Humbled by a one-seater

I always used to think I was hot stuff piloting a tandem or cruising around on a SOT. I didn’t anticipate the contrast to a solo canoe to be night and day. I bought a brand new Mad River freedom solo and it’s maiden voyage was a little bit of an adventure to me. I was blown away by how responsive it was, keeping it in a straight line without looking like the newb I was took some serious finessing! Anyways, I look forward to putting it on the lake soon to practice all of the intricate strokes and actually get to know my boat.

I say all that to say this: I felt really uncomfortable kneeling to increase my leverage and lower my center of gravity. More specifically, I felt uncomfortable with my feet under the seat. Maybe I have an unfounded fear of capsizing while my stuck feet keep me under the water.

Has anybody else had that concern? or have an alternative seating method? Thanks in advance for helpful replies!

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Come to the Florida Canoe Symposium in March. 1st class solo canoe (as well as tandem)at all levels. A new class, beginning this year, will be “Canoeing for Kayakers”, building upon the double blade skills already attained.

More info at

I think all you need is time in the SOLO and learn how predictable and responsive it is with your increasing experience. If you have large feet then your fear MAY be valid but otherwise if you capsized, feet entanglement with a standard cane seat is pretty invalid. NOW on the other hand I had a serious concern with my Wenonah Argosy solo canoe with the adjustable cane seat because it tended to easily unlatch and fall to a low level where my feet were then virtually trapped. It is interesting that you say you felt UNCOMFORTABLE kneeling to lower your center of gravity! Normally this creates a reassurring feeling of control and better handling! I honestly think you will develop a better feel for soloing as you have more time! Happy paddling

Sure I was scared that that first dump
would kill me by drowning. It did not take long to take the first dive. My feet twisted sideways and I came out way too easy. In fact the canoe kind of dumped me and stayed upright on its merry way. But that is another story.

Now before we dismiss your potentially legitimate concern how much effort are you going through to get your feet under the seat?

And do you like kneeling? Kneelers often like to twiddle and raise their seats for foot fit issues. Its Ok to do that. Those who are sometimes sitters and kneelers often want to go with a lower seat but of course foot fit is paramount.

Saddle is way to go

– Last Updated: Oct-01-12 8:24 PM EST –

Put a canoe saddle in the boat.
Much more control, easier on body, nice/comfortable

Google ""canoe saddle"" to see other styles

a sliding bucket seat

Depends on the situation

– Last Updated: Oct-01-12 9:21 PM EST –

In "most" situations, "most" people won't be worried about capsizing. You didn't indicate whether you might be a really large person (some people really are too big for average solo canoes), but if not, odds are good that you will soon get over any fear of simply capsizing. It's also worth noting that the first thing everyone with time spent in rec-style kayaks does when getting in a decent solo canoe for the first time is wonder "how is this thing going to stay upright?" Your boat is SUPPOSED to be a little lively underneath you, NOT rock solid. You'll come to appreciate that aspect. Also, that shallow-V hull that Mad River uses tips off-center a bit more easily than a shallow-arch, but then gets firmer pretty quickly as you lean even more.

I'm in about my 8th year of solo canoeing (not just occasional outings either) and still haven't flipped without a really good reason (except for practice sessions where I tip over intentionally). In fact, I've flipped exactly twice in all that time (and the first time, there was a "good reason" considering that I'd had just a few weeks of experience, but would be a "bad reason" if it happened to me now), but if I paddled a lot more frequently in challenging (to me) whitewater than I do, I'd have surely flipped more than that. Anyway, if you can be comfortable kneeling, I am pretty sure that you won't be "falling over" unexpectedly. In flatwater or mild whitewater paddling, your biggest risk of capsize is when getting in or getting out of the boat, and your feet won't be under the seat at those times. Oh, but see Kim's post below, and note that if you push the envelope in free-style, you'll find plenty of excuses to tip over in flatwater too (I don't imagine that's high on your agenda right now!).

It's getting late in the year for playing around in the water, but given the nature of your question, I would recommend that at some point you intentionally flip the boat a bunch of times to get the feel for it, and to practice getting your feet out from under the seat once you are upside-down. Turning your body alignment a little sideways happens pretty naturally when the time comes, and your feet will come out easily in that case. In the meantime, make sure your seat is as high as you want it to be, and work on getting comfortable with the feel of the boat and how it responds to being leaned.

