Understanding Paddle Feathering

| March 1, 2012 | 6 Comments

Proper paddle position when using a feathered paddle.

Most of you probably own a paddle or two and already take advantage of what is commonly referred to as feathering but there is a good possibility that some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with the term “feathering”, it’s the action of positioning your blades at opposite angles to one another to reduce the wind resistance while paddling. Put simply, while one blade is in the water the other will be angled so that it is slicing through the air resulting in greater paddling efficiency. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

Using a feathered versus an un-feathered paddle has been a cause for continual debate amongst many paddlers. Sea kayakers and coastal kayak anglers tend to feel the need to use feathered paddles as their outings typically involve long distance fights against the winds while white water paddlers are more concerned with paddle durability and less so with the slight speed advantage of the decreased wind resistance. Other paddlers don’t care either way or feel that using a paddle in its simplest form works just fine for them. Then of course you have those that may have heard about feathering and know they have those features available on their paddle but just don’t understand it.

Understanding and Adjusting the Feathering Position

Figure 1. (Click to enlarge)

Most two-piece paddles (even some lower-end models) will typically offer at least two angle positions, some will have 3, as shown on Figure 1. The ferrule (the joint where the two halves of the paddle attach) of the paddle has three different slots that the button can clip into — 60 degrees to the right, 0 degrees, and 60 degrees to the left. By giving both a left and right angle option, users can choose which hand to use as their control hand. Typically, right-handed people will feather the right paddle while left-handing people will feather the left but can vary depending on the person.

Figure 2. (Click to enlarge)

Mid to higher-end paddles typically offer even greater adjustability as shown in Figure 2. This ferrule or a similar one is commonly found on many higher-end paddles. This one in particular offers angles to the right or left in smaller, 15 degree increments. This could be useful for paddlers who face constantly changing wind speeds where a jump to a 60 degree angle is not necessary. Some paddles offer a feathering angle up to 90 degrees.

When to Feather
Once again, the concept is fairly simple. Feathering is most advantageous when paddling into high winds. The higher the angle of your blade, the less resistance you will encounter. Alternatively, an un-feathered paddle can be advantageous when the wind is at your back, working as a small sail each time the blade is raised into the air.

How to Use a Feathered Paddle
When using a feathered paddle, you are required to rotate the shaft of the paddle with your hand so that your blade “slices” the water at a vertical angle. This will cause the other blade to rotate in the opposite direction resulting in more horizontal position thus slicing the air. The main image above shows a great example of this. This movement requires one of your hands to help rotate the shaft, which is commonly referred to as your “control hand”.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind
If you’ve never used a feathered paddle before, remember that it may feel a bit awkward at first. Try it a few times off the water first. When ready to try it on water, do it on a mild day with little wind. Also, keep in mind that the extra rotational movement when using a can put a strain on the wrist of your control hand. If you feel any strain, lower your feathering angle. To better understand the impact of the wind on your blades, while paddling on a windy day, put your back to the wind and raise a single blade vertically in the air, you will be surprised at how a little wind will propel your kayak.

There is so much more to paddling techniques than can be explained in just a few words. As always, we recommend you seek out lessons by a professional instructor. Using a feathered paddle may not be for everyone but with a little time and practice, you’ll truly understand the value of utilizing this technique. Do you use a feathered paddle? Any advice for those that don’t?

Joseph @ACK

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Kayaking, Knowledge, Resources

Comments (6)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Kristian says:

    nice article Joseph!

  2. Haris says:

    I find that the advantages of feathered paddle for combating wind-resistance are only worth considering for racers where miliseconds matter. In sea kayaking, the wind blows from all over the place and having a feathered paddle with strong side winds exposes the full blade to the wind. Changing feather to adapt to wind in not advisable since that will mess up your bracing reflexes.

    The best argument for paddle feathering I’ve ever heard has to do with high-angle paddle technique. If you use low angle paddling, no feather is required because your forearms remain on the same plane. If you use high-angle paddle and if you find that your upper hand ends up almost on top of your lower hand as you plant the blade you need to feather to avoid stressing your wrists. Take your hands and put them in front of you in the high angle catch position. Now look at your forearms. They are not on the same plane, are they? To plant your blade perpendicular to the direction of movement you will need to either feather or bend your wrist.

    White water paddlers should care about feather! A lot! They are the ones with the most aggressive high-angled paddle strokes!

    • Dave says:

      My sentiments exactly, Haris. I’ve been fitness paddling for years in an Ocean Kayak P13, mostly on the same lake that has some weird wind patterns. I started to experiment with feathering when I used a Werner Skagit (low angle paddle) and simply found little benefit. The constant wrist motion was uncomfortable. After my fitness improved, I moved to a Werner Tybee (high angle paddle) and started to be more serious about my technique. A few months ago I noticed with this paddle that I was naturally putting some twist on the shaft with each stroke and it just didn’t feel right. Putting a 15 degree feather on the Tybee solved the problem, providing a more balanced/comfortable forward stroke (confirming what Haris described). What little feathering I use is because of ergonomics and smoother form rather than by wind resistance.

      I do accept that other paddlers find benefit to feathering for speed/water conditions/wind–it’s just great to be able to fine tune a paddle regardless.

  3. Katyakker says:

    Great article, Joseph. My first two-piece paddle came with the option to assemble it feathered or straight. I tried paddling both ways, but just could not get used to the straight configuration. Go figure! I have paddled feathered ever since.

    More than lowering wind resistance, I believe that paddling feathered will be more efficient through more fluid strokes. I find that I tend to naturally follow the proper paddling form with a feathered paddle.

  4. samerlends says:

    Interesting stuff. Never came across before. I am just wondering, what next innovation will be to save miliseconds?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *