Wooden canoes like this hand-carved one are just one of many types of canoes on the market. Can you find the hull?

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Types of Canoes

Today's canoes come in a vast assortment of materials, shapes, sizes and colors, but they all have the same purpose -- to keep you out of the water. So, what makes a canoe float, anyway? The laws of density, explain why a canoe floats. Buoyancy tells us that the weight of the water displaced by the canoe must be equal to the weight of the canoe for it to float. This ties in to density -- if you drop an object into a liquid that's less dense than the object, the object will float. A canoe's shape, like the shape of a cruise ship or even a fishing boat, is purposely designed to make it float.

Most canoes are made of wood, aluminum or fiberglass. Would you believe there are even folding and inflatable canoes? These are usually made of PVC, hypalon and other man-made materials.

Typically, canoes are between 11 to 30 feet long. Smaller canoes are usually 11 to 15 feet. They're typically used by single paddlers and children. On the other hand, larger canoes are usually from 16 to 18 feet are used as guide boats and are popular with both solo and tandem paddlers. Most of the time, canoes used for recreation can carry from one and four people. The largest canoes are used for carrying freight and commercial fishing.

In general, a well-designed canoe has a long lift to the canoe. A canoe with a rockered (slightly curved) bottom can go faster and is easier to paddle because its shape reduces friction. If you're looking for the most stable canoe, find one with a flat, wide bottom.

Here are the main parts of a canoe that you should know:

  • Gunwale: top edge extending around the canoe from bow to stern
  • Beam: point of greatest width
  • Bow: front of the canoe
  • Deck: wood pieces fitted between gunwales at the extreme ends of the canoe
  • Freeboard: portion of the hull between the gunwales and waterline
  • Hull: body of canoe
  • Keel: outer strip on bottom of canoe in the center extending from bow to stern
  • Painter: rope attached to bow and stern
  • Planking: flat sections of wood forming the hull fitted lengthwise
  • Ribs: curved pieces of wood on planking running crosswise
  • Thwart: crosswise supports between gunwales which help canoe maintain shape

To get the most enjoyment out of your canoe, select one that matches your skill level and purpose. If you're a first-time canoeist, you may be interested in an aluminum canoe, since it's heaviest and comes with buoyancy chambers that help keep it afloat.

By the way, what does all this fun cost? If you're buying a brand-new canoe, expect to pay between $300-$1,000. Aluminum and aluminum alloy cost $300-$600, while fiberglass canoes range from $500-$900. Their wooden counterparts are at the higher end, commanding $750-$1,000.

Now we've got a good idea of what types of canoes are out there and how they're used, let's see what else we'll need -- the gear.