Canoeing in Shallow Water

From my canoeig lesson and what I have read about canoeing technique it seems that the power phase of the stroke should end with the paddle vertical just about even with my hip and the blade completely buried. My paddle has a 20in long blade so to do this I have to be in 20+in of water to keep from hitting the bottom. My upper hand is already about at eye level so raising up my hands seems problematic (maybe my paddle is too long). With a kayak paddle I just switch to a much lower angle stoke so I get most of the blade in the water without going so deep.

What changes to you make to your stroke mechanics with a canoe paddle when you are paddling in 12" or less of water?


shallow water and a bent shaft paddle
Paddling shallow water will make you appreciate the much shorter shaft on a bent paddle. Also, most of the popular bent shaft paddles have most of the paddle surface near the bottom of the blade, right where you need it in shallow water.

I would…
just jam the paddle as hard as possible into the rocks and push off!

Seriuosly though…most of my paddling is in shallow rocky streams in the ozarks. When it is shallow, you just can’t dig your paddle as deep and have to end up using a low angle stroke. Sooner or later you will scrape the paddle on the rocks…

try poling instead
shallow water is a boon to poling.

I am paddling solo and have a hard enough time keeping the bow on line with the vertical stroke. If I go to a lower angle stroke won’t it make the bow turn away even more? If so is there some other change to make in conjunction with going to a lower angle to keep the canoe on line?


Canoe Width for poling
I am paddling a Wenonah Argosy which is 27" at waterline and about 30" max width. Is it reasonable to try poling (standing) in this canoe without having a gymnast’s balance?

Do any paddlers use poling from a seated position for dealing with shallow water?


I cheat a little on my stroke technique
I don’t switch to a low-angle stroke for the reason you already have figured out: it increases the turning force applied to the boat, and that’s bad. I like to have a slightly shorter paddle available for use in shallow water. Then I modify my stroke and forget about “the rules” when in shallow water. I put the blade right against the bottom during the main part of the stroke. If I want good forward power, once I reach the point where the stroke is “supposed” to stop, I keep the stroke going because I haven’t been able to apply any power to speak of so far. At this point, the stroke usually switches to more of a “poling push”. Then once the blade is far behind me, I switch to a “goon-style” rudder correction (use the paddle like a rudder, with the thumb on your grip hand facing up). You can’t put a proper “J” finish on a stroke that ends so far behind you, but the “goon rudder” is easy, and in THIS particular situation, it robs you of minimal forward momentum because once the paddle is that far back, only a minuscule amount of ruddering effort is needed to correct your heading.

To sum up, I am basically looking for a good blend of propulsion that induces minimal yawing of the boat, and minimal waste of energy on the correction phase. Poling would be even better, but polers usually use tandem canoes. Poling in a solo would be a bit more dicey.

your Argosy
looks too small to pole imo. A short pole would probably come in handy though, seated.

Follow Daggermat’s advice.
Learning to pole is easy and there’s a lot of assets to it.

  1. Far less energy expended.
  2. Less stress on your muscles.
  3. More maneuverability.
  4. When you’re standing you have a far better view of your surroundings.
  5. When you alternate between paddling and poling you can go further and suffer from less fatigue since you’re not sitting and working the same muscle groups throughout the trip.

    Once you start poling you’ll want to kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

What length
would you suggest as a starting point for a sit-down canoe pole?


If you paddle that much shallow water
… your time, effort and muscle memory will be better rewarded with a short bent shaft paddle (with a wide blade at the bottom) than messing around with a short sit-down poling effort. With your boat, bent shaft paddling has a future beyond just shallow water paddling.

the beauty is
in the experimentation! You can always cut one down to what works for you. I’d get some 1.5" dia. closet rod at home depot, maybe 8’ to start. I sit sometimes (not intentionally AH) with a 12 footer. Figure something long enough that still lays in the bottom of your canoe handily.

I will try that.
There is a trip coming up around the first of May on the Llano River. I have never been on it, but I am told it can be pretty shallow and rocky. Friend did a trip on it a few weeks ago and it was ok, but just barely. I am hoping the level will not drop too much before the trip. Closet rod pole sounds like a good starting point. I know of a couple of shallow shoals nearby on the Nueces where I can try out the pole before the trip.


hit the plumbing dept. and get a couple 1.5" dia. end caps. They’re copper. You can just epoxy them on or drill a hole thru the middle and screw them in. Epoxy will probably be fine.Couple coats of sealer on the pole will help it last as well. Have fun, and remember…no set rules with poling. Experiment and have fun.

The nice thing about a canoe is…
you can get out and walk.

Like guideboatguy, I usually bring a shorter paddle for shallower water – 54’ straight vs. the 58” straight that that I prefer to use. (I’m 5’11” and usually kneel) I don’t end up using it very often. If you are on a river, the velocity of the water often picks up enough as it goes through shallow sections that it will carry you along without too much effort. Here is a buddy going though some shallow water in his Argosy on the Hop River in eastern CT a couple of weeks ago

This section was no more than 8” deep, but he just floated through. For extended sections of shallow water, I get out and walk (or paddle a different river). Poling is also a great option. Get yourself a 16-17’ tandem. I can stand up in my Yellowstone Solo (very similar to your Argosy) but it’s way to tippy to do any serious poling in – at least with my poling skills.

Have fun.

Watch some poling. . .
Might help to see it done a little before you try. . .

be a hell of a lot
different in an Argosy. We need to read what the poster is requesting before all these freakin’ tangents everybody on this site goes off on.two ears, one mouth…:wink: Besides, there’s probably a half dozen guys on this site better than the video guy, 3 right here…

Short Pole for a Narrow Boat

– Last Updated: Apr-10-08 9:26 AM EST –

An 8' pole might be the way to go if you want to try that. Go find a sapling out of the woods first to see if it works for you. Your boat sounds a bit tender at 30" wide for standing, believe me, I have tried on a 27" wide boat a couple of times and it was dicey as hell! I wouldn't do it sitting but would kneel as it might get you a tad higher and with your knees tucked into the chines you should be able to get some added control and strength.

I know a guy who has an 8' pole and watched him snub down a set of gnarly rapids that I had a ton of trouble with using my paddle.

Good luck and let us know if you try it out!


Just get a …
shorter beater paddle like a Carlisle with coated aluminum shaft and plastic blade to use in low water. I have one that’s about 15 years old and has been beat to heck and has stood up well. As far as I can tell you cannot efficiently paddle in really shallow water except possibly with a short bent shaft. Not only is it hard to get an efficient stroke but the hydrodynamics of the hull change in shallow water causing increased drag.

beater paddle
I did the 70 miler a few years back at low water. I had my regular zav light weight paddle for the deep water then toward the end of the race after the water shallowed out I would use the Zav rec. I did not change my stroke much. When I was in less then 12 inches of water I just paid close attention to how my paddlestruck the bottom of the river, then push-off.Once I got to a deep area I would switch back to the powersurge. Worked well and didn’t break either paddle.