Solo Canoe Speed vs. Efficiency

Here is a subject that I find interesting and hopefully you will too. I think this may make for an interesting conversation and I am eager to see what some of the more knowledgeable people here have to say. I am sure Charlie Wilson can shed some valuable light on this for us.

Speed vs. Efficiency. From my experience with kayaks and limited knowledge of hull design, hydrodynamics, etc., I realize that these are not always the same.

Longer hulls with a longer waterline can generally achieve a higher speed, but I would argue this does not always mean they are more efficient (require less paddling effort) at lower speeds at which most of us paddle.

I owned a couple of long, fast kayaks that were really fast. They were capable of being paddled at high speed….but it took some effort to get it there. Some of these hulls were supposedly more efficient even at lower speeds according to hydrodynamic specs published in Sea Kayaker magazine (have not seen anything like this for canoes) but even still they did not seem easier to paddle at any speed. I found that I was more worn our after paddling with these boats than with a more modest touring boat like my Explorer. So for me over the course of a two hour paddle I could cover the same or more ground in the “slower” boat and be less fatigued.

Seems that “fast” kayaks are capable of high speed in that they do not “hit the wall” and top out as early as shorter boats, but at a given level of effort (one at which most of us paddle who are not racers) it was not necessarily easier to paddle.

From what I understand there are two principles that affect hull speed most: waterline length and wetted surface area. Longer WL means a higher top end speed, but also implies more wetted surface area. Wetted surface area creates friction which needs to be overcome. So the longer boats may be harder to paddle at slower speeds because of the effect of wetted surface area and frictional resistance.

So…….how does this all pan out for us as canoeists???

I will suggest that there are some different variables that come into play with the paddler: the paddler’s weight, the paddlers fitness level, and I would guess that paddling style plays a role with canoes…fast cadence sit and switch vs. slower cadence traditional style paddling. I would guess that makes a bit of a difference but am not sure. I would suggest that we paddlers fall into one of three different categories: lilly dippers, fit and moderately skilled touring paddlers, and racers. I would suggest most of us fit into the middle category.

So lets look at three different boats for the sake of comparison. Here are three boats that are commonly known: a Yellowstone solo (14 foot), a Merlin II (15 foot) and a Magic (16 foot).

I would guess that for the lilly dipper that the YS would probably be the most “efficient” at their paddling speed. The Magic is clearly best if you are a racer.

But what about for the rest of us mere mortals……would a boat like the Merlin perhaps be more efficient for a day’s worth of paddling at a distance touring pace for us fit but non-racers? Or would the Magic still be more efficient for us even if we are not achieving racing speeds?

Last I would suggest that there may be two more variables that come into play as a result of tracking and wind performance. A boat that tracks better would probably waste less energy yawing but may require more effort on a windy day to keep on course….a boat like the Merlin may yaw more but is also easier to bring back on course on a windy day….but then again may be more easily blown off course and thus require more effort in these conditions. Not sure how this factor would play out in the end.

Just curious……


Wetted surface is one factor
There are many paddlers who do not have the horsepower to drive a Magic or similar large skin to hull speed… For that very reason I cannot drive a Prospector well…its got a lot of skin for my horsepower to overcome.

But is it the boat efficiency or a paddler boat match that makes efficient paddling…

You have stepped into a big spiderweb which in person among canoe nuts never ends.

We can go into block coefficient…another factor which tends to put YS at the slower end.Sorry for the short post but I am going on a canoe trip today…the lake is waiting.

I think
What holds for kayaks holds for canoes. The water doesn’t know if the hull has a deck on it or not.

I agree that boats with a higher theoretical top speed (long waterline length, narrow waterline width and low wetted-surface area) are not necessarily the easiest to paddle at a brisk cruising pace. Round bottom hulls with low wetted area and low stability can be tiring to paddle. Long hulls with more weight and windage can be harder to paddle up to speed, especially in the wind. And of course, long, straight-keeled hulls are more tiring to paddle if any degree of maneuvering is required, and more difficult to turn upwind.

