Dealing With Boat Veer

It happens to us all, but it’s most frustrating for beginners- that maddening tendency for your boat, which was pointed in the direction you wanted it to go, to inexplicably veer off to one side or the other, out of control and taking you with it.  This is common, and with practice you develop tricks for recognizing this damnable veer and getting it under control before it becomes an issue.  This article will help you to understand what causes veer, and will also give you a couple of tips on how to correct it.

First, all whitewater boats veer

They veer because they’re engineered to turn easily.
What this also means is that in order to go in a straight line, you need to keep the boat more or less in that ‘balance’ spot where it’s not veering to either side too terribly much- the fact is that the boat doesn’t want to go in a straight line… it’s always in a state of veer so long as you’re moving against water.

Common reasons for veer:

  •     Your forward stroke may be too long
  •     Your forward stroke may be uneven from hand to hand
  •     It’s possible that you’re canting your hips to one side but not the other
  •     It’s possible that you’re dealing with outside forces like current or wind

Your forward stroke may be too long:The forward stroke begins by your feet and ends at your hips.  Anything you do behind your hips with the paddle blade has increased torque to turn the boat, so unless you are correcting or introducing veer on purpose, there’s no need to pull your stroke much behind your hip.  Conversely, if you want to overcome veer, a wide paddle stroke on the side you’re veering towards, followed by a finishing draw stroke far to the stern on that same side will pull your stern back in line with your veering bow.

Your forward stroke may be too wide:  A vertical paddle shaft will cause you to turn the boat less than a tilted one- remember, the farther out your blade is, the more rotational leverage you have against your boat’s center of rotation– again, useful for introducing or correcting veer, but not useful for going in a straight line.


You may be applying power at the wrong time in your stroke:  If you look at the physical mechanics of your stroke, you’ll see that it’s very difficult to push directly back once your paddle has gone past your hip- your paddle is no longer vertical and the rotation of your torso virtually guarantees that you’ll be introducing some directional change to the boat, meaning that if you begin your stroke easy and finish it with a lot of power, you’re applying power at just the right moment to initiate boat veer.  Conversely, if you begin your stroke with a lot of power and finish it lightly, you’re much less likely to inadvertently introduce any strange directional voodoo into the equation.

Your forward stroke may be uneven from hand to hand: If you’re like the rest of us, you’re stronger with one hand than the other.  Feel out the strength of your weaker hand and make your strokes the same power on both sides.  Also, pay attention to the angle of your paddle shaft from one side to the other- if your forward stroke is flatter on one side than it is on the other, you’re stroking wider on one side, and introducing more veer with one side than you are with the other.

It’s possible that you’re canting your hips to one side but not the other:  If your boat has chines, play around with what happens when you drop a rail- not only is this good balance exercise, it also gives you a ‘keel’ of sorts- useful for introducing and/or correcting veer to a limited extent.  it’s also good practice to separate the movements of your upper and lower body, so that they can move independently of each other.

It’s possible that you’re dealing with outside forces like current or wind.  When you pull your boat through the water, you create turbulence- you’re pushing a bow wave of water, you’re pulling a suction wave behind you, etc.  The goal is to keep these forces in balance from side to side, but it takes very little outside force to upset that balance- notice that ‘flatwater’ near the sides of the river is actually not still- it’s moving more slowly on one side of you than on another, and as such your pressure wave will be interacting with different forces on your left and on your right, even though an actual eddyline isn’t visible.

You’ll notice that as you try to go faster and faster on flatwater, the boat will be more and more prone to veer- again, probably a function of the design of most boats, although it’s likely that as we speed up we do interesting things to our strokes that aren’t necessarily good.  Also, as you get that bow wave built up, the forces pushing against your bow get stronger, meaning you end up having less time in which to arrest them easily- once the boat gets into a slide, it’s hard to get back into balance without scrubbing most or all of your speed.

So What do I do about it?

When your bow shanks off in one direction, against your will, you’ve got a few options:

  • Go with it.  Act like you meant to go there.  Probably not the best thing, but sometimes it’s fun.
  • Push your bow back straight with a wide forward stroke on the same side as the veer.  This sometimes works, especially with shorter boats… but not always.  Remember, your boat will go straight as long as the pressure of oncoming water is balanced evenly on both sides- and when you’re veering, the bow pressure is imbalanced.  Your stroke will have to be powerful enough to equalize the push of water on the opposite side of the bow.
  • Pull your stern in line with your bow using a sweep/stern draw:  If your wide forward stroke is not powerful enough, continue this stroke towards the far stern and draw the paddle blade towards the stern.  What will actually happen is that you will pull your stern back in line with your bow.  This is a powerful turning stroke.
  •  Scrub your speed by braking on the opposite side.  If retaining your speed is not as important as controlling the direction you’re pointing, the most powerful option you have is to put in a reverse stroke on the side opposite your veer.

This gets easier with practice and in time you’ll forget that the boat wants to do this.  generally, I’ve found that flat-hulled boats are very prone to veer, but also easier to correct than round ones.  By the same token, short boats veer easily, but are more easily corrected than their longer brethren, which tend to track comparatively well but recover poorly from veer.

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with veer is that if you always keep an active paddle blade in the water, you’ll always have a way to deal with it, hopefully before it becomes an issue.  This may sound obvious, but it’s the honest truth- find a way to keep one blade in the water, active at all times, and you’ll find yourself in better control of your boat.As you begin to play with draws and other traveling strokes, this will make a lot more sense.  If you haven’t, definitely watch S.O.A.R. for Ken Whiting’s tips on draws, or if possible, take a clinic from the likes of Eric Jackson or Ken Whiting or Sam Drevo or Jason Bates or Corran Addison- they’re all good teachers whose input will change the way you paddle.