• Happy Candle Day! 🕯️

Paddling parallel to keel line vs. following the gunwale line

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
3,231
Reaction score
1,429
Location
Connecticut
I don't believe in the universal applicability of lots of the textbook paddling technique mantras—e.g., vertical shaft, stacked hands, torso rotation, don't pry off gunwale. They may be useful idealizations for mental pedagogy about general canoe physics concepts, but in practice they can be uncomfortable to impossible to implement, depending on the paddler's torso length, torso girth, arm length, canoe width, canoe depth, paddle length, paddle blade shape, seating or kneeling position, seat height, and stroke rate. I'll probably write about each of these mantras in the future with illustrative pictures and videos.

Here, I would like to discuss the following textbook mantra ("Principle 1"): On the forward stroke, the last half of your stroke should be drawn parallel to the keel line rather than following the curve of the gunwale line, because following the gunwale line will be like a sweep stoke and hence cause more offside yaw than drawing parallel to the keel line. Mentally pictured, that can seem like a rational principle of canoe physics.

However, it "collides" with another textbook principle of canoe physics ("Principle 2"), the very one that supports the (supposed) benefit of a vertical shaft—namely, that the further the paddle is from the keel line on a forward stroke, the more it will increase offside yaw. This is because the further a forward stoke is from the keel line, the more it induces a sweep stroke-like turning force.

The "collision" of principles is that, if the last half of your forward stroke follows the curve of your gunwales, your paddle will get closer and closer to the keel line as the canoe beam narrows, and hence continuously decrease the yaw tendency under Principle 2, rather than supposedly increasing yaw tendency under Principle 1.

Which principle is correct? Many American experts advocate Principle 1. Rolf Kraiker believes in Principle 2. Feel free to opine and discuss.

My feeling is that Principle 2, following the gunwale line, is more correct assuming the paddler in both scenarios keeps the paddle blade perpendicular (90°) to the keel line. In order to do this, the gunwale follower will have to continuously rotate the blade pitch with a little more thumb-down top hand rotation, as the beam narrows, than the keel follower does. Of course, if either paddler rotates the pitch of the blade more than 90° from the keel line, then they both will begin to induce a yaw correction force that can go on to manifest itself as a J stroke, a Canadian (Knifing J, Guide) Stroke, or a palm-rolled Indian Stroke.

The further benefit to the gunwale following technique is that the paddle ends up at the ideal place to enhance all of these three correction strokes with a quick, thumb-down pry off the gunwale, perhaps with a little slide along the gunwale. In my opinion, using the gunwale as a fulcrum greatly reduces muscular energy correction effort when cruising long distances. And it's not just my opinion. I'll illustrate the benefits of the gunwale pry/slide via quotations and videos from recognized paddlers, beginning with Omer Stringer, in a future thread.

I suspect a lot of good paddlers will disagree with some or all of my analysis in this topic because they have been inculcated to believe more in Principle 1 than Principle 2. Have at it . . . if you're still awake!
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,782
Reaction score
1,177
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
Glenn, I'm not familiar with those principles and tend not to get overly technical about things but I think I'm a proponent of principle 1 also. I'm not sure about yah but I think I get more power that way. It may be because I don't need to concern myself with rotating the blade to keep it 90 degrees to the keel. In addition I generally keep my power strokes short and I don't usually paddle from a center position which may have less effect on yah with either principle.
 
