How to paddle against the wind

I own a 16ft canoe which weighs about 65 lbs and when I was out on a windy day by myself (sitting on the rear seat) I got broadsided by a heavy gust that pushed me to the left and no matter what stroke I used I couldn’t turn the canoe back on course. After the gust subsided I got back on course but is my problem that I sat too far in the rear and that I should have sat more in the middle of the canoe when trying to turn my canoe??

difficult situation
It’s hard to say what the problem was, without knowing what kind of canoe you had, whether you were kneeling, how strong the wind was, what strokes you tried, and how well you tried them.

Most 16-foot canoes will have a lot of surface area (“sail”) out of the water at the bow when paddled with weight only on the stern seat, so a wind from the right will certainly want to turn them to the left. A kneeling paddler with a strong pry stroke might be able to turn upwind or might not, depending on the wind.

It’s not necessarily true that sitting in the middle would help. When I had a Malecite (16.5-foot boat with a center seat), I twice paddled in wind strong enough that I couldn’t turn upwind. For better or worse, the wind blew me sideways rather than turning me.

– Mark

can happen in a kayak too
although not as easily—usually takes heavy wind gusts up to 25 knots or so—problem is lee cocking where in extreme cases the wind will pin the bow of the boat to keep it from turning into it—there are a couple of solutions–the first is more weight in the front of the boat to hold the bow down into the water, the second is a combination of strokes starting with an upwind bow rudder and/or draw followed by a downwind forward sweep—repeat as necessary–the third option is too run down wind until you get in the lee of some ledge or island and can turn.

Try This
Turn around in your canoe so that you are sitting backwards in the bow seat. This will help to keep your “nose down”. Try to “zig zag” your canoe with the wind in your face. This is much like taking a watermelon seed between your fingers and pinching the seed. Sideways is a very difficult position for your canoe to be in while paddling in high winds. Keep your bow into the wind as much as possible. Another good tip for you is as you bring your paddle out of the water, keep the blade of the paddle horizontal while going for your next stroke or switching to the other side of the canoe. You will be surprised how this helps fight fatigue.

Paddle on my friend! I hope this helps.

It’s Never Easy

– Last Updated: Feb-06-08 5:55 PM EST –

The suggestion to sit backwards in the bow seat will help, as a canoe will handle best in this situation with the paddler near the center. Sitting backwards in the bow seat, you'll be farther back from center than what's ideal, but it'll be better than sitting at the back with the rest of the canoe up in the air catching wind. A lot of canoes are asymetrical and don't paddle as well in reverse (remember the canoe goes backwards when paddled this way). Also, a lot of canoes have a thwart just behind the front seat, making it impossible to sit backwards there.

If you are really serious about solo-paddling a tandem canoe, you can install a kneeling thwart a little to the rear of center. You put your butt against that thwart, but most of your weight is on your knees. By the way, kneeling is the best position to be in when paddling in strong wind anyway.

You'll find that the canoe handles better at certain angles to the wind compared to other angles. You may need to take an indirect route to your destination to maximize the amount of time that the canoe is angled favorably in relation to the wind.

Even solo canoes can be tough to handle when the wind is strong, and a tandem boat is going to be tougher yet. If all else fails, you can resort to using a big double-bladed paddle, but it sounds like that wouldn't have helped in this case until first changing your location within the boat.

i love the wind. you learn to either go crazy or become its friend. I did a 185-day paddle in 04 and the wind blew every day except 9 days.

Think of your canoe as a 16 foot ‘weather-vane’.

The wind hits your bow and pushes it over. You cant really make up the difference but you can make it easier. Some things to try or consider. Its a real big blow, you not going to “win”. You may resort to survival mode. You can sit in the bow facing back which will help. The bow seat is more “centered” than the stern seat which will make you sitting closer to the center. You can also add weight to the front…either your gear or I have actually put rocks in the front from shore. Another option is add a rudder! A rudder it the most effieciet thing you can put on any boat…from a canoe to and ocean liner. It elimates most of you wasted energy trying to keep the boat tracking straight. I know many people who have added rudders to both single and tandem canoes. You can then paddle all day long into the wind and go straight.


Weathervane effect
Heck, if it’s a long paddle straight upwind, sit in the bow seat facing forward. The wind will keep the lighter stern behind you. The disadvantage is that you’re more likely to take water over the bow if the waves build.

The safest thing is probably to kneel forward of center(butt against center thwart?). That’ll give you the most stability and keep the ends light, but you should still “weathervane” upwind.

Try paddling with most of the weight
just forward of amidship (beam). If it means kneeling then do so.

I used to paddle with two 100# female G. shepherds until they passed on. One day we were caught in 30knot winds in my face trying to head back to shore, taking on water over the bow while fighting an outgoing tide. When I finally made it to a sandbar I used the dogs as ballast; one just in front of the stern seat, the other in the middle, with me kneeling just behind the bow seat.

The arrangement worked out great. I was able to keep the canoe heading where I wanted in spite of ocassionally quartering wind and waves.

Made to shore within two hours with less than 3" of gulf water in the canoe and the ‘girls’ stayed perfectly still until we got to the haul out.

That works.
Bill Mason apparently never got here.

Canoes don’t handle the wind like kayaks and a 25 knot wind would be a walk back to the car day fro me in my Oldtown 169.

Kneel in front of amidships
like the others say…this keeps the bow pegged and the lighter stern acts like the tail of a windvane…

You will have to develop some comfort with kneeling I recommend a kneeling pad.

Or throw rocks in the bow…but the other is easier.

Might want ta watch Path Of The Paddle
Ol’ Bill’s got some nice techniques on paddlin’ in wind.

Hey Brent! When in tar-nation are yer gon’na offer Path Of The Paddle in the P-Net store? Yer know ah’m never gon’na let up on dis, dun’t yer…

Fat Elmo

Boat in the water, Boat in the wind
The advise to trim a little bow heavy to paddle into the wind is good.

I also find that in a tandem, ballast to sink the hull deeper into the water, can help as well.

In my MR Explorer, paddling solo, unloaded, can be a real chore in any wind reguardless of trim. With 60-100 lbs of gear in the boat, trimmed properly it’s no problem.

The canoe I most often use is a 16’ royalex prospector. This being a symmetrical canoe, I paddle it from the forward seat turned around. I carry 4 of those cheap 5 gal collapsable water jugs secured under the other seat. This gives me the ability to add weight in 40lb increments (approx)to hold down the bow when necessary. In a strong wind I’ll move up to the center thwart on my knees. This set up allows me the most flexibility for whatever conditions come up wherever I’m paddling.

Good Luck


Same experience as TommyC1
in a MRE.

Trimming your bow slightly low is, IMO, the best plan. Assuming of course that you are paddling from the bow seat with the boat reversed.

I doubt you could have much luck from the stern seat even with teh bow trimmed down.


as well as proper balance
using anything on land that blocks the wind helps. Trees,alcoves, getting in close to reeds etc…

One thing that has helped some to understand is to thing of your boat as a flag, and the part that is sunk deepest (has the most draft) acts as a flagpole. With an unloaded boat, that is your butt.

Sitting in the stern with winds abeam, where will the flag want to go, relative to the flag pole?

This implies a readiness to move within the boat to get the desired outcome. Simply turn around in the stern and facing it, you will have no choice but to go upwind. Sitting in the stern, facing forward, you can only go downwind. Move amidships, and you can play slightly ahead or slightly behind center, and balance that flag.

Or, as some others mentioned, add gear as ballast to trim.

It can be kinda fun to simply paddle forward strokes, and just move your body forward or back in the boat to get the outcome, even for turning!