Rowing a Tandem Canoe

Rowing, anyone do it?

My family and I have been putting as much time in our canoe as possible these last couple of months. It has worked out that either my wife or I do all the paddling and steering from the stern, while the other one wrangles the toddler from the bow, with our 10 year old somewhere in the middle. We love being on the water together, but the toddler is definately giving us a challenge. We are determined he keep going out with us though.

I’ve been considering a rowing rig, like the one from

Thinking this might make the one man job easier, while the other could be fully focused on the toddler. We would switch off, of course! Is this product a novelty, or is it a viable option? All our paddling at this point is on a large open lake.

Would I install this at the bow? Kids in the middle and my wife and I facing each other at opposite ends? My seats (Bell Eveningstar) are set up for kneeling. Could I just flip the bow hangers around and reverse the seat angle? What else haven’t I considered? Thanks!

I think a center seat and…
6.5 foot oars might be better. I’ve set up a lot of canoes for rowing and rowing from the center always works best. Rowing from the bow has never worked well for me.

A tip for the toddler. Get your little one a bait net about three feet long. It will let him scoop leaves and bugs from the water and really help keep him in the boat. Mine always lurched out of the boat after things until I them the nets.

Rowing Comments

– Last Updated: Apr-30-12 11:00 AM EST –

Rowing from the front seat isn't ideal for boat control, but it actually is the best method when the boat is carrying two adults, as long as the rower need not do tight maneuvers. I say that based on my experience rowing an Adirondack guide-boat and smaller "pack boat". The guide-boats were specially designed for guides to transport their clients (called "sports" in those days!) on hunting and fishing excursions. With the guide and sport aboard, they sat at opposite ends of the boat, facing each other, and the guide manned the oars. When two guides went out together, the one in the rear seat helped out with propulsion and steering with a long canoe paddle. When one person went out alone, he would row from the center seat.

So, you can row from the front seat, with your wife at the back and the kids somewhere in the middle. However, there may be some difficulties.

1. That clamp-on rig might slip. Portage yokes which clamp to the gunwales are notorious for not gripping all that well (they hold well enough for portaging, but that's about their limit). That setup is also anchored to a thwart, which will help, but you MIGHT need to modify the rig if it the gunwale connections don't stay put under strain.

2. Canoe seats tend to be too high for proper rowing. On the recovery stroke, you need to be able to drop the oar handles enough so that the paddles clear the water, and waves too. When you sit too high relative to the oarlocks, the handles will hit your legs before the blades are lifted as high as you wish. There used to be a guy here on P-net who rowed canoes while sitting on a bean-bag cushion, and found that it worked very well.

3. Make sure the thwart behind the front seat is far enough back that the rig can attach properly, and so that you can extend your legs beneath it, and so that when you reach forward with the oar handles, you don't run out of room on account of that thwart. With a bean-bag seat, you'll have more flexibility in terms of your seating location, which might help in keeping enough distance between the rower and the thwart.

4. You will need a footbrace of some kind. Without something to push your feet against, you will not be able to pull hard on the oar handles at all. You'll just slip on the seat. I've heard that some people install a board that's simply anchored with ropes, but in that case you'll need your seat to attach the ropes to (though maybe your feet will be far enough beyond the thwart that you can tie the ropes to the thwart). Otherwise, you may need to be inventive to come up with a method.

Check out other rowing rigs too. Spring Creek used to make one which was a drop-in seat which included an attached framework for the oar locks. This one is made to be used from the center of the boat, which you CAN do with two people but your trim won't be perfect. People seem to like this brand, but again, thwart location will dictate what you can use and how well it will work.

I always recommend using no oar shorter than 7 feet, but 6.5 feet might be an okay compromise depending on the width of the boat where the oars are mounted. If you have sufficient boat width, but 7' is better (8 feet is better still if the boat can accommodate that length). Oars of a good length are likely to have the handles cross in front of you when the blades are straight out, but that's easy to get used to (I can give you all sorts of hints on how to deal with that, and even use it to your advantage in certain conditions). If the handles cross by about 6 or 8 inches, that should be fine.

