Everything You Need to Know About the Different Types of Canoes

stacked canoe
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Most beginners learn to canoe in a traditional recreational style canoe that is built to be durable and hard to tip over. These canoes are great for beginners who are trying to master their balance in the water and the technique of paddling to get the canoe to move in a particular direction.

Many individuals are surprised to learn that there are different types of canoes other than the recreational canoe, and some can be hard to spot since their differences are subtle.

What Counts as A Canoe?

couple canoeing

Source: Freepik.com

A canoe is a narrow vessel that is light and can be paddled by one or more individuals. The ends of a canoe come to a point, and the vessel features an open deck. The canoe moves by paddling with one or more single bladed paddles used by passengers that are either seated or kneeling.

In British English, a canoe can also refer to a kayak, which is an entirely different type of vessel in American English. In British English, canoes are often called "Canadian canoes" to avoid them being confused with kayaks.

What to Look for In A Canoe

When looking for a canoe, it's best to consider these criteria:

  • What is the intended purpose of the canoe?
  • How experienced are the paddlers?
  • The amount of gear that will need to be in the canoe
  • Hull materials and features

If you aren’t sure which canoe is best for your intended use, an online search can help narrow down the possibilities. Many sporting goods stores will also have canoes in stock if you'd like to see one in person before buying. Keep in mind that most canoes will come with additional shipping costs, and buying one in a store may save you money.

Different Types of Canoes

Many individuals have been canoeing as a form of recreation on relatively calm water. Paddling a canoe is an activity that can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages and skill levels and has been a form of transportation since ancient times. Here’s our list of different types of canoes that are best suited for specific activities.

Whitewater Canoes

Canoes used in whitewater conditions are explicitly designed to handle choppy water and the potential for accidental collisions with rocks or other debris in the water. These canoes are also well suited to paddling down a river that is slightly choppy or navigating other bodies of water that aren't very calm.

What makes a whitewater canoe perfect for rougher waters is the design that features a deeper curve from the bow to the stern. This curve is called a “rocker” and this small change combined with a flatter bottom than a recreational canoe can have a surprising impact on the maneuverability of the vessel.

Whitewater canoes are ideal for either one or two paddlers and are also referred to as “performance” canoes. Some canoes will also have additional flotation material built into the hull to keep the canoe from filling with water and sinking.

In addition to hull adjustments, some whitewater canoes will have spray skirts to keep water out, straps that go around the leg or knee to keep paddlers in, or additional support for paddlers to kneel on or press against with their feet.

Racing Canoes

Everything about the design of a racing canoe is intended to make it go faster and straighter with less effort. The hull is frequently not symmetrical in shape, and they are most often quite long and narrow.

With a length of 18-20 feet, racing canoes are some of the longest canoes manufactured, and their features and appearance will vary wildly from one brand to another. Despite their long size, they are built to be lightweight, although this also makes them quite easy to tip over.

Kevlar and fiberglass are frequently used to make the hull of these canoes because they are light materials that are also strong. Depending on the type of racing canoe the deck may be closed, or spray skirts may be used to keep water out of the boat. Racing canoes aren't very common as they are typically only used by elite canoeists.

Recreational Canoes

When we think of a traditional canoe, most people will think of recreational canoes that are designed to hold multiple people and need at least two people to paddle. These canoes are also commonly found in stores that sell other sporting goods and are frequently rented out near bodies of water.

Recreational canoes are a sturdy option that is durable enough to last for years. They are often made from some kind of plastic and can be left outdoors in the elements without needing any type of cover or special attention.

Some recreational canoes will be made from aluminum, which often makes them lighter and easier to handle. Plastic has become more popular as it is more resistant to denting, and provides a more substantial base for a stable ride. Regardless of the construction material used, recreational canoes are basic and do not have any frills or luxury features.

Canoes for Advanced Users

For those that have experience canoeing in recreational canoes, there are also canoes designed for more advanced paddlers. These canoes are less common than the traditional recreational canoe and are more expensive given that they are generally higher quality.

Advanced canoes are typically made from materials that are lighter than plastic or aluminum, and the designs have specific tweaks that make the watercrafts faster and more agile. Some of these types of canoes will also have more luxury features such as padded seats, storage spaces, and more comfortable paddles.

Advanced canoes are frequently used for recreational activities such as bird watching, fishing, photography, or endless wandering on calm waters. For anyone who is a canoeing enthusiast, there's a good chance that an advanced canoe is preferable over a traditional recreational vessel.

Solo and Tandem Canoes

Now that we’ve gone over different kinds of canoes, it's worth mentioning that each of these canoes can be purchased in either a single or tandem design. This option means that a single paddler can go canoeing with any kind of canoe, or a pair of paddlers can paddle in a tandem canoe.

It's much more common to see tandem canoes or even canoes that can hold three individuals. Tandem canoes are going to move faster than a solo canoe, and are also typically easier to direct and paddle as a beginner.

Solo canoes may be tempting to some individuals, but keep in mind that when you canoe solo, you don't continue to move when you need to take a break. This lull may be ok on entirely flat water, but water that has a current could continue to drive your canoe in an undesirable direction while you rest.

By canoeing with another person, you have the opportunity to trade off paddling, which can help lengthen the amount of time you canoe before getting tired. Canoeing can also be a great social activity that allows for team building, strategizing, and cooperative learning.

If you plan to go on an extended trip, it can be helpful to have another individual along to help with loading and unloading gear, paddling the canoe, and assisting with navigating.

Specialized Canoes

Although highly-specialized canoes are relatively uncommon, they do exist, and some are specifically built with a particular activity in mind. While some canoes are designed uniquely for an individual client, others feature a more traditional hull shape for the specific event and outfit with different luxury features by request.

Fishing canoes are a great example of a specialized canoe that has some additional features but a relatively traditional hull shape. Canoes used for fishing have a spot that can hold a rod, and often have easily accessible storage space for stowing other fishing accessories.

There are also other canoes used in correlation with other sports such as expeditions and wilderness trips that can last several days. These canoes generally can carry more substantial amounts of gear and hold more weight than a recreational canoe.

Expedition canoes may be as long as 18-20 feet and are designed with spray skirts, and a deeper hull so that their contents stay very dry. These canoes are generally very stable and are most comfortable to paddle when loaded up with gear and passengers.

Wilderness canoes designed for long distance trips in more mountainous areas will also have the ability to carry more gear and generally two or three passengers at least. These canoes are typically 15 to 18 feet long and have a hull designed for optimal stability. As with the expedition canoes they are intended to be most comfortable to paddle when loaded with gear.

If you are unsure if you need a wilderness canoe or an expedition canoe it may be best to consult with an expert who can help you assess your needs and which features will suit you best. Although the wilderness canoe and expedition canoe will have many different similarities, they can still be outfitted with unique features that can make your journey more comfortable.

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