How long should a painter line be?

Is there a formula for how long a painter should be? For instance if the boat is 17 foot tandem. How long should the painter(s) be?

Does it depend on whether it is a ww canoe or tripping canoe or lake canoe, etc.?

How do you determine what length the painters should be and do you put one on BOTH bow and stern?

Sorry for the “basic canoe” questions but I am new to all of this canoe stuff.



Mr. James

– Last Updated: Nov-15-08 3:49 PM EST –

Opps! Ah' mean't MR. Jeff...

Ah' usually keep two painters (De Dutch one wit one ear an' de Spaineesh one dat made some kiddie finger paintin' garbage)- about de length o' de boat attached ta both stems. NO knots on de free end. Fer linin' ah' have a longer rope which ah' attach ta linin' holes close ta de cut water or on a bridle - but only waan needed.


You talkin’ 'bout . . .
. . . Van Go? I went to one of his exhibits and got a coffe cup with his ear on it, changes colors when it get warm.

Long enough…

…to reach the bucket.

Buncha wiseacres.
Jeff, my personal preference is thus:

For WW, I have painters that are roughly 3/4 the length of the boat. Half the length would work well.

For flatwater, they are the length of the boat. More often they are used to secure to the shore, so the extra length is needed.


17 ft Tandem
We paddle a 17 ft tandem and have painters on both ends. Length depends on what type of water you will be on and if you will need to line the canoe through whatever. We paddle lakes & slow rivers with mainly accessable shorelines and use a length of 50’ on each end which seems to be about right for us. We have a Wenonah that has nice bow & stern top cover plates that hold the painters nicely. We leave about 3’ unsecured to grab on to if the need arises. And yes, we each carry a sheath knife on our PFD’s that will cut rope nicely.


I got one o’ those
The ear disappears when it gets hot.

painter lengths
For wilderness travel, where you may be lining and tracking, at minimum each painter should be the length of the canoe and one and one half would be better.

I also like my painters to be 5/16 sheathed polypropylene, and each a different color, so I know instantly which goes to the bow or stern.

Ain’t . . .
. . . science wonderful! A friend o’ mine had one with a big chested girl wearin’ a bikini.

Lining the boat by yourself
while holding onto both lines. Would it make sense to have the bow line a little longer than the stern line in order to better control the boat? What I am thinking is in terms of ferrying it out and around an obstacle and the need to feed extra line out when necessary to maneuver it.

Or do most folks make both lines equal in length?

That’s a good thought, …

– Last Updated: Nov-14-08 3:41 PM EST –

... but in actual practice, the boat will not ferry straight out across the current from you. Instead, the boat will end up being mostly downstream from you, but a little farther out into the current than if you had a single rope. Therefore, the distance to the rear of the boat will be farther than the distance to the front (assuming you have the front of the boat aiming upstream). You could make the rear painter longer to accomodate that, or just make them both "approximately long enough" and call it good. I use the second option.

For what it's worth, I've seen a video of Bill Mason lining a canoe through impassible rapids, and both of his painters must have been 50 feet long. The extra length allowed the boat to move farther from the bank (using the principle of flying a kite, but sideways), than could be accomplished with standard-length painters.

As long/short as needed.
I don’t think there is much of a carved in stone rule on this subject so you need to use the trial and error method til you get it right for your needs. I could (and might) shorten down to 35’ for safety’s sake, but I have needed a good 25’ at times to tie off in the past. If you tend to paddle in moving water all that rope can present a danger in a capsize. Make sure you secure it well.


Twice as long
as from one end to the middle?

Sorry, since I noticed that you got some very good answers, I figured that I could reasonably, and with good faith, indulge my rather smart aleck sense of humor.

Maybe I should just learn to be quiet.


Long enough to reach the bumper
or what ever you tie the boat off to.

I only keep one short painter on the bow of my canoes. 6’ - 10’ there abouts. I use it to tie the boat to a tree when it’s not convienient to pull it up on shore.

Once in a while I use it to hang onto the boat while swimming. Never had much luck lining. I pretty much go from poling or paddling to portaging with no middle ground.

I do like to have a throw rope, either 50’ or 70’ with me. That ocasionally gets used to drag the boat up something. Or off something.

After the recent Rhode Island incident I’m thinking about doing away with painters entirely. Keep the rope in a bag. Let it out when I need it.


There’s always an intanglement issue
but i make mine very long, 20 feet or more. I retie them often to make sure they will open easily when wet. I paddle a lot in very cold water. I’f I’m involuntarary out of the boat. I grab a painter end taat’s painted orange and fitted with floatation and swim for the shoreline. Once I’m safe, i can deal with the boat.

I am with Tommy
I have three painters on my solo two on the front and one on the rear, just long enough to reach the tie downs on my car.

Since I mostly paddle lakes and impounded waters my goal is to get to the water fast, get out enjoy it. If I was doing rivers or wilderness I would change all of that and go with a longer painters…

Glad you asked Jeff
’Cuz now I didn’t have to.

Good info and reasons.

Here are some considerations
Where are you paddling?

Are you likely to run into water you would want to line around?

Will you be running empty or loaded. Loaded for tripping probably means you would be more likely to line rather than go for it or unload and portage.

How rugged is the terrain at water’s edge? Rugged terrain means longer stand-off distance likely required.

What kind of canoe?

Is it one that you would be willing to “just go for it” or is it a say, little rockered 17’ Souris River that you would likely want to protect at almost all costs.

Given the kind of water, what are the entanglement risks of a longer line? If it’s class I, then the risks are a lot less than if it’s class III.

Applying the considerations above, I tend toward one and a half times then length of the boat for trippers (but carry secured another times as much as back-up/extension as needed).

For WW boats, about 8 or 9 feet and that’s it (except for a throw bag or 2).