seating and stability

If paddling a tandem canoe solo, it seems that the best place to sit for stability would be in the middle. This poses problems given the wide beam at this point, etc. If one were to sit in the stern, or better yet, sit backwards in the bow, how much of a compromise would this be in terms of stability relative to sitting in the middle? I’m not talking about maneuverability, just stability (assuming proper trim). Thanks.

the keel
in paddle test one, would go evenly bow to stern and more deeply than a one paddler weight load…into water.

Keel depth would depend on what your balance physiology believes gives stability without excessive drag.

Major conditions input are cross currents in wind or water flow onto the course over water

And seat height, load weight height. Minus an inch of height for your 250 pound butt yields substantial stability

Simple answer is…
backwards on bow seat is very stable if you weight other end to get level trim. No problems

A little depends on hull shape.
The bow may be more flared and lack the secondary stability of the middle. As its narrower the head has less room to move before getting over the gunwale.

But definitely a step up from sitting in the stern… Looking around in the stern practically guarantees a bath.

Now that eliminates tractor seats, doesn’t it… this sitting backwards on the bow seat. Add to that that most bow seats are canted the “wrong” way and there is a little further wrinkle.

go with the center
In my experience, adapting to paddling from behind the center yoke is better than the compromises required paddling solo from either end seat. All the factors Kayamedic mentioned, plus the presence of a thwart just behind many bow seats. Only if the hull were one of the very wide 40"+ hulls would I shy away from being in the center.


Might want to start from center…
Always good to be close to center, but it depends on the boat’s dimensions, weight being carried, trimming…etc.

Get the most from the specific specs of the canoe. It sounds a lot like you’re looking for some definitive, etched in stone, answer…but there isn’t one single answer. One loaded canoe will handle differently than another half-loaded boat…etc. Length, width, flare…all come into play…etc.

Propper trim makes this
A bit of a trick question. With no ballast, the closer you get to either end the less stable it gets as the narrow end gets pushed deeper. With a load adequate to maintain level trim, the stability of the craft is, I think the same wherever you are located if you are on the midline of the boat. In practice the narrowest seat position allowing level trim will be most stable because it keeps you closer to the midline of the canoe. An example would be a tandem canoe in which the bow paddler stops paddling. There is no change in stability and THE stern paddler is well positioned to paddle and steer. As the bow paddler or load gets lighter the stern paddlers position has to move forward to maintain level trim. That is move to a seat closer to the center thwart.

Agree with Peter
The gunwales at the stern position of a tandem canoe do not get any closer together if the bow paddler is absent.

It is true that a bow paddler can sometimes save a capsize if the stern paddler leans awkwardly, but a bow paddler can also be a double-edged sword. An inexperienced bow paddler who locks their upper body onto the boat by grabbing both gunwales when they feel the boat start to heel will carry the team over no matter what the stern paddler does.

Again, this assumes some degree of reasonable trim. Where I paddle it is very common to see a solo paddler tripping in a sizable tandem, sitting on the stern seat, often using a double-bladed paddle. The gear trims the boat.

you will need dense bow ballast at the ends. Almost all of the time when I do see stern paddlers in the stern seat there is way less than ample ballast in the bow.

In our neck of the woods, portaging requires keeping the load under 80 lbs and you just cant get good trim with that, especially as the load is not dense.

The old axiom of keeping the head in the confines of the gunwales is what I teach from the get go. There is little room in the stern station to do much head maneuvering… very much more paddling backward from the bow seat.

The other issue that no one has addressed is sometimes when the crap hits the fan you will kneel whether you like it or not( its more stable). Kneeling in the stern might or might not leave you with ample footroom back there.

Let me put it this way
Paddler and ballast should be positioned for nearly level trim to get the most stability the hull has to offer. So if you have no gear you will be just behind the center thwart. If you have fiftyish pounds to work with you might put it in the stern and paddle from the stern seat facing backwards in order to maintain level trim. If you have adequate dense ballast (an apt term for a bow paddler at rest) you may be in the stern seat and still have level trim. But if your dense ballast suddenly jumps overboard you will find your stern seat has become the least stable perch in a very bow-light boat.


‘the same wherever you are located if you are on the midline of the boat’…no not true

Moving toward stern or bow from mid section accelerates potential motion from polar effects.

Search and read on polar handling in auto suspension geometry.

I’m not equipped for a discussion in naval architecture or canoe design but am picking on the posters…

Solo Paddlers paddle from stern for psychological reasons I name the Pilothouse Effect. You grok, right ?

Listen……it’s Richard Rodgers …

These expletive deleted command and control but at a lower level than the more FWD witnessed with forward outboards in skiff wells with nets and fish loads: less polar movement in wasted directional energy loss, less twitchy. Twitchy.

Twitchy control, high polar moment, gives an inexperienced paddler more control because because the expletive deleted knows the midship position is for him unknown and beyond control.

Ineffectively, the stern guys are paddling against the favorable touring design turning the long keel into a long energy absorbing log.

Granted, stern virtuosos are out there and off course you are of this group so pardon my dust…

We had a vast scenic singular thunderstorm outback with a penumbra of ice crystals way up yonder…my radar sez this beauty covered the entire south end in Florida, rotates counterclockwise with rain rain rain. From nowhere out of the air and sawgrass.

the reply bar is on
the bottom not top so excuse Spence this was for PeterJ

Hi, daatakoll
I don’t quite see where polar effect gets into a discussion of rotational stability.


If we expand to include yaw control of a heavily loaded canoe we might agree it is easier to turn that log from one end than from the middle.

I regress
uh the OP asks abt stability where in the stern, stability, effective energy use and ,maneuverability blend into one for discussion if not software.

Your post lacks a trackable conclusion but PBlank develops that into beyond twitchy.

Pblank’s capsize is lack of rotational stability and polar moment…P’s bowman has spun out.

So I went back to the OP thru this maze of general incoherency to my opinion on stern paddling

I have zero understanding of midlines and sterns working only in forward …maybe maybe not…propulsion stability.

An interesting metaphor there…Casual pick a paragraph reading of epic Padnet attempts at converting paddle stroke analysis into the varieties of English ( and ? ) is like a stern paddler crossing Winnipeg.

Regarding paddling
Thanks, I’m happy with the answers that I’ve gotten (except for your answer, Datakoll! No one likes your robot responses!).

To change the question a bit, now that stability issues have been addressed, how about control issues? Let’s say that I am either in the center or the stern of a well-trimmed canoe. From what position would paddling be easiest? In the center, I can heel it and go Candian style. I’ve heard, though I don’t know, that Canadian paddling is more difficult with a canoe with a “speedier” profile (a bit more pinched at the ends). Any truth to this?

Also, if not paddling Canadian style, it seems a massively long double-ended paddle would be needed for a tandem.

Finally, When encountering rough conditions, are these more easily dealt with (as far as bracing, turning, etc.) from the middle or stern? If a wave was broadsiding me, for instance, would I be better in the center or the stern? What if I’m just using a single-bladed paddle?


My experience
In solo rough conditions has been almost entirely empty boat kneeling neer the center with single blade.

In the wind one needs to adjust trim by moving himself or ballast. Sometimes that means gathering some rocks.

In big broadside waves I stick a stick a draw stroke in the face of that Scarry sucker and pull myself toward the wave. That keeps me over the boat as it bobbs over the wave . the stroke is the samme in the stern of the loaded tandem. I would say the important factor is thigh bracing. You don’t want to be sliding around lose in the belly of a 3 foot wide canoe.

Canadian style I’m not so fond of. It is fun In calm conditions but not when things get interesting.

no one likes my robot
If you experience paddling exciting from the rear of the pendulum you created from an otherwise use able device, do it.

tandem paddling
I think control is best if you can paddle a tandem near amidships, at least close enough so you can get your paddle blade forward of amidships. This allows you to utilize both bow and stern correction strokes and utilize a more effective forward and reverse sweep.

