Single Bladed Ferries - which side?

-- Last Updated: Jan-11-05 1:43 PM EST --

In "Paddle Your Own Canoe" by the McGuffins, they instruct paddling on the upstream side of a solo while ferrying across a current. Some time ago, I read here that you should paddle on the downstream side, since it is easier to adjust angle into the current. Paddling on the downstream side makes intuitive sense to me and seems more logical as a matter of physics, since the boat naturally wants to turn in the more difficult upstream direction. Can someone make the argument or explain the advantage of paddling on the upstream side?

In my experience, the canoe wants to turn to its downstream side - it’s a familar sight to see people “blow their ferries” with too wide an angle and go off downstream. Paddling on the upstream side gives you the maximum leverage of a pry stroke to close this angle if it gets away from you.

Also, on shallow rivers, catching your paddle on a rock on the downstream side of your boat can be ugly.

There’s 2 reasons.

But every paddler and every river are diffeent, and I’m sure there are resons for choosing the downstream side (like having a brace there). So, if you feel comfortable on whichever side you choose, it’s probably fine. But, if you’re blowing your ferries, pay attention to why, and contemplate trying the other side.


swim time
I do agree that the blade on the downstream side of a ferry is easier and does give more boat control. It is easier to lead the blade out into the current before committing the bow and the rest of the boat but there are a couple of serious drawbacks. One of them is that if the bow gets ripped by the current and spins the boat downstream, you have no good brace available to help keep you and the boat from flipping to the upstream side. That problem is magnified if you paddle a hard chined boat. The move can be (and has been many times) salvaged by very quickly heeling the boat over to the downstream side and getting on a brace ASAP! The more significant problem I have experienced on a downstream bladed ferry is the tendency for the blade to find any and all underwater obstacles and promptly get wedge between them. What happens next took me a couple of swims to figure out because it happens rather quickly but can be best described by saying that the boat runs into the now pinned paddle essentially stopping the boat. This is where inertia comes into play. You are the only thing left moving in the whole equation. Loosely translated, bring your swimming trunks.

been there, swam that,


Pat is right about catching your
paddle and dumping. A strong current can push your boat over your paddle. You don’t even need to catch on a rock. If you work the upstream side, you can do bow draws and stern prys, depending on the strength of the current. Learn to transition from stroke to stroke underwater and you will be able to adjust and control your angle better. Also, you will be in better position to catch an eddy because you do a duffek on the upstream side after you cross the eddyline.

I don’t think you said if you are talking about an upstream or downstream (forward or back) ferry. On a downstream/back ferry, I did more cross strokes as I backpaddled. With the doubleblade I can throw it into reverse and scoot very quickly.

I switched to a double blade and I still work the upstream side. Several of my experiments with the downstream side showed me how strong the current can be. The boat has more surface area than the paddle, so the force of the water affects the boat stronger and pushes it against your paddle very quickly. When you work the downstream side of your boat, be prepared to slice the paddle out and be careful not to get the paddle too far under the boat.

Question from a double-blader
Would there also be an advantage to the paddle being in the cleaner upsteam flow over the slightly more disrupted down-stream flow?

I think your comment about the ability to correct via a stern pry is the most obvious answer but you make a good case to avoid falling over a downstream paddle that found a nice crevice to get stuck in as well.

Damn, I gotta buy a canoe. Can’t let you single-bladers ahve all the fun to yourselves!



Can’t find any fault with anyone’s logic here but…

If I’m coming out of an eddy headed upstream I’m leaning downstream and carving(turning) towards my paddle. The only difference between the ferry and a pealout (turning downstream) is that there is much less angle to the current for the ferry. Once I’ve left the eddy and am crossing the current I really don’t care which side I’m on and often mix forwards and cross forwards to maintain a good (I hope) angle.

Coming out to ferry on a cross forward stroke without getting blown downstream is one of my big challenges these days. I’ve either got to get a lot better at offside paddling or switching hands.

