"Tacking" a Canoe in the Wind???

I had seen a post once where someone described the ability to “tack” a canoe in the wind.

I am not a sailor so I don’t really know what that means. A sailor friend of mine told me it is how you get your canoe to sail essentially up wind (at a slight angle) by using the said as a “wing”. Can’t see how this applies to a canoe.

I imagine that it is referring to someone lean the canoe such that the open end of the canoe acts like a sail…not sure.

Can someone please explain?



Same principle
as a saiboat – if you can’t go dead upwind, go at 45 degree (Or less if you can) angles both port and starboard to the wind for the same amount of time each. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to make headway in most cases.

This also works for kayaks that weathercock when the rudder or skeg is broken, except that you are tacking across a beam wind.

It’s called ferrying

– Last Updated: May-17-09 10:41 AM EST –

Set a range (keep two objects in line with each other) halfway between oncoming force (wind or current) and where you want to go. Also called a vector.

A little different in a sailboat because the keel allows you to head more upwind.

Sort of …
It seems to me that would be of limited value to any craft without a keel to prevent leeway, or drifting downwind:


Ferrying, on the other hand, as doggedudu describes, is a very effective way to prevent leeway, either in wind or in currents. Here’s a good write-up:


Having paddled both canoes and kayaks, I can say that because of reduced windage and increased ‘keelage’(?), a sea kayak will make better use of ferrying than will a canoe, with its high sides and flat bottom. But it can still be done, and will certainly make up- or crosswind progress easier.

Good Luck!



Hi Matt :

Tacking is a way to sail against the wind. Although some canoes are rigged with sails, this term has been borrowed to describe a method of “paddling” against the wind as well. Forget all about “sails” and think of “tacking” simply as a zigzag pattern toward a destination against the wind. First, when “tacking” (paddling) against the wind, a great help, when possible is to weight the bow to improve course keeping. Then begin heading toward your destination in a direction that is a bit of an angle to the wind direction and thus the destination. Paddling exclusively on the side opposite the wind direction (using corrective strokes) will assist in tracking, as the wind will help negate yaw and this allows less correction on each stroke. The strength of the wind will dictate how many strokes you will take before switching the angle and paddling sides, but one can quickly develop a sense of this. In this manner one can be much more effective against the wind and maintain a general course albeit in a zigzag pattern. Hope this helps.


We have to do it every year in the …
Adirondack 90 miler on Blue Mountain Lake.

It is simply when the wind is quartering very strong at you from the front left or right, you will work yourself to death trying to make headway, so instead you turn (tack) into )the wind and paddle straight into it for several hundred feet or so, which is much easier, and then tack back the direction you were originally going letting the wind help a bit as you are still paddling forward.

This is repeated until you are out of the bitchey zone, and can just paddle straight on.



It’s an illustion

– Last Updated: May-17-09 3:19 PM EST –

I've done numerous careful observations with a GPS, and have also done the vector analysis. I did the vector analysis after the last time this topic came up. Your canoe gives the impression of extra speed because the wind IS pushing it through the water, but it's in a dirction that does not help you (you feel and hear the sideways motion - that's the motion that does not help you. Your reduced paddling effort is because of what Jackl describes in his post, and that effect is very real but it is not because the downwind force of the wind has been somehow converted to an upwind propulsive force - you are still fighting the wind, but to a lesser degree, and that's not tacking).

