I am planning an adventure, and realized that while I will have one able bodied paddler, I will likely have two canoes of load. In thinking about it, I have imagined several scenarios where this might come up, so presumably there are proven solutions. My google search was not productive though.

This adventure requires a canoe for its inherent benefits so while re-configuring the connections as needed is an option, changing to a different type of boat is not an option.

This first thing I thought about was, lashing them side by side, either closely connected or separated by long spars, that would make an outrigger type set up. I dismissed this as closely connected would make paddling challenges, while separated would make steering challenges (if you have ever seen a catamaran try to make a tight turn you understand).

Currently I am thinking, loosely connect bow to stern:

  • For calm water, tow with the powered/paddled canoe in front.
  • For moving water, paddled canoe in back.

The calm water solution has little to no issues, that I can see.

The moving water solution, limits you to the speed of the current (probably ok) and lets you "steer" the front canoe by back paddling and turning the back canoe.

I think the bow to stern connections can be managed on the water by a 'moving clothes line' type connection. The unpowered canoe would have a static connection that could be moved from the front to rear of the powered canoe, from the rowing position (aft of canoe).

This solution would NOT be used on fast water like classified rapids.

Are there proven solutions or proven failures, for one paddler to manage two canoes at the same time?

  • 3
    Why do you need/have two canoes worth of load? Can you get a larger canoe? How about reducing the amount of things that you are taking? I am having a hard time picturing the type of trip that would require that much gear. If you are setting up a large camp, maybe making multiple trips?
    – user16724
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 18:14
  • 1
    @Schleis to prevent long unrelated discussions in comments, I am not going to go into detail about your questions. If you can't imagine the scenario you are probably not going to be able to answer the question. But to give you some context, my trike by itself is half a canoe load, see image at end of this answer Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 18:23
  • My difficulties in imagining the scenario doesn't mean that I can't answer the question but the answer below is basically the same that I would give. I was curious what sort of adventure this would be. Thank you for the context.
    – user16724
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 19:25
  • @JamesJenkins: you might want to reach out to some folks at watertribe.com/Events/UltimateFloridaChallenge , they may have some creative solutions for your overall adventure. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 20:49

3 Answers 3


Lash them together in parallel with spars such that there's a wide enough gap down the middle that you can paddle in the centre.

As you say, you're not going to be making tight turns, but you are in full control of both boats which is the more significant aspect. You also gain massively on stability, especially if you have other (non-able bodied) persons. This setup is suitable for use on moving water and has been extensively tested on the River Wye at Symonds Yat. You always have to look out for these guys coming through when you're playing on the rapids.

The rigid structure has advantages over a rope tow as you don't get the jerk and slack as the rope comes tight then relaxes which makes paddling hard work.

No matter what you do, trying to paddle two canoes worth of stuff single handed, you're setting yourself up for some tough paddling.

Canoes lashed together

Image from Wyedean Canoe Hire

  • I haven't seen them used with only one paddler, though I have seen them with only one competent paddler. But most of my paddling is on white water and I haven't been to Symonds Yat for ages.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 9:02
  • @ChrisH, I carefully said "moving water" not "white water" :) Symonds Yat doesn't really qualify for the latter, but this rig is set up for maximum people with minimum competence.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 10:05
  • I used to go there to help introduce novices to moving water, but missed the chance a couple of weeks ago. I don't get to paddle as much as I used to , so when I do, I get out on the good stuff!
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 10:15
  • @ChrisH, it is the best place for a "My First Moving Water" trip, we take the club out there every year. The Legacy/Olympic is our local option and that's a bit full on for a first timer.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 15:57
  • just a little too much. I still haven't made it over there. Welsh rivers this weekend for me
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 16:44

For calm water towing would work. For short stretches of even the gentlest rapids the best approach would be to tie up one boat, paddle the first down (or pole up), tie it up and walk back for the other. Continuous white water on a solo expedition (presumably far from civilisation as well, or you wouldn't need to carry so much) seems like a bad idea, even with a single boat. So your plan to avoid it is good. With two boats, you're unlikely to be able to self rescue without the loss of a boat - or both if they're tied together. So if the water is rougher than you expected (perhaps due to unexpected rainfall unsptream) you'll need to either paddle the boats one at a time or wait it out, depending on what the issue is.

There may be a very tricky middle ground, which should make you very wary. Your choices leave you forced to choose positive or negative water speed before a stretch of water, unless you manage to overtake or be overtaken, which takes width and depth in a reasonably straight line and on some rivers wouldn't be possible at all.

Prompted by a recent trip on sections of flat but flowing river: without a deep wide channel a single boat could easily be steered towards the main channel, but a second boat would end up beached in the shallows. Controlling the second boat from the first would take a lot of additional effort and slow you down a lot, even if you didn't actually get it stuck. This indicates the difficulty caused by water that's not even fast enough to be called class 1.

  • Thank you for taking time to answer, but you focus on white water, which I specifically excluded in the question. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 18:02
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    @JamesJenkins I'd apply my ideas even to otherwise trivial rapids, taking into account the unpredictability of remote rivers when you're away from a decent weather forecast. The actual "white water" was meant to be more of a caution than anything else.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 20:01
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    @ChrisH perhaps it would suffice to include the rationale from your comment into your answer.
    – Roflo
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 2:38
  • @Roflo good point, it could do with a bit of a copy edit anyway, which will be much easier when I'm at my desk. So I'll try to remember
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 6:46

Towing doesn't work well. The trailing canoe will tend to swing wildly from side to side. This is a chronic problem when towing a swamped canoe to shore. This may be affected by how the trailing boat is loaded. Try loading it stern heavy.

Another effect with towing: the towed canoe will not have the same behaviour in the wind. In a cross wind it will either drift faster or slower than the tug canoe. When it reaches the limit of the tow rope it will start changing your course. This will be very hard to correct.

Lashing catamaran style with a space between wide enough to paddle may work, but it will be very slow. You will have the drag of both hulls, plus the drag from the constricted space between. Note that in waves, you want the ends taking the waves to be closer together than the other end. Otherwise passing waves will peak and slop over the gunnels. This may work if you use something like a tiny gas trolling motor. A 1 hp trolling motor with a low speed high torque prop will go an amazing amount of time (days) on a jerry can of fuel. See Patterson's "Dangerous River" about his trips up the Nahanni

You need a distance between the boats about equal to the beam.

I would suggest that you look at a larger canoe. The difference in carrying capacity of an 18' expedition canoe compared to a 15' solo canoe is astounding. That extra 3 feet is in the middle, and is effectively doubling the usable displacement. I have heard of trappers using a 20 foot canoe to carry their year's supplies in.

You would probably want to go with kevlar construction to have a reasonable weight to deal with on portages.

Load the canoe so that you can paddle from the stern. Control is easier.

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