Dual powered canoe rowing ?

Occasionally, there have been posts about using oars instead of paddles to propel canoes … and so I offer this thought to those who may be interested in a special tripping application of this concept.

My experience has been with fixed-seat rowing with shorter (6-7 ft.) oars … not with sliding-seat rigs using long sculling oars (9.5 ft.). Although sculling rigs tap the energy of large leg muscles better, there are problems inherent with the rower’s weight sliding back and forth that involve hull dynamics and momentum countering. A fixed-seat sliding rigger apparatus eliminates these large weight shifts and thereby stabilizes both the rower and the hull while still applying full force to long sweeping oars. The rigger itself doesn’t get stressed by the large weight of the rower sliding around and so is less apt to develop stress-related failures as well.

Perhaps the largest advantage available to a sliding rigger in the front half a tripping canoe is that with a simple T-handled nylon cord, the stern person (with a bucket seat and foot brace) could assist in pulling the sliding rigger backwards and so add to the propelling force of the rower’s oars. It would look like they were simultaneously leaning away from each other … the bow person pull the oar handles and the stern person pulling (via cord) the rigger that’s sliding rearward. In other words, they’re both inputing force onto a pair of strong 8.5-9 ft. oars (shorter than sculling oars to properly gear down so as to handle the forces involved in driving a tripping boat vs a lean scull).

Ofcourse, most of the time, it would be best for the stern person to navigate with a pinned oar/rudder and rest. But, when conditions dictate the need for more power, he/she could stow the rudder, pick up the T-handled rope (like a gym rower) and increase the available power by another 50-60% to compensate for wind or waves or … whatever requires extra propulsive oomph.

All this is just to conceptualize how one might best optimize a tripping crew’s energy in a large canoe … say about a 20 footer … for travel over long distances. One person always rows while the other usually rests and steers … and occasionally they “row” together with the stern person also pulling sliding rigger.

Hehe … I know this might be a stretch to visualize … but what the hey … some people like to devise efficient modalities of travel. Hence … the development of canoes and kayaks slicing through water to avoid having to slog overland !!! Any thoughts about splitting the work load this way … for large lake and coastal tripping ???

My initial thoughts
At first I thought this was a fantastic idea if you are using a sliding outrigger set-up, since it allows you to make use of an extra person without adding the weight of another piece of equipment. But then it hit me, and this is assuming I’m not missing something regarding the operation of this device: Wouldn’t this increase the load on the main rower’s arms and hands? Since he is essentially pushing the outrigger assembly away from him with his feet while pulling back on the oar handles with his hands, he is in a sense applying a “stretching” force between two parts of the machine, moving them farther apart. Add the force of another person pulling on the “foot” end of the device, and to make use of that additional force, the rower needs to pull harder on the oars. As an extreme example to help illustrate this idea, imagine what would happen if the rower’s hands “give way” instead of pulling back as the ourigger assembly gets forcibly pulled away from him. The oars would “teeter-totter” at the oarlocks and no extra work would be accomplished. Of course the outcome probably wouldn’t be that severe, but I think it this helps clarify the point that the rower needs to increase his hand-pull force in direct proportion to the assistance he receives from the person in the stern.

This might not be a problem, but I envision a rower who is stretching two objects apart with his hands and feet, and wants to increase his power output, is likely to need more help for his hands than for his legs.

Yes … that sounds right
If this is true, it would always work best with the stronger-armed person doing the rowing. Maybe the dual input can be finessed somewhat by the stern person pulling at the beginning of the stroke and then lightening up their pull when the rower is “finishing off” their stroke. The arms usually anchor the oars and are somewhat static early on and then the biceps really begin articulating the elbow about halfway through … so the best help would be realized early in the stroke to overcome the initial reacceleration phase of the boat’s pulsing speed. I can envision not wanting a lot of rearward rigger help right when the biceps are ending their curl (that’s when their at the weakest part of their leverage).

Good thinking GBG! In practice, phasal tailoring (timing and power) of the inputs would have to be practiced to find out how best to optimize the stroke. And I think you’re right to point out that helping the arms would inherently be better than helping the rower’s leg thrust. Unfortunately, tying lines to the oar shafts outboard the gates is not nearly so advantageous a power input as just pulling sliding a rigger down it’s track (travel is too far, angles not always good and pulling on two cords is unweildy at best).

Thanks again for the thought. This makes it seem that the stern person might only be able to contribute an extra 25-35% to the overall power of the system … if that. Might still be worth trying though when power demands are critical.

It’s definitely worth trying, and I’m sure you are right about it being more effecting to time the assisting pull during the stronger phase of the rower’s pull. Even though you can’t actually double your power output, the extra power you could develop might make a real difference.

From my fixed-seat rowing experience (and I bet you would say the same thing), I’d say that help from another person would be most useful when going into a strong headwind. For normal conditions, two people could easily power the average boat into that highly inefficient zone near hull speed, making the extra effort of two hard-working people not very economical, but being able to provide all that extra power to fight a headwind at slower speed would be very effective.

Do you have one of those sliding outriggers, or are you just “thinking out loud”? I’d be very interested in how this experiment turns out.

