Seat vs. Kneeling thwart vs. saddle?

-- Last Updated: Jun-09-07 1:50 PM EST --

I have a 14 ft. solo river tripper canoe (Mohawk Challenger). 90% of the time I paddle in the kneeling position. I'd like to get my boat into bigger water (say, up to class II+) and seating/control will become an issue. I know the standard answer is "install a saddle", but I want to retain the boat's multi purpose role as a lake, tripper, river-runner; I don't want to be crammed into a saddle if I don't need to be. Plus, the boat is "well seasoned" and a full saddle installation would cost more than the boat is worth. I can conjure up a kneeling thwart inexpensively. Flotation bags are a given, by the way.

I attended a river canoe class and saw a tandem canoe outfitted with kneeling thwarts, thigh straps and knee pads. This seems like the perfect solution for my case since it offers better control (not as good as a saddle, I know), yet the opportunity to stretch legs and change positions when the straps aren't necessary.

Currently, my stock (cane) seat is about 8.5 inches from the hull/keel. Since the boat has loads of secondary stability, I thought I'd raise and tilt the seat an inch or so or replace it with a kneeling thwart at the same height. I'd also shift either forward about 4-8 inches for better boat balance and paddle reach.

Is it fair to say a tilted seat and thigh strap combination is rare because the traditional cane seat presents a greater foot entrapment risk than a kneeling thwart?

Eventually I'll get a dedicated whitewater canoe; that boat'll have a saddle.

Your thoughts on this are appreciated. Just wanted to make sure I'm not overlook anything before I start hacking up my boat.



Just make sure that you are comfortable
extracting your legs and feet from under that kneeling thwart. Try it out on a lake or a river. I don’t want to be cruising down the Nantahala and find you with your boat full of water, and you struggling to extract your legs.

The advantage of saddles over kneeling thwarts is that saddles allow easy exit in a swamped or broached boat. Serious WW open boaters often get themselves so strapped in that the advantage of the saddle is partly neutralized.

When I bought my slalom c-1 from Adam Clawson, one of our 96 Olympic representatives, I found that he was using a rather low (under 6") kneeling thwart. I marveled at how he could get his fairly big feet out from under that thwart in a wet exit… and then I realized, Adam never wet exited. He always rolled. But I’m not Adam, so when I outfitted the boat, I put a minicell saddle in it. Because my roll is NOT reliable, there is NOTHING in the boat that would impede extraction of my size 15 feet.

So my advice is, given that your boat is kinda old, and even one saddle would be too expensive, go ahead with the kneeling thwarts. Just make sure that you can escape if you need to.

Seat vs. Kneeling Thwart ? Thigh Straps
I thought folks put in kneeling thwarts where there wasn’t room for a full width bench seat.

Other than saving space it seems to me that a bench seat has all of the advantages and disadvantages of a thwart but it’s more comfortable.

I’ve never used thighstraps with a bench or thwart. When I wet exit my OC1, I take my feet off the toeblocks, slide my knees back, and I’m out of the thigh straps. Without the toeblocks I pretty much fall right out.

With a bench or thwart you won’t be able to slide your knees back as far. My guess is that you will need to release the straps so that you can slide forward to get out from under the seat. At the very least make sure your thighstrap quick release(s) work well!

I see it this way.
The danger with shoes and a seat is not being able to get your feet out from under the seat. The danger with a kneeling thwart in a whitewater boat is a broach on rocks where the open side of a canoe facing the current. In this situation the current can hit the paddler in the chest and thus pin him against the rear float bag. He cannot come out of the hull, because the lower legs will be caught under the kneeling thwart. If using a saddle the legs would come out and the paddler would be flushed out.


Leave the boat as is

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 7:49 AM EST –

If you want to maintain the boat's multi purpose use, I'd leave it exactly as it is with seat. Only thing I would add is a set of kneeling pads. Assuming you are mainly running down a class II+ river, the lack of thigh straps is not going to limit you that much. If you are wanting to challenge yourself more, work and play the river more, the boat design is probably going to be more limiting than lack of thigh straps. I'd scrap the idea of a kneeling thwart and thigh straps for this boat and buy a good used WW boat w/saddle and thigh straps for your Class 2+ trips. It will be much more fun.

Change is inevitable

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 12:19 PM EST –

Regardless of the final choice, straps or not, the seating in this boat will be altered; it needs to be higher and moved forwards. I find I have more control and can generate much more powerful strokes when I'm closer to center and in a more vertical position as opposed to my knees being aft of center and splayed far out in front of my tush (I have long legs).

