Common Styles and Shapes of Canoes

So, you want to buy a canoe? This process can be easy and fun, but it is also a daunting task to ensure success. You could simply go to the sporting goods store, pick one off the shelf, take it to the register, complete your purchase, strap it to the roof and you’re off to the lake! However, there are a few items of consideration such as whitewater verses flatwater canoes and recreational verses tripping. Then there is maneuverability, rigidity and ease of control to think about. Take a moment to learn about canoe styles and shapes to ensure a quality purchase that leads to many years of enjoyment on the water.

Recreational canoes are made to be steady, maneuverable and easy to control. They are typically between 13’ and 16’ and boast a greater beam (width) at 36” or more. You can use them for cruising flatwater or lazy rivers, fishing, or overnight canoe trips. These boats may have keels to help with straight line paddling too. Recreational canoes are typically plastic hulled and heavier. Because of their hull material, they’re usually at a price point most can afford.  A new one would cost between $350-$700.

Expedition and wilderness tripping canoes are actually two separate types, but I’m combining them for the purposes of this post. These boats are best for longer trips and can carry heavy loads. They’re typically 16-20 feet in length and actually perform much better when loaded down. Expedition and wilderness canoes are usually made from composite material for extra rigidity and stability. This style can run new from $900-several thousand depending on hull material.

Lastly, let’s look at river canoes. Rivers canoes are designed to handle fast moving water in rivers and streams. They are typically 15-17 feet in length. The hulls are designed without keels and are symmetrical (the same shape) end to end.  These boats have a more pronounced rocker (the curve of the hull as it rises to the bow and stern) for maneuverability. These boats are very maneuverable allowing the paddlers to adjust for rocks, logs and other fast-water roadblocks. New, these boats can be $800-several thousand depending on hull material.

Please note that recreational, tripping and river canoes are the most popular. There are other, more specialized types available including whitewater, racing and square stern / freighter-style canoes as well.

alone boat canoe lonely
Freighter-Style Canoe                   Photo by Picography on

Now, let’s talk about the hull shape (profile). The shape of the canoe can be one of several different designs, each with its own upside and downside. It can also heavily affect your paddling success or failure.

Round Bottom-The bottom of this shape is very curved. They are quick and smooth through the water but can be difficult to balance – especially for beginner paddlers. The initial stability (balance of canoe until it is leaned hard to one side or the other) is poor, but when leaned to the side (secondary stability) they are hard to tip.

Flat bottom– This is not just a clever name because these canoes have a flat bottom. This hull shape has very good initial stability. However, it is vulnerable to wind, waves and even leaning. See flat bottom canoe example in the featured title photo above.

Shallow arch– A shallow arch lends benefits from both the flat and round bottom designs. This design varies widely by manufacturer and takes some research to find out which is right for you.

shallow arch Example of shallow arch hull: Old Town Discovery Canoes

Shallow Vee– This design also enjoys the benefits from the round and flat bottomed hulls. Unlike the shallow arch, the shallow vee has good initial and secondary stability and improved tracking. With the larger surface area in the water; however, efficiency is somewhat decreased.

v-hull Example of shallow vee hull: timeworn and seasoned fishing canoe

By studying these shapes and styles, you can now make a more informed purchase of a canoe. This will ensure years of happy paddling and successful adventures. Always wear your life jacket and paddle true to paddle through.

Let us know your favorite style canoe and why.

Categories Canoe, Outdoors, Paddling, UncategorizedTags , , ,

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