Canoe 101

So you want to buy a canoe?  Awesome!   Welcome to wasting the rest of your life!

There are a few things you'll want to know before making that purchase.  A decent canoe will range anywhere from about $500 to about $5000 depending upon whether you buy used or new, what it is made out of, and what features it has.  While there are a few deals you'll find under $500 used there are not many, and even some of the used ones you'll find in the $500 to $1000 range are overpriced.

This article should give you the basic knowledge you'll need to inform your purchase.

Canoe Terminology

Bow is the front of the canoe.

Stern is the back of the canoe.

Port is the left side.

Starboard is the right side.

The hull is the main body of the canoe - the thin layer of material that if you can imagine way back 500 years ago would have been birch bark.

The gunwales are the top edges of the hull of the canoe.  In order to keep the canoe rigid you need to make it with a reinforcing material around the rim of the hull.  Traditionally this would have been strips of cedar lining the edges of the birch bark, but today they can be made of any number of materials.

Outwale - outer part of the gunwale if 2-part gunwales

Inwale - inner part of the gunwale if 2-part gunwales

Scuppers are holes in the gunwales intended to allow water to drain mainly when the canoe is in storage upside-down.  The holes are in the vertical direction.

Thwarts are cross-beams that go across the width of the canoe to prevent the canoe from collapsing in onto itself but also to prevent it from stretching outwards as well.  They are almost always mounted between gunwales but sometimes they are lower.

A yoke is a special type of thwart in the middle of the canoe which has a cut out for your neck which makes it easier to support on your shoulders when portaging.

Kneeling thwart - a special type of thwart not present on most canoes (usually custom install) which is mounted much lower than the gunwales.  It is intended to support body weight when kneeling.

Portaging is when you carry your canoe between bodies of water.

Decks or deck plates are the relatively small triangular shaped flat parts which covers the edges at the bow and stern of the canoe.

Skid plates - material added to the bow and stern of a canoe along the centerline - usually kevlar patches held on by resin usually epoxy.  They add weight but protect against the majority of scrapes and gouges one encounters when striking something in the water or when pulling the canoe up onto shore.

Seat - where your arse goes

Ribs - if you look back to traditional birch bark canoes saplings were used as ribs to maintain the rigidity of the hull and prevent it from oil-canning.

Oil-canning - when the canoe hull pulses up and down while paddling because it is not properly supported by something like ribs.  This can weaken the hull over time and also slow you down when paddling.  Often canoes which oil-can when empty will not when loaded with gear. 

Beam - the width of the canoe

Keel - a narrow linear protrusion along the centerline of the exterior of the hull which goes from bow to stern, intended to increase stability especially against cross-winds, but at the expense of maneuverability.  On lower quality canoes sometimes used as a way to reinforce the hull.  Beginners often benefit from using a canoe with a keel, especially if they are younger and not fully developed physically.

Tracking - how well a canoe can be paddled in a straight line.  We say "this canoe tracks well"

Tumblehome - when looking at the cross-section of the canoe from a viewpoint directly in front, this is the verticalness of the hull walls left and right.  If the walls are vertical there is no tumblehome.  If they bend slightly inwards there is a small tumblehome.  If they bend severely inwards there is a large tumblehome.

Rocker - when looking at the canoe from the side, it describes how much the canoe is shaped like a banana.  If it has an extreme curve then it has a huge rocker.  If it is straight on the bottom then there is no rocker.  Rocker is usually measured in inches as in how high the bow and/or the stern is raised off the ground when the canoe is level.  Though there is no industry-standard way to measure rocker so you cannot always judge by a number - you  have to see the profile.  Canoes with an extreme rocker are usually for rivers and white water because they tend to be more maneuverable.  Canoes with no rocker are usually for lakes or "flatwater" 

Chine - that magical mystical place where the bottom of the canoe becomes the side of the canoe. 

Flatwater - water without significant waves or current - typically a lake but also the sea or even a large section of a river.  Not whitewater

Whitewater - water with significant current and waves.   Typically a river.

Layup - this is a term used to talk about the materials and techniques used to manufacture a canoe.  One talks about a 16 foot Prospector in a carbon-kevlar layup.

