canoeing solo

I have a 17’ alum. canoe that I and a partner have used in the past. I want to go solo but this canoe seems extremely difficult to handle solo. What should a person look for in a solo canoe? Can the 17 footer I have be handled solo i.e. am I doing something wrong when I try it solo? Thanks for info from anyone.

You are not doing anything wrong
It is just too damn big.

First of all, the shapes of aluminum canoes were dictated by what aluminum could conform to without crimping, not what was most efficient moving through the water.

Secondly, any tandem canoe is likely to be way too wide to allow one to comfortably paddle from a position near the center. Tandems are often 36 inches wide at center. Dedicated solo boats are often more like 27-29 inches wide at center, which makes a big difference in paddling ease.

The third issue is “trim”. A tandem canoe of this type can be paddled solo by sitting on the front seat and paddling the canoe “backward” (stern first) if it is symmetrical as aluminum canoes typically are. That is, if there isn’t a thwart right behind the front seat that gets in the way.

But if you paddle a tandem from one end without a compensating load at the other end, it will be way out of trim. If you tried to paddle this way, the bow of the canoe might have been sticking way up out of the water. That is like trying to paddle on top of a beach ball that has a 10 or 12 foot long weather vane attached to it and sticking out in front. The boat won’t track worth a darn and the bow will be blown this way and that by any wind.

The fourth issue is “windage”. If you are paddling a tandem solo you will not sink it down into the water much. With more boat sticking up out of the water, any wind will tend to have an adverse effect on your speed and/or handling ability.

for “canadian style paddling” to see how to solo a large boat. It’s pretty uncomfortable to sit on your heels, so you may want to add a center seat of some sort about 4" behind the center of the boat.

This style is difficult if not impossible in wind, but will work for calm days/water.

If you plan to paddle alone, you will be much happier with a dedicated solo canoe. It will feel like a whole new sport!

Best-Analogy-Ever Award
"That is like trying to paddle on top of a beach ball that has a 10 or 12 foot long weather vane attached to it and sticking out in front." Excellent visual, that!

A very large question!
Answer is, it depends on your goals. The art and science of paddling a larger canoe solo starts in antiquity in areas like the BWCA, finger lakes, etc. The indigenous peoples there had a need to carry large payloads whether it be trade goods (as with the “Voyagers) or enough supplies to be in the wilderness for an extended time. So, the amount of load could be doubled if two paddlers each paddled a tandem canoe solo. Thus out of this necessity was born what we now know as Canadian Paddling. Centuries of perfecting this technique reveals several very time tested techniques. First the paddler sits the center station with knees in the in the bilge and paddles with the canoe at a standing heel. Second, a series of specialty strokes are used to move the hull from that side only. If you are a recreational canoeist or day tripper, and have no necessity for large payload then I’d recommend looking into a smaller true solo canoe. If you really need to paddle your tandem canoe, solo, then I recommend a real good instructor. You can learn this on your own but it is frustrating and takes years longer.


Yes, but note that some very fast
aluminum canoes were made for marathon racing. Mostly in Texas, but there was a special class. In some ways, a fast aluminum hull is easier than the Grumman shape.

If you MUSTpaddle it solo then 2 things
#1Get a drop-in center seat. It’s very easy to install an great to sit in.

#2 Get a double-bladed canoe paddle from Mohawak.

It’s lots of fun to paddle this way although its slow, has little glide, no manuverability, the boat is heavy, cold and noisey. Even with all that, I enjoyed it. Al boats are great to work on.

If you Must, then 2 things…
1, get a drop-in center seat. Its easy to install and nice to sit in. It drops down to improve the center of gravity.

2, get a double-bladed canoe paddle from Mohawk Canoe.

I had great fun with mine while I had it. Al is a good material to machine so you can make all kinds of modifications. Have fun, it won’t be long before you go solo.

sure it can be handled solo …

– Last Updated: Feb-17-11 10:20 PM EST –

....... you can paddle it (a big tandem) from the stern (my preference) , or you can paddle it from the bow seat (face the stern) .

Just get 2 or 3 cheap 5 gal. jugs off ebay and fill them when you get to the water (dump them back out when done) . Put the filled jugs up in the bow or stern (depending which seat you want to paddle from) . You just need the ballast to help trim the canoe and keep the stem down .

Can you paddle from the stern when tandem w/o the bow paddler paddling ... sure you can , no problem . It's actually easier with a bit less weight than a bow paddler (turns better-goes faster) and the canoe will handle fine . Best not to take on too fast a current or too high a winds cause you won't have the bow paddler to pick up the slack .

As with any new situation when paddling (soloing a tandem) , take a test run or two on an easy small flat water , and work on up from there when you feel confident with it . I think the center seat's a joke for soloing a tandem , and you probably won't be Canadian paddling any time soon (and don't need to) . Paddling the big tandem solo is never a problem , the real question is can you load and unload it solo (again , sure you can , just don't strain yourself) .

What to look for in a solo canoe?
While you can solo anything with various techniques, I’ll briefly address the question of what to look for in a dedicated solo canoe, which is one of the things the OP was asking.

A canoe should be paddled with a single blade. That’s the primary thing that separates the sport and discipline of canoeing from kayaking.

To properly paddle with a single blade, the paddler should be positioned just slightly astern of the center of the canoe. This is important for two key reasons. First, to properly maneuver the canoe, you need to employ strokes in all four quadrants of the hull: the on-side bow quadrant, the on-side stern, the off-side bow, and the off-side stern. You will not be able to reach the two bow quadrants if you sit too far behind the center.

The second reason why the paddler should be stationed slightly behind center is to have the canoe properly weight trimmed. In most canoes this means being slightly bow light. Yes, you could also trim the canoe by putting heavy ballast in the bow, while the paddler sits astern, but this will reduce the ability of the bow to lift and bob over waves and will also compromise and slow down turning ability.

