How to properly balance a canoe

Joined
Jul 27, 2013
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Hey guys, I'm new to tripping and have a question that has been pestering me all winter. How do you properly balance your load with 2 people and gear for a weeklong trip? Is there any tips or tricks I need to know?

thanks, Alex
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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Raymond, ME
So it's level. As the bow paddler is usually lighter than the stern put heavier items toward the bow.

Its very frustrating to go upwind with a lightly weighted bow wavering all over the place. Leave room to adjust your gear because going downwind you want to be stern heavy.

Start with level trim and later consider the tweaking.. One moment you can be going upwind and the next down. If the trim is level you really don't have to rearrange.
 
Joined
Feb 29, 2012
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If I'm paddling tandem, a lot depends on what our weights are and how heavy is our gear.
I'm a welterweight, and most paddling partners are a few weight classes up.
Also, my gear tends to be lightweight.
So, we put the heavier pack near me, and my lighter pack nearer to the heavier partner.
Then we adjust for wind as YC says upthread...
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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Hi Alex, As I rarely paddle by a large store window where I can see the reflection of how my canoe is doing, I bought a little device: At most large RV stores they sell a stick on thing with a arc of glass tubing that shows how level the RV (or what ever) is. Now, in the case of a canoe, you've got to get the canoe level and then stick on the little angle indicator. The foam backed adhesive, given to mount it with, is very aggressive so just be sure that you do in fact want it there before you press it down.
When I first got the indicator for my canoe I was dubious if it would last (what with being glass and all) But I tucked it up just under the gunnel handy to where I paddle from.

I've read how some adjust the load in the canoe by pulling or pushing it back and forth to adjust the trim. It sure sounds good but I bring way too much crap-e-ola and there isn't any extra room to slide things. By default I settle for a slightly bow up condition and hope for the best.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
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1. Don't fill your canoe. It may be tempting to bring lots of gear because after all you are floating all that stuff. Think more like a backpacker, even a light weight set of gear. Maybe an exception could be more fresh food, but that's about it. Then you can move your gear around - fore and aft.
2. Then more weight towards where the wind is coming from for a weater vane effect, less if you are at paddling 45° form the wind direction. For slow moving very twisty streams - going upstream weight aft, down stream weight forward.
3. And for a loaded canoe in white water weight more forward, I'm always back paddling and using back ferries back and forth across the river - with the most experienced person in the bow position. This is a great way to travel down stream all you have to do is point the canoe where you don't want to go, heck it's human nature to want to look at "that big rock" you don't want to hit, and with the back paddle - ferry technique you won't hit that rock AND you will be traveling down river at a slower pace than the current so you will have more time to see the spots you want to avoid. You will not be the fastest one one the river but ..... are you racing?
The best example of what not to do was observed by me in class II I heard the stearn man yelling over the rapids "DIG (name omitted to protect the innocent) DIG COME ON DIG" then came the big thud as they hit the rock dead on the full ramming speed - not a pretty sight. Stern paddler could not see where they were going at high speed.
Obviously you do have to paddle hard forward some times but only to get through a hole quickly or to enter the stream.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2011
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Aberdeen, MD
I find it's trickier to do all this solo than tandem, as I prefer to single portage everything (in one big bag) and it helps to balance things when you have a couple bags... the up side is that you are in the middle, or just aft of the middle, and can pull or push that single bag in front of you so that it balances. I've used logs and rocks too, when it was windy and I needed to add weight to the back, but murphy being what he is, I seldom get a blessed tail wind.

For most my tandem trips, it's me and my daughter. we carry two backpacks and a food bag/bucket/box depending on trip length. the two packs go in the middle somewhere, and the food goes ahead of that somewhere to balance it.

If you use the same canoe for most trips, it gets easier w/experience.
 
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It's entirely possible to have two packs for balance.
Take the smaller out of the big at the end of the portage and put it in the bow. Why add rocks?
 
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Guess I should clarify... aside from renting a high tech solo, I have to run my own 16' OT Yankee alone, or borrow a 15' OT 50-Pounder, neither of which have moveable seats. The 50-Pounder actually doesn't even have seats, just kneeling thwarts. So my position is kind of "fixed", and all I can do is move ballast.
 
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It's entirely possible to have two packs for balance.
Take the smaller out of the big at the end of the portage and put it in the bow. Why add rocks?

Good point... I pack really light, but I guess with a little more forethought, I could figure out a way to split the load... maybe food and kitchen in one, shelter and clothes in the other.
 
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Ballast idea?

Light soloists: Why not take a water bladder with you and fill it up when you get in the boat and use it to offset the pack weight? Then when it's time to port, dump it out, roll it up and toss it in the pack.

I'd do it myself but what I do is put everything in smaller (20-25L dry bags) and then put those in my pack when I port. Once ready to launch, I usually take one or two out and use them for movable ballast. I've actually yet to try this with my solo boat, but I do it in the tandem and it works great. You pick up a few more ounces having a couple dry bags vs. a larger pack liner but it's nothing to write home about.
 
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I have a 36 pound Wilderness Systems yak. I modified it by removing the stock seat and using a stadium seat. My 25-30 pound boundary pack slides in behind the seat under the deck. To do my one trip carries I have a homemade yoke that is adjustable to find the balance point. I just locate the balance point and tighten the clamps down. The stadium seat is stowed under the deck and the paddles are bungeed on each side. My pack rod is fastened under the deck with Velcro. It took quite a lot of time and thought for this set-up but it is worth it!
 
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My approach is to avoid loose items as much as possible by packing in large canoe packs and wannigans or barrels. I try to keep the load low which is easiest in 17 or 18 foot canoes. I try to place the load so that I am as level as possible, perhaps slightly stern heavy. It is true that some folks like to travel slower than current in whitewater and if you are doing a lot of that, slightly bow heavy for those sections of the river can be helpful. But most trips are 90% flat or easy whitewater so I think level or slightly stern heavy trim probably works best for most people most of the time. Paddling a lake in wind can be challenging too and adjustments can be made in the load to lower the bow a bit in a quartering wind and that can help you stay on course. I think the main idea is you generally are best served by level trim that you can adjust slightly, but not radically, depending on the situation.
 
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