Tandem - two in a canoe

Solo - one in a canoe

Hull Materials

The first thing you want to consider when buying a canoe is what it is made of.  This affects things such as the durability of the canoe, the weight, as well as how easy it is to maintain and repair.  Not to mention of course the price.  And you don't want to just consider what the hull is made of, it is also important to consider what the other components are made of like the gunwales, thwarts, yoke, seats and so forth.

Polyethylene (PE) / SP3

I will start here just because it is one of the cheapest materials you will encounter.  I'm kind of lumping a few things together here because there are single-layer PE constructions, as well as 3 layer like SP3 which are better because the middle layer is a foam core which provides flotation.  PE hulls are extremely durable almost to the point of indestructible, but once you do manage to punch a hole in them they are one of the most difficult materials to repair.  Durability comes at the cost of weight because PE hulled canoes are usually extremely heavy - they can be almost twice the weight of the same canoe in kevlar.

Personally I would not consider the modern Coleman canoes, which are PE, extremely heavy, and extremely prone to hull warping.  My first canoe was a Coleman Ram-X and I sold it before ever putting it on the water, having realized my mistake. 


This is of course the traditional material to use for canoes, and today while there are still birch bark canoes made primarily by First Nations, a wood canoe will be made of cedar.  Wood canoes can be extremely expensive mainly because there is a lot of old-school craftsmanship involved in making them.  The most common wood designs are the cedar strip (no ribs) and the cedar plank or also known as cedar rib construction.
Wood canoes tend to weigh in the mid to heavy range, but it really depends on construction.  They require specialized knowledge to repair but just about anyone who is into woodworking should be able to figure it out.


Aluminum canoes were first made after World War 2 when aircraft manufacturers were looking to stay in business in some form or another.  They are extremely durable but also on the more difficult side to repair once punctured or otherwise damaged, unless you happen to know an aluminum welder.  They tend to be in the  mid-range for weight on par with an equivalent fibreglass canoe.  Aluminum canoes are at the lower end of the price range.  After decades of use many aluminum canoes will acquire a host of small dings in the outer hull which kind of look terrible but mostly do not affect function.  I don't imagine you want to be in an aluminum canoe on a lake in a lightning storm.  But you probably don't want to be an any canoe in that circumstance.


I'm not going to comment much here because I do not fully understand these canoes.  I've heard that they are an early form of Royalex, extremely durable, and extremely heavy.  I do not have a lot of details as I don't think they've been made in probably 20 years or more.  I do know that a friend of mine put his extremely-well-used and extremely heavy ABS canoe on kijiji a few months ago and he got a stupid amount of money for it in a bidding war between two buyers.

Royalex / T-Formex

Royalex is a trademarked material that was originally made for some other purpose which never really took off, but canoe manufacturers discovered it as an exceptionally durable material that was ideal for white water canoes because you can literally fold a Royalex canoe in half ("wrap" it around a rock in a river), kick it back into shape, and then carry on your journey almost as though nothing had ever happened.  But in exchange for the durability it has when being thumped up against a rock, it is not very durable against abrasions like when scraping over some rocks while paddling, or when dragging a canoe up onto a rocky shore.  Original Royalex designs were extremely heavy, but newer Royalex Lite designs have a weight on par with Fibreglass yet still maintain the desired durability.  It is composed of layers of ABS where the inner core layer is a foam which has air pockets that provide flotation for the canoe.

In 2013/2014 the manufacturer shut down production of the material because the only market they'd managed to garner was for canoe hulls.  This was a massive blow to the canoe industry especially to those manufacturers who specialized in whitewater canoes because almost all of those were made of Royalex.  In fact this, combined with the fact that they were working on their own material to replace Royalex but did not yet have it fully perfected, caused Esquif canoes in Quebec to go out of business for a period of time.  Fortunately they did manage to pull together some investors to keep them afloat, and today they are producing a very similar product called T-Formex which is used by they themselves as well as other manufacturers to produce canoes almost idential to Royalex but with even more favorable properties at least according to the company.

These canoes are in the mid/high price range, and it should be noted that gently used Royalex canoes are extremely prized on the used market and as such retain a considerable amount of the original price.  Here is what Esquif says about T-Formex.

