Mike’s Guide to Buying Your First Canoe


Buying a canoe can be a confusing and overwhelming process. There are so many different types of canoe on the market, from inflatable to sit-on-tops, that it’s hard to know what you need.

This guide is for anyone looking to buy their first canoe. If you think you might want to start with a kayak, check our guide to buying your first kayak.

This canoe buying guide covers everything from how to get started in your search all the way through choosing between an aluminum or fiberglass boat and then how to maintain it once you have bought one. 

Whether you’re buying your first boat or want some expert tips on caring for yours, this guide will help make sure that buying your next canoe is easy and fun!

First, Consider Your Paddling Plans

First, you need to consider what type of canoe will be best for your specific paddling plans. There are a lot of different types of canoes, including recreational, traditional, and tandem. The type of canoe you choose will have various effects that will change the experience you have paddling.

After you’ve thought about what type of paddling and trips suit your preferences, consider these questions when choosing a boat:

How much equipment you plan to bring along with you? What’s the acceptable length for an outing day trip or week-long excursion, even whitewater paddling (recommend you go on a course to learn how to do this). How many people are going on this adventure so that everyone has enough space in front of them without touching backpacks full of others who aren’t using their own seats

Different Canoe Types

Recreational Canoes

Recreational canoes are the most versatile and popular type of canoe. They’re usually 8-14 feet long, with light weights and a narrow beam (width). These boats are often used for day trips, rivers, or whitewater paddles.

Versatile/Multi-Purpose Canoes

Versatile or multi-purpose canoes are the most common canoe on large waterways for cruising, fishing, or family trips. These boats are often used on rivers, lakes, coastlines, and open waters. They’re usually 12-19 feet long, with enough space in either front or back for paddling solo.

River Canoes

River canoes are the perfect choice for those who love a little adventure on their next outdoor excursion. These riverside vehicles provide stability and protection from splashback, but they aren’t too heavy so that you have difficulty moving through rough terrain or negotiating rapids with agility! With lots of rockers (end-to-edge curve), these boats make it easy to turn around when taking risky angles into an obstacle course like Class IV whitewater runneling downriver where rocks could be incoming at any moment. This is definitely advanced adventure work, so don’t dive into this without some training.

What to Consider When it Comes to the Size of your Canoe

There are a variety of considerations for the size of your canoe.


The first consideration is the length of the canoe you want to purchase. Canoes are usually 12-19 feet long, but some can be found as short as 8 or as long as 28 feet. A shorter boat will be more maneuverable and easier to control, but it will also have less storage space for carrying gear.

Width (Beam)

Another important consideration is the width, either 16, 18, 20, or 22 for many boats. Different widths will affect how you sit on the boat and how easily it handles on the water surface. A wider boat is likely to be more stable but less easy to maneuver.


You’ll also want to consider the depth of the canoe you’re going to purchase. The depth refers to how much water is needed for your boat to float. A shallow boat won’t work on a large body of water with lots of waves because it can be easily swamped. On the other hand, a deep boat might be suitable for fishing or transporting heavy cargo, but it will take more effort and skill when paddling through waves or rapids.

A Few Extra Design Features


The freeboard is the height of your boat from the waterline to the gunnel. The freeboard guards against waves crashing over the side of your boat. It’s important to have a high enough freeboard because it will keep water from seeping into your canoe, which can cause it to take on too much weight and sink.

A small increase in freeboard usually increases stability, cargo space, and crew capacity. A larger increase in freeboard usually decreases stability but allows for more cargo space and crew capacity.

Entry Line

An entry line is a horizontal line at the front of a canoe’s outer edge. Entry lines serve various purposes, but they are most commonly used in whitewater kayaking to give kayakers more control over their boats.

Canoe Construction Materials


Fiberglass canoes are known for their stiff, durable construction with a sharp entry/exit line. Fiber-reinforced composites allow them to be more efficient in the water than other materials and provide excellent protection against UV damage which causes degradation over time due to exposure from sunlight or weather conditions like rainwater washing away at your boat’s skin (no one wants that). 

A gel coat protects against abrasion by minimizing friction when traveling across rock surfaces, while an outer polyester topcoat prevents chipping through waves caused by sudden direction changes.


