to trim a canoe

What could I use besides a quart of water dumped into the bottom of my canoe or a torpedo level taped somewhere to set the trim? Maybe it would be something permanently fixed to be a full time trim indicator. I’m guessing there are some clever ideas floating (pun) around.


Plumb bob?
I almost always have a little water in the boat, so I haven’t tried it - but I imagine you could hang any heavy object from a thwart or seat frame and observe the angle of the dangle.

Small level…
WalMart and others sell small levels that stick on the side of an RV to help with the set up.

You could just as easily stick one inside your canoe where you can easily see it.

Have fun out there,


a 1/4" dowel …

– Last Updated: Nov-06-11 12:23 AM EST –

...... standing vertical from the bow point , or any other station well ahead of the paddler's eye .

The dowel is removable , just set shallow into a 1/4" recieving bore . The bore is no more than a shallow seat (of your imagination and choice) for the vertical dowel .

The dowel must be long enough to exceed the water's horizon as seen by the paddler's eye from the paddling station(s) .

The dowel is marked (visible band , side tick , or similar method , again use imagination) . The mark or marks on the dowel are seen from the paddler's perspective referencing the horizon line as canoe level , bow up and bow down when setting still on calm water .

You may remove the dowel after adjusting load to trim desired , or leave it and add a ribbon at top to gauge wind speed and direction relative to paddling track .

Objective is a line of sight from paddler's eye to horizon line , and ticks on dowel intersect that line of sight . It may take you a few attempts to get the level line located intially on the dowel (so use tape and reset until correct) . Once established , mark permanently and use each time to adjust your load as you head out . Adust load as you go , alter trim at will , but know that canoe level will always be on that same mark no matter what you carry . If you paddle the same canoe from different positions , then just have the dowel marked (color or symbol coded) accordingling .

It's a simple straight forward sight reference tool you make , set up , can rely on . The bow up and bow down marks should be where you think are comfortable max. to you . For what it's worth , if left in place the dowel can also quickly give you an idea of canoe heeling or lean (angle to horizon) , could aid in ferrying currents .

You need a level only once while setting up the dowel marks ...

RV levels
Second tjalmy - I like using the RV levels that mount with double-sided tape. They’re removable without doing damage to the inside finish if need be. The ones I got are sold in two packs, as I think most are, so you might as well do two boats while you’re at it.

I mounted mine so the bubble read level with the boat floating empty in calm shallow water. I’ve since thought that perhaps it would be a bit better to put a tube of sand or such just in front of the seat(s?) when setting the level since the designer probably considered the paddler’s weight in the design process.

In any event, absolute precision is probably unnecessary. The real test of final trim is, I believe, how the loaded boat responds to a draw stroke placed to move the canoe directly sideways at the boat’s widest waterline point. The bubble is to get you in the right “ball park.” Its also useful if you want to shift the trim on the water to adjust for a tail or headwind or for trimming for different paddlers in a tandem. Also if you anticipate doing a lot of ferrying, it helps to have the downstream end a tad heavy. A half bubble adjustment is plenty, usually a quarter is sufficient to achieve the desired results, at least for my boats.

I find bubbles hard to read. You can stick a plastic protractor to the inside of the boat with 2-sided tape, and attach a pointer or other plumb bob through the central zero point. It will hang down and show an angle reading that can be seen from some distance away. If you don’t care about the actual angle, just a downward hanging pointer with equal hash marks either side of vertical should do the job.

Thought of that, but
how would one see small, but significant, deviations from zero without having to shift from one’s normal paddling positon? And when large people like me shift from the normal paddling position, it greatly affects trim.

I’m not convinced that I could read
the pointer hanging on the scale when the apparatus is facing across the boat, not back at me.

I have an electronic device, from my rehab research days, where a weighted arm would give an angle in degrees on an LCD scale. I think one might need something like that so the sensor sits where it needs to be, and the output can face the user. Then the only remaining issue is waterproofing. But all this isn’t cheap. Watching the movement of water on the bottom of the boat begins to look smart. Unless one’s canoe has all sorts of ribs on the bottom…

Never leave home without one on your tractor or canot du nord.

good point
but I figured on putting the dingus right next to the paddler - it should read the same angle where ever it is.

Most still don’t make viewing easy,
but this one could sit on the pedestal between my thighs.

canoe levels
I have small bubble levels placed in epoxy putty on the bottom of my canoes just ahead of the stern seat. I can look down and see the trim easily. The levels were set into the epoxy putty with the canoe floating empty. The plastic cased levels have been in several of my tandems for over 3 years and have not come loose from the epoxy, and the epoxy has not come loose fromt the hull. Leaning forward does not seem to affect the trim reading. We checked that with an observer on the dock while i moved from the padddling position to the look down position. Not much movement required.


I was about to post a new thread very similar to this one, but was alerted about this one.
I’ve been toying with the idea of mounting a level in my canoes. The RV level is a good idea.
I think just having a small torpedo level, at hand, might work. You could first put it on the gunnel, and then on a thwart.
Or, it may be better to just use how the boat is handling to determine the best trim.
I have a sliding seat on my Wenonah solo. If I’m paddling into a wind, I can move it forward a bit. If I’m paddling away from the wind I can move it back a bit. If it’s coming from the side I can move it so the boat tracks straight.

I like the idea of a RV level as it has less precision and greater range than most precision levels. In a canoe anything with a range of a couple degrees will just be bouncing from end to end.

So far I have been just asking my paddling partner to check my boat against the water line and give me an idea where I’m at. I do see where when I’m seated in the boat I feel I’m good where someone outside the boat sees it differently and having a level would help.

This seems about right.

Yes, in the end trimming so the boat handles how you like it is all that really matters. I put RV levelers in several of my boats and have used them to load initially, especially if I was carrying stuff I don’t ordinarily carry - like if I’m carrying odd stuff, doing river clean-ups or firewood gathering jaunts, for example. But ordinarily I put things in the boat where I’ve always put them. I figured that out with the levelers long time ago and don’t need reminding. There’s always something that can be moved fore or aft to fine tune the trim on the water if need be.

As SOTconvert notes, you don’t even necessarily want to trim a boat evenly in windy conditions. And If you do want to trim evenly, it can be done on the water by using a draw stroke or sculling draw (or a pry) and noting where the placement of those strokes results in lateral movement of the boat without a change in heading. In the event you’re a bit out of trim, just move your seat or shift some baggage toward the end that moves most toward the side the draw is placed on or away from a pry. No gizmos and very little time is required. It can even be done so quickly that your fellow paddlers don’t see what you’ve done to trim your boat so amazingly well every single time and without tools. :wink: