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Canoeing 101


MRC Care and Maintenance


The first thing you should do after completing the purchase of your canoe is to remove the poly bag containing the owners manual from the seat. Doing this at the store will prevent the manual and grab loops from being lost while transporting your canoe. The recommended knot to secure the grab loops to your hull is described in the manual. It's safest to install the grab loops before transporting your canoe. 

Once home, record the serial number (found on right side near stern under the gunwale) in your owner's manual. After reviewing your manual, store it in a safe location at home. 

You may also want to check in with your insurance provider to see how your canoe is covered under your homeowner's policy and if the coverage is adequate to protect your new purchase. The terms and stipulations of the coverage may define how your canoe should be stored. 


Install the grab loops included with the owners' manual. Instructions are in the manual.  

Most canoeists will then attach “painter” lines of 3/8” +/- line to the grab loops. Start with lengths of painter of 12' to 15' and tie the painters to the grab loops securely. The painters allow you to tie off your canoe to shore as well as provide a means to retrieve your canoe in case of upset. It's best to coil or contain the painters when not in use so that they do not tangle paddler's feet. Do not lay the painters in the bottom of your canoe or put gear on top of them, making them difficult to retrieve. A common technique is to coil them into a bundle and wedge the bundle between the deck and carry handle at each end of your canoe. 

The majority of canoes have no moving parts and are ready for the water “right out of the box.” If your boat has adjustable sliding seat(s), or adjustable back rests, position these in the “middle” or neutral position to start off. Get familiar with how these moving components operate and are adjusted before you get in the canoe. 

If your canoe has a sliding seat, you may need the help of a 3rd party to help you adjust seat positioning to achieve proper trim. Have both paddlers sit in the canoe and use an observer to stand back and assess whether boat is in trim or not. The canoe should not be bow-heavy, you want it to be either neutral or flat or slightly bow-light. You may find it helpful to mark the sliding seat runners where the seat position creates neutral trim. This will provide a reference to help you determine what trim works best for you. Bear in mind that one of the advantages of a sliding seat is the ability to change trim to best suit different conditions. 

The paddler's weight should be sufficient to keep the seat in place when you start paddling. If the seat wiggles or moves while paddling, you may want to tighten the screws securing the seat to the runners. A Phillips head screwdriver and a 3/8” wrench will be required. 

Make sure you have an approved PFD for each paddler/passenger and that everyone wears their PFD. You should also have a spare paddle with you every time you head out in case a paddle is broken or lost. 


If possible, pick a warm day and protected, calm shallow waters to get to know your canoe. Depending on hull shape, canoes will paddle differently as well as “sit” differently in the water.. Some seem to be more solidly “planted” than others. It is important to get the “feel” of your canoe before venturing onto more ambitious waters. Load your canoe parallel to the shore and make sure all paddlers/passengers are seated on seats or low in the hull before pushing off from shore. 

One way to gain a sense of how your canoe will lean and how far it can lean before tipping is to stay close to shore and brace your paddles against the bottom. Then lean the hull towards the paddles. Be conservative at first, lean a little then relax and let the hull return to upright position. Try it again, pushing things a little further and again relax and let hull return. Continue the progression until you don't feel comfortable and then ease your grip on the paddles and see if the canoe is at the point where it wants to recover upright or to capsize. What you're doing here is getting a sense of how much final stability your canoe has. This will help eliminate or at least reduce the panic and over-reaction that might be experienced when the canoe is leaned. 

Once you're comfortable in the canoe, test paddle by aiming at a landmark and seeing how successful you are in keeping the bow of the canoe on target. Many times, this ability is more dependent on how well the paddlers work together but after all, you're trying to acquaint yourself with your new canoe and learn how it interacts with your paddling styles and abilities. 

Once you get the boat up to cruising speed, ease off and let the hull glide forward. Canoes will glide differently; some will carry their way for a good ways while others will drop speed very quickly. It's good to know into which category your boat falls so you can anticipate its' tendency. 

Next, decide whether you want to turn right or left and begin paddling forward. At a command, have both paddlers paddle forward on one side of the hull, turning the canoe away from the paddles. This will give you not only an idea of how quickly you can turn the boat in this fashion but also a good sense of the hull's resistance to roll with both paddlers working on the same outside side of the hull. 

Next step is to repeat the maneuver but have the paddlers on opposite sides, with the paddler with blade on the outside driving forward while the other paddler on the inside, back paddles. The turning momentum is entirely different and again you're acquiring a feel for how your boat will respond under those conditions. 

If you're comfortable with draw strokes, test your canoe by having both paddlers draw to same side to pull the canoe in that direction and then have paddles on opposite sides to see how quickly the canoe will rotate. 

