Trim my ride.....

Adjusting the load for proper trim.

I know the trim of a canoe will help [or hinder] the paddler in traveling upstream or downstream. If I understand the prevailing theory correctly, I want the downstream end of my canoe to be slightly heavier [sit lower in the water] than the upstream end. This should be true whether I am going up or down the stream.

When paddling in a group, one can just ask somebody who is not in the boat how the trim looks and then adjust accordingly. But when paddling alone, it is virtually impossible to get an accurate assessment of your boat’s trim. Leaning over the side to look back at your canoe doesn’t seem like an accurate way of determining the trim. The act of leaning over the side skews the result. It becomes a matter of adjusting the load according to “feel”. So far, so good—but I wonder if sometimes I would benefit from a better trim. Sitting [or standing] in my boat, how can I know how the boat sits on the water?

I’ve considered installing a carpenter’s level to my canoe. If I attach a level to the center of the boat [either on the floor or just under the gunwale] I could get a reading of some sort. However, I don’t think it would be a very helpful reading. A carpenter’s level would show me whether or not I have the correct end of the canoe sitting lower in the water, but not much more than that. If [for example] my bow were perfectly trimmed 1” lower than my stern, the bubble in the carpenter’s level would move toward the stern of the boat. However, if my bow sat 3” or 4” lower than my stern and the canoe was way too bow-heavy, the carpenter’s level would still show me the same thing—a bubble rising toward the stern of the canoe.

So my question is this:

How do you folks do it? What methods do you use for determining a good trim when you’re out on the water by yourself?



Small bulls eye level ?
Shows level in all directions and is only a couple of inches in dia.

By feel

– Last Updated: May-21-07 2:25 PM EST –

Ah' kinda know wat me trim is by de way me boat handles. Can't think of any other way if by me'self.


The more time on the water will tell you how to trim. Trusting other could put you at risk by their lack of understanding. I gonna assume you are solo and say this. From your normal position in the boat if you lean froward in the boat does the bow go down into the water more/less. Here is why I use this test if I can do an eddies turn and leaning forward to drive the bow into the turn and recover with the bow on or 6" of the obstruction that is where I want it. If I wash out then I would shift some weight forward and repeat. There is a fine line as in the use of a flap on an airliner. You want the help but not to go swimming. Remember that only keep as many eddies as you can eat for supper.(A little southern humor from rockytop)

installed a small level on my Spirit II
When I first started I was soloing a tandem boat. For a couple bucks I put a level just on top of the center thwart, right up against the gunnel. Worked pretty well for me. I sort of calibrated it before siliconing it in. I used a 6 foot level to make sure the canoe was dead level. Then I installed the small level so that it too was dead level.

If I understood correctly, you seem to be saying that the bubble will give you the same information regardless of how much out of trim you are. To the contrary, the bubble will move more to the high end the higher it is. If the boat is only slightly out of trim, the bubble will only be slightly out of center.

It’s okay to just “eyeball” your load
You are on the right track so far. If your boat is a little bit stern-heavy that’s usually okay, while just a little bit bow-heavy is likey to give you problems unless you need to have it that way for back-paddling (when the bow and stern switch roles) or going into a strong headwind. When back-paddling, it usually helps to scoot or at least lean forward a little bit to shift the weight forward, so what it really comes down to, is how does the boat feel.

Along those same lines, once you get the hang of things you can make good trim adjustments “by guess and by golly” just by moving gear around. This weekend I found myself with an unexpected passenger, the three-year-old grandson of my paddling partner, in one of my solo canoes. I looked at the kid, looked at my gear and drinking water, and moved all that stuff toward the front of the boat by several feet before plopping the kid on the floor directly behind me. Seems I hit it pretty close on the first try, because the boat handled perfectly (and if it hadn’t, I’d have shuffled the gear a little differently). Remember the “teeter-toter” effect: A very light object placed way off in one end of the boat can have as much effect on trim as moving a very heavy object just a few inches away from the boat’s center.

I always thought you wanted to be a bit higher in the bow unless you were heading into the wind. I do have a bud who likes to be lower in the bow when snubbing down stream.

I’ve though about installing a level. In a symetrical hull it would be easy but how do you level an asymetric hull?

Mostly I go by how the boat is running. If the wind keeps pushing the bow around I move forward to get the bow down. If the current is catching the bow and pushing me off line I move aft to get the bow up. If the wind wants the bow down and the current wants the bow up I just grit my teeth and paddle harder.


Throw a little water in the hull. Makes
a great level. Don’t need any fancy device. Learned that from the old time racers. K.I.S.S.



Water in the hull…
I love it! Thanks, Mick.

Water is going to seek the lowest level. If it flows toward the bow, I know I’m nose-heavy. If it flows toward the stern, I know I’m a$$-heavy. Either way, I can then make adjustments accordingly. Plus it’s a free and easy-to-find resource. Almost every time I go paddling [ha, ha] I’m near some water. That makes great sense. It’s so simple I overlooked that. Duh!

This method won’t tell me precise degrees of trim, but then paddling ain’t brain surgery. Once I know my bow [or stern] is down I’ll adjust by “feel” for the best handling. Most of you have implied that adjustments are made by how the boat feels in the water anyhow.

Thanks, folks!


Don’t forget to take rocker into consideration, especially differential rocker. If the bow has more rocker the water will run to to the stern even if you are trimmed properly.