Royalex / T-Formex canoes are prone to oil-canning when not loaded with gear.


This is a traditional fiber that when designed and built properly has a good combination of weight, durability and price - all being mid-ranged.  It is also extremely easy to repair yourself.  Many older fiberglass canoes are built chopper-gun style (see below), but today hand-laid sheets are used along with vacuum-injection techniques.

Basalt - Innegra / Tuff-Stuff

When Royalex stopped being produced canoe manufacturers panicked and were forced to come up with alternate materials to fill the gap in their product line.  The Basalt-Innegra combination was developed by a few manufacturers and even though it was by no means a direct replacement for Royalex, it did prove to be exceptionally durable against the same types of thumps against rocks that Royalex was so famous for enduring.  Basalt is a type of volcanic rock that can be transformed into a fiber that is extremely durable and rigid, and innegra is a type of olefin fibre (polypropelene is another type of olefin) which is extremely flexible and light weight.  When you weave the two together you get a material that has extremely favourable properties for canoe hulls.  Tuff-Stuff is a brand name of Nova Craft Canoes, one of the first companies to come out with this material.  I recommend you take a look at these videos which demonstrate the durability of this material.  H2O canoes also uses this combination of materials in some of their canoes.
Canoes made from this material tend to be mid/high priced and can be repaired with similar techniques to fibreglass.

Carbon - Innegra

This is another popular combination of materials that is used heavily by Swift in their canoes. It has different properties from Basalt-Innegra but the basic idea is the same that the carbon provides the 'hard' and the innegra provides the 'soft'.  It is not as indestructible as basalt-innegra but in exchange it is a lot lighter.  Here is a quick and simple video which demonstrates the properties.
Canoes made from this material tend to be in the higher price range and can be repaired with similar techniques to fiberglass.

Kevlar / Aramid

Kevlar is a trademarked brand name, and Aramid is the generic name for the material.  It is prized in canoes because it can provide a similar level of durability to fiberglass but at a much lighter weight.  A common misconception about this type of canoe is that it is indestructible, which probably comes from the fact that bullet proof vests are made of it.  Butcher's gloves as well.  I can assure you that lightweight Kevlar canoes are definitely susceptible to damage, especially the type of damage one might encounter running a set of rapids.  One of the Scout leaders I worked with for several years once trashed his brand new Kevlar canoe running a short set of rapids in La Verendrye, because he used to hold this misconception.  And he is a relatively accomplished paddler.  It does not take much of a thumping against the right rock to punch a good hole into lightweight Kevlar.  

Expedition Kevlar is a term you will see which basically means extra layers of Kevlar cloth were added to the layup before injecting the epoxy.  This gives increased durability at a slightly higher cost and weight.

Skin on Frame

This is a relatively new development that harkens back to traditional Inuit designs, and is kind of exciting and kind of geeky.  There are a few highly specialized mom-and-pop shops making canoes on ultra-light wooden frames with ballistics-grade nylon skins.  These canoes ring in as light as or lighter than the ultralight carbon-innegra layups, and have a very distinct look.  I was recently at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough where they have a shop where a guy builds these canoes right in front of your eyes.  I had a very interesting discussion with him and learned quite a lot.  They are expensive because they take so long to make, but if I had the money I'd probably buy one.  See Camper Christina's writeup on her canoe, which comes from Backcountry Custom Canoes.

Epoxy / Vinylester

Canoes made from the various fibers like Fibreglass, Kevlar, Aramid, Carbon-Innegra and Basalt-Innegra need to have the fiber held together with something - this is accomplished with a 2 part resin like epoxy or vinylester.  Manufacturers usually do not advertise what type of resin they use, and sometimes it can be difficult to find out especially when it comes to used canoes that are older because manufacturers can change their materials over the years.  In general epoxy is the most prized resin, and the only manufacturers I know of currently using it are Souris River and H2O, but I am not sure whether they use it in all of their layups.  I'd love to hear from folks who know of others.