All these maneuvers have places in the real world and it behooves you to practice and play with your boat in anticipation. All of these can and will come into play whether you're paddling flowing moving water or open flat water. One of the keys to effective, efficient paddling is the ability to anticipate how your boat will respond and to take advantage of that. The best way to do so is when you're in non-threatening conditions that allow you to focus on stroke variations and your canoe's response. Gaining that feel of your canoe will pay huge dividends when you're out in the field and unanticipated situations and conditions arise. That's the kind of sense that makes the Mad River Rabbit a “Confident Bunny.” 


One of the nice things about canoes is that they are comparatively low-maintenance. Very few, if any, moving parts that have to be adjusted or lubricated or replaced. Nonetheless, a little TLC will go a long way in ensuring your canoe is capable of delivering all the performance its' capable of. 

As you'll note below, the list of necessary and recommended materials is pretty short and easily acquired. 

Recommended Maintenance Materials: 

Gunwale Guard (if your canoe has wood gunwales): 

Gunwale Guard is a resinated oil that soaks into the grain of the wood, providing a deep layer of protection against moisture. It bonds to the wood fibers and is able to flex with the wood to maintain protection. Wood components that will benefit from Gunwale Guard:  gunwales, decks, seat trusses, carry handles, and sliding seat runners and footbrace in Expedition models. Seat frames, thwarts, and yokes are protected by an exterior polyurethane varnish. 

Mad River Canoe does not recommend varnishing your gunwales as varnish is a surface coating and is quite brittle. As you paddle your canoe, the wood gunwales will continually flex and this will breakdown the varnish layer over time, allowing water to penetrate underneath the topcoat and deteriorate the gunwale from within. 

Gunwale Guard is available in a natural or dark stain finish. The natural can be applied to bare, unstained wood or over Gunwale Guard Stain. If you want to darken or refresh your dark stained rails, apply Gunwale Guard Stain. 

303 Protectant

303 is a UV protectant, designed to prevent degradation of surfaces exposed to UV light. It will prevent surfaces from becoming brittle as well as color fading. Mad River Canoe recommends 303 over similar products as it is water-based rather than silicon-based and as such is less degrading to the marine environment in which canoes live and work. Periodic application of 303 to aluminum, fiberglass, and vinyl will keep your canoe looking like new. It's also good stuff to use on your car interior, tires, etc. 

Be aware that immediately following application that 303 will leave surfaces slippery. This condition fades quickly as the 303 cures. 

Biodegradable Mild Cleanser: 

A paste style cleanser is recommended for cleaning your canoe hull. Do not use any type of abrasive cleanser as this can scratch or dull your hull finish. Mad River Canoe recommends use of a citrus-based cleanser as its' friendlier not only to your canoe and yourself but also to the environment. 

Wood Gunwales 

The wood gunwales of your Mad River Canoe were treated at the factory with three coats of Gunwale Guard preservative. Mad River Canoe recommends that upon receiving your canoe, you apply another coat yourself. It takes very little time to oil the gunwales. Complete instructions can be found HERE.

The gunwales should be treated periodically with oil. The frequency thereof depends on the manner in which the canoe is used and stored. Canoes used infrequently and stored indoors can get by with 3 or 4 treatments annually ( when removed from winter storage, twice during period of usage, and when returned to winter storage). Canoes that are used frequently and stored outdoors will benefit from a monthly application of oil. 

You can test how “needy” your gunwales are for oil by pouring some water on the gunwales. If it soaks right in, they need oil. If it beads up and runs off the surface, you're probably okay. Make sure to check both the top and bottom of the gunwales. 

Aluminum and vinyl gunwales 

Both types are pretty much maintenance-free, although a coat of 303 Protectant will protect the finish. 


303 is the recommended treatment for all Mad River Canoe hull materials. An application of 303 prior to putting your canoe in the water is a good way to start things off on the right foot. 

Mad River Canoe does not recommend waxing your hull. With 303 it is not necessary, not to mention the fact that wax will not stick to polyethylene hulls and is not compatible with the vinyl skin on Royalex. Nor does wax provide much benefit on a composite hull. 

A hull rinse and wipe down is recommended after every trip. Not only does this remove any scum of film the hull may have accumulated before it can dry or stain the hull, but it is also increasingly necessary in today's world to prevent the spread of foreign organisms from one body of water to another. A fresh water rinse after a salt water paddle will also help reduce the likelihood of corrosion. 


All of the hardware in your new Mad River Canoe is made of stainless steel and is not 
susceptible to rust or corrosion under normal circumstances. If your canoe is constantly exposed to salt water, over time some corrosion can occur. If you see evidence of corrosion it is best to remove and replace that hardware at your earliest opportunity. 

It is advisable, to periodically check all screws and nuts for tightness. Due to repeated use and/or vibration during transportation, the hardware can loosen over time and may require occasional adjustment. Do not over tighten hardware, just bring it back up to snug. Stainless steel can be brittle and it is possible to break a bolt by over tightening the hardware. 

On canoes such as our Adventure Series with adjustable backrests, it is advisable to remove tension on the bungee cords and straps when not in use for sustained periods. This keeps those components from becoming stretched out and losing tension.