Joined
May 6, 2018
Messages
382
Reaction score
202
Location
East Tennessee
I have never paddled with anyone that knows anything about paddling. I can grasp the concept of both principles. I have chewd on on this for at least 30 minutes now. I think I follow more in line with principal #1. Because I look at it this way, if you are sitting in a chair with casters and you need to pull your end table closer so you can reach your beer, in my case root beer,. You are going to physically try to pull that table with out moving your chair from it's prime viewing position of the tv. Now when propelling the canoe, I feel I get more out of my strokes if I hug the gunnel and keep my paddle vertical and parallel with the keel line. This is putting more power into moving my body forward instead of just pulling water with my paddle.??? I think that's what I mean. Plus the further you are from the gunnel in the last half of the stroke the more you push the front of the canoe to opposite of the side you are paddling on. Wife just got up and is talking to me, so I just lost my train of thought. I think women should get a volume control button.. ooh I better hush. Um yes the further you are from the keel line, the more you move the front of the canoe to the opposite direction which means the more effort it will take to correct with a j stroke. We say "y'all" in these parts which mean "you all". I'm going to get some more coffee.
Roy
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
Messages
6,998
Reaction score
982
Location
Raymond, ME
Rolf paddles Canadian style and with a long bladed ottertail. Heeled over he actually does a deep c and its close to the keel line. How many of us paddle Canadian Style with the gunwale so close to the water. Heeled over you can put your paddle along the curve , or along the parallel to the keel line or actually UNDER the boat.

Flat boaters who follow the curve of the gunwale can get away with not as much yaw by ending their stroke ahead of their hips.. Its the long stroke that goes in back of the hips that automatically follows the keel line( and we are not biomechanically set up to avoid that) that produces yaw that we have to correct somehow. Is this a big deal for the tourer at a relaxed pace? Probably not. It would be for a marathon racer.

Its kind of fun to settle into a turny boat and kneel and just paddle in the forward part of the boat.. You can paddle any way you want and you won't get yaw.

Now conversely lets look at virtual Robin in the CT header logo.. In the stern with the moose occupying most of the boat he naturally will follow the keel line if the stroke isnt too long.. There aint much gunwale to follow.
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2018
Messages
359
Reaction score
242
Location
Blairsville, PA (about 30 mi E of PGH)
I have never paddled with anyone that knows anything about paddling.

Same. I'm relatively self taught & never give much thought to blade angle vs boat centerline. I know what sweeps, prys, j-strokes, voga alla veneta etc. are and how each influences boat direction but, in the end, I pretty much make sure my head stays between the gunwales, stick the paddle in the water and adjust (often mid-stroke) as experience dictates. I'm sure I could be more efficient and, perhaps, even safer with more formal instruction but "intuitive" seems to work for me. (weekend warrior, not a marathon racer)

This should not be read as tending to dissuade you from further posting / discussion of the principles that Glenn mentions... I believe they can be useful in a "food for thought" kind of way, may tend to make me have a better understanding of why things work the way they do and might even make me a "better" paddler although, in the end, IMO, it's about getting the boat where you want it and I'm unconcerned about "proper" techniques.

That may change over time, of course. I never knew freestyle competitions even existed prior to joining this forum. I'll certainly never paddle in one but I now think it might be cool to go watch one sometime (most likely with the mindset of: pure amazement of how elegantly they handle the boat mixed with equal parts incredulity that someone would put such time and effort into going nowhere).
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,395
Reaction score
1,258
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
Several years into my canoeing life, I was told that, ideally, a forward stroke should stop when the paddle reaches your hip. I learned to concentrate on a vertical shaft, close to the gunwale, and then stick the entire blade firmly in the water, reaching as far forward as possible. Then, rather than pulling the blade to my hip, I concentrated on bringing my hips up to the paddle. This worked especially well for me while paddling solo in whitewater. Previously, when attempting to hit a mid-channel eddy behind a rock, I would sometimes be flushed out. Not good at all. But when concentrating on bringing my hips up to the paddle, I could literally ratchet myself up into the eddy, and rest myself for a while behind the rock. One could argue that I was following neither the gunwale nor the keel line, as the paddle remained close to the same spot where it was placed in the water. I could go 4-5 strokes with virtually no yaw, and no need for correction strokes.

I have also used this technique when paddling tandem in whitewater; however, when just cruising on gently moving, or flat water, particularly on long paddle days, I tend to get lazy. I forget about bringing my hips up to the paddle, and sort of just pull the paddle back to my hip, which creates more yaw. In answer to Glenn’s question, I suppose that I am generally thinking of following the keel line. Even so, I need to correct with a pitch stroke pretty much every two strokes. When I want more power/speed, I revert to focussing on bringing my hips up to the planted paddle, which also reduces yaw.

