Solo Canoe Vs Tandem Performance

I currently have a tandem, but have been giving some thought to a solo. How does a solo compare to a tandem in regards to maneuverability?

I have no real whitewater objectives or racing, just general paddling.

Maneuverability is always quicker and more positive when there is only one brain and central nervous system involved, IMHO. Communication of intent is a non-issue in a solo, but is everything in a tandem maneuvering amongst obstacles. Seeing the water clearly is more difficult in a tandem also - there’s a bow paddler blocking the view - so the better tandem paddlers let the bow paddler lead the dance in an “obstacle course” and the stern paddler follows. That takes practice as a team, but can get to appear almost telepathic in well practiced tandem teams. There are some canoe paddling strokes - like the “C stroke” - that are really useful for maneuvering a solo paddler but less useful for tandem paddlers, so the skill set is a little bit different, also.

But, speaking strictly of the boats themselves, there are solo canoes that are not particularly maneuverable and tandems that can be quite agile in the right four hands. Generally, I’d say solo canoes are more maneuverable (if only because they’re usually shorter), but better tandem teams can surprise.


It also depends on hull shape, and whether the canoe is designed for tracking or ease of turning.

I enjoy my tandem with a good friend with whom I paddle. It feels great to be in sync with each other dancing through a twisty river with many obstructions as PJC stated almost telepathic.

I enjoy the same dance in my solo canoes, and the satisfaction that comes from well executed paddling.

If you are talking about the difference in paddling a tandem canoe solo or a solo canoe, the hull shape (cross sectional contour and rocker) can make as much difference as the absolute size of the hull.

But if you are able to effectively heel a tandem canoe it is possible to make it turn in place. But the bigger, longer boat will generally turn more slowly. And you obviously can’t fit a long boat into as many tight spots as you can a shorter one.

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IMO and I’m somewhat new to canoeing but not to boats in general I bought a used OT Guide 147 this spring with hopes of us both using it. I quickly figured out both of us hated being crammed in the bow seat for any length of time and I started reworking the boat to no avail to work better for us. She then told me what she really wanted was her own boat and what she wanted was a good quality rec-kayak. I’m a bit older and my knees are shot and I didn’t want a rec-kayak at all and loved the seating position and stability of the canoe. So I started in converting the tandem to a true solo to be paddled with a long kayak paddle similar to the pack canoes I really wanted but couldn’t afford. I tried all kinds of things messing around with sitting backwards in the bow seat and reversing the direction as I heard that works and it does if you want to put a 5 gallon bucket of water in the front. I eventually stripped the thwarts and yoke out figured out my seating put thwarts back where I wanted them.

I couldn’t be happier with the results. For the way we use our two paddle boats I feel 14’7” is a great length for me. Sitting in the center makes for a really stable platform for fishing and the drawback is the beam is to wide for conventional canoe paddling IMO. I’m at 260cm now with a kayak paddle and I’m 6’ tall 270cm might even be better.

I started a thread if you want to see some pictures of all the messing around I did.

I’ll just point out that with a dedicated solo you can get by with a much shorter double blade and single blading is a joy. The devil with the long doubles is the swing weight does count and being farther from the boat they induce more yaw… This will count majorly if you need to put on miles.

You can spin a solo in place 360 degrees. Takes a fair bit of coordination for two to spin a tandem in place.

You wouldn’t be happy fishing from a dedicated solo though. You can sit in them though. Not necessary to kneel. As you know lowering seats increases stability and clearly you are not averse to taking seats apart! So you can make a pack canoe approximation out of almost any dedicated solo. The one difference is pack canoes have a cut down sheer( not as deep) so your seat will have to be off the floor a few inches. Use truss hangers to avoid seat wobble.

You are just at the beginning of the boat aquisition journey! Keep eyes open for reasonably priced dedicated solos.


I totally agree and it’s not my thread and we don’t really know a lot about the OPs requirements both cost or DIY abilities although moving stuff around that is hung from the gunwales is not that difficult.

I was concerned about the longer paddle length also and it requires a shallow angle stroke that I’m fine with as I’m not going for power strokes and like the OP just general paddling. I do carry a small canoe paddle for a spare and to use if I get into tight spots. One advantage to the extra lengths and shallow angle is drips in the canoe are gone for the most part.

In my case I only have 150 bucks into the used OT canoe and a few hours of fun playing around modifying it. It is not really a pack canoe and I call it a hybrid canoe. If it would have been 16’ or longer I don’t know if I would like it as much. it is heavier than I would like but with the weight it is really bombproof. I found with a tandem with just one person in it balance is really important but also it draws so little water I can float thru when the rec-kayaks bottom out. :canoe:

Yeah… when I initially responded I was thinking of a tandem canoe used as a tandem vs. a solo canoe used solo. That was perhaps an unwarranted assumption and I apologize if that wasn’t the original intent of the question.
If you’re talking about maneuvering ability of a tandem canoe paddled solo vs. a solo canoe, hull shape, particularly rocker, makes a whole lot of difference. For instance and using boats I own and know as examples, if I heel my shallow arch Prospector 16 tandem (2,5" rocker bow & stern if memory serves), I can solo spin it in place more easily than I can do the same with my 15’9" shallow V hulled Blackhawk Starship solo (1.5" bow and 3/4" stern rocker - again if memory serves). Hull shape matters a lot. If I am using the Starship in streams that require much maneuvering I have to do a lot of sculling draws and prys and “aim high in steering” as they say in drivers ed.
I can spin a 17’ Grumman tandem alone in place only with an old -fashioned “box stroke”. (Does anyone do that other than me anymore? Stern pry, slice forward, bow draw, slice backward, repeat as needed or until dizziness ensues). I can’t spin my 18’5" Bell Mystic in place at all.

