Choosing the Right Canoe|
Getting started sorting
through the details
With only 900 or more canoe
models to choose from and with each manufacturer having its own
classification system what could be easier than picking out a canoe? And
don't forget that canoes can be made from cedar strips, wood and canvas,
aluminum, fiberglass, Kevlar carbon fiber, polyethylene and Royalex. It's no
wonder so many people end up buying the wrong canoe which means
enjoyment and safety are compromised. Following is a way to choose the
appropriate craft for your intended use
Ask yourself how you will use
your canoe. This will make your final decision easy because shape, size, and
construction all suit different performance requirements. Answer the following:
Do I want to lake paddle, river paddle, or both? Will I paddle solo, tandem or
triple? Do I want to do extended journeys? Will I be portaging, and how heavy a
boat can I carry? How much maintenance am I willing to perform? Is my primary
interest whitewater playboating and rodeo paddling? Will I use my canoe mainly
for fishing or hunting? Do I want a canoe for casual use around the
You should now be able to place
yourself in one of the following categories: Lake Touring; flat
waterport-wildlife viewing, fishing and hunting; expedition paddling;
whitewater touring; whitewater playboating and rodeo. Once you know the
category of the canoe you want, it is simply a matter of knowing how to
recognize what length, width, shape, and construction your hull should be.
The Right Stuff
Expedition and whitewater canoes
must be strong to withstand the rigors of river environments, whereas lake
touring and sport canoes must be strong enough to carry the desired load but
light enough to be portaged. A nice combination of materials for touring and
sport canoes is a hull made from Kevlar with wood gunwales, thwarts, and seats
to keep it light. Expedition and whitewater canoes are best made from Royalex,
polyethylene, or Kevlar with vinyl-clad aluminum gunwales to ensure they
can take abuse.
The Final Tactic
Paddle as many canoes as possible
before you purchase. Demo the boats in the same kind of water you intend to use
them in. Try performing the same maneuvers in each hull to ascertain the
responsiveness of each boat. Load the craft and see how it changes performance.
Choose a dealer who is experienced in canoeing so that you get professional
input and not guesswork. If you choose the right canoe it will spend more time
on the water and less time under the front porch.
The flatter the bottom, the more
primary stability (steady when flat) the canoe has, but you give up some hull
speed. The more rounded the bottom, the less initial stability but the swifter
the hull. Flat-bottomed hulls are used in sport and cottage-type canoe hulls
because their stability makes them good for fishing and for novice paddlers. A
moderately rounded bottom is more maneuverable and capable of better speed; it
is used in touring and expedition canoe hulls.
Canoes come in all shapes
Lake canoes should have a keel or
v-bottom to help the canoe track and river canoes should not have a keel, for
maneuverability. Tumblehome (the width between the gunwales is less than the
overall width of the canoe) allows the canoe to be paddled without giving up
hull displacement which determines weight-carrying capacity (burden).
The greater the displacement, the greater the carrying capacity. Tumblehome is
often achieved in whitewater playboats by using a gunwale tuck (a method of
molding materials such as Royalex to create tumblehome).
Secondary stability (the canoe
gains stability as it is heeled over) is created by flaring the sides of the
midsections. This allows the paddler to heel the canoe over to carve
turns which is important for whitewater boats. Tumblehome is also found
in some recreational hulls.
Rocker is the amount the hull
curves from bow to stern. Rocker slows hull speed and decreases the
accommodation of large payloads. Lake and touring canoes should have
conservative amounts of rocker to increase hull speed. It is not critical for
river hulls to be fast but it is important that they have rocker for
maneuverability (5 6" is good for a 16-foot whitewater canoe). Touring
and expedition canoes should have some rocker as well (2" is good for a l6- or
l7-foot canoe). When choosing a touring, expedition, or sport canoe that will
be paddled tandem and solo, look for a symmetrical hull (the shape of the canoe
is identical fore and aft).
The bow is what cleaves the
water, so it is important that the shape suits the use. Whitewater boats need
high volume bows and sterns for buoyancy assuring their ability to go
over large waves and giving the canoe more buoyancy over shorter lengths. More
rounded ends in whitewater playboats make it easier to change direction in
upstream maneuvers as well. Touring and expedition canoe hulls need to take
lake waves (and moderate whitewater) and still have good hull speed. This is
achieved by shaping the bow and stern with a slight flare to direct water away.
The bow and stern should have low enough volume, however, to cleave waves
Length and beam (the widest
portion of the canoe at the midsection) will determine weight, carrying
capacity, maneuverability, speed, and the number of people that can paddle the
canoe. The freeboard (the amount of the hull that sits above the water line) is
greater with longer, wider, and deeper hulls increasing carrying
capacity. Know the carrying capacity of your hull. Will it meet the load
requirements for the intended use and still maintain its
Depth also determines a canoe's
ability to carry a load. Touring canoes (usually about 16 feet) are are often
13.5 inches deep, while 17-foot expedition canoes are often 15 inches deep.
Whitewater playboats (11 feet or so) are also about 15 inches deep. When
loading rockered playboats and river-runners, maneuverability is more quickly
lost. Flat-bottomed canoe hulls are least affected by loading, as they remain
stable and slow.
The canoe's width and its effect
on speed is related to length. Beam can be greater with longer boats and not
adversely affect speed. Touring and expedition canoes need to maintain
length-to-beam ratios so as not to compromise speed or load-carrying capacity.
Sport boats tend to be wider to create stability and increase payload. A good
length-to-beam ratio for a touring canoe is 16 feet to 33 inches. A good
length-to-beam ratio for an expedition canoe is 17 feet to 36 inches.
Whitewater playboats of 11 feet have beams of about 28 inches.
There are three basic seating
configurations for canoes. Traditional lake and expedition canoes have the bow
seat set almost twice as far from the bow end as the stern seat is from the
stern end. A 17 foot expedition canoe will have the back edge of the stern seat
about 30 inches from the stem end, and the front edge of the bow seat about 55
inches from the bow end. This is ideal for longer canoes that are often paddled
tandem or three in a canoe. The bow seat location gives the bow more buoyancy
in waves. Tandem whitewater touring canoes (6 to 14 feet long with four-plus
inches of rocker) are often outfitted with seats placed equidistant from the
ends. This provides space in the midsections for gear and a better paddling
position for the bow person. The whitewater tandem playboat is best outfitted
with seats placed in the Gemini position paddlers sit equidistant from
the bow and stern of the canoe in the midsections of the craft.
Solo whitewater playboats need
their pedestal or saddle mounted so that when the paddler is sitting in in the
canoe with his or her accessories stowed in their normal places, the hull is
trimmed with the bow riding one to three inches higher than the stern. Saddle
or pedestal height also is critical (the average seat height is about eight
inches). Contributed By: Douglas Whipper
Adventures "The Steamboat Springs Canoe School specializes in
whitewater canoeing. CCA provides highly personalized instruction & trips
for beginners to experts. Certified instructional guides will be your paddling
companions in tandem camp; solo canoeing adventures".