The drawback is that with a wide tandem you may have to give up any possibility of utilizing cross strokes or a sit and switch technique, and the width of the boat might make it difficult to execute a decent forward stroke it you are sitting centered and the boat is not heeled.

I might heel the boat a little paddling from center but I also don’t much care for heeling the boat dramatically as with Canadian style. A dramatic heel frees the stems of the canoe from the water making it much easier to turn, but shortens the waterline length as well which can result in slower speed if the heel is extreme.

I have not tried paddling a tandem from center using a double bladed paddle but I think it would require an awkwardly long and heavy one.

Paddling nearer a stem might allow you to use a sit and switch technique, use a double blade, or use cross forward strokes. Cross forwards when done in the stern quadrants don’t work as well as when done in the bow quadrants but they do have some effect.

But you probably won’t be able to execute quick turns from the stern. Steering a long tandem from the stern is like the rudder on the Titanic turning the boat. The ship does turn, but maybe not in time to miss the iceberg.

Heeling and Speed

– Last Updated: Aug-29-15 11:12 AM EST –

Good post as always, Pete. But since waterline length and potential speed is something I've paid a lot of attention to, I'll make one comment on that part.

I don't think extreme heeling of a standard tandem canoe for solo paddling would cause any "real" reduction in speed. In fact, I think it is likely to reduce paddling effort for whatever speed you are likely to go. Let's say a 16-foot tandem is heeled so that it loses 1.5 feet of waterline length at each end. It now has about 13 feet of waterline length. Its theoretical top speed has thus dropped from something less than 6.2 mph to 5.6 mph, and the realistic cruising speed in each case will be at least 1 mph less than that (nobody except racers solo-paddles any canoe at hull speed, or even close to it). So let's say the reasonable cruising speed of the boat when heeled is no greater than 4.5 mph. How many people paddle a solo canoe faster than that, and who actually *expects* to cruise faster than that in a big tandem canoe no matter what method they use?

Adding to that, a tandem canoe having full hull contact when level, is a big, awkward boat with lots of skin friction, so I'm sure the practical cruising speed will be reduced (as compared to the actual top speed) more than normal, meaning that the difference in cruising speed between the level and heeled orientations is probably less than the numbers would suggest. Overall skin friction for the heeled boat will be much less because the hull profile within the water will be much more rounded, and that's something that always is good for efficiency.

While all that stuff above is based on lots of things I've noticed when trying to push my various boats to their top speed and at fast cruising speeds, there's one thing I've done which is more directly correlated. I've heeled my Supernova during straight-ahead forward paddling, and noticed that the paddling effort is reduced at my typical cruising speed of near 4 mph. But at that speed, in that boat, directional stability pretty much disappears when heeled, so it's a handy trick at times when I want things to be a little easier for a bit, but is not easily sustainable for the long term. At a little slower speed, directional stability is a lot better, but at slower speed I really don't notice the reduction in effort. A typical tandem canoe would have pretty good directional stability when cruising at a decent pace while heeled, so I'm guessing that a person could paddle that way comfortably, and notice the reduction in skin friction. That seems to jive with what the handful of people who promote the method say (with solo canoes being so practical and popular, there aren't a lot of people who are dedicated to making the best use of tandem canoes paddled solo).

I'd love to play around with these ideas with the proper boat. Maybe someday.

Something else about long double-blade…

– Last Updated: Aug-29-15 11:30 AM EST –

... paddles: Besides being heavy and awkward, you are fighting a leverage disadvantage when using one. The leverage factor, which affects how hard your muscles actually work in comparison to the propulsive force generated by the blade, is based on the ratio of the distance between your two hands and the distance from the blade to the closer hand. As that second distance increases (as it does when you switch to a longer paddle), the only way to keep your muscle effort the same is to increase the distance between the grip locations of your hands, but that's not something you can do, because there's already an ideal "hand spread" that you don't want to go much beyond for body-mechanics reasons. So, the longer a double-blade paddle you use, the harder your muscles must work.