Whats the best way to load my 17 foot canoe for the best trim and balance?
Turn it around
In my two man 16’ canoe I will sit backwards on the bow seat (facing the stern) and add some additional weight up front. Either rocks or fill a dry bag with some water.
I'd suggest keeping the heaviest parts of your load near the center of the canoe (fore and aft but close to where you'll be kneeling or sitting) and near the bottom. (And as Ringo79 has mentioned, sitting backward on the bow seat helps move you - the heaviest part of the load in most cases - toward the center.)
Keeping the ends light helps the boat ride waves a little better and keeping the weight low helps with stability. If you're soloing you're trimmed about right if you can do a proper draw or sculling draw and the boat moves straight sideways without a heading change. If the heading changes, move some smaller bit of the load to the end that moves most easily until you get it acceptably close to that. Once you're trimmed (and assuming you'll likely be carrying all the same stuff again) try to memorize about how you've loaded the items so you don't have to experiment every time you reload. A little tweaking might be in order if you find that some frequently needed item (a snack bag or camp chair, for example) is buried under something you only need if pitching camp for the night.
If you foresee paddling directly with or against a stiff wind on a lake or a large river for the better part of the day, some like to keep the upwind end a little heavier. That will help with steering a bit by encouraging the boat to "weather vane" a little toward the direction you're wanting to go. You gain this bit of aid at the cost of a little maneuverability - which isn't so critical on a lake or large river.
Others will, I'm sure, have more to add. Just hoping to get this thing started.
I paddle a 17 foot boat solo
fair amount. It is hard to be specific about loading without knowing what you are carrying. But as the others have said the idea is to keep the load low, below the gunwales is ideal, and the trim balanced a little to the bow or the stern depending on the wind as described above. Absent a wind issue I tend to keep the gear as central as possible with the bow just a little lighter than the stern for the reasons mentioned. On trips I try to keep my gear packed in a small number of good sized portage bags or boxes so there isn’t a lot of loose stuff in the boat and on portages. As far as seat location depending on width of the boat there are times when it works well to sit in the stern seat (instead of the bow as many do) so that you aren’t reaching so far to get to the water with your paddle. But I do paddle in the bow seat faces backwards a lot too and I tend to sit over to one side, if it is calm I might put the boat on a heel a bit which you should be aware will bring the bow up out of that water and might mean a bit more weight forward of the center thwart to balance well.
I paddle solo canoes that often are that long and on occasion tandems solo. Each one has a slightly differnent “feel” . I would recommend on either to try to get the wieght centered. If you put the wieght too close to the stems the boat will not ride up the waves. That is a problem on bigger water.
It also depends on your solo paddling
style. Probably you will be J-stroking or C-stroking to keep the canoe headed straight, and for that you can be a bit behind the center of the canoe, on a kneeling thwart or a pedestal.
Some, like myself, use a cab-forward paddling style where our kneeling position is a bit more forward. Cab forward paddling spares one most of the J stroking correction, but it requires a shorter stroke with a firm catch.
I would go the conventional J-stroke approach at this point in your progress.
Trial and Error
I have several different canoes and more than once I’ve loaded thinking it was all good. 1/8 of a mile later I’m pulled off to the shore and reloading. My experience is it depends on the hull, the river/lake and what you are carrying. You can breath a lot of different scenario’s into this but until you push off you won’t know if you have it right or not. Time will tell you how to load a boat. Give it time and you’ll figure it out.
Depends what you want to do…
As a rule, if we are solo paddling a tandem we’ll be behind the yoke… but we want the boat trimmed level. Ideally we also want some means to shift that trim even further forward for crossing exposed lakes.
We can sit well back from the yoke, at a narrow paddling station (e.g. rear seat) for efficient paddling… but that means other weight well forward… and really compromises our boat control.
We can tuck our knees under the yoke and slide our bags to over to one side and paddle at a standing heel. This can be great for boat control (so long as the wind is coming across our onside rail)… but is commonly found uncomfortable / unsustainable.
Most Brits settle on a kneeling thwart. Increasingly, the ideal is seen as 12"-14" from the yoke… allowing us to get our bodyweight / paddle well infront of the yoke when desired.
Some take the yoke out and put the thwart 6" back from the centreline of the canoe: has advantages.
Best bet: fit a sailing rig (mast and leeboard) and just sail the damn thing - as it will sail WAY better than it will paddle!