A short heavily rockered solo canoe, a whitewater boat, spins so easily that it requires constant attention just to keep it pointed in the general direction you wish to travel. On the flats you spend about as much energy keeping it on heading as you do in actual forward propulsion. (well, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration, but you know what I mean…) That’s more maneuverability than you might want for general non-whitewater usage.

And maneuvering isn’t everything, of course… when choosing a solo canoe weight carrying capacity, ability to handle waves, and especially strong winds (bugaboo of solo canoeists), portaging weight, primary stability for fishing or photography, all come into play as well. Its personalized. All about what you do or want to do with a canoe.

And congrats bud16415… looks like you worked out the right combination for you. Let the good times roll. :slightly_smiling_face:


Looked at objectively, a tandem canoe with skilled paddlers has more power and is more maneuverable than a solo canoe. They have to communicate and work together. For unskilled paddlers it is hard to make any comparisons.

Solo paddling is starting to get the attention it deserves because people are now able to appreciate the one brain decisions making, freedom, and individual skills associated with a solo boat. I don’t think a C stroke is that easy to perfect especially in moving water. But I like paddling solo and plan to continue to develop the skills.

Yeah I wasn’t thinking paddling a tandem as solo either.

I find in my 36" wide Mad River explorer 16 it is a reach to paddle keeling behind the thwart unless heeled. It paddles OK where it isn’t as wide seated in the bow seat with weight in front of me paddling stern first. I did it both ways before I bought my first solo. I must say I prefer paddling either of my solos when paddling solo.

I much prefer a single blade in my canoes.

Where I find a 240 kayak paddle useful is when battling a strong wind, and yes it is wet doing so. you can do a wide sweep on one side followed by a higher angle stroke on the other. Thinking outside the box stroke… :crazy_face::wink:

I love watching a good freestyle canoeist.
Lady In Red 2014 Adirondack Canoe Symposium Marc Ornstein - YouTube

I met Mark at a freestyle symposium in northeast Ohio as I went to watch the competitions…I ended up buying what was to be my first custom built to my arm length to my torso length paddle. not cheap , but a work of art…

Here is a good lesson by him on paddling dynamics for solo canoe. sound goes in and out, but worth watching if you aren’t familiar with it.
Marc Ornstein at 2016 Canoeapalooza - YouTube

Excellent video showing how practical it is in use.
Functional Freestyle in the NJ Pine Barrens - YouTube

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Is canoetripping done? can’t access it for 4 days…you said they’re working on it, I wish Robin would retake it over

I am not privy to what is being done but I do know something is being done. I can access it now on my I phone ( I hate forums on phones!)and log in. So it seems to work on Safari. Chrome is nada no go. Glenn Dave O and Doug D are the folks to contact.

Watch Marc’s routine. Yes it is show. Yes he runs a FreeStyle clinic in the Pine Barrens and two days of it is on twisty Barrens River. The rivers are narrow and prone to 140 degree turns. Then come back and comment.

Freestyle Symposia almost always have a Solo your tandem course.

Aka Canadian Style.

as in this manual… Pages 11 and 14 outline the maneuvers needed. Pg 24 and beyond the maneuvers and the paddle movements necessary.

Ppine is too far away for a symposium but perhaps everyone would like to try what is in this manual.

1 paddler
1 tandem canoe
1 long bladed paddle
1 knee pad.,and%20a%20long%20blade%20(otter%20tail%20or%20quill).

I never tried latley on my I phone but at your suggestion. I can access it on my Iphone …thanks

and my ipad

Freestyle is cool. Solo paddlers can do all kinds of things. Most people don’t have that skill level. For the average canoeists a tandem is much easier to master.

This is drifting quite a bit from the original post, but since we’ve come this far and ventured into freestyle/Canadian style paddling… Those who haven’t seen this, check out what Becky Mason does soloing a tandem. She has instructional videos for those who can’t make symposiums. With warm weather at hand, this is the time to find some flat water. Try some of the basic moves and practice… its only water you’ll fall in while learning.

BTW, at the start of this she’s doing what the old Red Cross canoeing guide called a “box stroke” to spin her canoe. But she moves on from there… that single handed pry is quite the stunt.
Karen Knight is well worth watching too. I guess, and correct me if someone here knows differently, one of the differentiating things between Canadian style and freestyle paddling is that in freestyle one can move about in the boat where the Canadian style the paddler pretty much stays put. We’ll all note Karen Knight lets nothing thwart her movement. (rimshot) This is from “This is Canoeing” available on DVD.


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