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    The Art of Lining a Canoe

    By Kevin Callan
    Picture yourself approaching a set of rapids, with only a faint out-of-the-way animal trail heading up a steep incline as a portage. To make matters worse, the white water ahead is clogged with sharp pieces of granite, is rated at least a Class III, and has a couple of dangerous ledges. Making a safe run, especially in such a far-off setting, becomes questionable, even for the die-hard fanatic. So it's obvious that the best option is to tie your canoe and cargo on a short leash and walk it down like a pet dog.
    This maneuver sounds a bit insane at first, but lining a canoe is an art form that has been practiced for years. It shouldn't be taken lightly. However, after many years of trial and error on less remote trips this technique can help transform a river thought to be un-navigable into a trip of a life time.
    First you must choose between lining with one or two ropes. Lining with two ropes attached to bow and stern takes a little more rehearsing than just having one tied on to the stern. However, it also gives you more control of the boat as it surges downstream.
    To attach your two lengths of nylon rope (27 yards/25 meters long and 1/4 inch/6mm thick) some canoeists simply tie each piece to the bow and stern base plate. This limits your control over the canoe, however. The rope is much more efficient lower to the water. You could drill holes through the upper ends of the bow and stern and place the rope through there. But I find the bridle knot (perfected by the legendary canoeist, Bill Mason) to be the best bet. Take a length of your rope and double back one end approximately two yards (two meters). Then knot both ends together in the center. Now place the two short ends of rope under the bow, so the knot is positioned under the canoe, right on the centerline, and tie the ends to the outer portions of the canoe seat. Repeat the same procedure with the other length of tracking line at the stern. With the main length of rope positioned directly under the canoe you place the point of pull on the centerline; this prevents the canoe from tipping when you're pulling it across the current.
    It is up to you whether to track the canoe downstream alone or with the help of partner. Choosing to go alone means you're going to have to adjust both ropes. This can be confusing at the best of times. But with a partner taking one end and you on the other, communication and coordination becomes essential. I've seen far too many arguments erupt from partners trying to line together. I choose to go at it alone.
    Lining solo you must adjust the two lengths of rope and regulate the angle of the canoe relative to the current. The force of the water will push against the canoe, skirting it back and forth and allowing you to place it in the desired position.
    Having the stern pointed upstream and the packs weighing down the bow will give you more maneuverability and lessens the chance of the canoe digging into the water and swamping. Also try to avoid eddies where the canoe is forced upstream with the current; it may swing broadside when forced back into the mainstream and yank you into the drink. Also make sure not to get tangled in the rope. You can drown in an instant this way, which is why all canoeists should always have a sharp belt knife on them or a sheathed blade attached to your PFD. Remember that lining is an art form, a technique where finesse and coordination beats out brute strength every step of the way.
    When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

    Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.

  • #2


    I posted something on this a while back too. There's a way to do it with only one line, if the line can be secured just aft of the mid-point of the boat. Inflatables lend themselves well to this, because there is usually a D-ring near that area. The idea is to position the line so the stern of the boat is carried away from the bank by the current, but not too far away that the current snatches the boat away from you. By gentle tugs on the line, and allowing the current to pull it out slightly now and then, lining is a fairly simple task even in fast water.

    Nice tip on not getting tangled in the line too! That's one of the most serious hazards with this.

    Michael Strahan
    Site Owner
    Alaska Hunt Consultant
    1 (406) 662-1791


    • #3
      The Art of Lining

      I'm recently back from a camping trip upriver with my kids, lining and poling two canoes. I'll see if I can attach a pic with this that my daughter took of my son and I lining. He was just pulling offshore so his bow looks to be pointed out more into the current than it normally is.

      Max, there are a couple things I'd correct with the Callan advice. Never use a nylon rope! Always use a poly-rope that floats and doesn't have any give to it. We made the mistake of using nylon the first time we sinks as it weighs down with water and drags in the current, and when the canoe is stuck and you pull there is too much give to it to get it unstuck.