I share Tommyc1’s point of view as a
c-boater. I also agree with all the points made above. In my earlier days, the big challenge was to keep from being blown downstream when ferrying really strong currents, which were also usually deep currents. Paddling on the downstream side was essential, and sometimes still is. However, I am working on building skill at paddling on the upstream side, either on my favored side or on a cross-stroke, because it works better in shallow water.

I don’t favor a stern pry on the upstream side because it loses momentum. A sweep on the downstream side in deep water, or even a series of quick, shallow strokes on the downstream side, can work pretty well to recover the desired ferry angle. Also, because I am often leaning back hard when ferrying, a stern pry on the upstream side is not going to do as much.

When ferrying with the paddle on the downstream side, one must remember not to take strokes which are unnecessarily deep, and to keep the paddle away from the side of the boat. Finally, one develops an instant withdrawal reflex when one feels the paddle try to catch on the bottom. This reflex may involve releasing the top hand, while pulling the paddle shaft upward with the bottom hand.

Tommy, when ferrying across a jet to your offside, it is smart to accept a more conservative ferry angle where your cross bow sweep will be effective. When ferrying back across the same jet to your onside, I would try a more radical angle, with more crossing speed, and with the upstream edge of the boat lifted. Keep the paddle on the downstream side of the boat, with the shaft of the paddle well away from the side of the boat just in case. Racing c-boats, and some planing conversion hulls, will just fly across a jet, virtually planing without being swept down. But then you probably know all that.

As I read your post I put myself …
ferrying across a river, and when I am going from right to left, I paddle on the down stream side, ( the left)

Then if I am paddling from left to right, I am paddling on the downstream side, (the right).

Not sure why, but that is what works best for me.



Downstream side when ferrying

– Last Updated: Jan-12-05 5:48 AM EST –

First this:
pamskee wrote:
>I don't think you said if you are talking about an upstream or
>downstream (forward or back) ferry. On a downstream/back ferry,
>I did more cross strokes as I backpaddled.

Just too avoid confusion:
a ferry is always upstream, whether done forward or backward.

I prefer to paddle on the downstream side of my canoe too when
ferrying, because I find that easier, BUT I know there are
trade-offs with this. And it is important to be aware of that. Therefore
I try to practice as much as possible to paddle on the upstream side
too when ferrying, to be able to do it when necessary. Often this
comes natural, since in more difficult situations I am only able to
paddle on my right side because this is also my best bracing side ;-)

Third (off-topic):
I have my doubts about the quality of the content if the book
"Paddle Your Own Canoe" by the McGuffins. When I looked through it,
I saw they turn around their bent-shaft paddle for certain strokes,
which I find very strange. If (you think) you need to turn you
bent-shaft paddle for certain strokes, it is probably better to use
a straight paddle in the first place. I know they have paddled a
lot, and can make nice pictures, but I don't know anything about
their instructional qualities and experiences, so I have strong
doubts about them.

The angle is everything
Yeah I know. It’s just alot easier to hit and hold the angle on my onside. Dunno if you read my “short boat cross forward” thread over on Cboats, but the replies convinced me that I need to do alot of work on my offside strokes in all of my boats.

Hey if it wasn’t a challenge I’d be doing something else.

Dirk, I’m curious about your statement
that a ferry is always upstream. I was using the terms that the ACA uses. They refer to the direction the canoe is facing re. the current. The ‘back/forward’ ferry also refers to paddling strokes used to keep you on ferry and is the older term. I use a ferry to make lateral moves, sometimes going slightly upriver or downriver, depending on where I want to go.

Just curious about your comment. One of the reasons the ACA terms were changed is because of the confusion factor.

Opinion …
Whichever side you paddle on when executing a ferry, I think it is “very” important to maintain the proper angle, and “not” lose momentum. I use a stern pry on occasion to make small angle corrections, but am continually practicing my cross forward stroke. I believe it helps maintain correct ferry angle & forward momentum in one stroke; as opposed to doing a stern pry to correct angle & then having to follow up with an on side power stroke to regain any loss of momentum.


off-side downstream

– Last Updated: Jan-12-05 2:29 PM EST –

Hi g2d, I think I prefer to do the reverse - paddle on the upstream side, and if I'm worried about killing momentum with a pry . . . in which case instructors would remind me "it's not a 'pry storke' that kills your momentum, it's a poorly executed pry stroke" - keep the pry a very short jab right near the hull) . . . if I'm worried about killing my momentum, then I'd use cross-forwards or cross-forward sweeps to paddle forward and close the angle (still with the risk of exposing my blade to rocks). As Tommy and Bob have mentioned.