Finally, there can be risk associated with having your feet under the seat in strong whitewater. Lots of people use a saddle (pedestal) for that kind of paddling. Though most do it primarily to provide better boat control, it eliminates the risk of foot entrapment too. However, if you aren't paddling that kind of whitewater, a saddle is probably overkill. In fact, I recommend against using a saddle for any reason except difficult whitewater. The flexibility in "seating" (which of course includes kneeling) and other aspects of body position is one of the real advantages of a standard bench seat. With a bench seat, you can position yourself off-center if you wish (being off-center even by a tiny amount is not an option with pedestals or bucket seats), and you even have a choice of several different foot and leg positions when kneeling, let alone all the additional options that become available when one or both knees is NOT planted on the floor. With a pedestal, you'll be pretty-much stuck with exactly ONE option in body position. On an all-day trip, having choices in body position is wonderful.

You recommend kneeling with a …
… sliding bucket seat???

He is doing much better than I
I teach capsizes. In my 20th year of solo, I have capsized hundreds of times.

I capsize on purpose. I capsize when talking. I embarrassingly capsize when teaching. I capsize whenever my head gets over the rail. Because I push the heel whenever I can, capsizes happen. I have never capsized in conditions that would lead you to think I should. I capsize because I fail to pay attention. I capsize when looking at maps.

In four foot seas I never capsize. In whitewater I swim about once a year…usually because again…I was not paying attention to holes.

Give yourself time. The MR Freedom is a high volume solo with wickedly incredible secondary stability. You can heel that hull to the rail…and it holds.

Pay attention to your head. And give yourself time. There IS a psychological transition from tandem stern to solo.

I often put guys in the bow and some of them really have trouble. When we talk about being up front what seems to get them is the sight of so much water around and so little boat. They are used to seeing the broad expanse of canoe in front of them at the stern station.

Have the same boat. I also advise
installing a saddle, stuffed up under the center thwart, so that your thighs can be partly controlled by the thwart. You want the boat to be trimmed neutral without your having to shove weight up in the bow to balance it. Part of the reason is that you can reach well forward of the center with a “cab forward” style, so that you can (mostly) dispense with the J correction. Firm catch, short stroke, ending by your hip. Magically, the boat will come back toward your paddle side during recovery.

My first solo adventure
was similar. But I promptly went into the drink. I was astounded how squirrely the boat was. I eventually raised the seat an inch and that made getting my feet in and out much easier.

Soon, I became astounded at how stable the boat really was when I did what I was supposed to do (keep my head inside the rails).

Seat time (or knee time) is the answer. And getting the seat time when you apprehensive is tough. Don’t be afraid to take a dunk or two on purpose (conditions permitting). But you will be amazed what seat time (and some lessons) will do to make your new solo an unbelievable versatile craft.

Good Advice So Far

– Last Updated: Oct-02-12 9:06 AM EST –

There is a bit of a learning curve for the canoe, especially solo. You can hop in a kayak and be an "Intermediate" paddler in a day or two. The canoe takes a bit more time. Lessons are nice and put you ahead, but I never had any myself (and it probably shows).

As for kneeling, the saddle is probably ideal, but I kneel with a seat. I have friends with the Freedom Solo/Guide and in the "Stock" position the seat is too low unless you're small with small feet. I would raise it an inch by removing the seat drop and cutting it. Then, if that's still too low, I'd continue to trim 1/2" at a time until it feels right.

A good kneeling pad makes a difference too. I've never found one thick enough for me without modifying. Here's a link to another website with a guy that made a really nice, cheap kneeling pad. When my current pad wears out, I will try this.

Also, it takes awhile to get comfortable kneeling. A few paddle sessions and you will no doubt feel more comfortable.

Also, as a long time paddler of Mad River Canoes, the shallow-V takes some getting used to. It will "Feel" unstable, but it will "Park" itself on either side of that "V." You will get a "Feel" for it, and it will be more comfortable and predictable with some boat time.

Hope that helps! Oh, here's the kneeling pad link:

Solos and kneeling

– Last Updated: Oct-02-12 9:39 AM EST –

Like any new stability curve in a boat, you will get used to the solo canoe. It just takes time and relaxing. I would suggest that you spend some time paddling with your weight over in the bilge, purposely off center, so the boat is riding towards its gunwales. Once you get used to that angle as a solid position, you'll be more comfortable with the side to side wobble when you are paddling from the center. You'll already know where the boat is going to stop.

It is possible that the boat you have had a seat that was set up for sitting. In that case you should move the seat higher by a notch to make it right for kneeling. But the saddle that folks are talking about would go a long way to increase your comfort.

