Leaning a canoe - how?

I understand that by leaning (or “edging”) my canoe, I can shorten the effective waterline length, and that this makes it easier to turn the boat. I have several books that mention this technique in passing. But they don’t explain how you actually pull it off.

I paddle on flatwater of an estuary, coastal river in what for me are frequently windy (and sometimes gusty) conditions. There is a long “fetch,” generally from the prevailing west, which allows the wind to build up. Now, assume the apparent wind is off the port (left) bow, and I want to turn left into the wind. Two questions: (1) Do I lean/edge the canoe towards the wind, to port, or away from the wind, to starboard? (2) During the “lean,” do I paddle on the windward (port) side or the leeward side?

I’m guessing that the only safe maneuver is to lean to windward (port) and paddle on the windward side. Can someone please either corroborate this or else straighten me out?

If my guess is correct, that brings up a secondary issue: Paddling on the windward side is not how I generally turn into the wind. So what sort of stroke is necessary to get you headed into the wind while paddling to windward and leaning the canoe?

Thanks in advance.

Heeling a canoe
Heeling a watercraft does more than shorten the waterline and increase rocker. It also sets the bow to carve if you want it to.

For most canoes and kayaks the heeled down side has significantly more bow plane in the water than the up side; hence the greater resistance deflects the bow away from a heel.

The way to heel a canoe is, keeping the torso erect, drop one knee and raise the other, pivoting at the hips. [This works, but less well, when sitting as in a sit and switch canoe or a kayak.

To turn left into the wind, drop the right knee to get the bow carving and sweep on your right. To heel left exposes more hull to the wind and requires lots of over -corrected forward power in your left to move the boat through the turn, which takes longer.

Listen to CEW
as he has covered it succinctly. When on calm water you may also bring one knee to the center of the boat which will help you put a bit more weight on the other knee…depends a bit on how comfortable you are with your boat. Weight shifts fore and aft or side to side can have noticeable effects on hull performance.

On flatwater you generally lean away from the intended direction of the turn.

Also I find a foot brace…
helps tremerndously.



Too Hard
Thank you both, but the explanation seems counterintuitive to me. Exposing more of the boat’s bottom to a stiff wind sounds like it involves more skills (or muscle) than I have.

Maybe on days like this I should just stay home and read a good book. :slight_smile:

yep , that’s what I do also …
… want to go left , heel (lean) to right and paddle on right (in most cases).

I paddle a 16’-9" tandem , has flat bottom and very little rocker , but carves real good .

I haven’t pushed it as far over as it will go because I think it will flip at some point without warning .

I kind of think of it like this , each “side” (chine) of the canoe is an arc , the canoe in a heeled carving turn is just following the arc in a natural way …

I get it CEW , the bow plane part , that’s cool , never really thought about that , makes perfect sense !!

It is what seems to work best …
… in my boat 3 to 1 over the other way , especially in the higher winds , which seem to be there at least half the time …

I’m not certain , but I do believe the wind is acually helping me , when heeled over some ??

I wish I understood CEW’s explanation. He uses terms I’m not familiar with. As a John Wayne character once explained, life is hard, especially if you’re dumb.

Practice in Calm Water

– Last Updated: Aug-08-08 6:29 PM EST –

Please excuse my post -- I was watching a game and, to paraphrase Roger Clemens, I "misread" that you were talking about kayaks. OOPS!

without paddling for a while. Check out this link: http://www.atlantickayaktours.com/Pages/ExpertCenter/main-skills/Main-Skills-3.shtml
You want to learn how to gently rock the boat from side to side under you while maintaining your torso in as close to a vertical position as you can get (if you're a skier, this might seem familiar; you're just using a different axis). Now start paddling in calm water. Start with a left turn: Rock gently to the right; feel how the left knee and hip come up as you do that and make a full stroke on the right -- feel how the boat turns left -- then hold your paddle in the water following your stroke on the left -- like a rudder -- and feel again how the boat turns left (just reverse everything for a right turn). Like everything else, the more you do this, the better you get. Practice enough and you won't even have to think about it when you encounter that wind.

I thought I saw all

– Last Updated: Aug-05-08 8:20 PM EST –

of John Wayne's movies, but I don't remember that line. Help me out, please, so I can stump my friends.
As for the names of the parts of the canoe CW refers to, check this out:
If there is a diagram like this on Paddling.net, I missed it.

And don’t forget…
Keep your head in the boat.

Not kiddin’ !


an explanation

– Last Updated: Apr-16-09 8:37 AM EST –

The word 'heeling' is used for all kind of boats,
'edging' is mostly used for kayaks and closed canoes,
and 'leaning' is mostly for open canoes, probably because
the action of leaning is more a kneeling thing?
But it also depends on the language one uses:
American English: boat lean vs. body lean
American English: J-lean vs. bell-buoy lean
British English: edging vs. leaning
See this picture:

What kind of canoe do you have?

