Shaw and Tenney - Maine Crafted Since 1858

Setting up a Canoe for Rowing

Setting up a Canoe for Rowing

One of the questions we get fairly often is "can I set up my canoe for rowing?" The simple answer is yes.  Rowing canoes is not a new concept and companies have been making outriggers, rowing seats and even forward rowing contraptions for them for over 100 years.  The fact is, canoes make for a great rowing craft and with a very simple conversion you can be out enjoying a row in a very short time.  

Setting up a canoe for Rowing, Shaw & Tenney

We have found there are really only 3 things you need to add to set up a canoe for rowing:

  • A seat position where you will row from.
  • A pair of properly sized quality oars.
  • A suitable pair of oar locks and oar sockets.

Seat Position for Rowing a Canoe

Traditionally most canoes are setup up with fore and aft seats that sit just below the gunnel of the boat. This higher seat position allows the paddler to reach over the side of the canoe and stroke correctly with the paddle. When setting up a canoe for rowing we need to achieve a lower seat position near the center of the boat. This will properly align your hands with your abdomen during the power stroke. One of the advantages of rowing a canoe is the stability that comes from this lower seat position and subsequent lower center of gravity of the boat.

Rowing seats come in different shapes and sizes as well. Some folks prefer a sliding seat or drop in sliding seat rig with outriggers. These generally provide better exercise but require most skill to use. For most setups, including the one illustrated here, we are using our very own Shaw & Tenney Fixed Seat Rowing Rig which is a reproduction of the Old Town Canoe companies rowing rig. The seat sits low, at the proper height, in the bottom of the canoe and uses the rowers weight to hold it in place. The unit also includes a foot brace which is essential to efficiently rowing the canoe.

Rowing Canoe Setup

While our canoe rowing seat is "fixed" it does have adjustment that lets you move and set the location of the seat for your own height.

The fixed seat rowing arrangement enables the use of shorter oars than with outriggers or a drop in sliding seat rig. Depending on where you plan to row and how you will use your rowing canoe shorter oars can be a distinct advantage in narrower streams and rivers or crowded anchorages.

The Shaw & Tenney Fixed Seat Rowing Rig is custom made to order, please call the shop for pricing and availability.

Using our folding outrigger oar brackets (which extend the span between oar sockets by 8”) or using a drop in sliding seat rig will require longer oars to provide the proper 7:18 leverage ratio. This will provide more distance per stroke and a lower rowing cadence than shorter oars which is beneficial for long distances or racing. The disadvantages are the additional width and that tracking straight is more challenging, particularly if your canoe does not have a keel.

Most canoes have a center thwart or yoke used for carrying or portaging the canoe. Since the canoe is rowed from a position close to the center of the boat you will need to remove the center thwart or yoke in order to position the seat correctly. Removing the thwart typically does not affect the integrity of the canoe but it should be replaced when using the canoe for paddling. Adding a flat washer and wingnut to your fasteners will make removal and installation quicker.

Oarlocks and sockets for Rowing a Canoe

The second thing is you need for your conversion is a good set of oarlocks and sockets. We recommend you mount the oar sockets on the outside of the canoe using either our bronze Angle Mount or Side Mount bronze models. They usually will work well with all gunnel materials although in some cases they may require through bolting. We generally always put the oar sockets on the outside of the gunnel because if they are on the inside the oars very often will hit the gunnel on each stroke. The only time we would put the oar sockets on the inside (and you might have to raise them up a bit) is if you are often tying up to another boat or something else you don’t want them to damage. Our top mount sockets, which can be installed in the center of wooden gunnels, will also alleviate the problem, but are more difficult to install.

Oarlocks and Oars for a rowing canoe

To locate the oar sockets we use the center line of the boat as a reference point. From this mark measure 8.5 inches back from the centerline and mark the placement of the oar sockets. By setting our oar sockets 8-9 inches back from the center line the resulting seat location will provide the proper position to row from. If you can, we recommend testing the seat location before installing the oar sockets. If you float your canoe and sit in the seat the front should be just slightly higher than the rear. If not alter the seat and oar socket locations accordingly.

Recommended Oars for Rowing a Canoe

We make many different models of oars for all different types of craft, ranging from 6 feet to 21 feet in length. Canoes row so well that we almost always recommend our Wide Blade spoon oars. That’s because they are 20% more efficient than flat bladed oars and the shorter, wider blade pattern provides more area in the water on shorter oars. The only exception is very large and heavy or freighter canoes which do not benefit from the higher efficiency of spoon oars and would use flat blades. Our oars are made to last lifetime and should always be protected with our sewn leathers or you can install our leather kit. We also offer inlaid cherry or mahogany tips to protect the blades if you row where they are shallow rocks or corral. Most canoes will generally use an oar that is 6 feet long, which is the correct length to provide the proper 7:18 leverage ratio for a 36” span at the oar locks. The shortest wide blade spoon oars we make are 5’-6” to accommodate even narrower canoes but they will be tippy to row! Our Shaw & Tenney Oar Length Formula, available on our website, will calculate the correct length oar for your canoe.

Oars in a canoe, rowing a canoe

In closing we can’t think of many boats that are more versatile than a canoe. Properly configured you can paddle it, you can row it, and you can even set them up to sail.

But they are a lot of fun to row so if you ever want to think about setting up your canoe for rowing give us a call and we will be glad to assist you!

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How to Size Your Oars

To determine the correct length oar for your boat measure the distance between the port and starboard oar sockets. Then apply the Shaw and Tenney oar length formula to determine the oar length that will provide the correct 7:18 leverage ratio. This length will provide an oar where 7/25 the length is inboard of the oarlocks and 18/25 of the oar is outboard of the oarlocks. It is the ideal ratio to row almost all boats. Sized correctly, when rowing your hands will be 1 to 3 inches apart and you will be pulling directly towards your abdomen. If you are popping out of your oarlocks when rowing your oars are far too short. If you prefer an overlapping grip, add 6” to the calculated oar length. If you have more than one rowing station in your boat, measure both. Typically they will require two different length oars which is fine if you’re going to be rowing tandem and need two sets. Otherwise you’ll need to compromise the correct length to work properly in both stations. If you are rowing more than 75% in one station size the oar to that length. As always feel free to call us and were happy to help you select the correct oar length and blade style for your boat.

The Original Shaw & Tenney Oar Length Formula

To help our customers size their oars correctly, we’ve been using the same formula since 1858: Measure the distance between the center of the port and starboard oar sockets, which hold the oar locks on each gunnel. This is called the “span” between the oarlocks. Divide the span by 2, and then add 2 to this number. The result is called the “inboard loom length” of the oar. Multiply the loom length by 25, and then divide that number by 7. The result is the proper oar length in inches. Round up or down to the closest 6” increment.

How to Size Your Paddle

For traditional wooden paddles the ideal length for the Stern paddler is the bridge of your nose or 6 inches less than your height. For the bow paddler the paddle reaching the cleft of your chin or 9 inches less than your height is correct.

For our Racine paddle if you are over 5’6” tall select the 63-1/2” length and the shorter paddle if you are under5’-6”tall.

When paddling solo we typically recommend a bow length paddle. For Canadian style solo most paddlers prefer an even shorter paddle.

For paddling canoes when standing (yes our mother let us do this) a 69 inch or 72 inch paddle is usually about right.

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