So, you just bought a lightweight canoe. Good. Now, let’s make it heavier.It seems counter-intuitive, but while the featherweight layup of your canoe is designed to make portaging easier, it might actually be working against you on the water.
Most canoes are designed to paddle on a 180-degree plane, which means your canoe wants to sit flat on the water.
Placing extra weight—called ballast—correctly in your boat helps return the canoe to an even trim, especially when there’s a weight disparity between paddlers, or in the case of a solo paddler.
Ballast can correct the attitude of the hull along the keel line, and help keep the canoe on an even keel, whether lightly loaded or filled with gear.
By no means is the need for additional weight in a canoe a characteristic of a design flaw, nor a failure of material or manufacturing processes—it’s simply a by-product of just how light modern canoes have become.
With modern high-capacity, shallow-draft, high-freeboard, 30-to 40-pound hulls, the need for a little extra weight for optimum handling characteristics is more of a necessity than it used to be.
Adding ballast was common decades ago when canoes were used for work instead of play. Back then, the hulls weighed between 50 and 120 pounds. In those days, skilled woodsmen, guides, trappers, sportsmen and others who lived out of their canoes knew to add weight when they weren’t paddling loaded.
Fast forward to today, and canoes have shed a third of their weight, gained much larger capacities and are often expected to be paddled empty as often as they are loaded to the gunwales.
The benefits of ballast for canoe tripping
Adding ballast lowers the center of gravity of a canoe. By adding just 40 pounds, a solo paddler will drastically increase stability, and remove the reverse pendulum effect stokes tend to have on a hull.
Another benefit a paddler will notice is increased speed and better tracking—momentum and inertia will keep the canoe gliding between paddle strokes and make the hull less apt to be swayed from course by wind and wave.
You’re more likely to stay on your desired line and slice through waves.
The best way to add ballast to your canoe is by using water bags. Use two large drybags in a 20- and 30-liter size. Fill the 20-liter bag with water, roll the top down and clasp it shut.
Then, take the water-filled 20-liter bag and drop it into the 30-liter bag and clasp it shut. Water will leak out the of the first bag slowly, but not out of the second.
Lower the drybags into the center of the canoe. Adjust the bag fore and aft or side to side as necessary. With just 20 liters of water you will have gained 40 pounds of weight to use as a counterbalance, and in an unloaded boat you’ll notice a significant change in how your canoe handles.
When you hit land and it’s time to portage, dump the water out of your ballast bags, clip the empty bags to your canoe and portage your lightweight canoe.
Weight on the water but not the portage.| Feature Photo: Ontario Tourism