In whitewater, a boat that is “not fast” can be “quick”, i.e., responsive to a couple of hard paddle strokes required for some critical maneuver such as a fast ferry across a jet of water, a quick backferry to align the boat with a slot, or an exit into a small eddy.

As far as the boats you mentioned, having paddled the Yellowstone solo and Magic, and owning the Merlin II, I think the Magic would be easiest to paddle at a brisk cruising pace under the great majority of flatwater conditions, the Merlin somewhat less so, and the YS considerably less so.


– Last Updated: May-21-09 2:31 PM EST –

I've paddled a Magic(BG) for a few years+...I thought it's strong point was its stability in rough water, not its speed. Efficient yes, but not the fastest hull/boat out there. Haven't paddled either the MerlinII or YS.
I've always tried to incorporate certain aspects of canoe racers' strokes into my paddling, but rate and blade angle are often not the only aspects that make efficient paddling...even out on the water for just a half day, in fact for a hull wider than a racing...some of what's preached for blade path I kind of disagree with(not a big issue;-)). Ditto kayamedic's(and often CE's) "matching of paddler to boat" = efficiency. Probably the fastest boat to date would be a ~14' I had...shallow arch glass boat very little stability. Efficiency..?, most likely not as much as same but longer wetted surface.

Magic more efficient than Yellowstone
Solo, in my perception.

I’m 5’6" and about 160 lbs. I consider myself toward the lower end of fitness and my single stick skills to be novice level.

I own a royalex Wildfire / Yellowstone Solo and have only paddled a Magic a couple times, wth the last time being last fall for about an hour. I didn’t paddle the Magic and Wildfire on the same day, back to back, so it’s not a great comparison.

I perceive the Magic to be more efficient, even at lower speeds.

It’s been three years since I’ve paddled a Merlin II, so I have no useful input on it.

I enjoy paddling my Wenonah Advantage slowly, as well as quickly.

My Curts Lady Bug seems slow on a large lake.

Wenonah Advantage
Good point on the Wenonah Advantage. I paddled one once for a short time. It was my only time ever paddling a truly “fast” boat. It felt effortless to paddle at any speed. I found it to be a completely different beast. For me though it was not quite my preference because it just seemed solely intended for going straight. I could make it go where I wanted to but it felt lacking in any degree of playfulness and was a little tippy. Seemed like a niche boat to me. Maybe the Magic is similar but I envision it as being a bit more versatile / maneuverable. But I have never paddled one and am only going on what others have said.


Amongst my boats, those that are
capable of the highest speeds are also easier to paddle at everyday speeds. I know this is not a rule that can be applied across the board, but it is very clear from my experience.

“Fast” versus “Quick”

– Last Updated: May-21-09 6:18 PM EST –

I think that's something that comes into play a lot, yet I think you might be the first to mention it in a long time. When the speed vs efficiency subject comes up, I often compare my two rowboats, one of which is 12 feet and the other 15. The 12-footer is MUCH more efficient at slow to moderate speeds, while the 15-footer does a better job of eating up the miles over the course of a day, but at some "price" in terms of the effort I must expend. In reference to your point, the 12-footer is also "quick". According to my GPS, I can accelerate that boat from a standstill to 5 mph in a single stroke (the absolute top speed for this boat is 5.3 mph, so that's some remarkable acceleration). The 15-footer is faster, but it won't accelerate quite that suddenly. Comparing decelerating between the two boats is the the same of course, and I've had a few "Oh S--t" moments in the 15-footer when I turn to see where I'm going and find that there's a tree limb in the water "right there" which I didn't notice earlier, and I watch the oars bend about a foot or more as I hit the brakes and pivot at the same time. The little 12-footer induces a bit less momentary panic in that situation because it stops a lot quicker.

We Aren’t Worthy!
John Winters says, if I understand him, that we humans are not capable of accurately percieving the small differences in efficiency that various hulls provide. Says he’s got the data to prove it.

