Transitioning to Canoes on Rivers

For several years, my wife and I have been seakayaking on the Chesapeake Bay. We have managed a variety of surf and wind conditions and I consider us low-intermediate paddlers. We don’t go for extreme stuff. We don’t need to go fast.

We are considering getting a canoe to extend our reach up the rivers into some mild whitewater–perhaps class II–but we both have a problem with canoes–we hate canoe paddles. The paddling motion with canoe paddles happens to be uncomfortable for both of us. We really prefer the paddling motion of a low-kayak-paddle stroke.

Furthermore, we don’t like the seated position of canoes. I much prefer the seating arrangements in some whitewater canoes where you are kneeling over a foam seat. It seems more ergonomic and puts your center of gravity lower.

So, given these oddities, are there any particular tandem canoes we should consider. I thought perhaps a boat with less freeboard would be good, but they all seem pretty similar in that regard. Does it seem foolish to put whitewater outfitting in a boat that would probably be described as a recreational touring boat?

Suggestions or thoughts…

kneeling in canoes
is usually preferred in whitewater. You can run low grade ww kneeling with your butt against the seat. When you need more control, saddles and thigh straps and footbraces come into play. However not needed at the level of water you seek.

But the big snag as I see it is your preferred low blade angle.

Even if you double blade a canoe in whitewater you will find times you need a high angle. And yes you will get wet then.When you need to draw or cross draw, sweeps do not cut it. There are tandem whitewater kayaks or c-1s, and believe me, the communication is exquisite. Its not that easy!

I suggest taking a ww course in a canoe. Perhaps with time you will come to like single blading.

Why not stay in kayaks? There will

– Last Updated: Apr-09-09 11:08 PM EST –

be considerable skill transfer, and you'll actually find the change to high angle stroke to be easy and natural.

Of course, a canoe has advantages for gear loading and unloading. But you probably already know how to deal with stashing gear in a kayak.

Take a look at the Liquid Logic Remix XP9.0 and XP10.0. They can handle serious whitewater, but have skegs, are relatively fast, and have gear hatches in back.

I'm mainly a canoeist, but I'm not a proselytizer.

Please explain
"The paddling motion with canoe paddles happens to be uncomfortable for both of us. We really prefer the paddling motion of a low-kayak-paddle stroke."

What is it you prefer about the low angle double blade stroke as compared to a single blade stroke? I’m wondering if you are just doing it wrong or if you have the wrong kind of paddles. Maybe you could get some lessons in canoeing or buy some videos. I’ know kayaking lessons are very easy to find and canoeing lessons are very hard to find, but I think it would be worth a try. As a paddler I would encourage you to learn both the single and the double blade strokes and skulls and to get comfortable with them.

In narrow twisty water I use a short single blade in my kayak for the best effect. The single blade is also great for windy conditions and calm conditions when you want to sneek up on wildlife.

stay with the kayak
assuming your boats are RM, there is no reason why you need to switch to a canoe–Class II rapids can be easily run in a sea kayak and unless you need to haul vast amount of gear(cases and cases of beer) a sea kayak will do just fine—I said an R(oto)M(molded) kayak because plastic boats withstand the rocks better but you could still use fiberglass if you wanted to I suppose–I wouldn’t want to risk a fine expensive kevlar boat on the river though.

Lots of good stuff to think about…
Thanks for all the good suggestions…

Why a canoe…well, we see lots of rivers with rocks and mild to extreme current//rapids here in Maryland and West Virginia. I have taken my seakayak into stuff like that once, and I didn’t really like it too much. I have a pretty darn low and sleek Necky Elaho rotomolded with skeg. I really probably need a spray skirt for any kind of moving water–even light chop and surf really makes a spray skirt desirable, particularly when it is still chilly.

But on to the more substantial reasons…I am a photographer who likes to get to his very fancy long-lenses and stuff. Kayaks are really not easy to use as a photography platform. If I could secure a waterproof box to the middle of a canoe, that would be ideal. Another reason for a canoe is to be able to bring more than 1 person in one boat. I don’t really care for tandem or open-top kayaks…they seem to blend the worst qualities of kayaks with the worst qualities of canoes without any of the benefits these boats possess.

I probably could use to pay more attention to my paddle stroke. My kayak stroke is reasonably efficient, but I tend to have rotator cuff problems, so I have been very careful not to try to overpower the water with my paddle stroke.

Tandem Canoe with Double Blades
Why not?

I’ve seen it done quite successfully on Class II.

The biggest problem you might encounter is the lack of experienced teachers. You may well have to develop your own techniques and learn what equipment works best for you.

Taking lessons and or paddling with more experienced folks can shorten the learning curve for whitewater paddling. If you can’t find any good double blade whitewater canoeists to learn from you might consider learning from both whitewater kaykers and canoeists.

For moderate class II and lower you should be fine kneeling with your butt on the front of the seat. Make sure that you can easily slide your feet out from under the seat in spill. That can be affected by your foot size, preferred shoe, and the seat height.

Have Fun!


tandem canoes
Many canoeists use double-bladed paddles for flatwater or straight ahead paddling on easy rivers, but if you canoe on rivers you need to bring along single-bladed paddles and know how to use them. For quick turns in tight spots, a double-bladed canoe paddle won’t cut it.

You will be a bit higher in the canoe, even kneeling, so you may want longer paddles than for your kayaks, and make sure they are take aparts so that you can easily store them in the boat.

There is absolutely no doubt that canoes are quicker, and easier to enter and exit and get gear in and out of than kayaks. In a canoe, it is much easier to grab a camera out of a pelican box than in a kayak. There is a much better selection of tandem river canoes than tandem river kayaks, and they are generally cheaper, lighter, and easier to car top.

You can kneel in most canoes as long as they don’t have tractor seats, and as long as the seats are mounted high enough to get your feet under. It is easy to glue kneeling pads into the bottom of any canoe. For kneeling it helps to have the seat, or kneeling thwart angled slightly downward towards the front. You can shift from sitting position to kneeling fairly easily.

If you haven’t done much canoeing, be aware that kneeling in the canoe for a few minutes may be quite comfortable but being committed to kneeling in the boat for hours at a time may be less so.

If you are going to be scraping down rather bony shallow rivers you may want a Royalex canoe. They are heavier, and don’t have as efficient hull shapes, but may be better-suited for rock bashing than lighter, more expensive composite boats.