Canoe back ferry question

When trying to perform a back ferry in a canoe how does rocker influence the ease of the maneuver?

I’m guessing a non (or minimally) rockered canoe would hold the ferry angle more easily than a rockered hull. However if the non rockered hull enters the moving water at the wrong angle it would be more difficult to make the correction.

Appreciate any insights.

Any kind of ferrying will likely involve a stage where you are moving the boat from a zone of slower current into a zone of faster current or visa versa. During the transition from a zone of one current speed to another, with the boat being a little crosswise to the current as is the case for ferrying, the first end of the boat to enter the zone of different current speed encounters water moving across bottom of the hull with some component of sideways orientation (“some degree” in this case = diagonal, but what’s important is the crosswise component). That crosswise current will try to move that end of the boat off its heading, and the less rocker there is, the harder the current will grab, and the more difficult it will be for you to counteract.

I find that I am more likely to enter a zone of faster current from a zone of slower current with a forward ferry than with a back ferry. My usual back ferry is something I do when the boat is already entirely within a fast stream of current and I need to dodge sideways with a minimum of forward travel, and in that case I am usually not crossing eddylines and the like. Thus, with my boating habits, lack of rocker turns out to be a bigger handicap for forward ferries than back ferries, but the bottom line is that anytime one end of the boat suddenly encounters a zone of current having a velocity that is markedly different from that which the boat has been in up to that point, the resulting cross current applied to that end will try to move the boat off its heading, with the driving force being stronger on a low-rocker boat than a high-rocker one.

I don’t ever find it difficult to “hold a ferry angle” once in equilibrium with a current stream (equilibrium occurs after the point when cross currents cease because your momentum has been overcome), and at that point, rocker makes far less difference (see how this relates to my usual back-ferry situation mentioned above). To me, the choice of how much rocker works best for ferrying has more to do with ease of crossing between zones of differing current velocities and very little to do with the easy part once the boat has been out in a zone of steady current for a few seconds and comes to equilibrium.

It’s probably worth mentioning that having more rocker greatly increases your ability to do eddy turns, which are probably at least as important as ferries, and often more so. That’s another reason you might prefer a little more rocker in a swift-water boat rather than less rocker.

Note, I edited the last paragraph as I had originally written “less rocker” when I meant to say “more rocker”. Somebody would have caught that mistake sooner or later - a pretty glaring one.

Note to the O.P. See the edit to my previous post (in case you are not likely to ready things twice).

Think it is easier to set a ferry angle with a rocketed boat, and hold a ferry angle with a unrockered boat, but I’m not sure that it makes that much difference.

An issue that I think is more important than rocker is boat trim. When ferrying, you want the boat trimmed so the upstream end is light. Since most boats have neutral trim, or slightly bow light trim to make eddy turns and forward ferries easier, the boat is not trimmed for easy back ferries. You can make adjustments on the fly, but that isn’t easy either.

Personally, if I need to move sideways on the river, I am much more likely to do a sideslip with a sculling draw or sculling cross draw than a back ferry. With a sideslip, you will maintain forward momentum, which may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation. For me, the sideslip is easier and more reliable.

Like GBG, I probably wouldn’t back ferry out of a shore eddy. If I am in a shore eddy, I probably eddied out to get there, which means the boat is pointed upstream. When leaving the eddy, I would either do a forward ferry and then spin the boat around when I got to where I needed to be, or peal out of the eddy and do a sideslip.

(Rocker is a very relative term. For me, a rocketed boat is my whitewater boat (Dagger Encore) at 4-5". An unrockered boat is my Yellowstone Solo at 2.5 bow, 1.5 stern.)

Leaving an eddy and entering strong current on a back ferry is a real challenge, and in a canoe it usually requires the paddler to have a decent cross back stroke. That stroke requires a good bit of flexibility and does not come naturally to most people. It is easier to do in a kayak with a double-bladed paddle.

Setting into an eddy from current on a back ferry is occasionally useful if one needs to be facing downstream after eddying out. That is considerably easier but still requires some practice to avoid heeling the canoe the wrong way.