It's unlikely you'd ever see me make the trip to the Nantahala with this boat. My local classroom is a section of the Great Miami, the Little Miami, Todd's Fork, Mad River, Whitewater River, Paint Creek, Rocky Fork Creek, etc. I have no illusions that this is a playboat, but heeled over the ends break loose well enough and it rides dry enough to practice the basics. The boat's previous owner took it on multi-week trips through runs hairier than I'm likely to, fully loaded, with nothing but the stock seat and kneeling pads.

The point about having one's knees clotheslined on the seat/thwart is taken. I need to ponder this. However, I'm not apt to paddle alone or on really big water. I have much to learn and practice. If I do install thigh straps, some kind of quick release is a given.

One solution I've been thinking about is to have an aircraft style buckle in the strap somewhere on or near my right thigh and to let the belt "float" on a large D-ring between my legs rather than having a separate strap for each leg. Another idea would be to have a release pin at the center strap hold down, but this would leave the strap unbroken and floating around my legs (seems dicey).

The general rule in my mind at this point is whatever I come up with must be no more difficult than popping a spray skirt and pushing out of an inverted kayak (been there, done that).



Tommy, you and many will disagree,
but based on my experience paddling WW open boats, I don’t see a reason to use thigh straps UNLESS one plans to roll the boat. I can get nicely tight in the boat just having my thighs under a padded thwart, my knees spread by knee wedges glued to the sides of the foam pedestal, and with comfortable knee cups. I have full control of the boat, even during very hard maneuvering.

It is entirely reasonable to want to be able to roll an OC=1, but I don’t paddle the kind of Nolan Whitesell water where it makes a difference.

When I bought my used MR Guide, it came with a Mohawk saddle and one of those aggressive padded thigh straps. I have found it quite uncomfortable. It just squeezes my knees so they hurt sooner, without really helping me control the boat. I wonder how many non-rolling OC-1 paddlers are getting themselves locked in with straps, toe blocks, etc., without really getting any benefit.

thwarts and stuff

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 3:35 PM EST –

g2d's padded thwart system for his thighs is what most WW boaters would call a "bulkhead" set up. Bulkheads can be very secure, but without the ability to loosen it (as you can with thigh straps) they can be difficult to exit in certain pinning situations (like a bow-down vertical pin). This is especially true when used with a kneeling thwart, rather than a saddle.

Adding foot pegs/toe blocks to a thigh strap system makes a tremendous difference- much more control. Properly set up (loose enough so that you can easily rotate the balls of your feet forward off of the block) they aren't much of a pinning hazard, and the much-better boat control they provide makes it less likely you will pin in the first place.

Kneeling thwarts in WW boats should be rather thin, narrow, and made out of a soft wood (like pine); that way, they will break (or can even be broken by the paddler himself) in a pinning situation. A standard seat is much less likely to break in a pin.

Phreon, your best bet for maximum control, safety, and versatilty would be a narrow kneeling thwart, dual thigh straps with quick-release buckles, and a couple of foam toe blocks.

The WW boaters I know who use this set up do not seem to have any trouble with wet exits- even without using the release buckles on the thigh straps.

single strap w/ quick release
Mohawk used to make a minicell foam saddle with a single strap and quick release buckle right on top. This was a full saddle ( comes up in the front ans well as rear) which had a groove on the piece that comes up between you legs, to accommodate the strap. This is a minicell foam strap with a built in nylon webbing. It is very comfortable and works well. Fully adjustable. I have one and like it.

Mohawk was recently sold so I don’t know the current status of their accessaries. You might Google it. Luck.


Sorry, I flatly disagree.
Padded thwarts are not the same as a bulkhead, and do not impede escape. Bulkheads do not impede escape unless one uses toe blocks, and can’t get loose from them to slide the legs back.

As for the control issue, I have paddled decked c-1s for 33 years and certainly appreciate the benefit of being “locked in.” I have paddled a MR Synergy solo for ten years, and as long as I have no need to roll, being mildly wedged under padded thwarts has always given me every shred of control I have wanted. I have frequently had kayakers comment on what I can do with the boat.

Exactly the point I was trying to make in the first place is that many WW open boaters have themselves wedged in to the point of danger and significant discomfort. Many of them are using thigh straps and knee blocks to do what they could do with more comfort by adding thigh wedges, adjusting knee cups, and putting a padded thwart over the thighs.

