Most efficient canoe paddle stroke

Is it most efficient to paddle by taking long powerful strokes or short rapid strokes? I was with a friend many years ago and he said that most of the power from the stroke was generated from the knee to the hip. Any paddling out of this area is sort of wasted energy. After seeing two BWCA rangers who had a very rapid cadence I thought there might be some truth to what I was told.

Does anyone have any imput?


– Last Updated: May-28-08 6:02 PM EST –

That and a million more words, but for speed , what you describe is correct. There are many great sit and switch paddlers here, so you will get much more complete answers than this.

My thoughts:
From in front of the knee and then out of the water at the hips.

Plant it vertical as forward as you can comfortably, either in a straight forward fashion or a side ways “D” snap.

I use both, and can never figure out which is the best.

My wife and I both shoot for about 60 strokes per minute which is slower than a lot of the better paddlers.



Efficient is a evasive term. For making speed as others suggest sit and switch is tough to beat. This also depends on the “efficiency” of the stroke as expressed.

That said, a friend whom I’ve paddled with numerous times can outpace dedicated solo canoes in a Solo Plus using an underwater recovery while appearing effortless.

So, efficient in terms of speed or in terms of results for investment of effort? Skills and technique affect the answer to the question.

I personally subscribe to hit and switch for making speed. But my stroke has been unfavorably compared to an octengenarian beating off a swarm of bees with a broom…


It all depends
Best to get a copy of John Winters “Shape of the Canoe”; it has a chapter on paddle efficiency.

Simply put, a paddleblade is effective within +/- 10 dg to the stroke, be it a draw or forward stroke.

The fastest canoeists, Olympic sprint boat guys, and hopefully soon, gals, use a relatively long stroke because they are high kneeling and can keep the blade within that 10 dg range from catch to mid shin on the down leg. The stroke is driven by every muscle from the feet up. Please note sprint races are over in a couple minutes.

Whitewater and FreeStyle paddlers kneel, and can square the blade up from catch to the knee. The stroke is driven by most muscles from the knees upwards. Slalom races are over in less than three minutes and FS routines in five.

Marathon paddlers sit because they have to do it for hours. Reach is proscribed and so is the stroke length. Straight paddles come square for a few inches in front og the knee. Bents can be kept square from just in front of the knee to mid thigh. High cadence is the only way to increase speed, as carrying the blade aft of the body looses effective angle and induces sweeping forces.

Stance and blade configuration affect performance, but carrying that blade aft of the body never helps.


In cruise my personal favorite is …

– Last Updated: May-28-08 9:18 PM EST –

......... a long reach forward rotating shaft hand shoulder into the reach by torso rotatation , square paddle entry and drawing through stroke by reverse torso rotataion while shaft shoulder and hand draw paddle and off hand pushes out forward , as paddle passes hip the J begins in a rearward arc to full reward reach resulting in the exact opposite of the forward reach refering to torso rotation and shoulder position , the paddle exits water vertically due to the J which is like unscrewing a jar lid with off hand at top off paddle ........... this is about a 2+ second stroke that will almost effortlessly maintain crusing speed with very light pressures on the paddle and allows a recovery time of ease between strokes , also allowing the glide to reach full potential ............ this can be maintained endlessly (almost) and is extremely effective with a long canoe , mine isn't real long at 16'-9" but still is long ......... with this stroke I can do an avg. of 4 kts. with heavier lady in the bow .......... if that lady picks up the paddle , we can fly even into a strong headwind .......... I find the key to efficiency is in focusing on perfecting each stroke and the resultant effect the stroke has on the canoe heading desired , be that straight course or arcing turn , you can quickly tell when a stroke falls off your best (ususally a lack of focus) , it's like a zen or zoning thing I guess which is a neat place to be for distance covering , not in hurry at all but not wasting energy either ......... if I want to kick up the pace , the whole process is quickened and the reach and removal are shortened up some , that's all .. edit : alright people who really know more about paddling , chime in and tell me what the heck I'm doing ??

I tend to agree that short strokes at a
higher cadence are more efficient. Some long stroke styles are fairly efficient, but I think we have to accept what we see in marathon canoe and kayak races. What one does during a long race may not be as efficient as what one does when not in such a hurry, but we have to accept that a short stroke and higher cadence are probably best for cruising too.

I say this as one who always instinctively preferred longer strokes at a lower rate, both in rowing competition and in canoeing and kayaking, but who has learned that my old preferred style was the cause of my falling behind.

g2d , doesn’t the hull of the …
… higher performance marathon style canoeing and the light load have something to do with the quick high cadence stroke ?? … would it yield the same results do you think for say an expedition canoe with a load ?? … don’t really know the answer to this myself , but I don’t gain much with the shorter faster cadence although I seem to be moving my body twice as fast … my pressure in each method is about the same …

Although I once rowed racing shells,
none of my current hulls is particularly “fast.” My MR Synergy, a WW tandem I usually paddle solo, responds well to a higher cadence and shorter stroke. My MR Guide does also. I would say that if these boats are loaded with gear, their acceleration ability is reduced, and a higher stroke rate has less of an advantage. But I have pretty much given up the long, “Canadian” strokes I used back in the 70s. Too much energy goes into the correction on the end of the stroke, and into friction losses from exessive body rotation. While a lot of power comes from trunk rotation, if trunk rotation is exaggerated, there are internal frictional losses. Trunk rotation should come right after the blade “catch,” and should be short and relatively sharp.

Even though i am much older now, i can cover more water with less effort using the sit-n-switch method. Short strokes with light carbon fiber paddles and a cadence and blade size suited to the canoe and load. Even in a loaded tripping canoe, the long miles don’t tire me nearly as much as my original BSA taught technique using a straight paddle and the long deep strokes with corrections. Since the arms are not used nearly as much as the torso muscles, and the stroke is compact, theres is no sense of having a heavy weight at the ends of your arms, and much less energy spent on the recovery part of the stroke.

Where 15 flatwater miles used to seem like a very long day, now those same 15 miles are only three easy hours, and i have much more energy left for fishing snd setting up camp. now 35 miles of flatwater is a long day.

Paddle weight is a big factor, and how well the paddle grip fits your hand.


That’s true, as long as your boat is
designed to want to run straight. Whitewater boats have no such desire, but it’s actually quite easy to use a short, forward stroke, with no correction, to keep a whitewater boat going straight, stroke after stroke after stroke.

The very thing that makes fast flatwater boats want to go straight, also makes them require either corrective strokes or hit and switch.

Read CE Wilson again
the efficiency of the forward stroke is dependent on the verticality of the paddle blade to the water. Lifting and pushing down on the water defeats efficiency.

Marathon racers aside with high kneeling, the efficient forward stroke for tourers has a short length power phase…about 18 inches. Cadence for most of us is probably a function of paddle weight and how the correction is done and the shape of the paddle.

The Canadian Stroke can be done at high cadence with a not too wide and light blade…does not require a switch at all. It has a power phase and a combined correction/recovery phase. Some may argue rightly that the correction is not efficient because it lifts water. Yes it does but its so brief that this stroke is very relaxing for 50 km days. You never have to lift your paddle much out of the water…it skims the top on recovery.

Now as to portage efficiency…there is where you have the potentially to really lose time.

Does your post relate at all to mine?
Or are you exhibiting the problem with relating one post to another that plagues

There sure isn’t anything about my paddling style that creates unnecessary problems with keeping the paddle blade vertical in the water.

paddle size
I think that in a loaded tripping canoe that requires more energy to move, the cadence can still be high, but the paddle blade area should be reduced to keep that cadence. Kind of like gearing down on a bicycle.

Just for the heck of it…
today, doing a ten miler at 3/4 race pace, I checked where my blade was entering the water, and it was about twelve or thirteen inches in front of my knee.

Like I said above, It comes out of the water at my hip.

This was sit and switch.



Tryly, just for the heck of it…
and my own curiosity: Are you kneeling or sitting and using a straight or bent? Thanks

Bigger Engine
Does this apply if the Engine (paddler) is bigger? It seems I should go with a wider paddle if I’m going to race. I’m a little larger than most (6’2", 245lbs), but I’m a little stonger than most, so should I go with a wider paddle to compensate for size and exploit strength?

its all about you

Just who are you?

Well then, it doesn’t make any sense.

Holy cow !
If I were kneeling, I would be getting no where with the entry that close to my knee

No, I was sitting and I was using a bent shaft ZRE.

Years ago, I used to kneel, but with my bone on bone knee, the last time I did that in a solo race, they had to pry me from the canoe after the finish. - I kid you not, the knee was locked in place.