Canoe Handling Characteristics

Here's an absolute truth about canoes whether one chooses to believe it or not. How the canoe handles on varying and extreme waters is more important than anything else, period. By varying and extreme, I mean windy and/or rough wave action. I am not referring to whitewater conditions. By far, the vast majority of canoe paddlers out there never ever touch a river with whitewater conditions above Class 2. Most people paddle on lakes and ponds with very occasional river jaunts on slow moving rivers with few underwater obstacles. Flat water and wind are the parameters which affect most people in canoes worldwide.

Handling characteristics of a good canoe on flat water are the most important feature I can think of for safe water travel. The number one reason people consider a kevlar canoe is because of the weight. They are looking for a canoe that is easier to portage and car-top. The old aluminum is just too heavy and those plastic canoes even heavier. With weight first and foremost in mind, the vast majority of paddlers and most Minnesota boundary waters outfitters pay little to no attention to the way the canoe handles on the water. All other considerations aside, this is the biggest and most common mistake many make when considering which canoe is best.

If it takes a massive effort to turn your canoe into the wind, or if it requires that your bow paddler knows how to perform a cross-bow rudder maneuver, that canoe is a worthless piece of junk to most average paddlers. If, while crossing a large lake, the wind suddenly picks up catching you broadside and the canoe WILL NOT turn into the wind but instead goes faster off course with each stronger stroke you make and you can't figure out what's happening, you are paddling a piece of life-threatening junk. If a canoe is not somewhat user-friendly under extreme conditions, you may find yourself is a heap of trouble as you take water over the side while getting all tired out. If you think my referring to "life-threatening" junk is over the top, ask yourself why any sane individual would want to increase the inherent risk to life and limb even a tiny bit when it's not necessary? There are way enough things out there that can kill you. Why would you want to add to the list a canoe that you can't figure out or predict how it handles when it suddenly gets ugly outside?


Canoes need a bit of rocker and a few other details to be effective, safe, watercraft. A rockerless canoe is ALWAYS a flatwater racing design, period. Rockerless canoes go a bit faster - not a lot faster - than canoes with some rocker. Whitewater canoes like the Prospector hull design can have 4" - 6" of rocker. This is extreme rocker and allows the canoe to turn quickly in fast moving current, but it slows the canoe down on flat water and can make the canoe feel tippy or jittery until you put a load in it. Since you are drifting with current, it doesn't really matter how fast the canoe goes forward. On the other hand, canoes with little or no rocker, which are proclaimed to be whitewater canoes, are junk from that perspective, but whitewater is a different subject.

Rocker is hard to understand for a lot of folks until they see this picture. Having paddled many canoe hull designs, I consider canoes which are "rockered" only on the ends to be in my same category for rockerless canoes - junk. They don't turn worth a darn either. Rocker should start at the middle of the canoe, right under the yoke. With a slightly rocker canoe, if you were to set it on level concrete and push the stern sideways, the bow will travel an equal amount in the opposite direction. See the corresponding red and blue arrows which depict the rotation of the canoe in the photo below.

This is how a rockered canoe moves in the water and allows you to turn the canoe into the wind or anywhere else for that matter, when you need to turn it.

For every characteristic there is an equal and opposite characteristic that effects the paddlers of any canoe. A canoe with rocker will need a stern paddler who understands that the canoe is controlled entirely from the stern for the most part. Pushing the stern via J-Stroke or dragging the stern via a Draw stroke makes the bow of the canoe point in an opposite direction. That's pretty much all there is to steering a canoe on flat water. A canoe with rocker will need a stern paddler who knows how to perform a "J" and Draw stroke when neccesary to make the canoe move where it needs to go. Rockerless canoes on the other hand generally travel in a straight line all the time regardless of whether the inhabitants paddle willy-nilly, on both sides together, or with any general sloppy paddling technique (if you can call it technique) employed to make the canoe go forward. If you are comfortable with not truly knowing what is going on with the canoe on the water at all times, then a rockerless canoe will be good for you so long as you don't use it on windy days or whenever there may be adverse weather conditions present. When you can figure out how to predict the afternoon's conditions accurately, let me know. Otherwise I'll be in my canoe that turns when I need it to turn which is especially helpful for fishing and hunting as well.