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Like many things in this world, canoes aren’t a one size fits all product. They come in a range of hull shapes, lengths, widths, and depths, all with a different paddling purpose in mind.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about canoe sizes, including the things you should look out for when purchasing a canoe for yourself or for your family.
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Canoes, similar to kayaks, come in a few different designs and are created with certain activities in mind. Here are a few of the most popular canoe types:
Recreational canoes are extremely easy to paddle and are perfect for those who only plan on paddling across flat water. Along with being easy to control and maneuver, these types of canoes are stable and hard to flip over, making them perfect for activities like photography, fishing, birding, and relaxing on the lake throughout summer.
One of the biggest downfalls of a recreational canoe, however, is the fact that its stability decreases its agility. But, if you’re only paddling for fun, agility isn’t something you really need to worry about.
River canoes were designed solely for those who wish to paddle down rivers where rapids are present. They typically have higher sides to prevent water from splashing onto the deck, and they’re abrasion and impact resistant.
As rapids require you to change directions and positions fairly quickly, the rocker on a river canoe is enhanced to help with maneuverability.
Multipurpose canoes can take on a range of different water conditions, from flat, calm lakes to whitewater rapids. These canoes offer their paddler greater maneuverability, and they’re usually also able to hold a higher weight capacity.
Touring canoes are over 16 feet in length, which helps create more storage space for paddlers and their gear. This type of canoe was built for long-distance paddling and features a semi-arched hull shape which gives the boat secondary stability.
Sporting canoes are for anglers and hunters who need a more stable platform to hunt and fish from. Their shorter length and wider decks offer more support when a paddler needs to stand up or reel in a fish.
The dimensions of a canoe will affect how well it performs and handles out on the water. Its length, width, and depth will help you determine the canoe's use and how many people or how much weight the canoe can carry at any given time.
The length of the canoe will ultimately affect how it will move through the water. Long canoes, for example, are able to track straighter, move faster, and carry more weight than shorter canoes. But, a short canoe, on the other hand, is easier to maneuver, and it is more lightweight and easier to store and transport.
When you’re choosing a canoe length, you will need to think about the type of activity and how many people you wish to paddle with at once. In general, canoes that are 16 to 17 feet are some of the most popular as they offer their paddler speed, a reasonable carrying capacity, and manageability in flat waters such as lakes and slow-moving rivers.
When it comes to boats of any description, the wider the boat, the more stable it’ll be. And this is also true with canoes, as a wider canoe will give its paddler a lot more stability than a narrower canoe.
Wide canoes will fall under the recreational or fishing category as speed isn’t a huge necessity for recreational paddling, and anglers require a far more stable surface to reel in their catch.
Narrow canoes, such as touring or expedition canoes, however, are excellent choices for paddlers who wish to track straight and reach faster speeds while paddling. The narrow hull gives the canoe a smaller surface area and, with that, the ability to slice through the water more efficiently.
The depth of a canoe is the distance between the canoe’s side rails and the bottom of the boat. Deep boats will have taller sides to help prevent water from entering the canoe. The depth will also increase the boat’s carrying capacity, which comes in handy for numerous paddlers or for paddlers with lots of additional gear.
And although canoes with taller sides sound great, the sides do make the canoe more susceptible to the wind which can make it harder to control.
If you're interested in how canoe sizes differ from kayak sizes, then check out our article The Ultimate Kayak Sizing Guide.
When we talk about hull shapes, we are talking about the curvature on the underside of the canoe. Some canoes have completely flat bottoms, whereas others are rounded or in a V-style shape. The hull shape will ultimately determine how stable the canoe will be.
Canoes actually have two types of stability, the first is the initial stability, and the second is the secondary stability. The initial stability is how well the boat can stay upright in flat waters, and the secondary stability is how hard the boat is to tip in choppy or rough waters.
A curved hull will help the boat stay upright in slightly rougher waters, and a flat hull will help the paddlers stay balanced on flat waters.
Just like the length and design of canoes, there are a few different hull shapes, all with their individual benefits in certain water conditions.
Rounded hull canoes don’t exactly have the best initial stability, but they do excel when it comes to secondary stability. This rounded hull shape performs well on rough water conditions, making them a great contender for paddling through rapids.
Flat bottom canoes, on the other hand, have amazing initial stability and are some of the best canoes for flatwater paddling or fishing. This is because only a small amount of their hull is below the water, making them very easy to turn when needed.
One downfall of a flat bottom, however, is that if you load them up with too much gear or additional weight, they can become very slow and difficult to paddle.
Shallow arch bottom canoes are somewhat in the middle of a flat bottom and a rounded canoe. They offer greater initial and secondary stability while also being more efficient on the water.