Gelcoat vs Clearcoat

Traditionally the resin-fiber canoes had been manufactured with a gelcoat on the outside of the hull, which best I can tell does not do a lot more than make it look nice with a single or multiple colours.  A lot of manufacturers are replacing this practice with a clearcoat resin on the outer hull, mainly to shave precious weight off the final product.  In fact H20 claims this can shave as much as 8 lbs off their canoes.  The side affect of this practice is that you can see the weave of the base fiber showing through the hull of the canoe, and I have to admit that before I knew why manufacturers were doing it I thought the canoes made like this looked pretty hot!  Look at most modern Swift layups for an example, or a lot of H2O as well.

Materials Matrix

Cost Weight Durability Repair
PE low heavy high difficult
Wood high mid / variable mid specialized
Aluminum low mid mid specialized
ABS N/A heavy high difficult
Royalex / T-Formex high mid high moderate
Fiberglass mid mid mid easy
Basalt-Innegra high mid high moderate
Carbon-Innegra high low mid moderate
Kevlar / Aramid high low - mid mid easy

Gunwale Materials

I will say up front that while I think canoes with wood gunwales are extremely beautiful, I really would rather not have one myself mainly because I cannot store my canoes indoors and I don't keep extremely good care of my gear.  That said, I do have a canoe with wood gunwales and I just had them replaced.  I will probably have to replace them again in about 10 years or so.   Various types of wood can be used for gunwales but ash is probably the most common except maybe on cedar canoes where cedar is often used.  Wood gunwales tend to be the most expensive trim option on most canoes, and also the most finicky to maintain.  You really should be treating it every year.

Aluminum is a great combination of durability, price, and ease of maintenance.  It is my preferred gunwale material for traditional fitted gunwales.  But the game is changing - see below.

Vinyl is more durable than aluminum, less expensive, but a fair bit heavier.  It is a great choice for a whitewater canoe combined with Royalex or T-Formex in the hull.  Together they are indestructible!  The same canoe with aluminum gunwales would allow you to carry on after wrapping it, but you'd have to replace the aluminum afterwards and you would not necessarily have to replace the vinyl.

Integrated gunwales are a relatively new development that became possible with the introduction of the vacuum-injection systems (see below).  On a modern ultralight canoe the gunwale is part of the hull - for better or worse.  This shaves precious weight off the canoe but could be problematic when it comes to repair if you happen to damage your gunwale.

Manufacturing Techniques

Here we will talk mainly about techniques used for fiber boats that are impregnated with resin.  This applies to all the various types of fiber listed above.

A lot of older fiberglass canoes were built 'chopper-gun' style, which means the fiberglass was chopped up into small strands and mixed with a resin as it was shot out of a special gun into a mold.  No reputable manufacturer would even think of producing a canoe this way today though things like water tanks and hot tubs are still made like this.  Chopper-gun boats tend to be less durable due to the short strands of glass, and also a lot heavier since more material would be required for the same degree of durability.  Chopper-gun boats are usually pretty obvious when you see the inside of them - there are no signs of the weave of a sheet of fiber.

Modern resin-impregnated fiber canoes are made with large sheets of fiber that are layed by hand into the mold.  Layers of different fibers can be layed in various combinations to achieve different properties.  Earlier techniques involved hand-laying the fiber and then hand-painting on the resin being careful to ensure all of the fiber gets wetted.  This invariably leads to a few tiny air pockets in the hull where there may be no resin in the fiber - at least on a few boats coming off the line.  I've seen these pockets first hand in "as-is" sale boats at a local outfitter.  Most if not all major manufacturers have since switched to a vacuum injection system whereby the sheets are still layed out much like before, but a huge plastic bag is then pulled over the mold and a vacuum created inside while a precise amount of resin is injected in.  This has the benefits of ensuring there are no air pockets, guaranteeing the resin is equally distributed, and it also minimizes the amount of resin required shaving precious weight off the final product.

Hull Design

The shape of the hull is the major factor affecting the performance of a canoe.  Some classic hull designs have a name, and the most common of those are listed below.


The Prospector design is said to have originated with the Chesnut Canoe Company formerly of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  The company is long gone but their legacy lives in that just about every major canoe manufacturer produces a Prospector.  Although there is still a lot of variation between manufacturers since some are following the original design more closely than others.  Prospectors are commonly thought to be the best all-round design - it is not perfect at anything, but it is reasonably good at everything.  Whether you want to paddle tandem, or solo, on a lake or river, for a day paddle with no gear or loaded to the gunwales, the Prospector is reasonably good at it.