But I can paddle his Osprey for miles and miles and still feel pretty fresh at the end of the day. In my Explorer (Mad River canoe), the Clipper Sea-1 I used to own, and the J-200 I just gave away, I would get pretty tired covering the same ground. The Sea-1 and the J-200 are theoreticaly faster boats if you got the muscle to drive 'em.

That ain’t science but I’ll go with my gut.


well . . .

– Last Updated: May-21-09 8:40 PM EST –

That is always an entertaining, but totally useless, question. Far too much depends on the paddler and the conditions.

If I have understood your series of posts correctly, you are looking for a boat that can handle you and a load in relatively rough conditions. You are using the conditions at the mouth of the Susquehanna where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay as a rough guide.

First of all, the conditions there at Havre de Grace are a bit unusual IMHO. I've paddled there a few times and never felt that they matched other open water conditions I've been in.

Second, you are forgetting one variable. The extra foot on a Magic will help it ride over the conditions you are paddling in a bit better than the shorter boats do, or at least it did for me.

Third, you don't sound like you have enough open water time under your belt to accurately judge the boats. The Osprey, which you don't like, is an excellent open water boat. John Winters designed it as his personal boat and paddled it on the north shore of Lake Superior. He said he never got more than a dollop of water in the boat, and he paddled in conditions as rough as you would want to tangle with in a boat. As TommyC1 said, it is a boat you can paddle all day and not feel tired. I've put a lot of rough water miles on an Osprey and it is one of three boats I trust in nasty conditions. The other two are also on your list - the Magic and the Peregrine. I have not paddled the Merlin II in rough water and wind so I have no opinion on it.

Since you have already ruled out the Osprey, you are really only asking about the Magic and the Peregrine, but have apparently added the Merlin II to the list. Forget the Yellowstone Solo. It is an excellent canoe, but I wouldn't put a 190 paddler and gear in it on an open water trip. I could be wrong, but I think it is too small unless you are a really light packer.

Now for your original question, I found the Yellowstone Solo to accelerate quickly and turn quickly and crisply. It was a lot of fun to paddle.

The Merlin II I've spent very little time in, and that was all unloaded. It also accelerates quickly and feels like you are driving a sports car. When I took a GPS with me, I was surprised to find that the Merlin II was as fast or faster than the Magic for me when paddled empty in relatively calm conditions. Eric Nyre did some comparisons of the two using different paddlers. I think he may have the results on his website. They are different than what you might expect.

The Magic tracks harder than the Merlin II, but that is something I prefer in a touring/distance paddling boat. It turns well enough for me, but it isn't going to spin around on a dime. If you are looking for sporty handling, the Magic isn't your boat. If you are looking for something to run efficiently at a quick cruising pace all day and shrug off rough water and wind, the Magic will be on at or near the top of your short list. It fits my paddling style perfectly. I like to run fast without spending a lot of time on correction strokes, which means I want to be able to paddle sit-and-switch and I want a boat with solid tracking. I want to boat to handle reasonably well, but I don't need my open water boat to be as nimble as a river runner. It has to handle wind and waves comfortably, because I will be out in them. The Magic gets top marks in all those categories.

I've spent very little time in the Peregrine, but I was extremely impressed with its rough water manners and its efficiency. I only paddled one for 30-40 minutes and I took it straight out into the wind and waves because the owner, whose judgement I trust (and there are very few paddlers I can say that about) said he thought it handled rough water and wind well. It was very comfortable in those conditions, it tracked and maneuvered well enough to satisfy me, and I felt completely at home in it right away. I don't know how it compares to a Magic because I didn't have a Magic with me that weekend.

One final suggestion, and one that I can't emphasize strongly enough: If you really want to cover miles efficiently _and quickly_, get a good bent shaft paddle and Peter Heed's video and develop some excellent sit-and-switch technique. If you want to cover miles efficiently, that is the only way to go. I always take a straight shaft paddle as well because sometimes I like a change of pace, and because I just happend to enjoy the traditional style of paddling as much as sit-and-switch, even though I don't use it as much.

And now I'll bow out of the discussion and watch from the sidelines.