I do not claim to be a paddling expert or guru, because I am not. It’s just what works for me, and makes me happy to be canoeing.
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,782
Reaction score
1,177
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
Well Michael, one could argue that by pulling your hips to the paddle you may be able to somewhat control the direction of the boat with your abdominal muscles. Especially if you are lightening the boat by putting more weight on the paddle.
 
Joined
Sep 7, 2016
Messages
204
Reaction score
84
Location
South Carolina
Then, rather than pulling the blade to my hip, I concentrated on bringing my hips up to the paddle.
True, you actually don’t pull the paddle to you or you wouldn’t go anywhere. The paddle stays relatively still in the water and you move the boat toward it. Starting from a dead stop does move the paddle in the water a bit as you overcome the inertia of sitting still. Once you are underway you notice the resistance (effort) of the stroke is less as the boat now has moving inertia.
 
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,395
Reaction score
1,258
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
Well Michael, one could argue that by pulling your hips to the paddle you may be able to somewhat control the direction of the boat with your abdominal muscles. Especially if you are lightening the boat by putting more weight on the paddle.
I think you’re on to something here, Al. To reach farther forward with a vertical shaft, I also wind my body to the left, and rotate my right shoulder forward. This gives me an inch or two longer vertical reach. I then unwind my torso to the right before pulling my hips up. I don’t know if this creates the effect you describe. Note: This description is for when I am paddling on my right side.
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
910
Reaction score
268
Location
Western Adirondacks
Well Michael, one could argue that by pulling your hips to the paddle you may be able to somewhat control the direction of the boat with your abdominal muscles. Especially if you are lightening the boat by putting more weight on the paddle.
I've always heard it described as likened to slicing your paddle into jello as a semi-solid anchor and pulling yourself past it.

Unless I am paddling solo recreationallly or strength training by myself, I am most often in a multi seat canoe, C4 or voyageur. 95% of the time I am the bow paddler during canoe races. I do focus on principle #1, keeping my paddle vertical, stacked hands, and pulling absolutely paarallel to the boat center line, not continuing any power beyond my hip. If I were to follow the bow gunwale contour, that would introduce wasted energy in a partial sweep. Paddlers in a C4 or voyaguer will be in seats that slide side on rollersto side on each hut, such that their hip is against their onside gunwale so that they will also have vertical paddles pulling parallel. I hardly ever see or know exactly what the stern paddler is doing, other than calling the huts and otherwise making power strokes that also keep us going straight or maneuvering as needed from the narrow stern seat. I doubt very much that the stern is following the stern gunwale curve, unless it is part of a draw maneuver stroke.

When paddling solo recreationally, I prefer to stay on the same side for a long time. I note that if I do properly use a poer stroke with torso rotation, the when I "unwind" my torso, it has an effect on the canoe that at least partially corrects the canoe into the right direction, slightly minimizing the need for conrol strokes to go straight.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 21, 2018
Messages
1,395
Reaction score
1,258
Location
Preeceville, Saskatchewan Canada
Note stevet’s response above. If you simply bring the paddle back to your hips, you go nowhere. My forward stroke improved substantially when I truly concentrated on pulling my hips forward. Otherwise, my forward stroke was relatively weak: partially, and subconsciously, pulling my hips forward, partially pulling the paddle back to my hips.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
Messages
6,998
Reaction score
982
Location
Raymond, ME
Gamma don't go and watch. FS is hydrodynamics and physics.. Interpretive FS is another ball game and about 95 percent of those who like to learn from FS have no interest in paddling choreography.. The technique was born out of canoe tripping in the 80's when solo tripping was very popular. Its merely the way to get the boat and the water work for you so you as the paddler can be lazier.
Its a lot of fun to play with applied physics in a canoe. I tried exhibiting and competing and absolutely hated it. I am an innie paddler, not an outie.
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,782
Reaction score
1,177
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
This is a recent observation I've had about leaning and correction strokes. Usually there is at least a slight breeze when paddling, and I always paddle on the downwind side of the boat so the wind helps push the bow toward the paddle side. The thing I noticed was that the more I was heeled over the more the wind helped with tracking. In a stiff breeze it may help too much making you have to sweep. In this situation you want to flaten the boat out to get less help from the wind. The main point being that when paddling in a breeze changing the amount of lean has an effect on your correction strokes.