Thanks for the advice!
Yes, I just realized that it will not work from my bow, because the thwart is right behind the seat. It looks like it would work from my stern, rowing the canoe stern forward. Would that work for a canoe loaded with 2 adults and 2 kids? I suppose a center set-up, like the Spring Creek one, would be better. 1 adult and the toddler would have to sit at the bow, and the 10 year old at the stern. Not sure that is the best set-up either, for family togetherness. It’s also much more expensive… hmm?!

Wife says…
After discussing this with my wife, the more practical of the two, she thinks I may be over-complicating things. She also pointed out that this rowing rig would have to be removed each use, that it couldn’t be car-topped.

Maybe we should just try a double blade paddle for now?

Keeping it simple…

– Last Updated: May-01-12 1:09 AM EST –

Good idea to keep it as simple as possible........

I think that oars mounted on a tandem canoe with 4 passengers aboard would be a giant PITA.
No way would I involve myself in that scenario.

You sit in the stern with kayak paddle.
Mom sits in bow with the toddler. Mom has a canoe paddle that she could use whenever possible, or as necessary for manuevering.

The older kid, would sit on a removable, over the gunwales mounted seat, or on a very low seat, that would fit down in the bilge of the canoe.

Everybody wears good quality pfds.

Total equipment: canoe, 1 kayak paddle,1 canoe paddle, 1 removable seat, and 4 pfds(which you should already have).

Question: If you (you listed your skills as a beginner) get yourself & your crew into a "situation"; who are you going to help?
Mom, the 10 year old, or the toddler?


The scenario…

– Last Updated: Apr-30-12 11:55 PM EST –

What you describe above is exactly what we do now, minus the kayak paddle. Also, the question you ask is an excellent one. One that we all should definately consider.

We definately are beginners, we've only had our canoe about 2 months. We are fortunate though, to live right on a large lake, and have very flexible schedules. We go out on the canoe 2-3 times every week. We are all getting pretty familiar with it's handling. We purchased the absolute most stable canoe we could find, that was top priority. We also stay near the shore when the kids are with us. We are all outdoor athletes in excellent physical condition, except of course, the toddler. We are all strong swimmers. I'm a certified CPR and first aid instructor. We've done remote first ascents, long-distance backpacking, mountaineering, etc. for 15 years. My wife and I have been rock climbing as a team since before the 10 year old was born. Risk assessment and emergency preparedness are a huge part of our lives. I studied meteorology in college, so the weather is always paramount in my trip planning.

To answer your question, my wife does not need help from me, any more than I need help from her. On the water, she makes sure the toddler is safe, I make sure the 10 year old is safe. We have discussed this many times.

The way we use our canoe currently, I cannot conceive of any "situation" that would be out of our control. Above all though, we are adaptable, and quick to respond.

I hope this does not sound "cocky". That is not how we are. Just looking for some input on kayak paddle vs. oars.


– Last Updated: May-01-12 2:17 AM EST –

Sounds as if you & your wife have a plethora of outdoor experience, and are attempting to make well reasoned decisions.

You certainly have more outdoor experience & training than most beginning paddlers have. CPR, and First Aid is need to know information for paddlers in my opinion. Sounds as if you also have some practical experience dealing with risk management too. Hopefully with practice you will not long be beginner paddlers.

Because of my training I sometimes err on the side of caution; especially when kids are involved.

Good luck to you,

Ex Canoeing, Water Safety, Lifeguard, Swiftwater Rescue, and Cave Rescue Instructor, NOLS
graduate, Wilderness First Responder, Fire Department Search & Rescue Team , Outdoor Education/Rehabilitation Counselor/20 years.

keep it simple
I went through some of the same trouble when first canoing with Molly my Lellow Lab.

You will getting more comfortable all the time and your Toddler is getting bigger and smarter everyday. In a few years this will all be good.

Another thing I have seen people with small children do is give them a paddle. To give them somthing to do.

And keep the trips shorter untill the situation gets easier. I wish my parents where into canoeing when I was young. Your children are lucky.

Happy Paddling, John.

I have rowed a canoe for years

shows how I added oarlocks to cheap canoe, with a little extra work you could add this to any canoe without being permanent. I found having my wife supervise the kids made it much easier.