Kevlar canoes are strong and lightweight, but they’re also one of the most expensive options on our list. They have a lot going for them, though: stronger than fiberglass with 25% less weight! That could make all the difference when you need to carry your canoe on a long portage.

Kevlar’s cost more because each layer must be bonded together specially by technicians using high-tech equipment before it’s even filled out nicely.


Royalex is a tough material that provides excellent insulation. It springs back from hard collisions and, unlike other materials like PVC or polystyrene, it can be used in the water without being harmed by cold temperatures.

Royalex® Lightweight (R-Light)

This substance offers a balance between lightweight and durability. It can shave up to 10 lbs from your canoe! Made with the same materials as Rolayex, this new weight-saving version differs in the placement of reinforcement, making it even stronger than before for when you need that extra boost on an adventure out there or just want something more manageable while paddling around town.

There are also some manufacturer-specific products.


The Discovery series canoes are designed exclusively for Old Town Canoe’s revolutionary material that provides a layer of bounce to the boats. This resilient, ultra-durable CrossLink3 has been created from closed cell foam sandwiched between high-density polyethylene layers and is strong enough so it will bounce back in any situation without getting damaged or knocked down like other materials would do when their hit by another object with much more mass behind it – say something as heavy as an animal pushing them out into deep water where they’ll eventually float until somebody finds them!


PolyLink3 is the latest boat tech from Old Town Canoe. It has all of your favorite features at a price you’ll love, and it’s super durable too! The lightweight foam core construction makes this canoe extremely responsive – meaning that when I paddled faster or harder, my stroke rate increased without changing where each side of my paddle touched water which made for an easier ride.

A Few Good Tips for Taking Care of your New Canoe

1. Check to make sure that water is not leaking into your boat – if there is, the sealant may need to be replaced.

2. Wash your boat regularly to avoid a buildup of dirt and grime. You can remove stains with a solution made from a few drops of liquid dishwashing detergent combined with 3 cups of warm water, apply the mixture to the stain and allow it to dry before putting your canoe back in use.

3. Protect against UV damage which causes degradation over time due to exposure from sunlight or weather conditions like rainwater washing away at your boat’s skin (no one wants that). A gel coat protects against abrasion by minimizing friction when traveling across rock surfaces, while an outer polyester topcoat prevents chipping through waves caused by sudden direction changes.

4. Acid rain will also degrade the gel coat over time if it isn’t protected, so it’s especially important to rinse your boat with fresh water after exposure of any kind or use a commercial paint stripper to remove stains for you before they become an issue!

5. Always keep your canoe out of the sun by storing it inside or under some type of canopy.

6. If you are camping, instead of dragging your boat over rocky terrain on landings, use a trolley to effortlessly navigate riverside hikes! A trolley removes the tough job of carrying your canoe up and down mountainsides, all while preventing wear and tear on its skin caused by excessive friction. A trolley will also prevent abrasion against rocks and other abrasive surfaces, which is a leading cause of damage to canoes everywhere!

7. No matter where you paddle, make sure to clean your canoe before moving to a new body of water. Cleaning not only protects your canoe but helps stop the spread of invasive species. Simple things help protect the natural environment.

8. Keep some anti-fouling paint on hand. Who knows when that dead fish is just going to wash up right next to your boat and refuse to leave no matter how much you huff at it. Make sure this paint covers the canoe’s entire surface, not just where it contacts water, including seams!

9. Inspect the bow and stern lines to make sure that they are in good condition, not frayed or excessively worn, and tied correctly with a knot secured by two half hitches – you don’t want any accidents while paddling!

10. Keep your canoe clean! Not only does it look much nicer, but it also slows down the oxidation process, which will lead to premature degradation.

Finally, if you happen to have an inflatable canoe – Routinely inspect the seams on your canoe for leaks. If you notice anything, follow these three easy steps: 1. Pump air into the canoe until it’s firm, and apply a thin coat of waterproof glue to the inside seams. 2. Press on either side of the seam with your thumbs and let dry for 24 hours. 3. Pump air back out and check again before paddling!