And finally, you have the V bottom canoe. V bottom canoes have a more defined line down their middle which resembles that of the letter V. These canoe hulls are slightly more pronounced than shallow arch hulls, which gives the paddler better tracking, maneuverability, and stability in both calm and rough waters.
The rocker, which refers to the upward curve along the entire length of the boat, is another design feature that’ll affect the canoe’s overall performance.
Canoes with a great rocker are easier to maneuver and turn in the water, but they are harder to paddle in a straight line. Ideally, when purchasing a canoe, you’d want a rocker somewhere in the middle. Remember, the less rocker a canoe has, the easier it is to track, but the more rocker a canoe has, the easier it is to turn.
Canoes also have different shaped sides, some which flare out, and some which curve inward. Inward curving sides, which are also known as tumblehome sides, make it easier for your paddle to reach the water. Although this is great, canoes with tumblehome sides are prone to letting in water when you’re paddling on rougher waves.
Flare-out sides increase in width as the side of the canoe rises above the water, this width helps improve the canoe's performance on slightly choppier waters.
A canoe’s entry line is where the hull of the canoe cuts through the water. Canoes with a sharp entry line can slice their way through the water more efficiently, which in turn makes them faster and easier to paddle. Canoes with blunt entry lines, however, ride up on incoming waves, making them a great option for rough water paddling.
The freeboard is the distance between the canoe’s side rails and the water line. The higher the freeboard, the drier you’ll be in choppier waters. But these high sides make the canoe more vulnerable against winds.
There are a few different materials a canoe can be made from, and like many other aspects of the canoe's construction, its material will affect its overall performance as well as its weight and cost.
Some of the most popular canoe materials include aluminum, molded plastics, fiberglass, and graphite.
So, now that we’ve gone over the canoe dimensions and hull shapes, you’re probably wondering what size canoe would suit you best.
First, you’d need to consider which type of canoe you’re after, whether that be a recreational or a touring canoe, for example, and then you’d need to think about how many people and how much weight will be in the canoe at any given time.
If you’re a solo paddler and can’t imagine yourself working together with an additional passenger to paddle your boat, then a one-person canoe would suit you best. However, you may be more inclined to purchase a single person kayak as they’re far easier to paddle, transport, and maneuver.
For more information regarding kayaks and to see if a kayak would be better fit for you, we have put together the ultimate guide of How to Choose a Kayak.
Now, you may think that a two-person canoe is only suitable for two paddlers, but you would be wrong. A two-person canoe is actually a great option not only for two paddlers but for also one paddler. More often than not, a tandem canoe can be paddled by a single person meaning if you occasionally want to head out on the water by yourself, you totally can!
Along with the additional seating area, longer-length canoes are able to carry more weight than solo canoes, which is a perk for paddlers with additional gear or for those who want more space to move around on the water.
Canoes built for three people typically have seats at the front and the back of the canoe, along with a center bench seat for the third passenger or paddler. These canoes are long, hard to transport, and difficult to maneuver, but they do give you the option of taking the entire family out on the water.
You can even purchase canoes that are fit for four or more people, but as we’ve mentioned numerous times before, the longer the canoe, the harder it is to control. This is the reason why so many families prefer to opt for two tandem canoes which they can then paddle alongside each other.
We have gone into further detail about how many passengers would suit each type of canoe over on How Many People Can Fit in a Canoe?
The best length canoe is the combination of the number of people you wish to transport, as well as the type of paddling you wish to perform.
Longer canoes can reach faster speeds on the water, but they are hard to maneuver, which is why they’re typically used for touring or racing when you tend to only paddle in a straight line. Short canoes, however, are slower but easier to maneuver, making them the ideal candidate for whitewater paddling when a quick direction change is crucial.
Once you’ve figured out the type of paddling you wish to perform, you can then think about if a solo or tandem canoe would suit you best. And remember, singular paddlers can paddle a tandem canoe, so don’t limit yourself to a solo canoe if you’d prefer the extra room and the ability to take out a passenger if you so wish.
A tandem canoe can range from 14 feet all the way up to 18 feet depending on how much additional gear you wish to take out with you. Paddlers with lots of gear may be better suited to a longer canoe that offers up a higher weight capacity. On the other hand, minimalistic paddlers would be able to opt for a shorter canoe that performs better on the water.
For people new to the sport of canoeing, then a 16-foot-long canoe may be slightly difficult to paddle and control as this length of the canoe is typically designed with two paddlers in mind. But, with that being said, experienced paddlers who have been canoeing for a while wouldn’t have a problem taking a 16-foot canoe out solo.
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