Seats with back rests?


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Quick intro since I am new here. I am a builder of SOF kayaks and kits and I have gotten interested in canoes. I am currently building one for my personal use as a fishing boat for the smaller creeks and streams around me.

Here is a photo of the frame. It is almost finished and ready for skinning.


The last thing I will do is install the seat. Since this is a new design and my first canoe I am not really sure how high I will be able to mount it and keep the boat stable enough to fish and move around comfortably.

If I am going to spend several hours in this boat I am going to need some back support so I am looking for some ideas of a nice looking way to do this. I don't need anything really tall, just something on the lower back. In my kayaks I have a nylon backband that I sell that depending on the seat height might work. But I am would like something that would look a little better and hoping you guys could give me some ideas.

I saw a premade wicker seat with back from one of the suppliers but I really prefer to make my own if I can. I could just stick a stadium seat on top of the steat and that may be the best option. But I was hoping for something a bit more creative and better looking.
I’ve been following with interest the design and building of this canoe on the WoodenBoat Magazine forums. Others here might find your postings of interest:

Assuming your canoe has a typical depth of around 12” in the center, your seats would typically be hung from the inwales (or less often, fastened to stringers built into the side of the hull), perhaps 2”-3” below the inwale. The seat is usually set high enough so you can easily slide your feet and legs under it when kneeling, and so it is a good height for resting your derriere against the front edge of the seat while kneeling. If the seat is set too low (or if you are sitting on the bottom of the boat), it is difficult to paddle with a single-blade paddle, and the seat edge becomes useless as a butt support while kneeling.

Because you are not sitting on the floor (unlike in a kayak), your legs need not be stretched out straight forward all the time. In a kayak, with legs stretched straight forward, a backrest is basically a necessity. But in a canoe, sitting higher up, so that your legs can be moved about and even tucked under you, the backrest is not necessary, and most people find it an inconvenience. Even when on a camping trip of several days, paddling several hours most days, I (and many others) have never felt the need for a backrest.

My wife, however, does usually like to have a backrest. We use one that has a metal frame, a somewhat padded seat and stretched nylon fabric for the backrest; the backrest can fold forward down onto the seat, making it somewhat easier to crawl over the seat. The whole shebang is held onto the canoe’s seat with two nylon straps and plastic clasps of the sort found on backpacks -- a not entirely satisfactory system, because the seat is deeper front-to-back than most canoe seats, and therefore it slides a bit. I believe we bought it at LL Bean, but similar ones are generally available. We have found that the wooden/cane seats often don't fit on the seat rails of our canoes.

If you already have a stadium seat, you may want to try using it for a while before going to the trouble of making a backrest. You may find that you really don’t want one.


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At only 28" wide I am not sure how high the seat will be yet. Stability figures looked good but as I said, canoes are new ground for me so I don't have a good feel for the what the numbers mean. Plus with the internal framework I am a little concerned that I may not be able to easily slide my feet under the seat too. About as many questions as I have answers at this point in the build. I should start skinning it next week. So it won't be long before I know what I have.

Reminds me of designing my first kayak. I was scared to death till that first paddle.

This is not going to be a distance paddling boat, it's main purpose is to fish from. If I am going to cover distance it will be in a kayak. I will want a back rest while fishing. I fish some from my kayak(s) some but I know a small canoe is going to be much more practical for fishing.

I did some digging around the old posts and saw something so simple and yet elegant too. I think this is perfect for this boat. A wood frame back hinged to the seat with chains anchored to the seat frame for support. I will probably use paracord or some 3 braid, but that gave me the idea I needed. Just need to learn to lace wicker or maybe cheat and use something else.
Here was what I saw, a canoe chair. Overkill for my purposes but I can use the idea and scale it down to make a simple folding back attached the seat.

The seat you show was, I believe, intended primarily for passengers, and is designed to be placed on the bottom of the boat. It was sold by Morris and other builders in the early part of the 20th century.

But attaching such a back to a seat placed at a reasonable height, supported by paracord (or perhaps something less stretchy) should work.

However, with a 28" beam and a shallow arch bottom, your 15’ canoe would seem built more for speed and/or distance, rather than just sitting around fishing. I expect your canoe will be fairly tender, with its shallow-arch hull and 26 ½” waterline beam. My Old Town 15’ fifty-pounder, for example, has a beam of 34 ½ ”. Many canoes built primarily for fishing are even wider, and tend to have a flatter, rather than a rounder, bottom.

I think you’ve built a sleek, fast, agile boat that will be fun to paddle, but I think you are going to have to be careful how you move about when you reach for a beer while waiting for a strike, especially if the cooler is behind you and you have to reach over the seat back to get to it.

If you do build a backrest, weaving cane is not hard -- just a bit time-consuming. It can be a way to make TV watching more productive.
The canoe chair posted by Kudzu looks pretty darn familiar.... the rug does too... although Denis gave the rug to his daughter when we were afraid our puppy Bertie would piddle on it.

The chair is a Morris and is mahogany... Kennebec offered the same chair. Works nicely in the middle of our canoe that's missing its middle thwart. We'll probably take it to the Assembly, along with the other type that rests against the thwart and a couple non-Morris that may be for sale.

Well thank you Kathryn for posting the photo. It gave me a simple idea to resolve my quandary. I am in your debt. :) But just a little!

