Initial - Secondary Stability

It has been almost one year and I have really enjoyed paddling my Vagabond. My waters of choice seem to be the Kaw River which normally flows between 1 and 3mph. I hope to get out on some of the Ozark rivers more frequently this year.

My question to you is … at what point does it make sense to paddle a solo canoe that doesn’t have a flat bottom like the Vagabond, considering the characteristics of my neighborhood river? I will not be kneeling due to knee issues. In addition, I am not looking to move to whitewater canoeing per se. Is it possible that I have the right canoe for my river and a canoe with secondary stability would be better suited for much swifter rivers? I will get out on lakes on occasion but does secondary stability lend itself to lakes?

Thanks for the input!

I use a Vagabond
(along with a Prism and an Adirondack) on a very slow coastal river - an estuary, actually. Stability can become an issue when wind builds over the long fetch and the water gets rough. There’s also an occasional problem with wakes from very large, slow-moving yachts. The Vagabond is short and has some rocker, so it deals with these pretty well. Would I want to use the V. in anything approaching WW conditions? No, but someone stronger and more experienced than I might manage that sort of thing.

Don’t know if that helps with your question --which I’m not sure I understand.

Better to demo first before buying
You are improving in your proficiency and maybe a

different boat would be better suited for what you

are looking at with different waters.

I’d suggest to demo various boats this spring before

buying another, because differences in design will

translate into differences of paddling comfort.

An expert who prefers a secondary stability boat

will use that design in all waters paddled.

I think most paddlers are somewhere in the middle

range of expertise, and that’s where individuality

takes precedence. You will know what is better for

you by feeling the way the boat reacts with your

paddling. Go for it, and Happy Paddling!

Also confused

– Last Updated: Jan-06-08 12:05 PM EST –

Not a canoe person, but stability is stability in a boat.

What most people would call secondary stability will lend itself to any use where the boat is likely to be heeled over either from the paddler's action or from conditions like waves or current. There really isn't any place where that's a bad idea.

That said, the usual trade-off is that as secondary stability increases the boat tends to have less primary, or has an increasingly "tippy" feeling. That's only a problem if the paddler can't adjust to that or really needs to do something that requires a high degree of what is called primary, like standing up in a boat to cast. There is also a whole discussion to be had around moving water, but that's not my strong suit.

Agree with above - not sure why you are asking this. Are you contemplating a particular new boat?

My question…
was unclear. The Vagabond doesn’t have any secondary stability, but I don’t feel I need it where I paddle.

I am seeking opinions on what I am missing out on not having secondary stability in a solo canoe, for the river I primarily paddle.

For the type of rivers I like to paddle, due to proximity, would one even need secondary stability (I don’t kneel if that makes a difference)?

Lastly, the demo days they have around here are on very small lakes. My paddling I prefer is moving water, therefore, the demo wouldn’t provide me with important handling info.


Some canoes feel comfortable with a gunwale 2" off the water, and some feel nervous. A canoe with a more arched hull might be easier to edge for better manueverability. But to take advantage of that you usually need to use a lot of body movement, and that usually means kneeling.

If you’re only paddling in conditions where you’re happy sitting on the seat, the Vagabond is probably a fine choice.

The Vagabond

– Last Updated: Jan-06-08 8:27 PM EST –

I paddled a Vagabond for a few years. First off, I'd disagree about it having "no secondary stability". This was my first canoe, which I got after spending a couple years in rowboats which are rather tender when it comes to on-center trim, and secondary stability that is not too pronounced. The first time I leaned the Vagabond over a little, it felt like an aircraft carrier to me. The secondardy stability probably won't let you heel it to the rail like some canoes, but I found it to be quite pronounced. Still, crossing eddylines in the seated position was pretty hairy at times, and I be came a kneeler before too long.

As far as doing Ozark rivers while seated, I did Class I and II rapids on the upper Buffalo River in the Vagabond, and the main issue was the lack of rocker. Mine was a Royalex version, and like other Royalex Vagabonds I've looked at, it had no visible rocker at all (well, actually, after measuring it very carefully against a tight string, I decided it might have about 1/8 of an inch of rocker). This boat is narrower than most similar canoes in the outer 1/3 of each end, so it didn't float over waves very well, so Class II was sometimes a pretty wet ride. The lack of rocker meant that the best way to steer sharply through rapids was by constantly back-ferrying. At that time, I used a double-blade paddle, which is really the ultimate "cheating tool" for back-ferries, so I really had no trouble. I believe most other Ozark rivers are milder than the upper stretches of the Buffalo, and the Vagabond will work fine on them.

