Chestnut Prospector Stripper Seats


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I have built a Chesnut Prospector Stripper from Bear Mountain Plans. Its a 16' canoe.
Now I am trying to faster the seats to the canoe. The plans call for the front edge of the bow seat to be 40" from the center point of the canoe. The front edge of the stern seat should be 48-52" from the center point.

This does not seem right to me. Most books say to put them the same distance from the center.

My wife and I are both fairly heavy. She (sitting in the bow) is 160 pounds. I(sitting in the stern) am 220 pounds.

If there is any adjustment to be made in seat placement, most books would have the stern seat CLOSER to the center point if the stern paddler is heavier than the bow paddler.

So, I am confused. Any thoughts?

Seat placement is I think somewhat an arbitrary process. As you bring up weights of paddlers, that indicates to me your underlying concern is trim and stability. Another issue is comfort and another maximizing load capacity, if you’re planning to trip in the canoe.

I have a 17 foot prospector that I paddle solo, with bow paddlers, and with tripping loads.
For paddling solo, where the seats are makes no difference, as I paddle kneeling in front a quarter thwart. When I paddle with out a load but with a bow paddler, I find the prospector handles best when its stern heavy. The prospector is fairly round bottomed and with some rocker, so its tippy when evenly trimmed and lightly loaded. When I’m tripping, the load offsets any imbalances in weight distribution caused by the paddlers and puts the canoe deep enough in the water for good stability—where the seats are make no difference in trim with a load.

So I would say the only situation where seat placement makes a difference in trim is when you’re paddling with two paddlers, lightly loaded, and then you want to be stern heavy. So put the back seat as far back as you can

Many times canoe seats are suspended 2-4 inches below the gunnel, using dowels as spacers. As a big person (six foot and 220 lbs) I like more legroom, so I put the seats right underneath the gunnels—no dowel spacers on the front seats and just two spacers on the back of the back seat to get it close to level. Actually I mount the rear seat tipped forward an inch or two from level, as I am usually paddling stern heavy anyway.
As Larry says, seat placement is a compromise between achieving proper balance (slightly stern heavy, usually) in a variety of load situations, comfortable paddling, and having enough room for your feet.

You may this article interesting: placement.pdf . It is by our own Rollin Thurlow and appeared in Wooden Canoe Journal number 64 (and is one of many great articles appearing in the recently released PDF-format Journal Archive - Christmas is coming, nudge, nudge).
Interesting comments from both of you. I really appreciate the quick response. The board doesn't have a ton of activity, so I expected much less. I liked the article. Also very much liked the personal experience of a 220 lb paddler--thanks Larry! I have never paddled the Prospector, and am a novice anyway. So I am reluctant to drill holes for the seat bolts until I am fairly sure of placement.

Larry, from your comments it would appear that having the Prospector stern heavy is not a bad thing. The article mentioned 40" for the bow seat. I measured a friend's 14' canoe and it was 41" from center. The plans mention 40". Just placing the bow seat at 40" seems to look and feel pretty good for my wife, with sufficient foot room, and a good compromise for hull width at that point for paddling ease.

I wonder if it is a good idea to try to clamp the seats in position, over top of the gunnel, and launch and try it? I can envision the seats coming adrift, however, and launching both of us into the water!

Perhaps bolt the bow seat at 40", which seems to be a consensus. Then clamp the stern seat in the 48-52 inches that the plans recommend, and try it? Thoughts?

This canoe has been a long time in making. Actually it borders on 10 years now. I built the hull in Connecticut in winter of 1996-7. Then we moved to Florida and the boat sat, glassed and gunnel shaped, but no trim, until last year, when I finished the gunnels and decks and varnished the epoxy. Since I had it covered against the UV, there was no clouding. The canoe is not perfect, but looks pretty good. I built the hull without staples--using just clamps until the glue set, so there are no staple holes in the hull. I have the red cedar hull, white cedar "racing stripe down the hull", mahogony stems and decks, and ash gunnels. All that is left is the seats and we can launch it. So you can see my trepidation....

Larry, I particularly appreciate your comments on seat height. I am 5'10", so a bit shorter, but no lightweight. And at 56, I am less nimble than some of your other guys. So the seat a bit higher might be better.

Since the Prospector is symetrical, I assume one can paddle "backwards" from the "bow" seat if paddling solo? I have done nothing to the boat to fix the bow vs stern. That would put weight closer to the middle, while still having it stern heavy. Larry, I cannot assume I am up for long kneeling periods in the canoe!

Sorry for rambling. I don't exactly feel comfortable with the decision...
I've (hopefully) attached a couple of photos of the canoe. The single thwart is just loosely inserted, not bolted.

Thanks, Mark.


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I think you'll find that clamping the seat frame on top of the gunwale and sitting up there will make the boat incredibly tippy. The inch or two of height difference made by suspending the seats below the gunwale can often make a drastic difference in stability. I think you could go ahead and mount the bow seat and then clamp a seat frame (or even a 1x4) on top of the stern and use it for a temporary kneeling thwart while paddling to find your best crew positions, but sitting on top of the boat really raises your center of gravity and lowers stability. Once you have your kneeling position figured out, I'd probably just mount the seat with the forward crossbar about where the thwart was (normally, the working "center" of a paddler's weight can be estimated to be at the front crossbar of their seat frame).

It's also possible to calculate paddlers' weights vs. the distances of their respective seat frames from the boat's center and mathematically find the spacing that should result in level trim. A lower-tech approach that we used to use was to mount one seat and take along a short (about 10"-12" tall) three-legged stool for test paddling. As crude as it sounds, I really think it was one of the easiest, most accurate ways to find the proper location for that second seat.

