Paddlers position in a solo canoe?

OK, here’s the scenario I am imagining: Paddling a solo canoe long distance on a large body of open water (not a river).

Right now, my Mad River Slipper has the seat positioned just behind the center of the canoe ( That position seems to work well on flat water rivers. In the past I have solo-paddled a double canoe (on a lake) and sat in the seat just near the rear thwart with much of the canoe out in front of me and it seemed pretty easy to paddle a straight line.

If one were to paddle a canoe designed for solo paddling, but paddle it on a large open body of water (a lake or sea) and that canoe would be loaded with gear for camping a week or so, what position would be better for paddling for hours at a time in mostly a straight line: Kneeling or sitting in the center of the boat with gear loaded for and aft for balance or kneeling or sitting near the stern with most of the gear loaded forward for balance?


The boat has to be able to be trimmed
level, bow down a little or stern down a little. You have to be able to adjust.

Some Arctic soloists paddle with a double blade and want to reach all their gear…so most of it is in the front…(Its easier to reach forward than spin around and reach back). The SuperNova has the seat aftward for that reason.

The advantage of being in the center gives you more precise maneuvering capabilities rather than just skidding your stern around. But its harder to reach whatever you might need in back of you.

I like being able to be centered and have my gear close into me, keeping the ends relatively unweighted for effective corrections.

To keep things in perspective, my big lake crossings are confined to about a mile off shore in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine and Lake Superior…so I am not really that far afield but am sometimes exposed to large waves.

There definitely are divergent thoughts about this and we need to know more about where YOU are paddling.

I have not done the Beaufort sea or coast of Labrador yet but suspect there might be advantages in “gear forward” ( and a larger boat) there. Beaufort is on the hit list for next year.

Sea of Cortez
Hi kayamedic,

I am thinking specifically of coastal paddling in the Sea of Cortez - eastern coast of Baja CA, MX. I’ve done a few hundred miles of that coast in my sea kayak, but am wondering what it would be like to paddle some of the coast in a solo canoe, thus my question about position and efficiency. I see your point about accessing gear and balance/trim, but what concerns me is the ability to paddle a straight line while not having to fight a boat loaded with gear and I thought the position in the boat could make a difference (though currents and wind would obviously add to the equation)…

Sure your position matters

– Last Updated: Oct-01-09 11:10 PM EST –

When beating upwind the most efficient corrective strokes are directed to the bow. Bow trimmed a little heavy keeps you from getting blown around too.

Going downwind? Stern heavy with corrective strokes directed at the stern is the most helpful.

So the best compromise is being in the middle. Sort of. Almost all solo seats are just aft of the middle to keep a neutral trim when empty.

A sliding seat can be a real help on open waters as well as a spray cover fore and aft.

I usually keep my camping pack in the stern but snugged up to just aft of the seat. That pack has gear I do not need on the water.

Other stuff that I might need underway is in the bow with things I may need the most close to me. That makes them easiest to reach.

Good question...I dont have a sea kayak anymore and when I switched to canoe I had to think alot more about the effects of wind. With the yak it was more a matter of what would fit where through what hatch.

I am no expert, but if it was me
I would enjoy paddling from the stern with the canoe trimmed by the gear much more than paddling from the center, and there is no way I would want it bow heavy.

I know when I paddle a tandem solo that is the way I always enjoy it.



Does it also not depend on the design
of the solo canoe? In my experience with 3 canoes I have owned is that they respond differently depending on how much weight is where. My present canoe a Hemlock Kestrel does not mind a heavier load at stern. The others like a more even trim fore and aft.

Kayamedic has offered very good advice above. I think it’s best to practice loading the boat and testing to see which configuration works for your boat and keeping in mind that you will need one piece of gear that you can move easily fore and aft depending on conditions to trim your boat (e.g, a gallon of water).

how’s your canoe roll ?
I’d say there is a big difference between paddling a tandem from the bow seat reversed, and moving a seat (or just moving the paddler)in a solo rearward.

Tandems are wider and more stable - you sit in a solo 2/3rds or 3/4th of the way back from the bow and you’ll be really unstable.

I once paddled tandem in my solo MR Independence - I got in first, in teh stern - it was quite a challenge to keep the boat steady while the bow paddler got in, for that reason, that you wind up sitting at a narrower point int eh boat, and the hull configeration is a lot rounder near the ends then the center where a normal seat is positioned - the more rocker the solo has, the worst that would be.

don’t think any agency’s watching you

– Last Updated: Oct-02-09 11:44 AM EST –

I was never afraid of imprisonment from just "winging it" on ponds or lakes to see what works.... Get the trim right, experiment, and enjoy the outdoors.

Solo Trim
Most of us want to trim our solo so it functions perfectly empty. This means a seat ~5 inches aft of center on a symmetrical boat if we’re kneeling, ~ half that if we’re sitting and using a bent. Swede form boats want their seats an inch or so further aft than that. The slightly aft of center position gives us control of both bow and stern if the hull has enough rocker, and places the movable load, the paddler, in ~ the widest and most stable position, near center.

On big trips, we place gear fore and aft to maintian that “neutral feel” where we control both ends of the hull, but we’ll, maybe, put a little more weight forward if we’re paddling into a stiff breeze. maybe weight aft somewhat if the wind’s trailing us.

To mount a solo seat more aft causes instability 'cause we’re in one of those skinny quarters, and is well aft, pretty much surrenders control of the bow to prayer. There is some debate as to the efficacy of those prayers on boat control.

The other negative if a far aft seat in a solo hull is that the thing won’t paddle well bare; we’ve kinda solved a one situation issue by compromising the balance of the boats time on water.

No way…
that I’d want the seat very far behind center, especially if paddling flatwater. As others have said, the further away from the center you get on a solo canoe, the more unstable the canoe is, and the more corrective strokes you have to make to keep it straight. I am usually fishing from my solos on moving water and I don’t kneel except on rare occasions, but I want my solo seat placement to be where the front edge of the seat is very close to the center. That way your weight is in the widest part of the canoe and you’re the most stable. And the canoe tracks the best, assuming you have it trimmed very close to level from front to rear.

seat in middle
trim it level. Put gear you will use often in front.(stove, water, some food,etc) Put evening gear in back. (Tent, tarp, cooler full of beer, etc) Trim it level with the remainder of your stuff. I like food in back, water up front, and then put my lunch meal in front with me. Rain coat goes beneath my seat.

My 2cents worth.
Trim you canoe with gear fore & aft, leaving enough space amidships to scoot yourself about 1 foot fore & aft and yet still keep the ends as light as possible. Thus, with you using your weight as the fulcrum, you can move forward in head winds, abaft amidships with a stern wind. May I suggest air bags in both the bow & stern ends in case of dicy situations that might bring water into your canoe.

I also suggest using a large (16 ft. min.) tandem rather than a solo as they will be more forgiving in rough seas. Moderate to heavy rocker & a shallow vee-bottom hull are imperative. Your Mad River fits the bill.

Point of order Charlie:
Prayers do not work in a solo boat unless one is kneeling.