Onboard II is a drop-in unit
I don’t own one as yet, but am thinking of getting one “if and when” I can organize a coastal fiord trip in BC … maybe this year or next. To equip a large-enough (for the rigger and gear) canoe for this type of travel requires both the time and motivation of TWO enthusiastic trippers (well, maybe you could do it solo … at higher risk) who are willing to learn the methods necessary to safely negotiate coastal routes. For the Great Lakes or semi-protected costal tripping, I think that combining an 18.5’ Sea Clipper or better yet, a 20’ MacKensie (both made by Clipper) and a sliding rigger (Onboard II, made in Newburyport, Mass) would be awesome for multi-week or month journeys … because it would lessen the workload and make covering such distances both quicker and less tiring. While most “geartalk” is often about efficiency improvements of 1-3 percent (high-end bicycles, kayaks, etc.), the idea of rowing efficiently with dual power may offer efficency gains of more like 15-35% (relative to canoe paddling) … which is a significantly large improvement that might be worth a few hundred bucks investment! But … it’s still just a beginning concept … which necessarily precedes initiating acquisition. The real draw towards sliding riggers is the ability to incorportate full-body power into rowing. I think this would mitigate the plague of overuse injuries (usually lower back stuff) that sometimes accompany long distance fixed-seat rowing.

You are correct about the weight shift
of sliding seat rowing rigs being a possible problem for some canoes, especially shorter ones. However, for canoes of 17 feet or over, this should not offset the efficiency gained with sliding seats and leg power.

One other thing about the sliding seats… during the drive, the rower’s body stores momentum as it is driven by the legs toward the bow of the boat. During the recovery, as the rower slides the seat toward the stern, that sternward movement helps the hull maintain forward momentum. Of course, to the extent that the catch of the blades is sloppy, the reversal of the direction of the body will tend to “check” the momentum of the boat, and if you watched the Olympic eights final where the US won for the first time since 1964, you would see that even the finest oarsmen cannot avoid a significant “check” of the momentum of the boat.

stern person paddling
I think you would get as much or more out of the stern person paddling with a good bentshaft. The paddler can steer as well, eliminating the need for a rudder. I have a fixed seat rig for my prospector that works for a solo rower or tandem with a rower facing the stern from the bow seat. The person in the stern can paddle or not, but we can really get it up and goin’ with a stern paddler.

Yes … a stern paddler works OK …
… and this is the way I’ve done a fair amount of long distance tripping. But when rowing is aided by a stern paddler, the lessening of the rowing effort seems slight … maybe 10-15%. It definitely helps when in wind and waves, but I keep thinking that a larger contribution of power could be made. I’ve even thought of rigging the stern for forward-facing rowing (seated lower near the hull bottom), although I know that it’s weak compared to rear-facing rowing. It’s advantage over paddling is that it’s balanced on both sides and uses two blades rather than one … and can be used to steer as well. If a paddle is used, it’s best to use the largest-bladed bent shaft available … like those used for large outriggers.

That’s what the old-time guides did.
When two Adirondack guides traveled together, the bow person would row and the stern person would paddle. I’d like to try that with my guide-boat, as it might be faster and more efficient than the average tandem canoe (it might also be slower, since it is shorter than any tandem canoe and might be a bit heavily loaded with two people and all their gear).

Ok you guy’s where do I find

– Last Updated: Feb-21-05 9:54 PM EST –

an Onboard II or some other kind of sliding rigger outfit? It won't google in any form I've tried. I've been rowing a canoe for some time but have never found it useful for tripping, too much "stuff" for the gain in speed.

Onboard Products
4 Neptune Street

Newburyport, MA 01950

Contact George Odell about their Onboard II rig.

Remember that a choice of rowing can be made without necessarily going all out with a sliding rigger. I’ve gone hundreds of miles with just a fixed seat and fixed-pin oars set in sockets mounted right on the outwales. You can set up for less than a hundred bucks … most of which is for some decent aluminum tubed spoon blades oars (Cannon). The reason I am considering a more sophisticated rig is for utilizing a more full body powered stroke for longer “expeditionary” tripping. The book by Jill Fredston “Rowing to Latitude” is revelatory in regards as to what can be done with what are essentially double kayaks set up for sculling. She’s done many thousands of miles of coastal tripping along northern latitude coastal wilderness (Greenland, etc.)

You can easily do 15-2o mile days with just a simple set up and shorter, more easily controlled oars.

diminishing returns
You need to consider the hull speed of your craft. At some point you will be working your ass off for an extra quarter of a mile per hour. Whats the fun in that? You are not going to get a canoe to up and plane so all it will do is squat down in the stern and you will be rowing and paddling out of hole, like paddling upstream.

Sorry if I was confusing about goals
This whole thread is not about racing speed, but rather is considering long distance endurance and efficiency that comes by sharing the work load with a partner and devising modalities that can be employed for all-day-long rowing. I would imagine that normal loaded (550-650 lbs) tripping speeds would range in the 4-5 mph range in mild to moderate conditions and maybe 3-4 mph in wind and waves. These speeds aren’t pushing the hull speed envelope at all and would not result in the hull “squatting”.

Of course

– Last Updated: Feb-21-05 11:18 PM EST –

Okay, I see Stap's response was here before I finished typing. I coulda left this up to him. I'll leave my post here anyway.


The original post does say that this idea would be only for special circumstances, and that most of the time the person in the stern does nothing but steer and rest up for his turn at the oars. I already described the situation you are talking about in an earlier post in this thread, but to give you an example of why this idea WOULD be worth looking into, suppose you are poking along into a 35 mph headwind and working pretty hard just to go 2 mph. You could approximately double your speed if you could double your power output because at 4 mph you still are not all that close to hull speed (and the extra 2 mph of wind speed you'd be exposed to would increase wind resistance by a negligible amount). Having that kind of power reserve would be a HUGE advantage when fighting wind or high waves. For canoes and similar boats, oars already provide a huge advantage over paddles when going into a strong headwind. Being able to put the extra person to work transmitting power to the water with oars instead of a paddle is an option that could pay off big.

Why not just have two stations?
If the canoe or boat is 20 feet long you could have two or three fixed seat stations. Then in normal conditions you could use just one rower in the middle or front station. In wind and wave both could row fixed seat. Rowing fixed seat is much easier in big waves anyway.