Rudders on Sailing Canoes

The most effective place for a rudder on a sailing canoe is right at the stern. This puts it as far away as possible from the leeboard and rig and provides the best steering control. However with a canoe the best place for the sailor to be is in the centre of the canoe. This means that the canoe is trimmed neutrally, sitting level in the water when viewed from the side. It allows the canoe to be faster through the water as well as being more stable laterally.

With most sailing canoes, even with two people on board, it is better for both people to be seated near the centre, away from the ends. The central, widest part of the canoe provides more room for the sailor and crew to move towards the upwind side of the canoe when necessary, to counteract the overturning force of the sail. With a larger rig it is often necessary to get some of your weight outboard by sitting on the gunwale or any side deck.

All this causes a problem compared with a small dinghy with a transom where the sailor can sit nearer the stern and use a conventionalĀ  rudder and tiller. In a sailing canoe the sailor will be half the length of the canoe away from the rudder, which could be over 8 feet, so the tiller controls need to be that long to reach the sailor.

The most common arrangement on sailing canoes in the OCSG uses a side mounted tiller arm on the rudder stock with a long tiller extension going forward to the sailor. This long extension is often adjustable for length, to allow for a different position for the sailor depending on whether sailing one or two up, or if you change position when carrying a lot of gear. This works much better than a conventional dinghy rudder setup that has a long forward-pointing tiller and shorter tiller extension.

The long tiller extension is sometimes called a push-pull tiller, because wherever you are sitting you control the rudder by pushing it back or pulling it forward. It doesn’t matter whereabouts across the canoe you are (sitting out to the left, right or centrally) it is only the fore and aft movements that alter the rudder position. A few people who also sailed dinghies have tried using a conventional tiller in the past and this can be made to work, but most of them have now converted to the push pull tiller sytem. You can clamp the tiller to a gunwale, thwart or side deck with a bungee loop or similar fixture, holding the tiller fixed and keeping the rudder straight, to keep you on track if you are paddling. Using strong paddle strokes to just drive you forward, rather than also having to steer with part of the stroke, can be a very efficient way to make progress when the wind dies.

Most rudders have the ability to kick up if you run into an underwater object, or to be remotely lifted before you come ashore. Our rudder arrangements have two control lines that run forward to cleats near the sailor. One is the uphaul which allows the rudder to be pulled up out of the water. The other is a downhaul which holds the rudder down whilst sailing. The down haul should include a short section of bungee that provides a “shock absorber” allowing the rudder to “kick-up” automatically, in shallow water or if an underwater object is hit. This downhaul is released at the cleat before pulling the uphaul to raise the rudder when landing.

Old Town Penobscot 18, with crew sat near the middle of the canoe and sailor up on a side bench, balancing the canoe and controlling the rudder with a long push-pull tiller. There is a small lanyard on the tiller attached to the gunwale behind the sailor, so that if the tiller gets dropped it doesnt float away and end up trailing the canoe. It can be tricky getting to the rudder to retrieve a dropped tiller.