Bob Special

This is another hull design which came from Chesnut - it is basically a variation of the Prospector which is a bit sleeker to make it paddle faster.  A lot of manufacturers today still make a Bob Special, but it is not as wide spread as the Prospector.

Symmetrical / Asymmetrical

A Symmetrical hull is a mirror image of itself if you were to cut it in half at the yoke.   The front is identical to the back.  This is the way traditional canoes like the Prospector and Bob Special are designed and it is one of the reasons they are not perfect at anything.  The advantage of a symmetrical hull is that you can paddle it backwards just as efficiently as you can frontwards.  In a normal situation paddling tandem you go frontwards - but if you want to solo a larger craft you sit in the front seat facing the stern (back) of the canoe, and paddle it backwards.  You can still do this with an asymmetrical hull but it won't be as efficient because asymmetrical hulls were designed specifically to be more efficient when paddling forwards.  That is basically why they were developed.

A lot of very high-tech research goes into hull design these days.  I will try to locate some videos from Bill Swift and others which talk about such things.  There is major R&D going into both symmetrical and asymmetrical hulls these days.  For example Bill Swift claims that his Prospector is the best one on the market, thanks to the serious R&D they've put into tweaking the classic design.

Hull Specifications

There are not a lot of standard hull designs like "Prospector" so in most cases you'll have to learn to read the specs and try to make some sense out of them.  Here are typical specs for the Nova Craft Prospector and their Bob Special.  The specs still do not tell you everything you need to know about a canoe, but they will tell you something especially when you stand them up against the specs of another canoe as per below.

NC Prospector NC Bob Special
Weight 29.5 kg 27.3 kg
Hull Fiberglass Fiberglass
Trim Aluminum Aluminum
Length 4.6 m / 15 ft 4.6 m / 15 ft
Beam 91 cm / 36 in 89 cm / 35 in
Center Depth 38 cm / 15 in 36 cm / 14 in
Bow Height 58 cm / 23 in 53 cm / 21 in
Rocker 6.4 cm / 2.5 in 1.3 cm / 0.5 in
Load 386 kg / 850 lb 363 kg / 800 lb


This is an important aspect of canoe design which should be mentioned.  Obviously you don't want your canoe to sink to the bottom if you capsize, so manufacturers design them with flotation.  Most commonly in the resin-fiber layups there are hollow flotation tanks at the bow and stern of the canoe.  With aluminum canoes the flotation tanks have styrofoam or some other type of foam inside, and sometimes under the seats as well.  Royalex and T-Formex floats in and of itself so they do not need any special type of flotation.  Similarly, 3 layer Polyethylene have flotation built into the middle layer of foam.  Single layer PE boats will need to provide some sort of extra flotation.

Hull Length

How long of a canoe do I need?  Here are some common canoe lengths and what they might be used for. 

10-12 feet - if it is extremely banana shaped it would be a whitewater "play boat" as they call them.  The term makes it pretty obvious what it is for.  Otherwise at the 12 foot range it could be a small solo canoe for puttering around the lake at the cottage.  If it were wider like a Sportspal it might be an ideal duck boat for a hunter.  You definitely won't be tripping in this canoe.

13-14 feet - this could be a great solo tripping canoe, or a tandem for puttering around the lake at the cottage.   You could take the 14 tandem tripping if you had other larger canoes along that could carry some of your gear.   But keep mind that longer boats are better on rougher waters - you could get tossed around pretty severely in foul weather.

15 feet - we are entering the realm of tandem tripping canoes.  This is a good size for youth like my Scout troop.  As long as you are doing relatively light-weight tripping (not necessarily ultralight) there will be plenty of room for two people's gear.   Some people might consider this to be a good solo boat as well.