Merlin II and Peregrine
own both. The former is extremely trim sensitive…never stuff the bow…Unless the bow is quite light it will weathervane…

Paddling on a ten mile long lake with whitecaps taught me that lesson or dope slap. I was in a following sea and had to finally paddle backwards.

I have a spray cover from Dan Cooke for my Peregrine and had a ball in rough water on the Gulf of Mexico. The stern is a little sticky and hard to pull back in line in a following sea, but even though the boat was woefully overloaded (had to carry a week of fresh water) and probably way out of whack on trim overall control was fine and I probably could have done without the spray skirt…(though if I had been hit by a rogue wave, bailing and maintaining control would have required three hands…something I would not want to do a mile off shore)

I really just asked this question to spark up a good conversation! Really. And I was curious to hear what people had to say. I have enjoyed the responses I have gotten to all of my posts and wanted to throw this one out there.

On the Osprey…I actually really like it! I have only ruled it out based upon fit primarily. The YS solo I got is so comfortable to me in comparison…it offers a narrower hull with less knee spread and I really like the more tucked in profile at the gunwale.

I want something that fits like the YS but is faster. Pretty much either the Magic or Merlin. I found on a deal on one and my mind is made up (based more on price and availability than anything else)…just curious about what folks had to say.

I admit I have limited time in a canoe. Absolutely true.

As far as my limited experience can tell though, the Osprey is an awesome hull. I am very impressed with it. I find that it turns about as well if not better than the YS solo, despite being a foot longer. I find the stability of it really impressive and find it to be very stable and capable in the conditions i have had it in…up to about 20 mph winds and some 2 foot plus waves. I am impressed that it has only had the bow plunge and take on water on one occasion. It is good in “beam seas” and fairly easy to handle in windy condiitons but not perfect. I may be unrealistic in thinking that there is anything better out there…I admit that fully.

I am keeping the YS solo at least for now…not for an open water boat but for a river boat. That may change. It is not truly ideal for my weight and seems iffy with a load. I paddled it the other day experimenting with a load and I had about six inches of freeboard. Not a lot.

I have also found the Osprey to have really impressive handling in moving water. I don’t have much to compare it to, but it seems to really come to life in moving water, crossing eddy lines, etc.

I would not knock the Osprey for a second. I just think that another boat may fit me better and may fit my desires better as well.

Since I will have a dedicated river boat I want my second boat to be better for open water / speed. I think that the Magic obviously offers this and the Merlin may be a bit better than the Osprey in these conditions. I would think that the Osprey is more “sea worthy” but the Merlin seems it may be a bit faster according to what I have read.

I have a great deal lined up on a Merlin. I may ultimately prefer the Magic but can’t pass up the deal on the Merlin if I can snatch it up.

I buy, try and sell with boats. It’s a lot of fun. I learn a lot, and I end up not losing a lot of money becaseu all I buy are used. If I don’t like the Merlin I can sell it. The Osprey is for sale but not sold yet. I can always change my mind.


solo efficiency
Fun topic and maybe a bit complex. My answer is - it depends. It depends on how fast you want to go and what your load is. I’ve owned a Wildfire, Magic and Merlin II and the majority of my miles have been with a dog…total load around 260+. For my style the Merlin II is the winner…although I didn’t have the dog when I had the Magic. To my taste the Magic took too much muscle for normal or even higher speed cruising, I believe I could outrun a Magic with my Merlin…especially over a long distance. I could outrun just about any other solo - except a true fast boat like an Advantage - with my Merlin, even with the dog (although Kestrel and peregrine are both a touch faster than Merlin II). Merlin II does not have a hard “wall” like so many other boats when you push it hard. Wildfire and Yellowstone have very low effort for initial acceleration (better than Merlin II) and low speed cruising but if you want to cruise fast they have no chance relative to a Merlin II. I have a Souris River Jensen solo 16 that will outrun the Merlin II, Magic and Peregrine with low effort but it does not turn as well as the Merlin II. Not sure if I agree with John Winters comment that you can’t tell the difference but he may be right…unless you are paddling with other solo canoes. I loved my Osprey and felt it was quite effortless but the Merlin II is faster (but does not turn as well)…Merlin II cruised at 2.7 mph on GPS vs. 2.3 for Osprey paddling hard upstream against a decent current.