The disadvantage I find with this is the lean. With a brace on the downstream side, it's easier to commit to a big downstream lean as you enter the current for the ferry. So, if you choose to paddle on the upstream side, you've got to remember to paddle on one side, but lean to the other, which is fun to do.

Tommy, I agree, when I watch paddlers who I know to be better than myself, and there are many, they are definitely more comfortable with the offside strokes, and use them more often.


back/forward vs. downstream/upstream
@ pamskee

It is confusing to say downstream ferrying when talking about

back ferrying, because back ferrying always involves paddling

against the current, what I see as paddling upstream – even though

the actual movement in relation to the bottom to the river can be

downstream… (don’t know the english word for that: sway?)

It can also be confusing to call forward ferrying upstream ferrying,

because paddling with the current (paddling downstream) while

compensating for the downstream movement of the river, could

be seen as (downstream) ferrying. Doing such a downstream ferry

while paddling forward (as a forward ferry) is normal, BUT to do

that backwards (as a back ferry) is something that I have never

heard of as a deliberate move – I cannot think of any advantage of

that. I wonder if it ever is deliberately done, other than to

recover from a (big) mistake?

Nevertheless, this shows that using the terms upstream and

downstream as substitutes for respectively forward and back

ferrying, is confusing, and therefore I cannot use them that


It’s all upstream
A ferry is when your bow is pointed upstream at an angle to the current and you are paddling forward to hold your position while the current pushes you across.

A back ferry is when your bow is pointed downstream at an angle to the current and you are paddling backwards to hold your position while the current pushes you across.

In either case you need to paddle upstream so that the current can push the boat across.

I’d stick with ferry and back ferry for clarity.

Ferry or backferry
You still paddle on either the upstream or the downstream side. I appreciate the comments here and will work on paddling the upstream side. I can see where it has advantages. And, since it seems more difficult than paddling the downstream side, it will be a challenge.

In “Paddle Your Own Canoe” their paddling the upstream side when ferrying seems to be an extension of their wholistic approach to whitewater which is to paddle on the inside of the turn. I need to work on that as well.

you guys are right about terms having
a confusion factor. I use the ACA terms because most of the folks we paddle with are familiar with ACA stuff. And it’s one of the standardised ‘languages’. The terms changed recently and even the instructors get a little tongue tied.

Tommy made a good point about all ferries being upstream because you’re paddling to keep from going downstream with the current.

The Bob’s point about not losing momentum is critical, especially if you’re trying to surf. After thinking about it more, I realized that I use quick sweeps on the downstream side to get on a wave. I’m also real careful to set up my angle so that I don’t spin out. I start with a shallow angle and adjust. I also like to start a bit upstream so I can slide into position. The Bob has a whole lot more expertise and paddles much more serious whitewater than I do.

As far as using a back ferry on purpose, it’s a great technique for conservative paddling. Great with a loaded tripping canoe when you want to move over to slide thru a series of obstacles or keep from getting swept into something. Powering thru these situations is tiring and not always reliable. I use it with my solo because it’s a great way to stay dry and relax. We paddle some tight streams with lots of strainers, so it’s also a safety factor.

I really like these kind of discussions because it makes me think and I learn. Thanks!

downstream side
I almost always paddle on the downstream side when doing either type of ferry. The few times I have gotten myself in trouble on ferries is when I wasn’t paying attention and ended up on the upstream side.

If your canoes rolls up over your paddle when on the downstream side (and then either catapults you out of the canoe or dumps the boat depending on your body weight)generally means you were not paying attention to the canoe’s angle and got too broad side.

BUT, these are general rules and canoeing changes over the years. For example, 30 years ago the only off side stroke was a cross draw. I was taught never switch sides to do off side strokes. Now, there is a whole array of off side strokes.