16 feet - this is an ideal length for a tandem tripping canoe for two adults.  Experienced canoeists will take one of these on a solo trip.  It should also be able to carry 3 youth and all their gear, or two adults and a youth.  But the latter will be a bit cramped and you may have to avoid rougher water.  I'd had me and my 3 boys and all our gear in a 16 footer and wow was it crowded.  I'll have to dig out a picture.  At the time they were 4, 10 and 12 years old and we were only paddling about 1km to our campsite.  There is not way we could have done that over a longer distance.

17 feet - 2 person tandem for longer trips or many folks consider this the shortest canoe for going onto huge open water like the Great Lakes. ( Remember that longer canoes are better for huge open water when things get rough ).  This canoe should easily carry 3 adults and all their gear, or even a family of 4 with 2 adults and 2 youth at least until the youth get well into their teens.

18 feet - these are not common but most major manufacturers will make them.  They may have to be special order.  When those teens are full grown this will comfortably carry the family of 4.


As traditional as canoes may be, and in spite of how long they've been around - thousands of years - they are far from stagnant and unchanging.  The best manufacturers are constantly iterating their designs with little tweaks and features which make them stronger, faster, more efficient, more comfortable, and so on.  These include things like contoured seats, adjustable seats, integrated gunwales, raised outwales, carbon-kevlar thwarts and yokes.  Some of these are minor tweaks while others are major disruptive technologies.  Without question newer canoes will be better than older ones because of all these little things which add up over the years.  That said, used canoes are still extremely pleasant to paddle, and sometimes knowing the history of past owners makes it even more pleasant.

There is a lot of serious R&D going into canoe design today.  If you get a chance to talk to the manufacturers about it do take advantage of it!  Or look up videos on youtube.

Weight Ranges

Canoe weights are of course absolute, but they are also very relative.  Two years ago I was lucky enough to be the first person to respond to a kijiji ad for a well used but well cared-for Kevlar canoe which was not far from my house here in Ottawa.  When I got there an hour later the older gentleman said he'd gotten dozens of responses since mine.  Their canoe was indeed very well used and I estimated they were into their 70s, so I asked whether they were just giving up on canoeing.   Nothing could be further from the truth they exclaimed!  They just needed to finally upgrade to one of the newer ultralight carbon-kevlar models for the portages - they still hoped to have many years of paddling left.

I lifted the canoe and could tell right away it rang in around 50 lbs, and when I got it home sure enough it was about 49 lbs when I weighed it - my lightest canoe by a good 15 lbs!  But it was too heavy for them, and they had already bought another one almost 15 lbs lighter!

Most first time canoe buyers won't really have a point of reference for weights, so here is my take on it.  
  • 35 lbs is ultralight.  Just about anyone can portage this canoe well on their own, even my Scouts who are aged 11 to 15.  They really do not get any lighter than this for a 16 footer, although in talking recently with Bill Swift he said he is confident that with modern space-age designs and materials that are starting to be developed, they can be at half that in 20 years
  • 50 lbs is light.  My larger Scouts can portage them, or two Scouts can portage doing a double-carry.  For me personally as an early 50s guy who used to keep himself in very good shape but has allowed himself to slide over the last 5-7 years, this is still a very light canoe that is a breeze to portage.
  • 65 lbs is getting heavy.  Two of my 4 canoes are 65 lbs and they are relatively easy for me to portage for maybe 500 meters.  Longer than that and I'd be taking breaks most likely, especially on very hot days.  This is what I consider the limit for taking on a portage trip.
  • 80 lbs is insane.  Most of the PE layups fall into the category.  Don't even consider this canoe if there is a chance you'll be portaging it.  I would not take this on a portage trip - I'd rent before I took an 80 lb loaner from someone for free.  You will also curse just about every time you load or unload it on your vehicle.  My first canoe was 80 lbs and it broke my roof racks taking it home.  I sold it before I even put it in the water, having realized my mistake.

Buying Used

I've spent the last 3-4 years checking kijiji pretty much every day, as often as 10 times a day.  I may or may not have a problem.  What I've observed in talking with others in various parts of the country is that markets vary quite considerably - and the Ottawa market is an extremely hot seller's market.  Any good deal posted will be gone in 3 to 6 hours just about every time.  If you want a good deal you have to be prepared to go immediately and pick it up, even if that means leaving work.  But even here in the Ottawa area some markets are hotter than others - the same canoe posted on the Gatineau side of the river might take a day or two to sell, and might sell at a lower price as well.  I am not sure why, but it is true.  In other markets the same canoe might take a week to sell, and again at a lower price.

