Today I was out in the canoe on Monongahela River I started out paddling up river, and there was a head wind. I noticed that when I got with in about 100 feet of a bridge the wind picked up. The current also seemed a bit stronger near the footing in the water. I was sitting in the back of a 17 foot fiberglass canoe which brought the nose up out of the water a bit. At one point just as I was about to pass under the bridge the wind caught the bow of the canoe and swung it around, as hard as I paddled to turn it I could not bring it back around without losing position, I had to fall back to about 50 feet from the bridge to bring the bow/nose around and paddle hard keeping the nose into the wind to make it under. With in a few feet of passing under the bridge the canoe handled well again.

It seems like both wind and current are stronger near a bridge. What is the most ergonomic position and technique for paddling a canoe under a bridge?

2 Answers 2


I have a 17.5' Clipper Tripper, and I live in Southern Alberta, which means I sometimes get caught on the water in Chinook winds (90km/h gusts), I know what it feels like to get tossed around in the wind like a wind sock. Unless you have a heavy load to keep the bow down, or someone in the bow that can help you out, your best option is to paddle the canoe backwards. You can sit where you are and back paddle if you just need the extra control for a short distance, but if you're fighting big gusts, sustained winds or strong currents, your best option is to turn around in your seat, and start paddling into the wind/current like you're steering from the bow. This way the part of your canoe getting blown around will act like a rudder instead of a sail.

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  • The "front" seat is positioned closer to the center than the "back" seat. This allows more leg room for the person in front (who sits facing the bow). When in the canoe alone do you usually sit in the front seat, facing the center and paddle the canoe "backwards" so if you do need to spin around you have more leg room? Nov 11, 2014 at 11:28
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    I have fancy adjustable bucket seats in my canoe, great for paddling with a second, but annoying when paddling solo (you can't sit backwards in a bucket seat, at least not if you have legs...). when I say paddle backwards, I mean turn around in your seat (whether you're in the bow or stern seat) and paddle over the deck of your canoe. In my case I turn around in the stern, kneel in front of my seat and paddle off the stern. In your case you could just turn around on your seat and steer from the bow, or kneel up closer to the deck if you need more control.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 11, 2014 at 15:41
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    I had about 4 miles of river travel yesterday with substantial (at times) winds I ended up using this technique for most of the 4 miles. I thanked you several time, I hope you caught the good karma. I had a difficult time with the J stroke, in this position. I ended up changing hands every couple of strokes (I probably looked drunk from shore). A kayak paddle would have been great. Do you use the J stroke? How do you kept a straight path when paddling backwards like this? May 9, 2016 at 18:27
  • @JamesJenkins I've been in similar situations, I know the frustration of trying to fight a losing battle against the wind. I don't J stroke when paddling over the stern, but I'm typically in winds strong enough that I can paddle on the windward side the whole way.
    – ShemSeger
    May 13, 2016 at 2:24
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    @JamesJenkins - More canoe tricks - youtu.be/wM_evTO_BRc?t=29s
    – ShemSeger
    May 13, 2016 at 17:34

In my experience, and from what I've heard from my whitewater canoeing friends, the best thing to do when handling a canoe in rough conditions is to kneel in the middle. This will

  1. bring the bow down

  2. bring your paddling position closer to the front, giving you more torque and precision in the direction of the bow

  3. lower your center of gravity, making the canoe more stable

  4. increase the power of each stroke, and your endurance, since you can put your whole body into it, rather than just your arms and upper core

Also, try to read the current and avoid the wind. I find that the wind is often slightly slower along the shoreline, so you might try sticking close to it when you make your assault. Faster currents occur in deeper parts of the river, so if you can see shallow water, stick nearish to that. If the river bends, the outside of the bend is often the deepest, fastest part, while the inside is the shallow, lazy part.

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    You're right about what you say, but have you ever paddled a 17' canoe by yourself? Solo white water canoes are typically 6-12' long. A 17' canoe is really wide in the centre, wide enough to seat two people comfortably side by side.
    – ShemSeger
    Nov 11, 2014 at 15:47
  • Hmm, you make a good point. Of the times when I have solo paddled a 17', I've been sitting in the back, and when I needed more power, I would simply kneel forward behind the back thwart. I concede that, in this situation, you may have the superior method.
    – user3522
    Nov 11, 2014 at 16:56
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    I paddle solo in my 17 foot canoe often and it seems to me there's no question that being in the middle of the boat kneeling low is the best method for rough water. Only from the middle can you execute strokes at either the bow or stern. It is usual to paddle the canoe backwards when soloing though. This is where you place a kneeling thwart when you paddle a large canoe solo on whitewater.
    – mb7744
    Nov 15, 2015 at 20:43

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