In whitewater at least, on a ferry of any distance one is typically entering and leaving seams of current of varying velocities. It is always easier to prevent losing one’s ferry angle and having the upstream end blown downstream than it is to try to regain the angle once lost.

I think in general that less rockered boats are somewhat more likely to get blown downstream than rockered ones and I typically use a much more conservative ferry angle (upstream or downstream) in those. But they do tend to have more directional stability during the ferry than highly rockered boats.

It isn’t just about rocker, however. One of the reasons I tend generally to favor whitewater hulls with a sharper chine is that the chine can be used to provide directional stability, even in a highly rockered boat. Dipping the chine by heeling the hull tends to transform the boat from a highly rockered one to one with a straighter keel. Releasing the chine by easing up on the heel has the opposite effect.

While rocker will certainly help in control when doing a back ferry, as far as boat design the important feature is if you are paddling a canoe with a saddle/thigh strap configuration, or a canoe with a cane (not bucket) seat.

If using a canoe with a saddle/strap setup, I would assume the boat itself is so highly rockered that the success of a back ferry is only limited by the paddler’s experience.

But there’s a secret to a back ferry when using a canoe with a cane seat - get off that seat, and trim the canoe deeper at the bow! The difference in control is not small, the effect is immediate and intrinsically rewarding.

@otterslide said:
But there’s a secret to a back ferry when using a canoe with a cane seat - get off that seat, and trim the canoe deeper at the bow! The difference in control is not small, the effect is immediate and intrinsically rewarding.

You do the same thing when poling - keeping the upstream end light, so when ascending you move back to make the bow light, and when snubbing you move forward to make the stern light.

Well thanks for the interesting observations. My paddling style is to use a seat and kneel when things get worrisome.

Back ferries aren’t something I do a lot of, so my skills are rudimentary. I haven’t tried exiting an eddy of any vigor using a back ferry. Where I’ve had some success and fun is, while in a stream’s current, setting and holding a back ferry angle to move across the river. This was quite helpful on a Class 1ish section of river which was comprised of a series of small ledge drops, with the breaks in the ledges not lined up, so after you made a drop you had to move left or right for the next drop.

So my take away from all of this is that boat trim is more influential than rocker.

I posed the question because i’m considering purchasing a canoe with differential rocker, more in the front (2’") than rear(1.25"). I don’t envision the canoe being in much, if any, meaningful whitewater but was curious how having less rocker in the stern would affect its handling in a back ferry.

I thought more rather than less rocker in the upstream end is beneficial to ferrying. That’s consistent with moving weight downstream like sliding off the leading edge of the seat in a back ferry. You’re creating a looser upstream end, similar to having more rocker there.

pblanc, interesting observations about canoe chine and a more aggressive boat angle in a ferry. In general I’ve thought that a flat boat (edges not exposed) desireable for a successful ferry. As one loses the ferry angle often the tllt increases and result is a peel out to avoid flipping. I’ve thought of this as being pretty universal in both canoes and kayaks. My Taureau was extremely rockered canoe and very short. It was a difficult boat to ferry, but then again I thought everything was difficult in that boat!

Agree 100% that lightening the upstream end of the boat makes it easier to set the ferry angle. In my kayak I find myself leaning forward, unweighting the stern, when back ferrying or setting into a eddy.

One of the advantages pblanc noted of setting into the eddy stern first is that you remain pointed downstream to view upcoming drops. If I’m boating with folks better than myself and want to watch them run a drop before deciding my line or deciding if I’m going to walk then I often “set” into an eddy, That way I don’t have to peek over my shoulder with my back to the rapid to view the action.