Materials very often get misrepresented in the used market.  Whatever the seller says the canoe is made of, don't trust them.  Not necessarily because they are dishonest - in many cases they just don't know the difference.  Often it is because they asked a friend or relative for help selling it, and that is what they were told by that other person.  You need to know how to identify materials.  PE / SP3 and Royalex / T-Formex hulls are easily identifiable because they do not have float chambers in the bow and stern - the port and starboard sides meet at the end in a discernible V.  For me the difference between SP3 and Royalex is pretty obvious when I see it, but for many it may not be.  And the price difference is significant so it is important!  A more used Royalex will have lots of little dents in the outer hull and probably a few abrasions which will show the white inner layers of the Royalex.  SP3 will not have this.  But in a pinch weight will inform you - 65 lbs for Royalex (16 footer) and 85 for an SP3!  But if you've never lifted a canoe before you may not even know what 65 feels like vs 85.  And if it is an original Royalex and not Royalex Lite, it might be closer to 80 anyway.

Do not go view a canoe after dusk.  Sunlight is your friend - it will help you find potential problems.

Ask about patches or repairs.  It is important.  Ask who fixed it.  A patched canoe is pretty much automatically worth at least 25% less than a non-patched canoe.   More depending upon the nature of the damage and the size of the patch.  Who repaired it is important.  Look the patch over carefully to see if there are signs of it peeling up.

Check wood gunwales carefully.  If they look extremely weathered they may be ready to break.  If you have a friend who is into wood working take them along to look at it, even if they don't know anything about canoes.  Even for non-weathered wood gunwales check them over carefully for cracks.

Check the entire hull for signs of damage that may not yet be repaired.  "Spider web" cracks are normal in gelcoat hulls, but an extreme number of them could be a problem.  Use the palm of your hand and push on the hull all over looking for soft spots - there should be none.

Check all the hardware to make sure it is in tact - where the thwarts and seats are attached, as well as other hardware in the seats.  Wiggle things to see if they are loose.  If they are it might just need to be tightened up so it is no big deal, but it could be a bigger problem that you only see when looking closer.

For resin-fiber canoes try to determine whether the float tanks are in tact.  Sometimes on poorly designed or poorly treated canoes you'll see part of the float tank peeling away from the main hull.  Or there could be cracks in it.  Rock the canoe back and forth and listen for the sloshing of water inside.

Pick it up to check the weight, and throw it on your head to portage it a bit to check the balance and how comfortable it is.

You can get a decent fiberglass canoe for $500 but you may have to wait a bit for it.  I'd pay up to about $1000 for a newer fiberglass in extremely good shape with a few features.  New ones are about $1500 these days without many features.

Kevlar I've gotten at the insanely cheap price of $500 for well used but well maintained, but I had to have the wood gunwales replaced the following year.  But even with that it was still a good deal.  Typically you'd be looking at a minimum of $1000 for a 50 lb Kevlar, but that would be a rare find even still at least in the Ottawa market.  For a newer Kevlar with a number of features like contoured seats, integrated gunwales, and a weight approaching or below 40 lbs, you'll be looking at closer to $2000 used.  If it is 5 years old or less it might even be worth $2500 if it is a carbon-kevlar ringing in below 40 lbs.


That's about all you need to know about canoes.  Honestly :-)



  1. Amazing amt of info! Excellent & thanks! Saw your request for comments at raccc fb pg. Lot to go thru & I'm short on time, but Send me a copy where I can insert comments? lynettedotcanews at acrylartdotca 1st caution - naming name brands with negative comments - I agree 100% re Coleman but my 1st thought was I don't want you to get yourself into trouble if they send their lawyer after you...

  2. Me again. I thought most Bob Special models were shorter & wider, flatter bottom = more stable fishing/family platform which = slower? I've never paddled one, so I'm not sure on this, so please correct me if I'm wrong!

  3. again... you might want to add PakCanoe (etc) to your skin on frame section. There is a niche for these boats. I have a 'review' & info if you want.