As for the stability I use Steve Killings Stability Factor as guide for boats. It's far from perfect but it gives me a reference point/general idea of what to expect from my boats and so far no surprises on the kayaks.

ASSUMING I made no errors when I wrote the formula in the spreed sheet and that the numbers for canoes will 'feel' similar to the kayaks it will be fine for me. Stonefly is a 95 on his scale.

From his web site:
98 will be initially tender to some novices, but after a few paddles will be quite comfortable
92 is not comfortable to most novices.

I expect it will be more tender than most canoes but as you pointed out it will be faster too. All this was on purpose. Compromise in one are to gain in another. Now looking at it built, I do wonder if the figures are really accurate because it looks small. I am expecting to have to mount the seat a little lower than normal to keep it CoG low. But I regularly paddle kayaks with lower stability and fish from them, so I think I will adapt quickly. But of course I could be wrong too. But there is no better teacher than experience! Worst case I have a fast canoe that I don't fish from.

If I had been designing this boat for someone or to sell lits or plans for it, I would have done it a lot different. I am talking with someone about building him one once Stonefly is launched. It will be a lot different and I want to take what I learn here and apply it his boat. But first steps first!
I have not been familiar with Steve Killing’s “stability factor” but have now read the information found at .

He talks about loading a boat – 400 pounds for a tandem, and 250 pounds for a single – and he says that he sets the waterline as the center of gravity for canoes. He doesn’t specify where he locates the CoG for a kayak – I presume at the same low location. But I don’t think that this reflect the reality of how most canoes are loaded most of the time. I think a canoe with people sitting on seats usually has it CoG a fair bit higher than the waterline. In any event, a canoe with people sitting on seats will certainly have a CoG considerably higher than a kayak with people sitting on or near the bottom. Only if a canoe is loaded with a good deal of camping gear will the CoG be in the neighborhood of the waterline.

In computing the stability factor for your boat, where did you assume the weight was located? If you actually sit higher than this point, I think the stability factor number will not mean much.

Anyone who has moved from a sitting position to a kneeling position in a canoe before entering rapid water knows the difference that transferring even a part of the body weight of the paddler from the seat to the floor of a canoe makes a significant difference in stability; conversely, piling a load on the deck of a kayak will profoundly affect its stability.

Some small canoes are designed for sitting on or near the bottom – usually paddled with a 2-bladed paddle. But to use a 2-bladed paddled efficiently, that usually means a canoe with minimum depth and low freeboard in addition to a narrow beam. Platt Monfort’s small Geodesic canoes, for example, are so designed, and have a midship depth usually around 10” ,

You may have to have a very low seat to get stability consistent with your stability number – thereby losing a good bit of the utility of an open canoe for fishing as compared to a kayak – the ready movement about the canoe that a higher seat facilitates. Sitting kayak style in a narrow open canoe does not really give you a great deal of ready freedom of movement – more than a kayak, certainly, but not the same as sitting on a well-raised seat. I suppose you do have readier access to your tackle box and other fishing gear. And you apparently are used to fishing from the confines of a kayak, and almost anything will give greater freedom for fishing than that.

This is an interesting experiment – probably not my idea of a fishing boat, but then, I’m not much of a fisherman. But your boat is attractive and being SOF, will be light in weight. It looks like it will be a blast to paddle.

By the way, what are you planning to use for a skin?
Don't you hate it when you have a reply written and close the wrong window? Let me try again.

My experience with these numbers has been they are pretty accurate, not perfect but it has given me a single number that means something. Most of my Kayak designs are in the 93-96 range. According to Steve's descriptions most novices should find these a bit uncomfortable. I work at keeping the seats low and experienced paddles comment on how stable they feel and new paddlers have no problems after just a few minutes.

I have one that has a SF of 76 I think it is. This boat with any kind of pad, even a 1/2" thick piece of dense foam becomes a wild ride. Sit on the floor boards and it's whole new animal. That 1/2" change makes an unbelievable difference. So I understand what even a small change in CoG makes.

So when it came to the canoe I just used his figures 'as-is' trusting that the Canoe numbers are similar to the kayaks in the way the boat will feel. If so I am good. If the numbers prove to be different and this boat doesn't feel as stable as I expect at least I have a reference point for the next one. You have to start somewhere and I have learned to not accept common believes as truth. According "to most people" my boats shouldn't be stable or as fast or ____ because they are to narrow, too short, etc. Funny thing is they do exactly what they shouldn't. ;)

BTW, if you plug in the numbers for Stonefly into the kayak formula you get a SF of 156 vs 95 for a canoe. So obviously he is allowing for a higher CoG in the canoe.

I am going skin this boat in a polyester fabric. I have been using nylon and the more I use it the less I like it. It's a good fabric but it just has some drawbacks. One of the things I love about polyester is that it is not fussy about finishes like nylon. I can just apply paint as a waterproofing and that is probably what I am going to do on this one.

My scales broke but I guessing the frame to weight around 30-35 lbs. It is obviously heavier than my kayak frames but there is more wood in it. I am thinking finished boat will come in around 40 lbs. I was hoping for 35 but that is not going to happen. I learned a few ways to make the boat stronger and lighter on the next design. I think a 35-38 lbs on a 15 footer is very realistic.
Just thought I would post a photo of the boat. Basically ready to seal the skin. Then will just need to install some rubrails and settle on the seat after a couple of paddles.