Now back to the op, I often think of boats in terms of “holding a line” or “easy to spin”. Short highly rockered boats (creek boats)- be it a canoe or a kayak- are somewhat more difficult in this regard, prefering to spin out, or get pushed around (quick unexpected change in boat angle) and thus tougher to ferry in. Length is a factor because you want an unweighted upstream end. In general terms, rocker enhances the ability to spin a boat. You see this rather dramatically in rafts. I miss my days of filming bucket slippers with their upturned ends. Aire also made some highly rockered rafts. Not only were they easy to turn, but when they flipped they had a tendency to go up on end, making a spectacular shot. Short highly rockered boats are great for last second turns, spinning off of or around rocks, and in the case of a kayak are often designed to resurface quickly at the bottom of a drop. Not so great at holding a ferry angle in stiff current.

You used to be able to see the effect of rocker on a raft rather dramatically at the upper gauley put in. They refitted the dam for hydro but in the old days punching out of the put in eddy (holding an upstream ferry angle) was a big deal. Highly rockered boats (rafts) were more likely to get “spun out” and not make it out of the put in eddy. So faced with stiff (class 4) current I consider rocker a disadvantage “for holding a line” in upstream current. Realistically, I’m not going to be backferrying in that kind of current. Faced with that situation I’ll spin the boat around and try the stronger upstream ferry rather than attempt a downstream ferry. The raft example is extreme, but does demonstrate in a real world situation how rocker can negatively effect holding a ferry angle.

Here is a simple exercise, take three or four strokes on the same side of the boat with no correction. Allow the the boat to spin out and count the number of spins. You learn a lot about your boat that way. Someone way better than me once said “the art of paddling ww is really all about just learning to control the spin of the boat.”

Waterbearer, I can’t answer your question. However, on the water you are describing, with a little back ferry practice, you will be able to maintain/adjust the angle with no problems. It won’t mater what type of hull you are paddling.
I had two embarrassing incidents in one day, a couple years ago. Both a single-strand barbwire fence and a series of down trees sent me for a swim. I realized I could have easily avoided both incidents with a good back ferry.
This is what helped me:
-Practicing my back stoke on both sides. (This can be done on a lake or when your waiting for someone to catch up)
-Practicing a back ferry in varying currents. (I do 2 or 3 back ferries every time I’m on a river.)
-Developing a Reverse J-stroke. This really helped me hold/adjust the canoes angle.
I probably couldn’t back ferry on the Upper Gauley, but I can keep myself out of trouble when there is an unexpected surprise.

I had my WW boat out this weekend (nice treat) and I did do a couple of short back ferries - once to set my line after taking break at the top of an island in the middle of the current (backed out and back ferried over), and a couple of times to hold my position to let the kayakers get out of the way. As I said before, my usual strategy for adjusting my line to avoid rocks is to sideslip. Other solution is to get one of those small plastic boats and run over the rocks - like this:


He hit every rock he could find, and practiced spinning and coming back down - said it is very transferable to the river - especially rocky creeks. (Don’t think I will be running many rocky creeks.) Amazing how many different ways there are to run the same river…

Sounds like Alex Vargas. Boofs and rockspins off every boulder he can find.

I did a rocky creek on sunday (paint creek wv), It was good until I had a lot of water (boat was over half full) sloshing around in the boat. Turns out I put an inch long crack through the kayak hull directly under the seat. So I had to empty four or five times and had to keep stuffing some make shift patching into the crack. It was a whole lot of fun though, probably my favorite kind of boating- a rocky creek. Gotta keep loose hips and bounce off the rocks a bit. You don’t wan’t to spend any time upside down in that environment. I did get an impact dislocated shoulder once on that same creek after flipping. Better the boat, paddle and helmet take the beating than me. There’s a reason I buy my boats cheap and used. Since going to plastic that’s the third hole/crack I’ve put in a boat. My inflatables are pretty beat up too and almost all of that wear and tear from class III. Then there was that whole era of fiberglass patching and wrapped canoes. I’m not as hard core as the ALF crowd though. Some of those canoes have been in a war with the rocks. Another thing to consider is the rocks vary a lot with the region. Some places they’re sharp or jagged and put the hurt on ya, other places they are likely to be undercut and are just to be avoided all together.

Incidently, definately did some back ferrying and in general slowed things down, especially after crackin’ the boat.

link below to trip report