One little-discussed aspect of comfort for kneeling is the tops of the feet. I find I need double layers of padding there - not only the kneeling pad, but something like full out mukluks that put a layer of padding over my feet and lower legs. It is a hot option in warm weather since my mukluks are actually diving dry boots, but I really need every bit of that thickness. The other issue can be having the tops of the feet stretched out flat - only solution to that is time and getting acclimated though.

Kneeling is a more effective position than sitting, but it is more problematical in terms of comfort. Even with a kneeling pad and knee pads, there is only so long before I have to hit the seat. I don't seem to be alone - just mess with the boat and see what it takes to be comfortable.


– Last Updated: Oct-02-12 10:52 AM EST –

The Guide aka Freedom Solo is very much a kneeling boat. It's a wonderfully responsive hull when paddled that way.
If your feet are not too big and your shoes are reasonable you should not have a problem getting them out from under the seat in quiet water situations.
If your heels hang up on the seat when you get out of the boat you can try different shoes. Less heel and thinner more flexible soles come out more easily. If you still have issues getting your feet out you may need to raise the seat. That can make the boat feel less stable than it did kneeling lower but will still be more stable than sitting.
If you can easily get your feet out while right side up you will not have any problem getting out upside down in calm water.
Alternately a saddle will eliminate the entrapment issue entirely. If you are wanting to paddle that boat in Class II+ or better I'd strongly recomend a saddle for that reason. In a pin, with strong current forcing your torso back, a bench seat or kneeling thwart can be a death trap.
Otherwise I prefer the seat as I like to shift to one side or the other.

Basic Question
What are you wearing on your feet?

Stiff soled shoes will definitely reduce your flexibility and heighten your stress about getting out of the boat. They also contribute to pain and stiffness in your ankles.

I don’t know what serious paddlers wear, but I am totally committed to any neoprene booty (or bare feet) in the summer and soft soled chotas in colder weather. For me, even running/tennis shoes are uncomfortable. I tie a pair of shoes to a thwart in case I have to walk.

Moving your feet around easily under the seat involves more than getting out of the boat (voluntarily or otherwise!). It’s pretty key in heeling the boat for turns.

Also, when you are paddling for some distance, you want to take your feet out from under the seat and stretch them out or paddle in a different position. You want to be able to do this while the boat is under way.

A huge benefit of canoes over kayaks is that your legs aren’t locked into one uncomfortable position. If your legs are stuck under the seat, you are missing one of the wonders of canoes.

It works in my Advantage with kevlar
bucket seat. The kevlar racing seat is smaller than the regular Wenonah sliding bucket.

Learning to paddle straight is #1
You don’t say whether you are trying to use a single or double paddle – or if single blading, whether you are trying to learn single-sided correction or bilateral sit & switching.

If you are trying to learn singled-sided single blading, your absolute first priority should be to learn how to paddle straight, effortlessly and without thinking about it. You must learn how to correct yaw at the catch, during the pull, at the exit, during the recovery, and then blending all these correction techniques into your own unconsciously reactive straight ahead paddling style.

If you don’t learn how to paddle straight this way, you will never fully enjoy anything else about single-sided single blading. Learning sophisticated turns in flatwater and learning how to paddle in moving currents should come later. But any kind of intelligent practice or training will eventually blend together and make sense intellectually and proprioceptively. However, you must WORK at it. It’s not easy like double blading.

The Guide is a nice combo canoe and reasonable river canoe, but not ideal in my opinion for a flat water traveling canoe. But it is what it is. If you can arrow track it, you’ll be golden.

Others have adequately addressed the foot entrapment issue. It is a danger in whitewater with pinning rocks, but not much of a danger on currentless, flat water. Wear low volume, flexible neoprene water shoes or booties without any snagging laces.

Many thanks!
Thanks all for the great advice!

I was wearing sandals as I didn’t have any other shoes I wanted to get wet, but I found they were too stiff of sole for my taste. Will look into some water shoes.

I was on a river on windy day (not my first choice but convenience won out). I am sticking to single-sided single blade technique and only switched when headwinds tried to make me go down the river the hard way aka: sideways.

Again, I appreciate all of the help and will try to get it on lake before it gets too cold so I can get my confidence up and gain some experience.

What about comfort?
I envision placing one’s butt against that forward, upward-curving part of the seat to be sort of like sitting on a pipe! Racers love those seats - for sitting - but I’ve never heard of them recommended for all-day kneeling comfort.

Here’s a classic video
There are many paddling videos you can buy, but I think this free Mason video is still the best for showing the different varieties of solo single-sided correction strokes and all the key turning strokes.