What To Consider When Choosing a Canoe Seat Backrest ?

Traditionally, canoe seats are simple benches spanning across the narrow body of the vessel, giving paddlers an elevated spot to sit while they maneuver the boat. As canoes are modernized and updated to meet more specific needs, many athletes choose to equip their canoe seats with backrests for better support and comfort while they’re on the water.


Here’s what to consider when choosing a canoe seat backrest:


  • Expected water conditions
  • Paddle mobility
  • Seat sizing specifications
  • Seat mounting
  • Emergency flotation device


There are a variety of canoe seats that are available on the market, each designed to attempt to give the paddler a comfortable experience on the water. Read on to learn what factors you ought to take into consideration when choosing a seat and backrest for your canoe.

Choose the Right Backrest for the Expected Water Conditions

The intensity of the water you intend to canoe in should influence your decision when choosing your backrest. If you’re going to canoe through calm waters, such as a lake or pond, then almost any seating addition you choose will be fine as long as you have room to move your arms.


If you’re taking the canoe through rougher waters, however, you may want to choose your backrest a little more carefully. Rough waters can throw the boat around, and the passengers too.


It’s important to have the ability to twist and turn as needed while you’re whitewater boating.


Stand Up Paddle Board World goes as far as to state that, in whitewater or river-rapids canoeing settings, there’s little to no need for a backrest at all. If you absolutely require a backrest for lumbar support, then a smaller unit that does not impede the motion of the paddles or elbows is preferable in a whitewater setting.

How Canoes Are Used

Canoes can be used either in a competitive racing or recreational fashion. Racing and playboating, however, typically involves kayaks instead of canoes, although there are some exceptions.


The main function of a canoe in a recreational and explorative setting is to expand and enhance the boaters’ appreciation of their natural surroundings.


Canoes are generally designed to carry a few passengers and supplies across the water. This means that canoes can be fitted for comfort and function rather than fully optimized for speed and agility.


There are still a few factors that must be taken into account when you’re setting up your canoe with seats and backrests, such as the expected water conditions you’ll be canoeing in and the amount of space taken up by the seating arrangements.

Ensure a Full Range of Paddle Mobility

The ability to move your arms in a full range of motion is crucial to your ability to canoe effectively. If the backrest is too large or is positioned in a way that impedes your arm motion, it can hinder your effectiveness on the water.


Freedom of motion is important because it allows the paddler to utilize their energy efficiently, preventing early burnout from maneuvering arms and paddles around bulky backrests. Most backrests that are designed specifically for canoes provide adequate mobility.


If you’re making a DIY backrest for your canoe, however, be sure to keep mobility in mind.

Choose a Seat That Works With Your Canoe’s Size Specifications

The most popular canoes, according to REI, range between 16’ and 17’ (4.87-5.18 m) long and vary in width. As a general rule, wider canoes are more stable on the water than narrow ones.


However, wider boats are also naturally slower, requiring more energy on behalf of the rower.


Canoes vary in width because they are designed for different purposes. When you’re purchasing a seat or backrest for your canoe, be sure to measure the width of the seats or rowers’ benches to make sure the backrest is compatible with your specific canoe.

Think About How You’re Going To Mount the Seat

Traditionally, canoe seating consists of planks or benches resting horizontally across the bow and stern quarters of the boat. These rustic seats don’t allow much to stabilize the addition of a backrest, especially against the violent tossing of whitewater rapids.


When you’re choosing the seat or backrest you want for your canoe, be sure to take the mounting and securing method into consideration. There are a few main ways seats and backrests are mounted in canoes, as exemplified by The Coastal Side.


Not all of the following seating types have backrests, however, as some of them are intended for more competitive boating.


Some of these seating options could be adapted to have a backrest if required:


  • Bucket seats: Bucket seats must be installed into the boat and are a standard for tandem canoes if they’re 17’ (5.18 m) or longer, but do not typically include backrests. Some canoes feature sliding bucket seats, but these too are less conducive to backrests than other seating types.
  • Hung suspension seats: Another common type of seating used in canoes are suspended seats, which hang between the interior walls of the boat. Depending on the structure of the suspension seat, you may be able to strap or fix a seat cushion and backrest onto a suspension seat once
  • Cane seat: Cane seats are a more traditional seating option, consisting of a single wooden piece that is fixed between the walls of the boat. Cane seats allow paddlers to either sit or kneel as they prefer, and are easily compatible with folding or solid-structure backrest additions.
  • Strapped seat and backrest: Similar to stadium seat cushions, these seats are made up of two pads, held together by a triangle of straps. The seat pad is strapped to the underside of the bench or cane seat, allowing the rower to lean back on the support of the straps and second pad.

Choose a Seat and Backrest To Be Used as a Flotation Device

It’s important to keep safety in mind as well when you’re choosing the fitting for your canoe.


Remember that nature is untamed, and accidents do happen. In the unfortunate event that the canoe should capsize, it’s beneficial to have a seat and/or backrest that doubles as an emergency flotation device.


Most padded canoe seats and backrests are designed to be buoyant, not only for emergency situations but also in case the backrest should simply be dropped in the water. Be sure to check the owner’s manual of your seat and backrest to confirm if it can be used as a floatation device before taking it out on the water.

Final Thoughts

Backrests can be an important addition to a canoe in terms of comfort and support.


In many cases, the presence of a cushion and backrest can allow paddlers to go on far longer than they expect, which means bigger and grander adventures through nature. It’s important to take a number of factors, including the size of your canoe, type of seating, and the intended water conditions, into consideration when choosing a backrest for your canoe.

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