Both the Magic and the Merlin II are very fine canoes, in my opinion, as is the Osprey. Time spent trying to figure out which is best might better be used paddling.

Maybe the key word is “small”.
If he says we can’t perceive small differences, maybe that’s an implication that we CAN perceive big differences, and if so, that might help define what “big differences” are. I’m sure it’s no illusion that some boats are easier to move through the water than others. What’s likely in question is how well we can tell the difference in effort required between two very similar boats?

My opinion
it comes down to the right boat for the right job.

I paddle a Supernova and Pat Moore Peter Pond with a solo seat added.

I have used them both up on the Wisconsin and on the Current river with similar loads.

On the flatter water on the Wisconsin, the long waterline and flat rocker of the Peter Pond was much easier than the Supernova was up there. I could easily keep up with others without really trying.

On the more active water of the Current River, the Supernova is much more efficient than the Peter Pond. The longer boat does not turn as easily. I have to plan entrances and exits ahead of time even in small riffles. With the Supernova I don’t really have to think about getting it through even the tighter spots. I can effortlessly put the boat where it needs to go.

I guess my point is it is more than hull speed that counts.

Not always
You can take one boat and get a lot of boats out of it if you work the whole hull…

Edge your canoe and it will spin.

This allows you to take a Magic and make it dance around the rootwads.

I get a kick out of Americans in their quest for the perfect boat.

In Canada kids are taught that there is one boat and the paddler can change and adapt.

one boat
"In Canada kids are taught that there is one boat and the paddler can change and adapt."

Anyone with a Grumman can tell you that, but it isn’t nearly as much fun! :slight_smile:

Yes! I agree. …
I agree with what nearly all have said. Particularly like what the last threee posters said…

Whitewaterweenie’s comment very well states exactly what I was trying to articulate in my original post and why (in addition to fit) I think the Merlin may be closer to what I am looking for.

I also agree with the other post above that it depends on the conditions and application. I would agree with that as well from my experience with kayaks. There is no perfect boat of course…but there is the one that offers the best combination of traits for your preference and application.

Lastly, I actually agree with what kayakmedic says as well about there is one boat and the paddler needs to change.

There is no doubt that the paddler is the most important component of the system and ultimately the paddler has to settle on a boat and spend lots of seat time in it. Pick a boat and learn to paddle it…

I am just particularly OCD about some things. Trying and experimenting to me is fun and I learn a lot from it. In the end when I find what I like best of all the things I have tried it gives me more enjoyment and builds my confidence in the boat that I choose. I feel that way about the kayak I have settled on. I also believe that there is no way to really know how you are going to like a boat until you try it and paddle it for many hours in various conditions. I.E…own it. So that is why I buy boats and test them that way. And then sell them if they are not just what I am looking for.

It is a bit of an obession…but it’s fun and educational for me and I like to pass on my findings and opinions so that maybe others can benefit as well.

I am making a 40 mile trip on the Shenendaoh River starting in the morning. Class I and II, camping with a light load (I am a backpacker so pack light) I am taking the Yellowstone on this one (vice Osprey or Mad River Freedom Solo). I will find out if G2Ds comment about the YS being marginally suitable for my weight and a load. I think he is right but I guess I will have to see (I was torn between that boat and the Mad River for this trip but enjoy paddling the YS better and it seems the better boat for the flats which will be long and many).


what about he RapidFire?!
last year I test paddled a RapidFire against a FlashFire, Merlin II, Magic and an Osprey. (I have owned a Mad River Pearl and We-no-nah Whisper, know the Advantage well, and now have an Osprey.)

For my kind of paddling on day trips (light load) I think the RapidFire would be the most efficient,

but I would like a sliding seat and footbrace in that canoe to be certain.