scout.

The ottertail has become one of my favorites, if not my favorite. It is an old walnut Langford that they don't make anymore and was poorly finished and heavy. With the aid of some (well, quite a bit actually) sandpaper I trimmed four ounces off the blade and thinned the edges. It has become a wonderful paddle. My paddling buddy dubbed it the "Walnut Wonder". The blade is only 28 X 5.25" and it makes me go as fast as any other straight paddle. If you like to cruise and relax while taking long strokes, the Canadian, the Indian palm roll, etc., it is unbeatable.

paddle shape
Great lake paddles. Do you like mayo or mustard on a ham sandwich? Take your pick.

I keep a rabbittail in my pocket
just in case.

I race and train hour after hour with a carbon bent shaft. But I recreate most enjoyably with a cherry ottertail, or an even narrower willow leaf shape blade. Both have feather edges that are wonderful for doing many advanced linked strokes. While it is true you can’t dip as deep in the shallows, I haven’t found that to be terribly troublesome. Just don’t dip as deep and use modified strokes. The maneuverability and leverage and fun to use advantage of a well shaped otter or similar shaped paddle is well worth it against the few times I have found any kind of disadvantage.

My ottertail is not as fast as a bent shaft in race mode to be sure, but it is not a slow moving paddle either.

You named a couple paddle strokes I have seen demonstrated with an otter tail. I thought there might be a reason for its use with these strokes.

Thanks for your perspective
I realize a longpaddle might not be great in shallow water. I got that covered with the BB Arrow. I was paddling the Enoree River today and many places are only a couple of feet deep or less while other places I paddle are much deeper.

I like the idea of an easy on the old motor ( me) when I ain’t in a hurry, and a quiet Indian/Canadian/knifing J stroke for wildlife viewing.

So it seems an otter tail may work well for this.

I guess the rabbit was thankful that you
Left him with all four feet. Lucky rabbit! Or was it a bunnies tail, and all she had to do was sew another one back on to the outfit. Unlucky bunny!

Speaking of rabbits the Madd River logo with the rabbit seems to be smoking a peace pipe, I never really looked close at it and always thought it was a carrot. I guess this is based on a Native American tale (not tail).

make sure you know what shaft length
… you will be wanting in the otter tail paddle .

I had purchased a nice cherry Turtleworks otter tail off ebay , and I liked it alot … but ended up giving it to a much shorter friend who it fit properly . The shaft was really too short for me .


– Last Updated: Jan-25-13 10:17 AM EST –

Soloing an Explorer is going to be interesting, it's way wide and quite deep, so the usual standing heel will be difficult. Then there's all the skin friction/drag, the hull will always feel heavy and slow on the water.

Assuming a position aft of center, preferably on a kneeling thwart but maybe sitting on your heels, the boat listing at an onside standing heel, you;ll want a straight blade, not a bent. A draw with a bent is already outside Winter's +/- 15dg modified window, so pretty much ineffective. You're a long way from the bow and have pretty much relinquished control of it anyway.

You'll want a shorter shaft than normal because the water should be right there over the rail and cross strokes pretty much impossible.

Another issue is that a standing heel induces a bow carve to offside, and carrying the paddle blade aft of the body results in a sweep that further drives the boat offside.

The choice of what animal tail shape is chosen is inconsequential. You may be happier with a wider blade that grabs more water and puts more thrust into the exaggerated J required to keep a heeled down hull tracking.

I found much of what you say to be true
While paddling upstream against a current. The two bent paddles are for the wife and I on flat water as a tandem… I just acquired the Kevlar explorer slightly damage and with repairs have $700 in it. I intend to use it in FL this winter. I kneeled and use the back of the bow seat as a thwart. I was able to do cross strokes, but against the current it was hard to make head way. I used a 58" straight wide blade paddle. I also tried a 220 double with a high stroke. Paddle drip on this short a double put some water in the boat, I made better progress against the current and had better control of the bow. I doubt I would have used an otter tail here. I even stood up and paddled some with the double. I may set up a kneeling thwart as I learn how to handle this canoe.

I have become primarily a sea kayaker, but a canoe has the advantage of being able to haul two people and a load or a hunter, camp and if lucky the quarry.

I should add I did heel the canoe
But that made cross strokes out of the question without shifting back to the center. Most of the time I stayed in the center. I still have lots to learn. A dedicated solo or pack could be in my future, but for now the explorer is what I have. I bought it as it is relatively light, was in my price range, and my wife will feel more comfortable in it while paddling the Everglades this winter than in a sea kayak. Also lower abominable pressure can be relived more conveniently if it proves impossible to find a place to land at the time!

Otherwise I would be using my sea kayak and do more outside paddling in the glades. Which I do plan to do some time in the future.

Ottertail Fan
I like 'em - the longer, narrower blade suits my flatwater paddling needs just fine. Great for sweeps, pries, etc, and easy to move around underwater without having it ‘catch’ - feels nice and smooth thru the water. The blade shape also acts as a sort of throttle for me - if I want less power, submerge less than the blade’s full length; dig deeper when I want more.

I would like to thank everyone
For their insights and comments. Y’all are most helpful.

I have an ottertail hanging on the side
of my canoe shaped bookcase in the living room. It is a beautiful dark walnut, but no longer made.

I also have a beavertail of some type, in the garage.

I have been using various kayak paddles for paddling everything for a few years.

Given the choice between the beav and the otter for a casual flatwater paddle, I’d choose the otter for its unique solo control.

Good luck!

I make my ottertail and beavertail paddles with approximately the same length blades. Note the sugar island blade is sort of beavertail-ish, but shorter and wider…its not the same thing, although it is a good design, for sure.

I solo most of the time, and, for me, the beavertail makes for a better j-stroke than the ottertail because the fat end of the blade is in the water all the way to the end of the stroke. Paddling tandem, I find either one works equally well.

For shallower waters, my rock and oyster paddle is a bending branches expedition with a resin edge.