Understanding Paddle Feathering

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