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Can You Row a Canoe? (Explained for Beginners)

With rowing boats being upwards of thousands of dollars, you might be wondering how to achieve your rowing dreams with a canoe, kayak, etc.

These smaller boats are inexpensive and great for leisure boating. But if you’re here to know whether they can meet your rowing demands, read on!

Can You Row a Canoe?

It’s possible to row a canoe. Normally, we paddle canoes. But with some attachments, they can be great boats for rowing. Rowing attachments such as drop-in-seats, oars, and oar pins are readily available from manufacturers. Some even create complete row kits for converting canoes into rowboats.

Traditionally, when we boat with canoes, we say we are ‘canoeing’ or ‘paddling the canoe’. That’s because we use paddles for canoes. On the other hand, we use oars for rowing.

While rowing and paddling sound synonymous at first, there are some key differences. 

Firstly, paddles don’t require us to attach them to the boat. But with rowing, the oars have to connect to the boat with a pin or something similar. This mechanism is one reason we need to modify a canoe for rowing.

The other main reason is because of the second difference: the seats. In a rowing boat, the seats slide back and forth to allow the person to move the oars. This is because the way to move an oar is largely through using the force of our legs and arms. 

The case is the opposite for a paddling boat such as a canoe or a kayak. These seats are unmoving because stroking a paddle does not require us to use our legs. 

It’s our torso that drives the motion. So, we need to change these seats to sliding ones in canoes if we want to row them.

Ultimately, with a little work, canoes can be rowing boats. Plus, canoes are much less expensive than rowing boats. A lot of people prefer to modify them instead of spending five figures. 

Rowing is mostly a competitive sport. But if you’re only looking to learn or enjoy, it’s entirely possible to upgrade your canoe!

How to Convert a Canoe for Rowing?

What you’ll need:

  • A canoe
  • Pair of suitable size oars
  • Tape measure
  • Oarlocks
  • Oar sockets
  • Gate hinges
  • Nuts and bolts that fit with the gate hinge
  • Nuts and bolts that fit with the oar sockets
  • Power drill
  • Aluminum tubing 

Here’s how you can convert your canoe into a rowboat:

Make the canoe rail markings

Facing the backside (towards the stern) of the canoe in an upright position, you want to sit on the front seat. 

Now, slide towards the stern until the edge of your seat is on the stern’s edge of the seat. Basically, slide off your thighs so that it doesn’t touch the seat.

From that position, lay a paddle or similar device across the canoe rail. Keep your elbows straight. 

Remember to make sure that the device you are holding is parallel to the ground. This is because the markings must be symmetrical. Then, mark the rail.

Mark the centerline 

For the oarlocks and outriggers, you need to find the centerline of your paddle and mark it.

Add aluminum tubing to the canoe rail

(Optional step if your canoe rail has too much of a flex). If your canoe rail is too flexible and you don’t think it can support your outriggers, do this step. Bolt an aluminum square tubing at the center and the forward seat.

Place a more suitable seat

Canoe seats are typically positioned higher because of how we use the paddle. But for rowing, you need to use a lower seating position. You can find sliding seats or drop-in sliding seats (with outriggers) that fit your canoe.

Add in the oarlocks and sockets

It is better that the oar sockets are attached on the outside of the canoe. This is our recommendation. The reasoning behind it is to prevent the oars from hitting the gunnel during movement, which can happen if we put the sockets on the inside.  

However, if you are planning to put them on the inside for one reason or another, you will have to raise them a bit. 

You can also install in the top mount socket in the canoe. They should be placed in the center of the wooden gunnels. But these require more skill to install.

Add some support for your feet

You want to put a wide foot brace for rowing. This will give you more stability and grip. They’ll also make your rowing experience more comfortable.

How to Row a Canoe?

The main mechanism that you use for rowing a canoe is called ‘Slide Seat Rowing’. This method employs our legs in pushing the boat forward. 

Let’s take a look at the basic techniques to help us in rowing our canoes:

Learn how to Catch

With your oars pointing forward, position yourself towards the stern or aft-end. The catch is the beginning of your stroke when you submerge your oar into the water. The key is to make the least splash and prepare yourself to pull.

Learn how to Drive

Driving starts when you start to push with your legs. Remember to relax your arms. This is the legs’ time to shine! Also, keep your back straight while leaning forward. 

Learn how to Pull

After the drive comes the pull to continue your stroking motion. This is quite literally pulling on the arms while leaning back. Once again, keep your back straight. Also, keep the legs flat.

Learn the Recovery

This is basically when you’re moving into your second stroke. The key is to keep the flow of the first stroke and lead into the next. Push arms away, straighten your back to a vertical line and raise your knees to pull your body back.

Learn how to Feather the Blades

As you end your stroke, turn the oar blades flat as you pull them up from the water. Then, turn them perpendicular the instant you submerge them in the water again. 

You’ll find pulling it out from the water this way is easier. This is an important step, and you should try to make it second nature as soon as possible! 

Using airflow principles, it helps us reduce the effects of air resistance on the recovery. This will eventually help us to swim in choppy waters (wind-blown and excessive rippling that is not suitable for beginners).

Keep a steady speed

Start cycling these motions until you find a steady, comfortable rhythm.

Repeat… and you’re rowing!

Now, you know each motion. Repeat it in a steady flow and follow a path. That’s what rowing is!

Keep in mind the limits of your canoe

While rowing a canoe, it’s crucial we don’t get carried away and set our expectations too high. Start slow and build your way up in small increments. So, you can tell when you’re overdoing it.

Make sure you practice safety protocols

With any kind of boating, it’s important to keep an eye on the environment and weather. It’s also highly recommended to let someone know of the path you plan to follow and the time it might take.

That way, we can reach help as soon as possible if something unplanned occurs.

What Do You Row a Canoe With?

You row a canoe with oars. Normally, you use paddles for canoes. But this is when paddling. For a canoe that has been modified for use as a rowboat, we use oars to row them. These are generally about 6 to 8 feet long. Most people recommend 7 feet.

What Are Canoe Rowing Attachments?

Canoe rowing attachments are attachments we can add to our canoes to modify them for rowing. Canoes lack things like oar pins that we need for rowing, so manufacturers sell them as separate attachments.  

List of Canoe Rowing Attachments:

  • Drop-in sliding seat
  • Oars
  • Oar pins
  • Outriggers
  • Oar sockets
  • Oarlocks
  • Gunwale clamps
  • Stabilizer floats
  • Portage wheels
  • Snap-in leeboards
  • Rowing mirrors
  • Aluminum tubing

What Are Canoe Rowing Kits, Rigs, and Rowing Frames?

Here are what each of these terms means:

Canoe Rowing Kits

Canoe rowing kits are basic kits that include all the elements you need to fix up your canoe to be able to row. Most include a set of outriggers, oars, oar pins, and drop-in seats. You’ll find ones compiled by both manufacturers and stores.


A rig or a sail rig is the method through which we attach the sails to the mast. It’s how we set up the canoe, kayak, etc. It’s a part of almost all boats. The sail and the mast hardware make up the rig.

Rowing Frames

A raft or canoe rowing frame is a platform for stabilizing our rowing. It gives you more comfort while rowing and fishing. It’ll give you better results than benches.

What Does a Canoe Rowing Machine Do?

Canoe rowing machines strengthens and exercises the muscles we need for rowing. It’s gym exercise equipment that mimics the position we would take while rowing.

It mainly works with our core muscles like the abdominals and glutes. But the quads, shoulders, and even the hamstrings benefit from using this machine.

What Should Be a Standard-Size Canoe Rowing Seat?

A canoe rowing seat standard in size should be about 34 to 37 inches long. This is per the common widths of canoes. Wide canoes are upwards of 38 inches and can reach up to 41 inches.

How Much Does It Cost to Convert a Canoe for Rowing?

A complete rowing kit for a canoe costs around $400-$500. The total cost to convert a canoe for rowing will vary depending on size, materials, region, etc. The additional tools like nuts and bolts will also add up a little bit of the cost.

Canoes are aptly shaped and inexpensive boats that we can modify for rowing. It’s a great way to exercise and learn the basics of ‘slide seat rowing.’ The modification won’t cost us a fortune. And by converting it into a two-in-one, we can get the most out of both paddling and rowing!

Frequently Asked Questions:

How to tow a canoe behind a boat?

How does canoeing affect the environment?

Are canoes good for fishing?

Is canoe a rowing boat?