canoe is a relatively small boat, typically human-powered, but also commonly sailed. Canoes are pointed at both ends and usually open on top, but can be covered. For the activity of using a canoe in sport or for recreation, see canoeing.
In its human-powered form, the canoe is propelled by the use of paddles, with the number of paddlers depending on the size of canoe. Paddlers face in the direction of travel, either seated on supports in the hull, or kneeling directly upon the hull. In this way paddling a canoe can be contrasted with rowing, where the rowers face away from the direction of travel. Paddles may be single-bladed or double-bladed.
Sailing canoes (see Canoe Sailing) are propelled by means of a variety of sailing rigs. Common classes of modern sailing canoes include the 5m² and the International 10m² Sailing canoes. The latter is otherwise known as the International Canoe, and is one of the fastest and oldest competitively sailed boat classes in the western world.
Traditional island canoe at El Nido, Philippines
Ambiguity over the word Canoe
Confusingly, the sport of canoeing, organised at the international level by the International Canoe Federation, uses the word canoe to cover both canoes as defined here, and kayaks (see below for a brief description of the differences between a kayak and a canoe). In fact, the sport of canoe polo is exclusively played in kayaks. This confusing use of canoe to generically cover both canoes and kayaks is not so common in North American usage, but is common in Britain, Australia and presumably many parts of the world, both in sporting jargon and in colloquial speech. In these circumstances, the canoe as defined here is sometimes referred to as an open, Canadian, or Indian canoe, though these terms have their own ambiguities.
A 'canoe' in this ambiguous sense is a paddled vessel in which the user faces the direction of travel.
Design and construction
Parts of a canoe
Optional features in modern canoes
The portion of the hull between the waterline and the top of the gunwale is called freeboard.
The earliest canoes were made from natural materials:
Modern technology has expanded the range of materials available for canoe construction.
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. However, canoes made of natural materials require regular maintenance, and are lacking in durability.
Many canoes are symmetrical about the centerline, meaning their shape can be mirrored along the center. And theoretically they should handle the same whether paddling forward or backward. But some advanced designs are asymmetrical, usually placing the widest part of the canoe slightly farther back. This increases the ability to 'track' in a straight line without compromising the manoeuvrability much.
A traditionally shaped canoe, like a voyageur canoe, will have a tall rounded bow and stern. Although tall ends tend to catch the wind, they serve the purpose of shedding waves in rough whitewater or ocean travel.
Canoe on Concord river Massachusetts
The shape of the hull's cross section and bottom determines how stable the canoe is in different conditions. A flat-bottomed canoe has excellent initial stability, but if tilted beyond a threshold, becomes unstable and may capsize. It is suitable for flatwater but it will rock more with larger waves.
A rounded-bottom canoe exhibits poor resistance to tilt. Its initial stability is poor, but its final stability is better. Furthermore, because of the optimal volume to surface ratio, it will have less draft than any other shape, making a canoe with a rounded bottom suitable for racing. Round-bottomed designs are also able to go over obstructions more easily, due to a small area of contact with the obstruction.
In between these two shapes is the more common shallow-arc bottom. It combines reasonable initial stability with a reasonable secondary stability. Similar is the tumblehome hull which has the top potion of the hull curving back in slightly, providing even more secondary stability when tilting.
Some canoes have a shallow-vee bottom, where the hull centerline forms a ridge like a shallow "V". It will behave similar to a shallow-arc bottom but its volume to surface ratio is worse.
Modern manufactures may combine a variety of cross sections to suit the canoe's purpose.
Keels on canoes will slightly increase the ability to 'track' in a straight line, but decrease the ability to turn quickly to avoid an obstacle. Consequently, canoes with a keel are better suited for lake travel, especially when traveling on open water with crosswinds. However, the hull has a larger cross-section than the keel, and has therefore a greater effect on a canoe's path through the water. Keels and "Vee"-bottoms are undesirable for whitewater because they increase the draft.