A Few Tips for Winter Storage of Your Canoe

Some of us live in climates where it gets very cold in Winter. Build up of snow and freezing water can quickly damage or even destroy a poorly stored canoe.

Start by making sure your canoe is completely dry. No pockets of water to freeze and expand.

The first choice is always to store the canoe indoors, and I like to turn it upside down.

If you don’t have anywhere indoors, wrap the kayak in several tarpaulins or even consider getting it professionally winterized with tough plastic wrap at a local marina.

Take steps to stop animals using your canoe as a Winter refuge.

Don’t just leave it and forget it. Check your canoe regularly during the Winter. Look for any water getting in or excessive buildup of snow if it’s outside.

How to Stay Safe on the Water with Your Canoe

Here are a few helpful tips to stay safe when you’re canoeing.

1. Always check the weather before you head out – always paddle with a little extra caution if rain is forecasted or it’s windy.

2. Bring along wet-weather gear, including rain pants and a jacket, to make sure that if things go wrong, you’re protected!

3. Familiarize yourself with where you are going.

4. If you’re ever in a situation with fast-moving rapids, steer with your hips and keep your balance by using your knees so that you can control the boat better.

5. When going over rapids, do not look directly at them or try to maintain eye contact to avoid getting dizzy and disoriented.

6. When going over big waves, do not lean with them as this risks tipping the canoe over.

7. Always wear the correct lifejacket, no matter how old or experienced you are. Even strong swimmers can get dazed when falling out of a canoe. Stats suggest that wearing a lifejacket reduces your risk of drowning by 50%, which is more helpful than you think.

8. Keep an emergency kit with you, including waterproof matches or lighter, flares, food, water, a first-aid kit, and a map of the area.

9. Never go canoeing alone, even if you’re an experienced water-going individual! Having a second person along will make it much easier to help you in case of an emergency.

10. Always check your gear – especially knots and ropes – before going out on the water to ensure that they are properly tied.

11. Take the time to let someone know where you’re going, your route and when you expect to be back. To save everyone time and worry, don’t forget to call to say you’re back on land and safe,

12. It’s best to stay safe, but having a mobile phone with you can be a significant help in an emergency. Make sure you know the local emergency phone number. Yes, it’s usually 911 but not everywhere.

Don’t Forget the Extras.

Position of seats

Depending on the type of activity you are engaging in, it is important to think about the position of the seats. For example, if you intend to use your canoe for fishing, you will need a seat near the stern. If you’re planning on paddling long distances, it’s best to put your seat towards the bow of the boat. The idea is to make sure that you are using your seat most efficiently and not hinder your access.

Type of seats

There are many types of seats for canoes, but here are a few options for you to consider

-Set Seat: This type of seat gives occupants more control while paddling through waves created by sudden turns.

-Fishing Chair: This type of chair typically sits near the stern so that anglers can maneuver their rods.

-Stool: This type of seat is best for paddling when the water is smooth and you do not need speed

-Folding Seat: This type of seat typically sits near the bow


Thwarts are the wood, fiberglass, or aluminum struts that brace your canoe and provide support. If you plan on portaging, it’s important for a center thwart to have comfortable carrying capacity, so make sure it’s positioned correctly as well; otherwise, balance will be an issue!


Gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”) are an important safety feature on board canoes. They reinforce the sides of your boat, providing protection for you and those around you as well as allowing easier grabbing points while in motion. Wood gunwales are attractive, easy on the hands, and quieter than other materials. They’re also tough, flexible, and repairable but do require regular maintenance with care. Vinyl is less expensive to maintain while being durable in nature as well! These qualities make them an excellent choice over time-consuming work like that needed for wooden structures such as boat decks or railings; however, aluminum has its benefits too – they may be loud when paddled against (depending upon design), but these same sounds give you assurance knowing this material won’t break off easily under pressure, unlike some others which could end up slicing through someone’s Achilles’ heel.


If you’re looking for your first canoe, consider where you’ll be paddling most often. Find the correct type of boat by considering its length and width and what kind of water conditions it will encounter. We hope this helps narrow down your search for finding the best canoe so that you can get out on the water sooner rather than later.