– Last Updated: Aug-06-08 8:01 AM EST –

Some canoes lean or whatever with more assurance than others.

And it's a fine point but there is a school in kayaking that says that the term edging may be a better way to think about it than leaning. I guess the equivalent term in canoeing is heeling. The concern is that "lean" may suggest that the paddler put their torso out as well rather than making the weight shift while leaving the upper body centered above your weight in the boat. The time I tried a Bell Magic some while ago I actually moved my whole body off-center to get the boat on some amount of edge, but I was vertical above that.

As to your issues with understanding things, I am getting the impression that you really don't want to accept that you heel/edge/lean the boat to the left to turn right and vice versa. (and use a sweep stroke) Bottom line is that you want to free the bow and the stern, after that it's a matter of what is happening with the rest of the hull which CEWilson understands better than most on this board. I second the suggestion that you try what he says.

Exposing the bottom of the hull
is better than offering the inside of the hull to the wind as it acts like a big sail and catches all of it. It can at least spill the wind off the bottom.

I have Wenonah canoes
I have a Vagabond, an Adirondack and a Prism. A Rendezvous is on order (for precisely the sorts of weather considitions I describe). It ahould arrive this month.

I mention “edge” in the original post. I’m aware of possible misinterpretation when the word “lean” is applied.

You may be right that I’m reluctant “to accept” the notion of edging to the right to turn left. But there are explanations for this. One, I’m conscious of my limitations: my age (64), physical condition (partially disabled right shoulder) and relative inexperience.

And two, I simply don’t understand CEW’s explanation. Since I know no canoeists (everyone here is a kayaker), I have to rely on my books. I don’t remember seeing terms like “carve” and “plane” in books by Mason, Gordon or the McGuffins. (These words are not listed in the indices of the former two; the latter, very unfortunately, doesn’t even provide an index.)

I will, however, continue to study CEW’s recommendation/explanation, along with that of others who have helpfully contributed here.

depends on the design
Heeling a canoe for more maneuverability is very nice, but the real use for it is mostly limited to flatwater conditions. If your canoe is maneuverable enough, you may never really need to do it…

winds and ccarving
In my experience,when you are paddling in higher winds and chop it is much more important to focus on trim than carving. The force of the wind on the portion of the boat above the water becomes much greater than the hydrodyamic forces at work on the underwater hull at higher wind speeds.

Force of Wind
The force of the wind on the portion of the canoe above water is indeed considerable (in my experience) and was, more or less, the point I was trying to make. My one dunking last year occurred when my Adirondack (which I was paddling solo) tipped a bit to leeward in gusty winds. The exposed hull to windward acted like a sail, and both the canoe and I were in the drink. :wink:

As time allow today, I’ll try to learn what “carving” is. Once I learn, I may have some basis to judge whether it is something I can reasonably make use of.

for flatwater sit and switch

– Last Updated: Aug-06-08 11:08 AM EST –

like charlie said, lean to right to turn left and lean left to turn right.

with a boat like the prism, you should be able to simply dip one hip lower than the other. the legs move a little, but keep your head above the canoe.

so you're paddling along on a calm river, you want to turn right without correction strokes. just keep paddling and lower your left hip/pelvis area. that will force the boat to lean over on its side, and the boat will start to carve a turn.

you don't find that Bill Mason did it much because he typically paddled a tandem solo. that's a whole different game.

keep trying. you'll get it.

I’ll offer my confusion to the mix…
Okay, I agree wholeheartedly with CEW and Stevet. Terminology is always a problem as it varies so much from one individual to the next. If I can be so bold as to attempt an explanation of what these two experts are saying:

The term “heeling” is neither a canoe or kayak thing. It was adopted by early canoeists from naval architects who solidified it’s meaning over the decades to refer to the max. angle of tilt to the side before a particular hull design will capsize (trying to KISS here). IMO it is the proper term to use in these discussions. “Heeling” was a widely used term before “edging” came along.

If you can get use of a model canoe, try this experiment: put it flat on a piece of old newspaper, take a marker and trace the outline. Then heel it over on it’s side and trace the outline. The second outline will be flat along the raised edge and curved on the heeled edge. That means less resistence will be present on the flat side and the hull will naturally seek that direction, i.e. toward the raised edge. So, CEW and Stevet are saying, heeling away from the windy side will do two things, first it will increase the physics of the hull to turn into the wind and second the wind will flow over the curved side of the hull and could even help with the heel rather than catch the wind and create turbulence. A heel can start by shifting weight to the knee on heeled side while taking weight off the other knee. Paddling on the heeled side is the more stable situation in windy conditions, and allows for a low brace is case of trouble. Caution: this is a very simplified and stremlined discussion of what can be a complex topic.

BTW, my preference is to execute a turning stroke before initating the heel.