If you want to be uncomfortably “locked in,” and to roll, without gallons of water in the boat when you come up, get a c-1 ! Why spoil the great comfort of an open canoe just to look like the other guys?

By the way, outfitting is size dependent
I’m very large and heavy, so I tend to be wedged in with less, and my weight shifts dominate even a large boat.

When I bought my slalom c-1 from Adam Clawson, I noticed that he had been using a kneeling thwart, thigh straps, and knee cups, but no toe blocks whatsoever. Adam was one of the larger paddlers in the '96 Olympics, and he apparently paddled, like me, with the tops of his feet resting on the bottom of the boat. For a large, heavy paddler, this is a lot of frictional contact. And, when necessary, either leg can slide back a bit as the paddler twists way around in maneuvers.

Lots of people can’t tolerate paddling with the tops of their feet flat on the boat bottom. I don’t know why I can do it. Adam Clawson had been paddling C-1 since age 9 or earlier, so I guess he just grew up kneeling low. If I attempted to use toe blocks and get up on my toes, it would just further stress my already very bent knees. But smaller people can kneel more easily, even with their feet up on toe, with the ball of the foot resting against a toe block or brace.

I beg to differ

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 11:05 PM EST –

You may be perfectly happy with the control you get from your setup, but if you want the maximum amount of control, you need footpegs.

I started WW canoeing with thigh straps only. When I added foot pegs, I noticed the difference immediately. Suddenly, I was truly connected to the boat.

A friend of mine paddled without footpegs for years- and he swam a lot. Finally broke down and installed footpegs, and he was like a new (and much better) paddler.

Footpegs greatly improve your connection to the boat- that's simple physics. Even if you don't roll, footpegs make almost every stroke more effective. When I paddle WW, I can really feel the pressure on the footpegs- the force I feel on the footpegs is the force that would otherwise be trying to push me back out of my thigh straps.

With footpegs, you decide when you want to wet exit. Without footpegs, the boat decides.

Depending on the type of WW, padding style, and paddler preferences, that extra connection to the boat may not be worth the trade offs.

As to bulkheads, g2d, your system sounds pretty much like a bulkhead to me. Nothing wrong with bulkheads per se. (I'm thinking of installing them in one of my WW boats) but anything that covers your thighs and does not have some sort of quick release does increase your pinning risk somewhat. That's undeniable- it removes that extra layer of safety that the quick release strap provides.

That risk is amplified with a kneeling thwart, because your wet exit procedure is more complicated than with a saddle.

Note, as I said below, slalom c-1

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 11:14 PM EST –

paddlers often go without toeblocks, much less footpegs. Check around. Just based on fore-and-aft control, I am quite certain I do not need anything behind my feet. Those feet are not going anywhere on their own.

The traditional definition of a bulkhead involves large slots which control the thighs laterally as well as from above. Just having some padding around a thwart hardly qualifies as a bulkhead.

Oh, and I can see from what you say about wet exits that you are relying on footpegs for rolling. Why else would one be deciding when to wet exit?? I roll my c-1s. I do not roll my open boats. The techniques do not blend well.

I really do not know why you think I have not experienced total boat control in my Dagger Zealot, or why you would imply that the Olympian I bought it from did not experience such control. And I do not know why you would question my own judgment that I have complete control of my open boats (except for rolling). If you somehow feel better with footpegs, then that's just Dumbo's Magic Feather.

I seem to have the same thing on the
Guide I bought used, but I would not describe the buckle as “quick release.” Mine has little teeth and a kind of cam buckle. It holds securely, but when I lift the buckle, the thigh strap does NOT suddenly become loose. It requires some pulling to get the strap to slip through.

I have seen boats where there is a true quick release buckle down between the knees, on the bottom of the boat. This is a clever arrangement, though it would still be possible to hook a leg in the slack thigh strap. I often use two separate straps, and in that case if they were quick-release, they would be hanging loose in a way that had no risk of snagging a leg.

Usually, though, if thigh straps are placed properly, then one can back out of them with relatively little backward movement, and there is no reason for release buckles. I do not really agree with Mohawk’s decision to pass the thigh straps across the thighs at a right angle. Ideally, the straps should pass diagonally over the thighs, from back to the side, over and down below just a few inches back of the knees. This is the typical arrangement in decked c-1s, and it allows one to back out of the straps with a minimum of movement, while the diagonal strap orientation supports the tops of the thighs during rolling, with less need for tightness while paddling.

