Heeling a Canoe--what am I doing wrong?

Started to do some paddling while heeling my canoe.
My God, it’s like a clown show out there.
The boat goes everywhere but where I aim it.
My J-stroke is barely effective at all.
What am I missing?

There is no single thing that answers your question. Becky Mason’s instructional videos might be helpful for you.

Suggest maybe start with this basic course. There is an Advanced course as well. Both are offered as DVD or as a computer download that you can watch many times. Then practice practice practice when paddling on the water.


What is your purpose in heeling? If it is to do freestyle canoeing maneuvers with tight showy turns, maybe you are doing it correctly by heeling onside (to the same side as you are paddling on.

But if you are paddling straight and then turning to round bends in a river, then counterintuitively, you want to heel toward the offside. Opposite the way you would lean a bicycle or motorcycle around a turn. Charlie Wilson speaks of presenting the banana shape of the bottom of the hull to the water. If you trace a hull water outline as you heel toward the offside, you will see a banana pointing to help changing your direction to angle turn toward the onside.


What do you mean when you say your J-stroke is barely effective?

If you are heeling a tandem and wanting to just paddle straight I think the boat usually becomes MUCH more responsive (turny?) so in my experience a C-stroke that starts with a gentle bow draw on your onside helps keep the boat from immediately trying to turn/spin to your offside like a J-stroke could.

1 Like

Heeling the canoe tends to get the ends out of the water making the boat want to turn more easily.


What are you paddling, how are you healing (into turn.outside of turn) and which way is the boat going. Some boats will carve with the boat healed into the turn, other boats will carve with the boat healed outside of the turn.


The more you take a boat over on edge, doesn’t matter what kind, the more reactive it will be to the stroke happening further ahead of or behind its center. So the entry and exit point for the paddle that may not have mattered as much before can have a greater impact.

Then as above there are hull shapes where a given edge produces a reliable singular result. Or hull shapes that are remarkably lassaiz-faire about that
In case this is a useful comment…


The effect you get when you heel your canoe, depends on:

  • to which side you heel your canoe;
  • how much you heel your canoe.
  • the trim of your canoe;
  • the hull shape of your canoe;
  • the speed and direction of movement of the canoe through the water.
Also you can heel your boat for different purposes, namely for:
  • stability;
  • maneuverability or course keeping;
  • dryness (for open canoes).

When you heel to the right when moving forward, the resultant asymmetrical shape of the hull in the water will give the canoe a tendency (Bernoulli effect?) to move to the right and vice versa. Because the bow normally has more resistance than the stern when moving forward, the stern moves stronger to the right than the bow with a resultant turn to the left (just like weathervaning), assuming normal trim (even keel) and movement straight forward. Some designs may do this the opposite way, but these are not the hull shapes one is likely to find in the regular touring boat.
For regular touring canoes with normal trim this effect will be marginal though, especially with a heel less than 10 degrees, but even so it always does lower the sideways resistance of the stern, which also enhances the turn.
Some touring kayak designs however react more strongly to edging with forward speed then most (AFAIQ) canoe designs do. Some people prefer that behaviour or are used to it and think it is the way it should be, and do not realize it is more a design choice.

With a lot of heeling, a canoe tends to get the ends out of the water making the boat turning easier. But this is more a flatwater technique as in waves and currents heeling for stability has more preference unless you are racing and can handle that instability.

1 Like

I’ve had more success using a C-Stroke for sure

Well if you used extreme heel to paddle in the so called “Canadian Style”, this may indeed make your canoe very maneuverable, and then a C-stroke is the best to get it going.
Once you have some speed though, a J-stroke should work well enough most of the time.

Throw in some pitch stroke effort during the power phase after a minor C, and very little to no J will be necessary to hold a straight line course ahead with a less than a 5 degree bow yaw drift.

Or do a good Canadian stroke on the recovery with a fine wood thin blade straight paddle.

1 Like

Check out the Cross Post article(s) “A Pitch for Heeling” on the FreeStyle canoeing website: freestylecanoeing.com


Another advantage of an in-water recovery of the paddle blade is it doesn’t require you to lift the paddle weight out of the water. Wood paddles being somewhat buoyant become almost weightless in the water.

I paddle a Magic, a Wenonah Adirondack and the one I’ve been working with is a Swift Prospector

OK, good to know. So you have a solo lake cruiser (Magic), and tandem lake cruiser (Adirondack), and a river boat that I assume you are paddling solo (Prospector). First thing I would do is get the boat moving forward, heal it to the right and see which way it turns. I am assuming that the Magic and the Adirondack will start turning to the left. I don’t know what the Prospector will do. If stems get raised and it follows the shape of the hull it will turn left (like the Magic and the ADK). If the bow locks in and the stern begins to skid it will turn right (my whitewater boats do this). Once you understand how the boat responds, you can incorporate that tendency into your paddling.

I am a long time river paddler who recently bought a sea kayak. In my canoes I do fine healing into the turn. In the sea kayak, I really need to edge away from the turn. If I get confused on which way I have the boat edged, it won’t go where I want. It has been a real learning experience for me.

No sure why you are healing the boat and trying to go straight with a J-stroke (just experimenting?). Set the boat flat and it will be a lot easier. Heal the boat when you need to turn or cross eddy lines.

Of course one of the issues paddling a tandem boat solo is the width of the paddling station in the middle of the boat. I find it easier to move over into the chine on one side, which will lean the boat Canadian Style. Becky Mason’s videos cover that.

Not sure if this helps, but it is interesting to think about.


Charles Burchill has a ton of paddling information and videos on solo paddling solo and tandem canoes. Not sure if the link I copied will work.

Lots of good advice already posted - here’s my two cents - nothing particularly new, but what I find useful:

One simple thing is to shorten the stroke - focusing on catching just in front of the knee and stopping the power at the hip. Shorter strokes don’t push the bow as far out of line, requiring less correction.

The other is to leverage the sneak/stealth/hunter stroke where the paddle blade doesn’t leave the water at any point in the stroke. While most people talk about it as a great way to be very quiet on the water, it’s also a really good control stroke, because, among other reasons, on the recovery you can set up for a draw, pry, c-stroke or whatever you need to straighten out. It’s also a go to stroke for cross winds.

Here’s a Ray Goodwin video that covers this: Canoeing: Indian Stroke (hunting stroke or stealth stroke) - YouTube.

Hope that’s useful.


Yes, it is one of my favorite paddle strokes. It has lots of advantages, and a palm roll where you change the power face works well with it too.

Yep. Generally, it’s the second stroke I talk to new solo paddlers about.

Most effectively done if you spend a little more on a fine wood sttraght paddle with thin feather edges to easily slice through the water. Also necessary for an effectively executed Canadian stroke. Don’t use a fat club for a paddle.