Vector analysis of how a sailboat works when tacking into the wind is incredibly simply. There is no way to misunderstand what forces are involved and in what way. Vector analysis shows that the only way you can sail in a direction OTHER than at least partly downwind is for the surface of the sail and the water-contact surface of your boat to be aligned at different angles from each other. In a canoe, these angles are the same, and the force of the wind cannot be counteracted by the force of water against the hull to create a resulting force in an upwind direction. Imagine trying to ice-skate by pushing backward against the skates while the runners are aligned very closely in a front-to-back position and this might be easier to picture in you mind. This whole idea of the canoe acting as a "wing" ignores the fact that a wing functions when an external energy source pushes it through a fluid medium (on a non-powered glider, this force is gravity), and the lift of the wing NEVER is applied in a direction which supplements the force of propulsion, it can only create resistance to the force of propulsion (for anything else to be true it would be a perpetual-motion machine, a concept that a lot of people just don't understand). You can use the water to resist the force that "drives" the wing, but then you are back to the need to create the ability to have a different alignment of boat-in-water from sail-in-wind, and for THAT, you need a sail that is separate from your boat!

Anyone who says this works, draw a diagram of the forces involved and send it to me, or better still, to your local high-school physics teacher.

That works but it is not sailing - It is
simply a way of presenting less profile for the wind to grab on to. That’s a very real advantage, but you are not using the wind to provide “forward” power. You are just moving at a chosen angle to the wind which results in less resistance to forward motion.

I’m not disagreeing with you Jack, I’m just pointing out that this is not “tacking” in a sailboat sense.

Regarding that stuff

– Last Updated: May-17-09 2:48 PM EST –

The keel functions as the primary part of the boat which "grabs" the water as I describe in my post below. The keel and sail are never aligned in the same plane, as I describe below, because they must be "misaligned" in order for the force of the wind on the sail and the force of water on the keel/boat to result in a net force in a forward direction when the boat is aimed upwind to some degree (when your direction of travel has a downwind component, this isn't necessary, but we ARE talking about tacking upwind in this thread, so this little bit of mechanics is critical).

Ferrying to correct your course against a current that is not aligned with your desired direction of travel works with any boat. Your boat need not "grab" the water in any way (compensating for a crosswind is a different matter, but strictly speaking, that's not ferrying). Your boat is moving in a straight line through the water just as when paddling on a lake. However, what's different in this case, is that "somebody is moving the lake while you are on it", and you must compensate for that by "aiming off-course". It's like a bird flying crosswise to the wind - He is "aimed" toward a point that is well upwind of his destination, but even so, he is flying "straight ahead" through the air that supports him.

River ferrying CAN be different for very short periods. If you can suddenly enter a swift-water zone, you CAN rely on the way your boat "grips" the water for a short time, creating a "jet ferry" that shoots you across the current in a cross-wise direction relative to your actual heading. In this case your boat is acting as a wing, with the necessary external force that makes a wing function (see my post below) being the boat's own momentum! The current can't accelerate the boat up to the same speed of the current instantly - it takes a few seconds. During those few seconds, the boat's momentum provides the needed resistance against the force applied by the current to create lift, if the boat's angle to the current is correct. Once that momentum is gone and you are drifting with the current, the standard rules of ferrying apply and all you can do is paddle "off-target" from your destination (as in the article you quoted).

No disagreements here, just pointing out the applicability, or lack of, to the topic. It's good illustrative information either way.

Just What Jack Said
But it has nothing to do with sailing.

When you are quartering the wind you can waste way too much energy just trying to hold your course.

Depending on conditions it can be much easier to paddle straight up into the wind, then paddle at 90 degrees to the wind, than it is to paddle at 45 degrees to the wind.


good technique, better with weight shift
I’ve never heard this called tacking, in fact it’s kind of the opposite of tacking (heading directly into the wind as opposed to feeling your way around the edges), but it’s definitely a good technique.

You can make it even better by shifting your COG forward of center and lowering your body’s profile to the wind. An easy way to do this, if you’re in a canoe and sitting, is to get up out of your seat and kneel in front of it. With your weight forward, if the wind is strong enough you no longer need to steer, because your boat will “weathercock” and keep it’s head into the wind. Thus you can drop the wasteful tail of the J-stroke, and you can paddle on whatever side is most comfortable and most powerful.

I wasn’t talking about sailing
I was talking about the term “tacking” as applied to zig-zagging in a canoe.