A C1 is a bit of a different animal
than an open canoe. But even so, I think most C1 paddlers (except the old-school guys) have adopted saddles and footpegs/toe blocks, or saddles with lap belts (especially the play boaters).

WRT to your particular “bulkhead-like” set up, you have to agree that something that covers your thighs- and has no quick release- does reduce your escape options in the event of a pin.

I have Mohawk saddles with the single

– Last Updated: Jun-10-07 11:35 PM EST –

thigh strap in all my WW boats (3). It works very well. Whether one uses the single strap, or a strap or two over each leg is really a matter of personal preference.

A nice thing about the single strap is that you can jump in and out quickly to scout, etc, without having to loosen/tighten multiple straps. It's also easy to loosen the single strap for more comfort on the flat sections.

I've never needed to loosen the thigh strap to wet exit.

G2D: Do you have any photographs of the outfitting you described? I like the idea of thigh pads, but my boat might be a bit wide for that. And the way I see it in my mind, a thigh thwart and kneeling thwart together sounds like a worse entrapment hazard than simple thigh straps.

If I can come up with solid control without straps, all the better.


Only some of the smaller c-1 paddlers
use toe blocks. Ankle blocks are more common. Very, very few are using lap type belts, though these are more common in converted kayaks, where the large cockpit does not provide the secondary thigh support one gets with a traditional, small c-1 cockpit. As noted below, the most comfortable and safest thigh strap arrangement in c-1s is diagonally, with the outer strap connections being back about 2/3 the length of the thigh, and the inner connections being about 6" back of the knee, between the knees. When they are done this way, they need not be as tight for holding one in for a roll, and one need not back as far to get the knees free in a wet exit. This really obviates the need for any quick release in true c-1s.

It may have occurred to you by now that c-1 paddlers just don’t have the same reaction to a bulkhead or a thwart across their knees. That’s just the same as having a cockpit rim over the thighs. Surprisingly, there have been VERY few drownings or near drownings associated with this.

When you talk “physics,” remember that a large, tall, heavy paddler like myself can be tight enough under a padded thwart, with knee blocks, and with knee pads, that there really is not anything to be gained by adding toe blocks. I have total, no-slop, control of the boat. I am wedged in almost as tightly as I would be in a cruising c-1, though not as tight as in my slalom boat.

There are different perceptions of danger here. You are warning about the possibility of being pinned forward against a bulkhead or thwart, something that c-1 paddlers just accept. I am worried about successfully extracting my feet from c-1s. My lower legs, like those of many c-boaters, tend to go to sleep, and so I can’t imagine being able to voluntarily free the ball of each foot from a toe brace, or even snake the tip of my toe around a toe block in order to throw my lower legs back and free my knees. I had trouble in my open boat with my toe snagging on a small plastic Dagger d-ring mount I had put there to lash in gear. Because of the fear of difficulty extracting the feet, c-1 paddlers often perceive toe braces and toe blocks as safety issues, even if they personally can abide the comfort sacrifices entailed in such things.

If I stay in town tomorrow, I will take
some digital photos. I don’t have a board to post them, so you’ll need to pipe me an email address.

I agree with you that the kneeling thwart and a padded thwart for thigh control is not a very good combination. Of course, with my enormous feet, I am not a fan of kneeling thwarts. But if a kneeling thwart is set, as I think you said before, almost at seat height, it would be OK.

I wonder whether there might be a way for you to have a kind of kneeling horse between your legs, made out of minicell, which would provide enough control for your purposes without the need for thigh straps or a thwart across the thighs. I say this because I sometimes paddle my MR Guide with the thighstrap disengaged, and the Mohawk saddle plus the knee cups keep my legs pretty well located.

I agree that the increased pinning risk
with a bulkhead only holds for a few specific (and rare) situations- but it does exist. Everything is a trade-off.

As to your outfitting being tight enough for you, that’s your preference.

But foot pegs/toe blocks will ALWAYS improve your connection to the boat, especially in the more extreme situations (like a very deep low brace). There is a reason that virtually every open boater paddling cl 3 and 4 uses footpegs or toe blocks.

In cl 2, they are less essential- whether the tradeoffs involved are worth it is up to the individual boater to decide.

I think Phreon needs to try his eventual setup with and without toe blocks/pegs to see which he prefers.