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Steve 07706 244 891

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This page is all about rigging a canoe for sailing. One question we get asked a lot is can the Lakelander canoe that we build on our canoe builing workshops be rigged for sailing, and the answer is yes. To sail a canoe down wind is fairly easy and the options for rigging a down wind sail are endless, but to sail a canoe into wind takes a bit more planning. There are many different ways to do this and lots of info on the web.Try here for some great looking rigs. But we have a bit of experience rigging a canoe for sailing up wind using a Bermuda rig at minimal cost. So here are a few tips to help you.

Note: We don’t have time during a canoe building workshop to rig your canoe for sailing so this is something you can do at home.

Ketch style rig

This is a Ketch style rig. Keeps the sails out of the main part of the canoe. Needs two people to work.

A Ketch and Bermuda
A classic Bermuda rig with Jib sail at the front

A classic Bermuda rig with a Jib sail at the front. If using a Jib you might want a crew member.

A classic Burmuda rig

A classic Burmuda rig with a Spinniker up. 

A Ketch and Bermuda saling canoe together, both have their advantages and disadvantages. We will look here at rigging a Bermuda as this can sail solo. 

Sailing Canoes


First of all you need a sail, and it needs to be a proper sail that will allow your canoe to sail up wind, unless you are a sail maker we found it very hard to get the right shape, so we would think you are best to source your own. We found a local marina that was throwing out some large boat sails that we took, so all we did was chop the top off to make a smaller sail. 

We then sewed a sleeve on the sail that the mast could slide into. 



If you are saling solo a main sail might be all you can handle but if you want to get fancy and add a bit more power you can add a Jib (the sail at the front) if you do make sure you can hoist it up and down as you might not want it up all the time. 



A spinnaker is great for down wind sailing and will give you loads of speed. It works really well if the wind is light as you have to have a massive sail area. Note that it needs to be hoisted up and down the mast and that whoever does this needs to be sharp on it, as we found it can flap everywhere and easily ends up in the water. Definitely a two person job. 


sleeve for mast to slide into

The mast needs to be as straight as you can get, no use using a wobbly bit of wood, as this will affect the airflow over the sail. So keep your eye out for a nice straight pole.  4mt is enough.


To attach the mast to the canoe, you need to have a decent mast footing in the bottom of your canoe. As you may well have made your canoe yourself you should not have too much problem doing this as it does require screwing into the bottom of your canoe. Not so good if you have a brand new rolex. (I think Dan means Royalex here, its my favorite typo yet.... Steve!) We found that the mast foot or whatever the mast will sit in is best attached to a piece of min 10mm ply and a min of 300mm by 300m,  then attach that to the bottom of your canoe with as many screws as you like. Anything smaller and you will find that the mast foot might just rip out. Best to over engineer. 

The mast can then run though a thwart and this is best supported with cross sections to sop the mast heeling from side to side and also to stop the hull of the canoe from twisting.

Mast footing
Mask Footing with ORCA
The Lee Board

We attached the boom to the mast using a block,  see pic below. The boom can be any old piece of stick/pole. 


The last thing you will need to sail up wind is a Leeboard. This will stop the canoe for side sliping. A 200mm thick piece or ply of plank of wood will do made up to the specifications shown in the pic. 

The Leeboard clamps one the side of the canoe and is held there by the force of the water when sailing up wind, see pic. When you come to tack you simply switch the Leeboard to the other side. It helps if there are two of you to do this. You can play around with where the Leeboard needs to go on the side of the canoe. 

We found though the simplest way to steer your canoe was with our paddles. You could also use your paddle to do sweep strokes to help the canoe tack if you had not got up enough speed. Doing this with two people in the canoe, with the back person steering and sorting out the main sail, and the middle person sorting out the Leeboard and making sure their weight in the canoe was distributed well can make a big difference to the handling of the canoe we found. Just play around with it.  Also if you get really keen you could rig a Jib (the sail at the front) that can be controlled by the middle person. We found with this extra sail the canoe really got moving. And even more fun was when we rigged up a Spinnaker, the big sail you use for going down wind. We found we had to all sit at the back to stop the canoe for nose diving. There is quite a lot of sail to manage in a small area, but lots of fun.


To steer the canoe the simplest way is to use a paddle at the back as a rudder, this works really well if you have someone else in the canoe that can sort out the lee board and sail, also they can move their weight in the canoe that will help keep the canoe steady on tack. If you are on your own then you might think about creating a rudder sytem. See Pic below. It might cost a few bob to find the right pivoting brackets to attach the rudder but is well worth it. If you decide to fit a proper rudder, extending with a tiller is the nicest way to steer. see pic..



Rudder OCRA

Pull string to lift the rudder out of the water.

The rudder will need to attach to the back of the canoe so it can piviot. We used Gudgeon brackets.

The Tiller works well if you extend it, you canoe use any thing long and strong from tree branch to metal pole. Wrap the end in string for a nice handle.

The Tiller can insert into the top of the rudder into a tube, make sure you attatch it somehow or you might find the tiller comes out mid tack!!


Happy Sailing ORCA
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