I'm not sure that greater secondary stability is much of an advantage if you paddle while sitting. Like Angstrom already mentioned, it takes a lot of body movement to stay centered when you lean a boat way over. Boats with a lot of secondarday stability usually rock to either side much more easily and a greater amount before reaching a point where they "firm-up", and in a sitting position, that's likely to let you end up very off-balance, it seems to me. Lowering the seat will help, though. I replaced my Vagabond with a Merlin II, and now that I'm a kneeling single-blade paddler, and I can't imagine paddling the Merlin II while sitting, but plenty of people do it that way, as long as the seat is low enough. That said, I know of at least one person who even lowered the seat on his Vagabond to make it more stable for seated paddling, and it made a big difference. He just moved the seat from the tops of the sheet-metal hangars to the bottoms, which effectively lowered it by about an inch. A foot brace helps a lot, too. If you don't already have a foot brace, by all means get one.

Very good…
information, thanks. When I said it (the Vagabond) didn’t have any secondary stability I’m just assuming it is so. I don’t have anything to compare it to, so I’m glad to hear you believe it to have that quality. I know I have found it to be very stable in windy conditions and waterflow that is double the normal condition, but not flood conditions.

I have paddled the Vagabond at different seat heights that the factory seat allows. The lower rung does seem more stable, but generally that is not an issue when and where I paddle. I did add a footbrace when I purchased it and I am glad I did so. I couldn’t imagine not having that looking back at my paddling season.

I paddled a short section of the Buffalo River last summer. It is good to read that you paddled the upper section in the Vagabond. I would like to also, maybe this spring.

It’s not that I want to replace my canoe with another, I was just wondering how different paddling “my rivers” might be with another canoe that was a “river” canoe.


It does have secondary stability
every once in a while someone will show up at a clinic with one and want to heel it to the rail. It does hold at the rail; however this is done kneeling.

Its hard to test secondary stability while sitting. Its hard to keep your head centered in the boat while doing that. Failure to keep ones head in the confines of the rail is the main reason for paddlers dumping.

The diagrams on the Wenonah site look flat but its actually a shallow arch and not a flat bottom boat.

Some boats feel a whole lot of different with a load and feel more solid.

If you are feeling unsteady just lower the seat.

Do the Buffalo-all of it-perhaps minus the section above Ponca.

How does a footbrace help? Are they difficult to install? And is the aluminum footbrace available from Wenonah a good one for a Vagabond?

Though I didn’t install it I watched the dealer install it. It wasn’t complicated though he did have some issues with the pop rivets. I was kind of nervous and wondered if he really knew how to install it, but in the end it all worked out.

The benefits of having a footbrace for me is the comfort and added stability a footbrace provides.

An initial measurement of the primary paddler gives the installer a general location to install the footbrace, and the footbrace itself is adjustable (backwards and forward).

Seems to me…
that primary and secondary stability are not mutually exclusive. Secondary stability, as much as anything, is based upon the shape of the sides of the canoe…straight vertical sides have more secondary stability than sides with tumblehome (curving inwards at the gunwales. The Vagabond has straight sides. Primary stability is more a result of the shape of the bottom…flat bottoms have more primary stability than shallow arch or shallow V bottoms. The Vagabond has a slightly shallow arch bottom. So it seems to me that the Vagabond has at least decent primary stability, and pretty decent secondary stability as well.

I find the Royalex Vagabond absolutely no problem to maneuver in current, but the lack of rocker (it’s true that the Royalex version has very little rocker) also makes it a good canoe for back-ferrying. And it handles as well or better with a load…I like using it with enough camping gear for a two-three day float. I have no problem with it in Ozark class 2 (Buffalo from Ponca to Erbie, upper Jacks Fork, Eleven Point, and sections of the St. Francis, as well as some small creeks I sometimes float). Class 2 with big waves is the only real problem…it will be a wet ride.

Ding Ding ! We have a winner!
Another believer in the flat bottomed stability myth.

Sorry to pick on you, Al, but it is absolutely not true that merely having a flat bottom will confer optimum primary stability. I have boats with elliptical cross sections that have more primary stability than my flat bottomed boats.

It depends on the design of the sides, and the transition to the sides.

Prairiedog, I think you were recalling
those fanciful little diagrams showing how a flat bottomed canoe is very stable until heeled over beyond a certain point, while a shallow arch canoe supposedly is less stable at rest, but has more secondary stability when thrown over. As I just noted, a flat bottom by itself does not mean strong initial stability. It depends critically on the design of the sides of the boat, and of the transition zone.

If you can’t kneel, another way to gain some stability is to fabricate some knee hooks, attached to the sides of the canoe. These can be easy to get into or out of, but along with your footbrace, help firm your connection to the boat much in the same way as knee braces in a kayak. Also, I sometimes paddle with one leg out front and one leg kneeling. This is a little better than both legs out.

Though I kayak, I much prefer a single blade in canoes. But if you have to sit, I think you might do better in whitewater with a double blade, because you will have braces and strokes on both sides, and because double blading goes very well in the sitting position.