Encyclopedia > Canoe

  Article Content


A canoe is a relatively small human-powered boat. It is propelled by one or more people (depending on the size of canoe), using single ended paddles. The paddlers face in the direction of travel, in either a seated position, or kneeling on the bottom of the boat. Canoes are open on top, and pointed at both ends. They are generally fairly rigid.

Table of contents

Design Early canoes were dugout canoes, formed of hollowed logs. In the Pacific Islands, dugout canoes are fitted with outriggers[?] for increased stability in the ocean. In the northern parts of North America, canoes were traditionally made of a wood frame covered with bark of a birch tree, pitched to make it waterproof. Later, they were made of a wooden frame, wood ribs, other wood parts (seats, gunwales, etc.) and covered with canvas, sized and painted for smoothness and watertightness. For a while, canoes were made of aluminum. Modern canoes are covered with fiberglass or other composites.

Depending on the intended use of a canoe, the various kinds have different advantages. For example, a canvas canoe is more fragile than an aluminum canoe, and thus less suitable for use in rough water; but it is quieter, and so better for observing wildlife. Aluminum canoes are heavier than water and more likely to sink if overturned unless the ends are filled with foam or an air-tight pocket, which cuts down on storage space. However, they are durable and don't require as much maintenance as a canoe made of natural materials. Canoes mainly used on lakes should have a keel to make them easier to handle in crosswinds; however, canoes for rough water generally do not have keels, to keep the draft as shallow as possible.

The parts of a canoe

  1. Bow
  2. Stern
  3. Hull
  4. Seat
  5. Thwart (a horizontal crossbeam)
  6. Gunwale[?] (pronounced gunnel; the top edge of the hull)
  7. Compartment containing a foam[?] block (prevents the canoe from sinking if capsized)

Use Canoes have a reputation for being unstable, but this is not true if they are handled properly. For example, the occupants need to keep their center of gravity as low as possible.

When two people occupy a canoe, they paddle on opposite sides. For example, the person in the bow (the bowman) might hold the paddle on the port side, with the left hand just above the blade and the right hand at the top end of the paddle. The left hand acts mostly as a pivot[?] and the right arm supplies most of the power. Conversely, the sternman would paddle to starboard[?], with the right hand just above the blade and the left hand at the top. For travel straight ahead, they draw the paddle from bow to stern, in a straight line parallel to the gunwale.


The paddling action of two paddlers will tend to turn the canoe in one direction or the other. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most canoes have flat-bottomed hulls. Thus, steering is particularly important. Steering techniques vary widely, even as to the basic question of which paddler should be responsible for steering.

The advantage of steering in the bow is that the bowman can change sides more easily than the sternman. Steering in the bow is also more intuitive than steering in the stern, because to steer to starboard, the stern must actually move to port. On the other hand, the paddler who does not steer usually produces the most thrust, and the greater source of thrust should be placed in the bow for greater steering stability. In addition, the sternman can use the bowman as a sight to keep the canoe moving in a stable direction.

Given this controversy, one can expect an even greater one regarding what paddling strokes should be used to steer.

  • Advocates of steering in the stern often use the J-stroke, which is so named because, when done on the port side, it resembles the letter J. It begins like a standard stroke, but towards the end, the paddle is rotated and pushed away from the canoe. This conveniently counteracts the natural tendency of the canoe to steer towards the bowman's paddle.
  • Alternatively, the pry stroke may be used. It is not really a stroke, because the paddle does not move relative to the canoe. The paddle is inserted in the water, with the blade facing forward and outward, and the lower hand resting on the outside of the hull. The force of the water against the paddle pushes the paddle into the hull.
  • The draw stroke exerts a force opposite to that of the pry. The paddle is inserted in the water some distance from the gunwale, facing towards the canoe, and is then pulled inward.
  • The sweep is unique in that it steers the canoe away from the paddle regardless of which end of the canoe it is performed in. The paddle is inserted in the water some distance from the gunwale, facing forward, and is drawn directly backward.

Similar boats

  • The main difference between a kayak and a canoe is that a kayak is enclosed on top, making it impossible to capsize[?]. The upper covering may be part of the hull, or a special sheet called a spraydeck[?]. Kayak paddles are unique in having two blades, one on each end, making a kayak easier for one person to paddle.
  • A rowboat[?] is not really like a canoe, since it is propelled by oars resting in pivots on the gunwales. A single rower works 2 oars, and sits with his or her back toward the direction of travel. Unlike canoes and kayaks, a rowboat is not suitable for whitewater

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Northampton, Suffolk County, New York

... have a female householder with no husband present, and 23.4% are non-families. 20.3% of all households are made up of individuals and 5.7% have someone living alone who is ...

This page was created in 24.2 ms