On a side note; when I'm not sure which way the wind is coming from I take my paddle out of the water and see what way the wind blows my bow. Then I paddle on that side.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
3,231
Reaction score
1,429
Location
Connecticut
First, let's exclude bow paddlers in a tandem canoe or a canot du nord. They face an expanding gunwale line.

I'm talking about solo paddlers slightly behind the center of the canoe or all the way back to the stern. They face a wider gunwale beam in front of them and a narrower gunwale beam behind them. Assume the recreational paddler draws the blade of his forward stroke further back than his hip, which I believe almost every recreational paddler does while cruising. (Not racers or whitewater paddlers in bursts of acceleration.)

The goal of these paddlers is simple: To draw a forward stroke that induces the least yaw to the off-side.

The canoe physics issue is also simple: Can the paddler attain this minimal-yaw goal better if she (1) draws the paddle back parallel to the actual keel line from the initial stroke plant to the stroke exit, or (2) draws the paddle back so it follows the narrowing gunwale line from plant to exit?

Other things being equal (but see below), the canoe physics principle that applies to this issue is incontrovertible: The further the paddle is from the keel line when drawn back, the more off-side yaw will be induced. That is, the more off-side turning moment. That is, the more off-side lateral vector force.

So, how should this solo (or stern) paddler draw a forward stroke? (1) Parallel to the keel line, which means the paddle will move further and further away from the gunwale as the stroke progresses from plant to exit? Or (2) keeping close along the narrowing gunwale line, so the paddle moves closer and closer to the keel line as the stroke progresses from plant to exit. (Whether you think the paddle moves in the water or not is irrelevant to this issue, but I agree with SteveT's explanation of that point.)

Yellowcanoe, who has instructed freestyle as well as Canadian style, knows this issue well, and her point about Rolf Kraiker's viewpoint in favor of technique # (2) on the issue is well-taken.

Rolf paddles Canadian style and with a long bladed ottertail. Heeled over he actually does a deep c and its close to the keel line. How many of us paddle Canadian Style with the gunwale so close to the water. Heeled over you can put your paddle along the curve , or along the parallel to the keel line or actually UNDER the boat.

Yes, if you radically heel the canoe, you are no longer paddling on the actual keel line down the center of the canoe bottom. You are paddling on a newly created keel line somewhere along the chine, and your paddle is very close to this "new" heeled keel line. In fact, with a long enough paddle, especially an animal tail paddle, you can actually reach the other side of the heeled keel line (i.e., reach the off-side), so as to induce on-side yaw with your forward stroke instead of off-side yaw. The results can be spinningly elegant.

Even in an unheeled canoe paddled on the actual keel line, I still favor technique # (2) if I'm only concerned about what I call the incontrovertible physics principle.

But I don't favor it much because I don't think it matters that much, mainly because other things are not always equal. Other things can reduce yaw in addition to the blade's proximity to the keel line. Some have mentioned that the paddler can shorten the stroke by taking the blade out at the hip. Also, anti-yaw can be induced during the forward stoke by a slight draw at the plant (C stroke), pitching the blade throughout the draw (pitch stroke), correcting at the exit (J stroke, J pry off gunwale), or correcting during an in-water return (Canadian stroke, slicing J stroke, guide stroke, northwoods stroke, Indian stroke).

Personally, my usual cruising forward stroke is probably somewhere in between following parallel to the keel line and following the gunwale line, with an increasing pitch as the stroke nears the end, and with correction completed usually by a Canadian stroke partial in-water return, or sometimes a fully in-water palm-rolled return, or less so by a gunwale J pry. It all depends on the water and wind conditions, whether I'm in open water or a twisty creek, and how much I want to rest by using different muscle groups as I change my stroke techniques.