Of course there is also the approach of putting the bow seat on a slider, so that trim can be adjusted out on the water. The best looking one I've seen was from Green Valley Canoes:
Well, as you’re a novice paddler, I would say that until you get some paddling experience under your belt, you’re not going to be able to distinguish the effect of seat placement on trim and stability vs all the other stuff effecting trim and stability, especially your paddling skills. So make the front seat comfy with good leg room for the Mrs. And the back seat back for stern heavy. There are no seat belts on them, so me and my daughters some times sit in them, sometimes kneel with our butts against them when conditions call for more stability and different trim.

I’m coming up on 56 and I’ve knelt at least 50% of the time I’ve been paddling over the last 15 years. Yours is a stripper and mine is wood canvas, which is a little easier on the knees than a stripper as it flexes more. I’m on the cover of one Wooden Canoe soloing it alongside Bill Conrad.

Bill Mason’s book, Path of the Paddle, deals a lot with trim and performance, and I don’t think there’s a word in it about seat placement, but a lot about paddler placement.
So you're a little guy. :) You shouldn't have too much trouble with trim.
I'm about 340, and the stern is always low. :)

Anyway, yes, you are on the right track thinking about where to place the seats. I don't any actual numbers but, move both seats as far forwad as you can AND still have comfortable leg room for your wife. If your experience is like mine, you can't move the seats far enough forward to get good trim.

When paddling on day outings with my wife, we often put a couple bags of salt under her seat, and on campouts put the packs as far forward as possible.

On some of mine, I used small coolers to sit on for test paddles to determine seat placement.

I jumped in here largely because of being familiar with how the Prospector hull, which is moderately rockered and round-bottomed, performs. I have an 18-foot Ogily, flat bottomed and no rocker, that’s almost indifferent to trim. In fact the front seats of some Ogilvy’s are mounted on top on the gunnel. I do know when Becca, my larger daughter (also a six footer) is in the bow, we’re tippier than when Betsy, my smaller daughter, is in the bow. Stern heavy, the Prospector tracks like it has a rudder on it, which makes it easier for the stern paddler to go straight.
Just an aside -that white cedar(accent) racing strip will give your hull at least 10 mph advantage over other prospectors without one! So maybe you should consider seatbelts!!:D
Wow. Thanks everyone for all the great input! And the wonderful lighthearted comments by everyone. This is the first time in a long time that I've been called a "little guy"! :) Thanks, Dan!!!

Sounds like the concensus is to mount the front seat at a point where its comfy for Mrs. Probably about 40" from the center point. That seems to be a good place. Then do NOT clamp the rear seat, but rather get a small cooler or stool and place it in the rear and test paddle. Aiming for a stern heavy paddling trim with the two of us and no additional gear. We can then always adjust trim using coolers or gear, when tripping.

Several of you have mentioned height of the seat, which I guess is another consideration. I think it will be easier to adjust height than position (don't want to drill additional holes!), but if I can get close in height, it would be easier. So I am considering about 11-12" above the sole. Slightly higher than some, for better foot room.

Thanks again!
Well, just a followup. I took all the advice and it was excellent! I got a small cooler that was about 10.5" high. Put the canoe in the grass, marked off various distances and had the Mrs and myself sit on the cooler at various positions. It turns out that advice was spot on. The trim is not as important as general seating position. We adjusted the front seat to 39" from the center, to give an additional 1" of foot and butt room. In the stern, we looked at a nominal 40", but it would not work at all. The canoe was way too wide at that point. The book and plans recommend 48-52" from the center. At 48", we had an excellent, wide seat (for my wide butt), and also fairly reasonable width of canoe to paddle. So, we fixed the two dimensions at 39" for the bow seat, 48" for the stern seat. We also fixed the height at about 10-11" above the sole. This meant hanging the seats on 6" and 5" bolts, which is about as long as we felt could reasonably be used. The Prospector is a deep canoe.

So, today, we took it out for maiden paddle. It was wonderful! Truly, the Prospector stern heavy is not a problem. We shifted the cooler forward to help compensate. That might be a result of the significant rocker of the canoe. It tracked well, was easy to paddle and very manouverable. It felt initially a little tippier than the rental canoes we have used in the past, but ultimate stability seemed very good. I then tried it solo, sitting on the "bow" seat, but running the canoe backward, since it is symmetrical. No problem, except the canoe is fairly wide at that point and its a little hard to paddle. And hard to turn with one paddler nearly amidships! And it did trim stern heavy at this point, even with cooler in the bow. So, I either have to lose weight (unlikely) or get a bigger cooler!!!!

So, what a rush! Lots of folks stopped to stare and comment on how nice it looked. We are physched and happy as all get out.

Thanks for all the advice and help on seat placement.
Trim, rocker, stern heavy, and stability.

Last spring I did a paddle with Steve Lapey in a new 16 footer he had just built that ended up with more rocker than he had intended. It taught a lesson in trim, rocker, stern heavy, and stability. With me in the stern and him in the bow, we were moderately stern heavy but still tippy as all get out. My guess is the vertical planes of bow and stern were not in the water and we were teeter-tottering on the rounded middle 12 feet of hull. Paddling in the stern, I used an underwater recovery stroke constantly to keep us right side up.

When we reached the end of the trip and turned around, Steve had had enough and moved to kneeling behind the bow seat, making us even more stern heavy. Made all the difference in the world! Suddenly we were in a rocket. Boomed along with not a care in the world.