Controlling a Solo Canoe


I had something weird happen this weekend. I’m realtively new to solo canoeing and this weekend was the first time I was on a river in it. I normally just paddle lakes. My friends and I went down the Delaware from Dingman’s Ferry to Kittatinny Point.

Anyway, my issue was, anytime I went through any fast current or small rapids, when I came out the end of them, for some reason no matter what I did, the canoe seemed to veer hard to the right. It was like driving a car with very badly aligned wheels.

I was paddling, an old used Penobscot 16, with the seats removed and a center seat installed. The back and front were loaded up with camping gear and the boat was very slightly back heavy, but not much.

The problem mostly happened in the sitting position. Kneeling, it wasn’t quite as noticible, but I really had to paddle hard to keep the boat from turning right coming out of the current.

Is it just poor technique? I’m still learning… Maybe the boat was loaded wrong? Any ideas and suggestions?


You were probably sticking the bow into slower water; the current continuing to act on the stern. Now why always right? perhaps Republican tendencies?

sounds like you were hitting eddies

When following or exiting a strong current, it is important to stay in the center of the “V”. If you go off to either side, your bow will go into the slackwater while your stern is still in the main current. This will turn you as you described.

Sounds like you may paddle primarily on your left side, which would tend to push the bow off to the right, making you touch the eddies on that side and turning you hard to the right.

sounds like my friend
Eddy was messing with you.

Eddy Current!!! On each side of faster water you will see slower water. Where the 2 meet is an eddy current, it can grab a boat and spin it out. You can play the eddies, make them work for you(rest stops on faster water etc.) You do need to be aware of them, sometime they are strong enough to toss an unwary paddler out of his boat.

Well that all makes a lot of sense since whenever it happened, I’d end up sitting in a calm pool of water facing up stream and have to paddle back to get into the current again.

Thanks for all the quick answers.

Mr. Eddy…
Mr. Eddy got ya!

Watch out for the paddle snakes too…


Here’s some more info

– Last Updated: Aug-02-10 12:30 PM EST –

I can't add much to what's been said regarding what happened, but here's one other thing to consider. You said the back and front were loaded with camping gear. I can't be sure what that means, but I'll still give a bit of advice about hauling gear. Anytime you find yourself in a position where it's necessary to quickly change the direction in which your canoe is pointed, the job will be easier if you pack your heaviest stuff as close to the center of the boat as you can. Of course, the heaviest thing in the boat is you, and that's already near the center, so that part's taken care of. Then take your biggest, heaviest pack and put it right behind you, as close to your butt as you can put it without it getting in the way of your feet when you kneel. Take your second-heaviest pack and put it right in front of your knees. If you have any large water containers, a good place to put them is under your seat or between your knees. I like fabric water bags for that reason - they lay flat and keep the weight low and they don't roll around (however, depending on the river, be mindful of foot-entrapment potential). You get the idea now. It will be much easier to suddenly change the direction the boat is pointed (like when fighting an eddy that's already pulled you halfway off course) if you eliminate as much "swing weight" as you can from the ends of the boat.

In time you will start "seeing" those eddys and will be adjusting your paddling well ahead of time instead of being caught by surprise.

Penobscot 16
great solo boat for rivers like the Delaware.

I’d concur with the prevailing opinion that it was the river more than you or the boat. If it continues to be a problem have an experienced paddler watch you go thru the faster stuff. That person can catch things you may not be aware of and help you with your technique if needed.

but it is the paddler, not the river

The river does what it does. The paddler has to learn how to adapt. Fortunately it’s a never-ending dilemma. That’s what makes it so much fun!

Catching Mr. Eddy
It is great practice to catch a lot of eddys especially when learning. Remember to lean the boat a little upstream and let the current turn the boat quickly, but be sure to lean downstream when exiting the eddy.

The boat is also at fault
I owned a Penobscot a few years ago and experienced the same tendency. In fact, I dumped it a couple of times when the ends were spun in the current.

On another post someone pointed out that the boat does not have much rocker and the current does tend to grab the stems.

I gave the Penobscot to my son who paddles in flatter water. I still use it when I visit and I rather like it in those conditions.

I replaced it with an Appalacian which, although an overkill for what I do, behaves very well in the current.

It’s just the whole nation shifting rt.

But if the whole nation was shifting

… to the right, wouldn’t that cause him to eddie out on the left?

All of a sudden this paddling thing is getting complicated.

try leaning left and right
To turn left it does help if you lean to the right. lean the opposite way of a bike turn. And when you lean the boat, you need to learn to j lean. In safe water, it is good to see how far left and right you can lean.

Good answers so far, but

It is the Coriolis Effect, pure and simple.


But I remember the Tidy Bowl Man
circling to the left, counterclockwise.

I’m sure there may be other methods …
… for turning a canoe , and “probably” (??) some canoes react better or worse when heeling to the opposite side of the turns direction … heel/lean left , paddle on left side , canoe turns right . Same for left turn , just reversed .

This is what I have found works well for the quickest and sharpest turns in our canoes … when desired or needed . Also less paddle effort is needed for catching the turn and completing it . It actually seems to be more of a turn (carving ??) than a yaw this way .

I thought about it some and concluded that it is probably turning more effectively because the canoes “water footprint” when heeled has become unequal for left and right sides of the “new” centerline . It will have a greater arch (outside curve) on the heeled side .

Actually if you look at a gunnel , it has a curve . This curve can be thought of as a part , or “arch” of a circle . When heeled to one side , say left … that arch is showing you a right turn . The hull simulates the same arch as the gunnel for each side (of center) .

Not completely certain but I “think” what may be happening in effect , is that when heeling (say left) , the “water footprint” on the left side increases in this arch (more curve/arch) , and the opposite (right) side becomes a straighter “water footprint” .

In relation to forces acting on the canoe , I believe the right side (when heeled left) may be the side of the negetive pressure and the canoe favors turning to the path of least resistence . But I’m not sure if that’s really the case or not , because I can imagine the heeled canoe’s “water footprint” , and when I do I see the greater (longer) camber on the heeled side which would seem to be the side that should have the negetive (or lowest) pressure .

Curious what others may think about why heeling to one side seems to greatly aid the canoe for turning to opposite side of heel ??

offside heels
You really don’t want to be making turns with offside heels on moving water until you are a very experienced paddler.

A momentary offside heel might be used to keep the boat going straight when aligned with the current, but most paddlers who are new to moving water, are going to be inclined to favor their onside, ie, tend to have the boat heeled somewhat toward the side they paddle on, which is the side on which a strong brace is available.

Simple answer
When the canoe is level, both sides of the boat are curved, and any tendency of one side to carve a turn is canceled by the other. When the canoe is heeled to the left, the left margin remains curved, as you say, and is even embedded deeper in the water for more “grip”, but the right side becomes much straighter and will no longer cancel out what the left side “wants” to do. The left side “wants” to follow the circle described by the margin of the hull, causing the boat to “follow its own curve” and carve a turn to the right.

Don’t count on this working with whitewater boats. On a whitewater boat, leaning the boat to the left causes the left margin of contact with the water to be curved as you’d expect, but the right margin of the boat becomes curved too because the highly rockered bottom has shifted position to become the right side of the boat. Now you have very strong curvatures making up both the left AND right sides of the boat much the same as occurred when the boat was still level, and which way the boat “wants” to turn, if any, will depend on the shape of the boat, the amount of rocker, and the amount of lean.

Odd as it may seem, that’s a right turn.

– Last Updated: Aug-04-10 12:19 AM EST –

Water flowing straight toward a drain turns right, creating a counter-clockwise spiral. It can't continue to turn right because that would take it away from the drain, essentially uphill, so a balance is established between flowing into the drain versus turning right until flowing away from the drain, resulting in a primarily circular motion. In the case of a toilet, that's not the easy way to envision what's happening since there's really no visible straight-line approach to the drain, but the principle is the same, resulting in counterclockwise current. A right turn as air flows toward extremely low pressure is also what causes tornadoes to spin counter-clockwise. The "turn" that occurs once circular motion is established isn't that part that counts - what counts is the turn that created the motion that is cross-wise to the gradient, and in the northern hemisphere, that's a right turn.