If a canoe is too wide, the solo paddler will not be able to reach the two off-side quadrants easily or efficiently with the single blade. Therefore, the maximum beam at center should be in the 28"-32" range, depending on paddler size. This means that a solo canoe will be significantly tippier than a wide tandem canoe, but that’s something you get used to with modest experience.

A dedicated solo canoe may be designed primarily for kneeling, in which case it usually has a cane or web seat. Or it may be designed primarily for seated sit ‘n switch paddling, in which case it usually will have a bucket seat. Kneeling canoes are typically more maneuverable and useful for river and freestyle paddling. A sit ‘n switch canoe typically tracks straighter and is faster. Some solo canoes are amenable to kneeling or sitting.

Most solo canoes range from 13’-16’ in length, with a high concentration in the 14’-15’ length range.

Kneel in the middle in the bilge and heel the canoe to reach with the paddle.

Interesting variety of responses
for how to “correctly” paddle a tandem solo:

  1. Sit at one end and trim with weight at the other stem.

  2. Sit near center and paddle heeled “Canadian style” with single-bladed paddle.

  3. Sit near center and paddle boat “flat” with double-bladed paddle.

  4. Give it up and go buy a solo boat.

    How about “sit in boat, tie up to dock, and go fishing instead”?

Its worth it to try all four
techniques as the only wrong one is the last…tie up the boat.

Sooner or later you may find yourself needing to adapt. Being able to do all four is the most complete education.

Of course being centered in the boat gives you the most control over bow and stern… That is heeled over. Or flat hulled in a dedicated solo. In wind you may find yourself soloing the tandem from way up front to keep the bow pitched down.

personal choices
I see some suggestions here that I would not choose. Again, this is my personal preference. I’m not suggesting you will be forced to accept this opinion. First, I would not paddle a true tandem canoe from the center seat with a double bladed paddle. They are generally of such a width that the blade angle is forced too low resulting in too much yaw with each stroke, yielding a zig zag pattern during forward travel. Next setting in the stern or even bow seat backwards with ballast increases the distance between blade and point of rotation, producing too much yaw in forward strokes. Me, I’d rather go Canadian than choose these alternatives.


  1. Put a sail on it
    and ride the wind.


    Me and Fluke



Why there are different responses
If you are new to the sport of canoeing, you may wonder why there are so many seemingly different responses in this short thread to a seemingly simple question.

One way to clarify the Babel would be to focus on two different verbs: “to propel” vs. “to paddle” a water craft or floating platform.

There are various floating platforms that can be propelled through water. These platforms may have names such as logs, rafts, sit-on-tops, kayaks, canoes, outriggers, or unidentifiable androgynous things like so-called pack canoes.

All these floating platforms can be “propelled” through water in a variety of ways: with your hands, sticks, branches, poles, single-bladed paddles, double-bladed paddles, bent paddles and straight paddles – and any of these propulsion instruments can be long, short or medium sized.

Moreover, you can propel any of these floating platforms with any of these propulsive instruments while positioning yourself anywhere on the platform – the front end, back end, the middle, the side, the bilge – as long as you make certain compensating weight adjustments. And you can further do all these propulsive things while keeping the platform flat or leaning to one side or the other.

Finally, you can do all these propulsive things on all these floating platform with all these propulsive instruments while standing, sitting on a seat, sitting on the floor, kneeling or half-kneeling, or even lying down.

So, if THAT’S all you you want do do – just to propel a floating platform by some mechanism – you can see that you have a wide variety of choices. You may like some, dislike others, and be perfectly happy with whatever it is you choose.

But is there a “right” way to solo canoe? A “most efficient” way to solo canoe? A “most elegant” way to solo canoe? Certain “best equipment” to solo canoe?

Well, there are opinions on this subject, but let me offer you what I believe are relatively incontrovertible facts:

  1. All expert solo whitewater canoeists station themselves slightly behind center and use single blade stroking in all four quadrants, almost always kneeling with straight single blades.

  2. All expert solo flatwater freestyle canoeists essentially do the same, though they don’t affix themselves into their seats with thigh machines like the solo whitewater canoeists.

  3. All expert solo flatwater and ocean racing canoeists do the same, whether in CanAm marathon racing canoes or Pacific outrigger canoes, except these racers usually sit on seats with their feet out front on foot resistance, using bent shaft single blades in the four hull quadrants.

  4. All solo kayakers, though not the subject here, sit upon centralized seats, in or upon weight trimmed hulls, with paddle blades that can reach and execute strokes in all four hull quadrants.

    Only you can decide what propulsive style is important, fun or economically available to you. If you only have one type of floating platform, take your choice.

    If, on the other hand, you have the means to afford more than one floating platform, I have always found the most physical, mental and emotional pleasure in adopting the equipment of the acknowledged experts and trying to learn and emulate their best evolved “paddling” techniques.

You forgot…
…standing ~1’ behind the middle of a tandem canoe with a pole. :wink:

Poling Aluminum OH MY!
Might want to wear your body armor.

Aluminum hulls tend to stop rather suddenly in the presence of rocks.

OTOH in a marsh with a mudfoot I’d go along.

Grumman Aviation WERE making airplanes and bombers during WWII and when the war was over they starting making canoes…not just and only for racing.

Racing Canoes
I don’t think g2d was talking about Grummans at all. He was responding to the statement that aluminum canoe shape is largely dictated by what can be easily molded, and hence are not extremely efficient. Well, I’ve heard of these specially built, fast aluminum canoes too, which have special stems built by a different method that allows them to be very sharp. The ones I heard about were not made by Grumman.