Different Types of Open Canoes

Open canoes or Canadian canoes (as they're known in the UK) are simple "canoes" in Canada and the United States. Where a distinction between open and closed canoes are drawn, the primary difference between the two is whether or not the top is covered. This leaves all uncovered canoes lumped together into the rather large category of open canoes. There are, in fact, many different types of open canoes, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses.

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Open canoes are distinguished by differences in dimensions (width, length, and depth), keel line (straight, straight with rockered ends, highly rockered), and shape (flat bottom, shallow arch, shallow vee, rounded). Each of these qualities poses its own advantages and disadvantages. Fortunately, making the distinctions between open canoes a bit easier to draw is that their names usually reflect their use, for example a touring canoe would be best for taking wilderness trips while whitewhiter canoes would be best for river canoeing. The following is a more detailed breakdown of the various distinctions.

Touring canoes (or wilderness tripping canoes) are made of lighter weight materials than whitewater canoes, as they are designed to hold cargo and so are usually built larger than those used in river canoeing. Touring canoes are also designed for greater comfort on long rides.

One popular kind of touring canoe is a prospector canoe, which features a single continuous arc extending from bow to stern, and a symmetrical hull. Long-distance touring canoes, on the other hand, boast a cockpit that lowers the gunnel line, making it easier for the paddler to reach the water, and raises the rim of the boat, allowing it to stay drier inside.

Whitewater canoes are made of stronger, more rugged materials than touring canoes, as they are subject to greater force and impact, and so are designed to protect their riders from harm in rough waters. As such, they have no keel that might keep them too stable to respond fluidly to rapid changes in water flow and pressure, while having a bigger rocker to allow for that fluidity in movement. Many river canoes also include additional safety features like extra lashing points on the inside for tying harnesses, flotation bags and securing equipment from being thrown about (and potentially lost). Whitewater canoes are also built smaller and more streamlined for easier maneuverability along twisting and turning waterways.

Playboating canoes are a special kind of whitewater canoe used specifically for performing tricks and for competitive whitewater slalom racing. These are also known as banana boat because of their shape, with a short length and a big rocker. Hardcore whitewater canoers tend to prefer inflatable canoes.

Racing canoes, also known as sprint canoes, are built long and thin to reduce drag on flat-water. Sailing canoes are propelled by use of a sailing rig, similar to that of a sailboat. Often combined with sailing canoes are outriggers, or lateral supports that provide extra balance. These are called outrigger canoes and work well with motors, making them a popular choice for recreational canoeing. Another type of open canoe that works well with motors are square stern canoes, literally built with the stern squared off to support an outboard motor. These square stern canoes are best used for fishing and lake boating.

Within these different categories of open canoe, each type may be made in a variety of different materials. In modern canoes the most common, by far, is an alloy made of aluminum mixed with silicone, magnesium, and/or other metals. The easiest to find in the widest array of styles, the one drawback with metal canoes is that they heat up in summer and get cold in winter. Fiberglass canoes are among the cheapest on the market, but in this case the word "cheap" means not only affordable but of poorer quality and more easily damageable. Fiberglass canoes are, however, incredibly lightweight. By the same token, one of the most durable canoes, those made of kevlar, are also among the most expensive. Kevlar canoes are built to last, however, and benefit from still being lightweight despite being heavy-duty.

Looking at the breadth in variety of open canoes available, it's clear that a kind of canoe exists for pretty much any canoeing need or desire.

Copyright Dave Bloor 2010