Suwannee Adventures

Loading Your Canoe

Tie It Down

Once you load your canoe, secure the gear to prevent it from shifting around. This is critical to maintaining stability in rough water and to ensure you won't lose items in the event of a swamping. I use quick-release knots, tie-down straps, and bungee cords to make it easy to remove gear. You probably know how to tie things up, but I needed to emphasize the importance of tying everything down.


Keeping it Dry

Water will enter the canoe during your trip. To keep gear dry, waterproof all items. You can do this two ways. One method I use is to line regular backpacks (which feature padded shoulder straps to make portaging easy) with heavy duty plastic bags, and then pack in your gear. The second is to purchase and store items in heavy-duty, waterproof containers. There are many options available when it comes to size, material and shape of waterproof carriers, but most fall into soft- or hard-cased options. I do recommend hard cases and waterproof boxes, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are good for packing lanterns, stoves, cameras and other fragile items. 

Test Packing Time 

You will soon learn the carrying capacity of your canoe, but at first, you'll literally have to practice packing it on your lawn. This step might seem overly meticulous, but it's better to test pack your gear on a sunny day in your backyard and trouble shoot your cargo strategy in comfort. Knowing my luck, if I skipped this step, it'd be raining when I pulled the canoe off my car to load it at the start of my camping trip.


Test packing your gear will also get you thinking about how and where you'll want to place items in the canoe. For example, consider the items you want within arm’s reach, such as water, sunscreen, bug repellant and a spare paddle. Also take the time during test packing to ensure you have the proper straps and ropes to tie down gear. You should also keep the gear below the gunwales of the canoe or limit their height as much as possible. Loading items upwards will impact your balance and the canoe's center of gravity. It will also provide more surface area for the wind to catch. Both of these two scenarios impact the overall stability and maneuverability of the canoe, which can get dangerous in high winds and rough water.

Trim Your Craft
Trimming your canoe is balancing it. You should be aware of wind and its effect and trim accordingly. This is simple, load bow heavy going against the waves allowing for the weight of the stern and bow persons. Be sure the packs are centered for a good lateral trim. Heavy gear on the bottom and in the center of the vessel. Medium-heavy items can be placed over heavier gear, and lighter items can be placed at the far ends of the canoe. This will keep the canoe balanced and properly trimmed. It's likely you may need to shift some weight around once paddlers are in as well, but for the most part, the strategy of centering the majority of the weight is a common practice..

Loading your canoe properly has a big impact on maneuverability. Too much weight up front makes it cumbersome to steer, whereas keeping weight low in the canoe will make it less prone to tipping. While the canoe rests in shallow water (fully in the water) and oriented as parallel to the shore as possible, with the stern man carefully steadying the canoe, the packs are then loaded into the boat. Packs are laid flat to lower their center gravity and this is true especially on windy days. Always secure all packs to the thwarts even on calm days.