In aluminum canoes, small keels occur as manufacturing artifacts when the two halves of the hull are joined. In wood-and-canvas canoes, keels are rub-strips to protect the boat from rocks and as they are pulled up on shore. Plastic canoes feature keels to stiffen the hull and allow internal tubular framing to lie flush with the sole of the canoe.
Some hulls protrude downward in the middle and rise upward toward the bow and stern; this is called "rocker". More rocker (greater curvature) affects handling in the opposite way from omitting a keel: it improves maneuverability at the expense of tracking. Specialized canoes for whitewater play have an extreme rocker and therefore allow quick turns and tricks.
Types of canoes
In the past, people around the world have built very different kinds of canoes, ranging from simple dugouts to large outrigger varieties. More recently, technologically advanced designs have emerged for particular sports.
Early canoes in many parts of the world were dugouts, formed of hollowed logs.
In the Pacific Islands, dugout canoes are very large, made from whole mature trees and fitted with outriggers for increased stability in the ocean, and were once used for long-distance travel. Such are the very large waka used by Māori who ventured to New Zealand many centuries ago. Such vessels carried 40 or 50 warriors in sheltered waters or smaller numbers thousands of miles across the Pacific ocean. In Hawaii, canoes are traditionally manufactured from the trunk of the koa tree. They typically carry a crew of six: one steersman and five paddlers.
In the temperate regions of eastern North America, canoes were traditionally made of a wooden 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. On the west coast of North America, large dugout canoes were used in the Pacific Ocean, even for whaling.
Canoe types are usually categorized by the intended use. Many modern canoe designs are hybrids (a combination of two or more designs, meant for multiple uses). The purpose of the canoe will also often determine the materials used. Most canoes are designed for either one person (solo) or two persons (tandem), but some are designed for more than 2 persons.
Differences from other paddled boats
Dugout canoe of pirogue type in the Solomon Islands
Canoes have a reputation for instability, but this is not true if they are handled properly. For example, the occupants need to keep their centre of gravity as low as possible. Canoes can navigate swift-moving water with careful scouting of rapids and good communication between the paddlers.
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.
A trick called "gunwale bobbing" allows a canoe to be propelled without a paddle. The canoeist stands on the gunwales, near the bow or the stern, and squats up and down to make the canoe rock backward and forward. This propulsion method is inefficient and unstable.
The paddling action of two paddlers will tend to turn the canoe toward the opposite side that on which the sternman is paddling. Thus, steering is particularly important, particularly because canoes have flat-bottomed hulls and are very responsive to turning actions. Steering techniques vary widely, even as to the basic question of which paddler should be responsible for steering.
Among experienced white water canoeists, the sternman is primarily responsible for steering the canoe, with the exception of two cases. The bowman will steer when avoiding rocks and other obstacles that the sternman cannot see. Also, in the case of backferrying, the bowman is responsible for steering the canoe using small correctional strokes while backpaddling with the sternman.
Among less-experienced canoeists, the canoe is typically steered from the bow. The advantage of steering in the bow is that the bowman can change sides more easily than the sternman. Steering in the bow is initially 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 forward power or thrust, and the greater source of thrust should be placed in the bow for greater steering stability.
Paddle strokes are important to learn if the canoe is to move through the water in a safe and precise manner. Categorizing strokes makes learning them easier. After the strokes are mastered, they can be combined or even changed so that handling the canoe is smooth and done in an efficient, effective, and skillful manner. Here are the main ones:
Complementary strokes are selected by the bow and stern paddlers in order to safely and quickly steer the canoe. It is important that the paddlers remain in unison, particularly in white water, in order to keep the boat stable and to maximize efficiency.
There are some differences in techniques in how the above strokes are utilized.
Canoe trail Klamath National Wildlife Reserve
On swift rivers, the sternman may use a setting pole. It allows the canoe to move through water too shallow for a paddle to create thrust, or against a current too quick for the paddlers to make headway. With skillful use of eddies, a setting pole can propel a canoe even against moderate (class III) rapids.
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