Anatomy Of A Canoe

Canoeing Beginnning Kayaking Paddling Beginners
Looking to start canoeing? Use this handy guide to learn all the parts of a canoe. (Photo Credit: Henry Georgi)

Ready to hop in a canoe for the first time? If so, good on you. Canoes are the grandaddy of this paddling pursuit we all love so much, and a great starting block  for anyone looking to get introduced to paddling. But before you get in a canoe for the first time, check out our easily annotated guide to the anatomy of a canoe to help with your learning curve. Here are the nine aspects of every canoe you should be able to identify:

Wenonah Heron Canoe Anatomy Canoe Paddle
Picured: The Wenonah Heron is a versatile, two-person 15-foot canoe made of Royalex plastic. ($1,300; 58 lbs; wenonah.com)

1. Style Canoes can be categorized into three basic styles: stable recreational boats for all-around use; tripping canoes for efficient paddling and load-hauling on multi-day trips; and whitewater river- runners. They appear similar but vary in on-water handling, particularly speed and maneuverability. For instance, the recreation-focused Heron can haul an overnight load with ease but is short and nimble enough for navigating small lakes and rivers.

2. Length Longer boats take more energy to turn, but are more efficient, gliding farther per stroke. Whitewater canoes can be as short as eight feet, while tripping speed-demons can measure 19. The 15- to 16-foot length is the most popular for do-it-all performance.

3. Width The wider a canoe the more stable it will feel for fighting a fish or when the dog shifts sides. Width also creates more room for gear.

4. Freeboard The distance from the waterline to the gunwales. More freeboard generally translates into a drier ride and more load- carrying capacity. The tradeoff is that the canoe will be somewhat heavier and more susceptible to crosswinds.

5. Hull The shape of the canoe below the waterline is the primary determinant of the boat's paddling characteristics. Flat bottoms offer more initial stability; more rounded shapes allow experienced paddlers to lean and edge the boat. Expedition and tripping canoes often have a V-shaped hull and little rise, or rocker, in the bow and stern. These boats cut through waves and help with tracking. Whitewater canoes are round with lots of rocker for easy maneuvering in waves. Rec boats typically stake out a middle ground between the two extremes.

6. Seats/Outfitting Seats range from molded plastic or webbing in recreation boats to wood and web seats in higher-end tripping canoes. Whitewater canoes are equipped with kneeling saddles, knee pads and thigh straps.

7. Yoke A contoured piece of wood used for carrying or portaging a canoe on your shoulders.

8. Thwart One or two pieces of wood, aluminum or plastic that connect the gunwales near the middle of the canoe and add stiffness and strength.

9. Construction Each option has its own costs and benefits. The four main layups are: aluminum, wood, plastic and composites. Aluminum is fairly heavy and noisy but cheap and durable. Wood is beautiful and quiet, but expensive and maintenance heavy. Plastics, particularly Royalex, are middleweights and highly durable, ideal for whitewater and families. A canoe made of composites like Kevlar and carbon fiber can weigh half as much as plastic, but isn't as durable and can be twice as expensive. Fiberglass is the most common composite with a large spread on cost and weight depending on quality and production.