Today I went to paddle with a friend and he said that I should sit in the back because I'm heavier. But why is that?

How does this help with the weight distribution or handling of the kayak?

  • 4
    I couldn't pinpoint the exact physics behind it, probably something with friction and flow, but in my mind a kayak which has it's nose deeper in the water than it's back seems way harder to handle then one where the nose is lifted out of the water a bit.
    – stijn
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


It's along the lines of @stijn's comment but worse: if the nose digs in, not only do you lose speed, but your control suffers (and not just because many steering strokes require water speed). In even slightly choppy water the bow tends to dig in just when you don't want it to - when you want control.

Partly because of this, the front seat tends to be quite small, so you may not be able to put a tall person in there.

A bigger person can also apply more steering force - they're likely to be stronger as well as having more leverage. This makes stern rudders more effective, among other strokes. These are long boats and take some steering.

A further factor is that experienced or supervising paddlers are often larger and stronger with better technique, because novices are often children and even adults new to kayaking won't have trained their kayaking muscles. The occupant of the rear seat can keep an eye on the occupant of the front seat. It's also possible to roll a whitewater tandem kayak from the back alone - I've done that in a topo duo after the front paddler bailed, and also with a passive front paddler (as a training exercise or challenge).

Look at open canoes with one paddler. The paddler is either central or well back. Last time I was in a canoe I was in the middle with my young daughter at the front. For control and trim I'd have been better further back (especially as it was a very wide boat) but I wanted to be closer to her as it was her first time in a boat. It turned out she was too small to paddle so didn't need any coaching, and I could have sat/knelt at the back.

  • 5
    However unless you're much heavier I'd put you at the front if you're not experienced, especially if you want to film.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 16:43
  • 1
    In open canoes the position of a single paddler depends on conditions, an unbalanced hull with one end out of the water acts a bit like a flag so in case of wind you take advantage of that to sit in a way where the wind will help tracking. Going into the wind is one of the situation where weight fore and higher stern is beneficial. In open canoes with two paddlers its usually more experienced back less experienced front, not unusual to have an adult aft and a kid fore, but during instruction you will see the opposite because sitting aft forces the paddler to learn Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 12:25
  • Also whitewater vs an open passage change things, current is a factor as a stern heavy hull can act as an extended skeg would. Hull shape (more or less rocker, more or less overhangs etc) has its effect too in weight placement. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 12:26
  • Good point @ErikvanDoren. The open canoes were a bit of an aside and my experience is sheltered water (lake margins in good weather/flat rivers) and tame white water, no open passages
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:21
  • 1
    Tip: in your example symmetrical canoes allow to be paddled stern first to better balance the weights in case of necessity. The canoe is turned around and the adult, heavier, paddler is sitting backwards on the front seat (which now becomes the aft seat) and the child is backwards on the rear seat. This places the heavier paddler more in the middle and the lighter paddler more forward, plus the child wont have a problem with the little space for the legs and that portion of the hull will be narrower making it easier for a child to paddle. Its also one of the ways to paddle solo a double canoe Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 14:00

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