Solo Canoe Technique

Hi folks! I just purchased a couple of Swift canoes (Algonquin 16 and Shearwater), the latter of which is a solo canoe. I’ve never paddled a solo canoe before, always using a tandem in a stern-forward, butt-against-the-back-of-bowseat configuration. I have a couple of questions:

When paddling a solo, do you tilt the canoe towards the side you are paddling in the manner of singling a tandem canoe? On mine, this seems to be somewhat precarious. :slight_smile:

Secondly, since the seat is very near the middle, am I correct in assuming that a C stroke is the primary means of straight paddling (if you don’t want to be swapping sides every 3 strokes)?

If anyone has any other tips about paddling a solo canoe, i’d love to hear them! Thanks!


solo paddling
in my prism i use c and j strokes, various draws and prys, and if wanting to make quick time hit and switch with a bent shaft. no need to heel the canoe over unless you are trying to carve a turn. careful in the j stroke not to let the paddle get too far past your hips before you “j”. -harry

solo canoes
haven’t paddled a shearwater but i’m familiar with the hull design. i’d try sitting in the middle. if it were my boat, i’d hit and switch paddle it. i’ve paddled solo canoes for nearly a decade and have rarely used a J-stroke, etc. power stroke, sweeps, a few posts and braces. it’s definitely the faster way to travel. a bent shaft helps.

Longer paddle?
Perhaps you could use a slightly longer paddle in your single craft. The wider gunwales of the solo usually warrant adding a bit to your paddle length vs sitting in the narrow ends of a double canoe.

The healing thing can be helpful but I never heal over unless turning sharply. I am obsessed with paddling level, I should practice the “Canadian” style more.

consider buying a book
You already dropped some coin on a couple of great boats. Another couple bucks for a good instruction book would be money very well spent.

No matter how hard a poster here tries, there is no way he or she can match the educational power of a good, illustrated book on canoeing stroke and technique.

“Paddle Your Own Canoe” is regarded as one of the best and it helped me:

Yep, you got it.

– Last Updated: May-05-08 11:20 AM EST –

"C" stroke is basically all I use in my solo's, and mostly that when soloing a tandem. In my solo boats, I can pretty much keep up with anybody, even those using sit and switch. Don't like sit and switch, nor bent shaft for that matter. C always works for me, either side, WW boat, lake boat, or river boat.

No need to heel a dedicated solo boat - keep the open side up.

tips? TRIM is critical. If tripping, have two packs, so one can be pushed as far to the bow as needed to trim for headwinds. Tie a short length of line to that bow pack, so you can pull it back to you, and move it behind you for tailwind. If you are just day tripping, its nice to have a dry bag that you can fill with a couple of gallons of water or so, to use for trimming the boat. ALL solo's will get blown around in the wind at some combination of wind direction and load - you just need to expect it, and respond to it.

I’m an inconsistent heel… I don’t on
my favored side, the left, but I do at times when paddling on the right.

I kneel most of the time, and I have my boats set so that I can get a good forward reach. With that reach, a good firm catch, and exiting the paddle fairly early, I find I no longer have to use any “C” or “J” most of the time. The firm catch pushes the bow a bit sideways into the water, and during recovery, the water pushes back. I see some of my compatriots using long C-strokes 20 years into their paddling careers, without ever discovering that they can get along most of the time without correction.

For kneelers, switching is done either to change muscle sets, or to deal with special conditions such as rapids or wind.

I wrote an article for Paddler Mag a few years back, that contrasted the “Switch” and “Correction” styles. It was severly edited and lost some of it’s nuance, but bottom line, a good paddler should be able to do either, depending on goals and especially conditions. In WW or big wind and waves, the “Correction” style can save your butt. In good conditions, for speed, “Sit and Switch” is good. I do either with a straight shaft. Some folks carry both for that reason.

I believe that for forward and back strokes the hull should be at level trim. A discussion of this is just too long for this forum, but physics and practice bear this out. A solo hull is one in which cross strokes can be done without switching your station over to the offside. If a hull is so wide that this cannot be done, then use Canadian style ( standing heel).

Clarion is right, instruction will increase the canoe learning curve dramatically. Books and films are good but personal instruction is very big.

Both boats are friendly heelers

– Last Updated: May-05-08 12:33 PM EST –

but you only will need to heel the Algonquin 16.

If the Shearwater fits right you ought to be able to apply a power stroke with both hands stacked vertically and over the side of the boat.

Thats a big boat for large people and long arms.

You might want to check out

We are doing a gathering and informal instruction at La Verendrye about three hours northeast of Ottawa on the 2-4 weekend. We will have at least one Shearwater paddler and a loose instructor..

McGuffins book is really good but its a supplement to instruction, not a substitute.

BTW its the J and variants thats often used. I only use a C for two strokes while accelerating to offset the tendency of the bow to veer away from the paddle at low speeds.

Now for trippers its mostly the Canadian stroke which is a J variant with some correction on the recovery.

Also there is a solo canoeing event about two hours southeast of Gananoque this summer

Adirondack FreeStyle Symposium. Very reasonable price great instruction at a nice pace..three days of morning instruction leaves you able to walk at the end of the event and your paddling skills will take a quantum leap.. Not just for canoe dancers.

C- versus J-stroke

– Last Updated: May-05-08 1:40 PM EST –

I mostly use a C-stroke for starting rapidly from a dead stop, or to momentarily counteract a gust of wind or a strong wind for just a few strokes until I put the boat at a better angle to fight that wind. Otherwise, most of the time I find that some variation on the J-stroke is more than enough. The little bit of C-stroking I do otherwise is only for steering, not for general course correction, so I tend to think of it as a draw stroke that turns into a power stroke than as a normal power stroke.

It's funny that I'm more likely to need a C-stroke to counter the effect of wind in my harder-tracking Merlin II than in my other "more squirrelly" boats. I don't get enough opportunities to directly compare boats in the short term, but I "think" it's because that darned sticky stern grabs the water while the bow does not, creating a situation where the bow blows downwind and the stern simultaneously "moves upwind" (from the paddler's frame of reference, the water beneath a wind-driven boat seems to "move" sideways beneath the boat, pulling the stern "upwind"), while in the more squirrely boats, the whole boat side-slips in the wind, meaning that from the paddler's point of view, there's no opposite force being applied to the stern as compared to the bow. The more I paddle, the more reasons I find to dislike differential rocker, as far as "overall" handling goes, though it's great for cruising along in "favorable" conditions, which I suspect is why they make 'em that way.

Thanks all!
Thanks everyone for your informative replies! I’ve been paddling for almost 40 years now but I sure was surprised at the “feel” of the solo canoe! I think it will be a matter of using it as often as I can until it feels like it’s an extension of me (I also have to get a little more flexible and lose a few pounds while I am at it ).

I look forward to spending more time in this forum as well - it is a great resource and an active community, by the looks of it.

What canoe do you paddle that you
never heel unless turning sharply? Most of my solo canoes don’t flat turn very well.

I sent you an e-mail.