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Canoeing 101

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Canoe Design: Width and Length

Beam (Width)

Measured at the widest point of the canoe and largely impacts stability and speed. The most common reference is width at the gunwales but an often more telling dimension is width at the waterline, as this will determine the amount of effort required to move the boat through the water.

Narrow (33” or Less)

Pros

  • Speed
  • Paddling efficiency

Cons 

  • Lower initial stability

Medium Length (34-37”)

Pros 

  • Good blend of speed, stability, and capacity
  • Versatility, can be paddled solo or tandem 

Cons 

  • Speed/glide falls below narrow canoe
  • Initial stability lower than a wide canoe 

Wide (38” or More)

Pros 

  • Higher initial stability
  • Stable platform for fishing, photography, etc. 

Cons 

  • Slow
  • Poor glide
  • Farther reach to water
  • Difficult to paddle solo

Length

Measured stem to stem and is the most straightforward of all the aspects of canoe design. In terms of versatility, canoes in and around 16' are preferred. Large enough to be paddled tandem with a load or soloed on occasion and fast enough for touring yet nimble enough to work their way down a twisty stream. Canoes with emphasis on cruising speed tend to be longer while whitewater canoes shorter with a premium on maneuverability.

Short (14' or Less)

Pros 

  • Increased maneuverability
  • Higher initial stability 
  • Nimble and responsive to turning strokes 

Cons 

  • Slower
  • Less glide or carry 
  • Poor tracking 

Medium (14.5'-17')

Pros 

  • Moderate speed and glide
  • Can be paddled tandem or solo 
  • Moderate maneuverability 

Cons 

  • Slower than long canoes
  • Less nimble than shorter canoes 

Long (17.5')

Pros 

  • Faster on open, flat water
  • Better carry or glide between strokes 
  • Increased capacity 

Cons 

  • Less maneuverable or nimble
  • Heavier than short canoe of same material