Canoe paddle

How do I size a canoe paddle?

Shaft length counts
The shaft when held in a paddling position has to meet the water where the shaft meets the blade.

The best you can do is a guesstimate, as length can vary according to your seat height and how high you naturally bring your grip hand.

Usually you want to keep your grip hand from being above your nose on a power stroke. Usually, and this is where guesstimates come into play, if you drop your arm and dangle your hand, the hand approximates the meeting with the water surface in the majority of situations.

So standing and holding the paddle at the junction of the shaft and paddle with arms dropped to your sides and having the grip at nose height is a good place to start.

Ignore all the numbers. The shaft length is all that counts and aside from custom paddle makers that length is never as far as I have seen printed on the paddle. Just the danged overall length…which means very little without addition and subtraction.

You have to decide what the paddle is going to used for. kneeling in the boat or sitting? front or back of canoe. How high are you going to be out of the water/ over gunwales? Sit and switch or ACA j=stroking?

I use a 49" paddle in the front of a stock canoe and feel I would get better times with a 48" paddle in the front of USCA comp cruiser. I have 5’8" friend who uses a 52 inch bent shaft in his solo canoe. Have another friend who swears you need a 60"paddle in a solo.

So give us a little more info Please.d

I can straighten that out. Lengths down
around 50" and below are typical for serious bent shaft paddlers. Sitting straight shaft paddlers might want something a bit longer.

Kneeling, with paddle blade lengths around 20 inches, is going to require straight shaft paddle lengths from 56 to 62 inches, depending on paddler height. I’m 6’5", tall in the torso, and I use a 61.5" paddle. Perhaps paddles with longer blades, like ottertails, might need more length, but I defer to kayakmedic on that one.

A quick and dirty way
Is to sit on a bench and place the paddle grip between your legs on the bench. the part where the shaft turns into the blade should fall at about your nose or chin.

This is just a way to get started. You can try with the paddle in this general length and decide if you are more comfortable with a slightly shorter or slightly longer one.

When in the middle of your paddling stroke the grip and should be about at your nose or mouth level and the blade should be immersed in the water right up to where it turns into the shaft.

If you’re looking for the utmost…
in paddling efficiency, then sizing a paddle can be a big deal. But for just paddling, there isn’t enough difference between a “close enough” sizing and a perfect sizing to matter much. I have to confess that I haven’t used a bent shaft paddle enough to comment on it, but for a straight shaft, I am 5’8" and like one that’s 56-58 inches. My wife is 5’2" and likes a 54 incher but is okay with a 56 incher. There are lots of ways to down and dirty measure what a good straight shaft paddle length would be for you, but the quickest and easiest is to just buy one that comes up around your chin when you’re standing up with the other end of it on the floor.

Again, this won’t be the best way to find the “perfect” paddle, but for recreational paddling it will be “good enough”. I have always thought that paddle length, blade shape, and grip shape are not as important as the weight and balance of the paddle, anyway.

Shaft length
Listen to kayamedic,shaft length is what you need to determine. Ignore 52",54",56". They are meaningless as blade length varys. I find that,for most people, a little short is better than too long.


I’ll second that
If you are competing or contemplating buying a $300 canoe paddle then you might worry about getting a more precise fit.

Optimum shaft length depends on so many factors (torso length, seat height in the boat, draft of the boat which in turn depends on load, paddling style, and in a tandem boat even paddling position) that it probably isn’t otherwise worth obsessing over too much.

I am a little over 5 10" and I too use straight shaft paddles in the 56"-58" overall length range. I typically prefer bent shaft paddles at least 6 inches shorter overall, but then I use bent shaft canoe paddles for a completely different style of paddling than I do with straight shaft blades.

If you are looking at paddles in a shop the sit in a chair and put the grip between your legs method that was already mentioned is pretty good. For a straight shaft blade I would choose a shaft length that places the throat (blade/shaft junction) somewhere between the bridge of your nose and your forehead. For bent shaft paddles I would choose one that puts the throat at your chin. Some would prefer a somewhat longer bent shaft than me.