Solo Paddling — Sitting in the Boat

Back in the 70s when I was first starting to solo canoe there were a few mantra's about soloing a canoe. This was at a time when there were few, if any, dedicated solo canoes. The sitting position was to be kneeling, or leaning against the bow seat, with your knees in the chine; moving about was taboo. I think over the years I may have encouraged this but I have tried to break myself of this practice and thought I would pass along some of my thoughts.

Just to provide some context this is all about sitting in a tandem canoe solo. Some (or lots) of adjustments need to be made in actual solo boats.

The reason why a solo paddler was encouraged to sit off to one side near amidship has to do with the size of boat we normally paddle. In larger tandem canoes, the norm, heeling the canoe provided good access to the water while having reasonable control over the whole canoe; heeling the canoe over increased the rocker and allowed better turning.

Unfortunately sitting in this position and limiting your movement has huge disadvantages. It is much more difficult to keep a straight line, the high side of a heeled canoe can catch a significant amount of wind, in waves and current it is more unstable, cross strokes are more difficult, less efficient. Sitting in the same position becomes uncomfortable and may lead to stress and circulation injuries.

Most canoes will run most efficiently when level (no heel) and little/no pitch (the canoe is trim). When paddling straight in a large canoe the only reason to heel the canoe is that it allows you (the paddler) easier access to the water and stroke/body position (although see paddling inside an turn). When paddling smaller solo boats keep the boat level and only heel the canoe when turning is required. In smaller boats adjust the heel by shifting your weight at the hips using a J lean rather than moving - this may not be feasible in larger boats.

When sitting or kneeling in your canoe keep a few things in mind:

Sitting Positions

Classic Canadian Solo
This is the normal position for me when solo paddling my tandem canoe. The bow seat gives me some support, kneeling in the chine allows me to get close to the side of the canoe and gives me reasonably good control. When a small amount of equipment is placed in the stern baggage area the canoe can be leveled out and is more efficient.
Classic [Canadian] Style
Kneeling in the chine of the canoe closer to midship. This is the position used when paddling in a Classic Solo Canoeing (Becky Mason) or Omering.
High Kneel/Two Point
Closely related to the Canadian Classic kneeling position but instead of sitting back on heels the position is up off of the knees providing better forward reach. This is hard on the knees, I need a kneeling pad.
Three Point/Spread
Continue to kneel but spreading your knees across the canoe provides good control across the canoe; the canoe runs straighter. This position and the next are useful when cross strokes are needed such has when in moving water.
Spread Two Point High Kneel - Forward Position
This is a high kneel but with knees spread (as above) - good for paddling into the wind, in waves. Very useful in smaller solo canoes where the seat is located near the middle of the canoe. One of the positions used as a starting point in American Freestyle. Cross strokes can be done but may be difficult in traditional tandem canoes.
Sitting, Cross Leg
Sitting up on the seat is perfectly acceptable. I do encourage people to sit with their knees lowered, below the level of the gunwale. Provides good power and balance, alittle less than when kneeling (see spread kneel above)
Leg out, power leg down
Sitting up on the seat but with the paddling side knee down to a kneeling position. This position is a good power position for moving along. Some degree of balance and control is given up for increased power.
If you want power and to move along quickly this position is very powerful. It is difficult and you must have strong legs and good technique. Balance and turning control are limited. I am able to move my canoe along at 10km+ without too much effort where I am pretty much limited to 9km in other positions.
This position has the paddler facing the side of the canoe with knees in the chine, or in offside heel toes pushed into the opposite chine. Not often used for regular paddling but very common in AFS.
Transverse/Knee Thrust - Gunwale Kneel
Not often used for regular paddling but very common in AFS. Pretty much for fun and show
Just some fun - casual sitting stance - not good for much other than resting knees. Good balance, very poor posture. The sleeping positions is just that - when you are tired and want to commune with nature (or watch the sky), of course taking a little nap.

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Last modified: Sun Jun 30 10:05:55 2013