      I just put a new poly lining rope on the grumman. I typically use a 120' piece of 1/4" poly, braided or twisted. Tie one end to the bow and the other end to the stern. Most every canoe has a place to tie a bow and stern line. Doesn't really matter what kind of knot you use, as long as it holds. Get the canoe out in the current (of a pool) and adjust the pull point of the line until the bow is pointed slightly away from shore. (You'll find you have a lot more line going to the stern than to the bow.) I then tie a small loop right there in the line that is the permanent pull-spot. I usually slip a beaver stick (a piece of beaver-chewed drift) in that little loop and pull from the stick, rather than from the line itself. This keeps the line from tightening around your hand when you pull, and pulling from the stick is more comfortable. When going around boulders, rocks, pieces of drift etc, you have to readjust where you pull from, so it's a matter of pulling more from the stern part of the line to move the bow out more, and vice versa with the bow line. One mistake many newbies make with lining in pool-and-riffle streams is to let the bow get pointed too much to the side when coming from a pool into an oncoming riffle that comes in from a different angle. Usually when I teach people to line, I purposely let them swamp the canoe this way (it's empty, of course <grin>) to get a feel for how quickly the "nose" of the canoe can go under when the angle of attack is off. Only thing you can do if you see the nose begin to pull under is immediately begin drawing back on the stern part of the line and let the nose swing around before it pulls under. Most newbies just keep pulling harder on the line not realizing the bow will swamp.

      Doesn't take but an hour to teach someone to line. There is an art to doing it well of course, and that takes thousands of miles and umpteen hours. Depending on how much weight you put in the canoe to line upstream, no matter how much finesse and coordination you use, you are going to need a fair amount of brute strength. Some of the riffles that are a half-mile long will test anyone, even with a lightly-loaded canoe. A 105 lb. woman can't haul the same load that a 180lb man can.

      The other half of lining that is essential is learning to pole using a 12' long or longer spruce pole. There are many places where you can't paddle upstream to overcome the current, and where there is no place to line (cutbanks, or you line to the head of an island and need to get to the nearest upstream gravel bar), so you have to pole until you can line again. Also, sometimes poling in the pools is a nice break from walking, and it's also a great workout for the upper body. Poling is a lot harder to learn than lining, and it's real easy for the pole to slip when you've got all your weight behind it, which sends you right out of the canoe. Usually happens to me at least once every summer, though this summer I've been lucky and haven't gone into the river. My son had to jump out on this trip when his pole slipped once...rather than fall headfirst it's sometimes wiser to just jump overboard and avoid getting your legs tangled in the thwarts and swamping the canoe. I once fell in this way, and one leg got caught under a thwart, and I had a heck of a time getting my head above water <grin>. I've also gone in when the pole caught against and overhanging sweeper and just pushed me right out.

      You can go almost anywhere lining, even on tiny creeks if they have enough water. You just use a shorter lining rope. On bigger rivers, like the Yukon, you can use sleddogs attached to the lining rope to pull the canoe (and you) upstream, just as they used horses and mules to line up barges in the canals back east in the old days.

      Lining a hard-shelled canoe is a great way to explore the country. It's quiet (except for the cursing that sometimes occurs <grin>), you have your head down a lot of the time along shore and see every track and plant, and of course it's great physical exercise. It doesn't get you upstream very fast, about 1 to 2 mph, depending on your load and the river or creek, but you get there eventually. I've lined thousands of pounds of supplies fifty miles upstream to our home over the years; it's how we came out here originally as well. Not many people do it anymore these days and it's a dying art.

      Best, Mark
      Attached Files
      Mark Richards


      • #4
        great ideas

        I spent 9 hours on this Last Saturday going upstream... Lining etc.
        You are so right Bushrat.. It takes time to learn to do it well.
        One thing for sure,, It is a work out and depending on the bank you have to walk on, ( cobble rocks, Boulders, or muskeg bank covered in chest high grass) I even found a few yards where it was nice gravel,,LOL.
        great suggestions by Mike on using the existing D rings on the sides..
        during the winter, or spring months I walk accross Skilak lake to the open water of the lower river, and paddle down to Bings landing. I have had times when the ice was to soft to walk on in the spring, yet not enough water to paddle along the shoreline. I cut a 10 ft pole and tie it at the yoke, then I pull with a long length of rope ahead and the other guy just walks along keeping the canoe out on the ice with the pole.
        any other ideas would be much appreciated
        When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

        Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years.


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