If others want to talk about using the wind for sailing I know that is different, but I was refeering to the OP’s post.

This is a paddlers forum, not a sailing one!



so basically…
it is just ferrying across the wind it seems. Simple concept just like in kayaking.

The term implies that there is some sort of “sail” effect going on. I thought perhaps there was some sort of difference in a canoe vice kayak given the much greater surface exposed to the wind and open hull.


The Original Poster was referreing…

– Last Updated: May-18-09 8:12 AM EST –

... to a discussion here a few weeks ago where someone claimed you that you really CAN use the wind "to your advantage" when going upwind the same way as a sailboat does when tacking.

As I tried to explain before, I do realize that YOU understand that there's a huge difference between reducing the degree to which the wind hinders your forward progress when going against it, and actually harnessing that same wind to provide forward power. However, it is very clear that the original poster really was asking if it is possible to sail upwind without a sail by his reference to the previous discussion and by the way he explained his interpretation of the process of "tacking". So yes, your use of the word "tacking" in place of "zig-zagging" really did warrant clarification, but I didn't mean to ruffle your feathers.

Paddling Upwind in a Blow - Solo
I always liked this article. Some good pointers in here:


Good Article
It does alude to “sailing” the canoe. But it sounds like even the author does not quite understand how that works.

When I solo my unloaded Explorer it does seem easier to handle heeled over pretty hard. Not sure I’d care to try that loaded or in a solo hull on rough water though. I paddle my solos flat except to turn.

Trimming the boat a bit bow heavy as mentioned does work quite well in the wind. That is the primary reason I like a sliding seat in a solo.


that is a good article
but one must keep in mind that it is all about paddling a tandem canoe solo by use of a standing heel. This puts a good deal more surface area above water level and calls for some different techniques than a true solo canoe or tandem with two paddlers paddled at trim.


I’ll believe the “sailing upwind” …

– Last Updated: May-18-09 12:43 PM EST –

... thing when I see it explained by someone who actually comprehends what is happening when the wind blows against the boat and can explain it in terms of actual forces, rather than only based on how it "feels". Until then, I believe the "feeling" of sailing upwind is just the result of needing substantially less effort to paddle against the wind when everything about your heading, trim, and lean is optimal for *reducing* the negative effect of the wind to the greatest practical degree (sailing upwind means you actually benefit from the wind, and maintaining nothing more than the right heading would eliminate the need for power strokes. Steering/"gripping" strokes is all that would be needed). To actually get "sucked upwind" as the auther states, in a boat with no pronounced keel (canoes go sideways almost as easily as they go forward) is a perpetual motion machine, because lift always comes at a price. On airplanes, that price is engine power, on gliders that price is gravity and the need to constantly expend energy by "falling" through the air (altitude is gained in a glider when an updraft rises faster than the glider's rate of fall, but gravity is still doing the work), and on sailboats that price is the resisting force of the hull in the water which will match the force applied by the wind on the sail, and thus keep the boat anchored in-place against being driven perpendicular to the orientation of the sail (that's the reason for the keel, and that's the reason the keel must be at a different angle from the sail for the boat to move upwind), and I don't see this happening in a keel-less boat which sideslips as effortlessly as a canoe does. To me, the mere fact that a canoe will sideslip under wind power more rapidly than it can be driven forward or backward by the wind is proof that the hull completely lacks the ability to "pay the price" for the lift that would be needed to sail upwind. I have no doubt that Omar Stringer had amazing skills, but making the most of all aspects of boat control could easily "feel" like more than it is. I need an explanation that shows how this works with some degree of quantifaction of the forces being experienced by the boat. It is so easy to illustrate, with vectors, the forces that drive a sail boat upwind that I can't believe there isn't SOMEBODY here with the ability to draw the vectors which show HOW it works for a sail-less canoe, unless the canoe isn't really sailing upwind!