I strongly recommend formal instruction in all of this stuff if you can find it. It's easier to demonstrate and teach some of these techniques than to describe them in words.
 
Joined
Nov 29, 2012
Messages
652
Reaction score
204
Location
southwest Indiana
Most of my solo canoes are set up to be trimmed pretty neutral, unless I anticipate carrying a dog or dogs in front of me. I most often paddle kneeling but whether kneeling or sitting my navel winds up being very close the the longitudinal center line of a canoe with a symmetrical water footprint. Even when sitting I am planting my forward paddle stroke in front of the widest part of the canoe. When kneeling I am planting the stroke farther forward still. So I am not facing a wider gunwale beam at the initial part of my stroke, quite the opposite. That is even more so for a canoe with a swedeform hull design.

If I took a very long stroke the gunwale beam would be narrowing considerably toward the end of my stroke excursion, but if I am really interested in efficiency I am usually paddling hit and switch with short strokes at a higher cadence. The power phase of those strokes ends at least by the time the blade reaches my hip, if not just before. If someone is watching my paddle it might look to them that I am carrying the power phase farther back but that is because the boat is moving along relative to the paddle face so by the time the paddle face leaves the water for the recovery phase, the boat has moved forward (hopefully) a good few inches.

What is more, when paddling hit and switch in a solo I often utilize hull carving to minimize the frequency of switches by getting the boat carving an arc of as wide a radius as possible toward my paddle side. When my "inside circle" falls off to the other side is when I switch paddling sides. Paddling like this I can often take up to a dozen strokes on one side instead of 4 to 6 or thereabouts. But paddling on an inside carve, especially when you are trying to open that up to nearly a straight line requires a considerable degree of fine tuning of exactly where you plant the forward stroke, how far you take it back, and the paddle shaft angle so those considerations outweigh whether you are following the gunwale or not.

But in general paddling either solo or in the stern of a tandem I have generally tried to keep the stroke excursion parallel to the keel line and see no reason to change. I also try to keep my hands stacked and the paddle shaft as vertical as is reasonably possible. On the other hand, I have sometimes paddled with a bow paddler who does tend to follow the curve of the gunwale which is widening considerably at the bow paddling station, as well as not keeping the hands stacked and I have found that is not always so bad. By introducing a bit of sweep into the forward stroke the bow paddler tends to counteract the tendency of the stern paddler's stroke to yaw the canoe toward the boat's on-side.
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
910
Reaction score
268
Location
Western Adirondacks
I pretty much agree with everything that pblanc said, except that when I paddle solo recreationally I tend to stay on the same side for a very long time, most often ustilizing a pitch or Canadian control stroke. I dislike hit and switch for several reasons and get more than enough of it when I race. When I am not paddling solo, 95% of the time I am a bow paddler, most likely with one or more racing partners in seat #2, or in seats #2-#6 or 7. I will never follow the arc of the bow and always stack my hands with a vertical shaft in a parallel to direction of travel power stroke to my hip.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jun 22, 2017
Messages
842
Reaction score
316
I agree with pblanc's comments too. I usually paddle hit and switch even when just cruising. I use a bent shaft in a sitting solo and more often a straight shaft in a kneeling solo. I just plant the paddle up by the front thwart and pull the boat forward parallel to the keel while trying to come as close to hitting the fattest part of the boat as possible. I don't know how one could change the paddle position continuously to follow the gunwale and still maintain a strong, uncompromised forward stroke. But even in terms of physics I doubt that there is any real efficiency opportunity for my style of paddling. If you look at the plan view of the Swift Keewaydin 15 for example you'll see that the boat doesn't really start to get much narrower until behind the seat...so while you might be able to get a 5-10% reduction in yaw moment if you carried the stroke way behind the seat (towards the rear thwart) but I'd estimate that your (straight shaft) blade is already 30 degrees past vertical by the time it passes the rear of the seat so you are at a time when your stroke is weak and getting weaker quickly. Seems to me that the efficiency opportunity is to start the next stroke earlier.
image.jpeg
 
Top