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Learn to Canoe

Want to glide swiftly across a quiet lake or float slowly down a lazy river? Try a canoe.

 

Canoeing is an age old sport that has been used for transportation, fishing, hunting, sport, and recreation across cultures for generations. Today, canoes are still used for all of those categories and their appeal continues to grow. The sport of canoeing is so differentiated that it is important to know why you want to canoe, where you intend to canoe, and who you will be canoeing with so that you choose the best canoe for your needs. Advances in materials and technology have greatly improved canoe performance as well as affordability meaning that today’s consumers have nearly limitless options. The following summary will give you a good idea of the material and design features you should consider before making a canoe purchase. Finally, it will review the equipment and accessories you need before you can head out onto the water.

 


Consider Your Paddling Plans

Ask yourself the following questions when choosing a boat:

 

  • What type of paddling do you like - general recreation, flatwater touring, river touring or whitewater paddling?
  • What kind of trips do you prefer - day trips, weekend tours or week-long excursions?
  • How many people do you paddle with? 
  • Is this a canoe for the family or are you a soloist?
  • How much gear do you want to bring along?

 


Choose a Canoe Type

Recreational Canoes

Fun and easy to paddle, recreational canoes are perfect for flatwater paddling. Stable, easy to control and tough to flip over, they're ideal for birding, photography, fishing and general paddling. Because they are so stable, they aren't as agile as other canoe styles.

 

Versatile/Multi-Purpose Canoes

Canoes in this category are built to handle everything from calm lakes to Whitewater Rivers. In general, they offer greater maneuverability and more capacity than recreational boats. Included here are high-volume "tripping" canoes, designed to handle big gear loads and extended trips.

 

River Canoes

River canoes are designed specifically for paddlers who love the challenge of running rapids and negotiating rivers. They're impact- and abrasion-resistant, with high sides to deflect splashes. Lots of rocker (end-to-end curvature) enhances maneuverability.

 


Canoe Materials

Canoes are made of a variety of materials with the best offering a balanced combination of weight, strength and cost. The lighter the weight, the easier the canoe is to transport and maneuver. The more durable the boat, however, the heavier it is. Think about what's most important to you. If you're constantly portaging, weight should be a big consideration. If you're parking next to the put-in, weight's not a big factor. The following list of materials and characteristics will help you decide what fits your needs best.

 

Royalex

Royalex is a vacuum-formed sheet laminate consisting of external vinyl layers - An outer layer of vinyl and hard acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic (ABS) and an inner layer of ABS foam, bonded by heat treatment. Each sheet is designed specifically for the intended use of that canoe. All combinations are durable and moderately light-weight. It is resistant to impact, yet has "memory" that allows it to absorb impact and return to original form.

 

As a canoe material, Royalex is lighter, more resistant to UV damage, more rigid and has greater structural memory than non-composite plastics such as polyethylene. With a good mix of weight, strength and durability it’s no wonder this canoe material is becoming more popular every year. Royalex canoes are, however, more expensive than aluminium canoes or canoes made from traditionally molded or roto-molded polyethylene hulls.  It is also heavier, and less suited for high-performance paddling than fiber-reinforced composites, such as fiberglass, kevlar or carbon fiber/graphite.

 

Royalex Lightweight/ Royalite/ R-lite

This substance offers a good balance between light weight and durability. A full size Royalite canoe can be up to 10 lbs lighter than a comparable Royalex model! Manufactured with the same materials as Rolayex, this weight-saving version differs in the placement and amount of reinforcing materials. Though not quite as durable as Royalex it still may be a good choice for the canoeist looking for many of the same benefits of Royalex without the extra weight.

 

Polyethylene

A single, solid layer of linear high-density polyethylene provides for impressive abrasion and impact resistance in a hull when integrated with the deck structure. The result is a very tough and virtually maintenance-free uni-body style construction at a very modest price. Roto-molded polyethylene is a cheaper but heavier alternative to Royalex. 

 

Triple Layer Polyethylene

Three-layer polyethylene skin/foam/skin hull material produces a tough, durable, maintenance-free, value-priced hull.  With this construction a foam core is wedged between 2-polyethelene layers providing integral floatation and stiffness. High density linear polyethylene skins provide superior impact protection and are repairable.  Triple-layer hulls average about 15 - 20% heavier than Royalex and offer similar performance characteristics.

 

Fiberglass

This is the most common material used in manufacturing canoes. Fiberglass is relatively light, inexpensive, easily moldable, and is simple to repair. Because it can be shaped into the sharp ends and subtle curves it is one of the most efficient hull materials on the market. Fiberglass, while strong, does lack some rigidity compared to other materials and can be damaged with hard use.

 

Kevlar

Kevlar canoes are built by draping the cloth on a mold, then impregnating it with a liquid resin. Finally, a gel coat on the outside gives a smoother appearance. This material is popular with paddlers looking for an ultralight canoe that will not be taken in whitewater or used harshly. Kevlar boasts a tensile strength 5 times stronger than steel and tremendous impact absorption and tear resistance. Kevlar while strong however, does lack some rigidity. 

 

Kevlar Ultralight

This foam cored composite laminate is the lightest way to build structurally sound canoe hulls. Kevlar ultralight is about 20% lighter than traditional kevlar material. Foam is lighter than fabric and it does not absorb resin, reducing the resin weight contained in the hull. The foam core and series of foam ribs extending up the sides of the hull are all wedged between multiple layers of fabric on top and bottom and laminated via resin infusion. Though not as durable or impact-resistant as traditional kevlar, kevlar ultralight is the lightest and stiffest material that maximizes paddling efficiency while minimizing weight making it ideal for paddling in calm water.

 

Carbon Fiber/Graphite 

Carbon fiber or graphite is only marginally less durable than kevlar while creating a hull that’s lighter and stiffer than kevlar. Carbon fiber canoes are more expensive but, if you have the budget and desire the ultimate in lightweight strength, the additional cost can be well worth it.

 

Aluminum

Aluminum is good value material with a very high weight to strength ratio.  It is tough, durable, and will take much more abuse than many of its counterparts, as it has no gel or polymer outer coating which would make it subject to abrasion. The hull does not degrade from long term exposure to sunlight, and extremes of hot and cold do not affect the material performance or longevity. While it was once very popular it is now being replaced by modern, lighter and more durable materials. Aluminum dents easily causing misshapen hulls; it’s also difficult to repair, noisy, can get stuck on underwater objects, and requires buoyancy chambers to assist in keeping the canoe afloat in a capsize.

 

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Canoe Design Considerations

Not all canoes are built alike! Once you have the material you want, you should next consider the design that fits your paddling needs best. The design of a canoe can be broken down into several subsections with each meriting at least some consideration. These considerations include length, beam, hull shape, rocker, flare, entry lines, fullness and finally bottom arch.

 

Length

 

  • All else being equal, a longer canoe will travel faster than a shorter one
  • A longer canoe will also track straighter, but it will also be harder to turn
  • There are other factors that affect maneuverability - see "rocker"
  • A longer canoe will be heavier
  • A longer canoe will generally hold more gear than a shorter one
  • The height of the sides and fullness of the hull are also factors
  • A longer canoe is typically more stable than a shorter canoe of the same design

 

Beam

Beam refers to the width of the boat at its widest point.

 

  • In general, the wider the boat, the more stable. The narrower the boat, the more efficient and easier the paddling. 
  • Narrow boats are slightly more "tippy", but they tend to be lighter and easier to keep on a steady track.

 

Hull Shape

There are four general hull shapes to consider, but the differences can be subtle, so it's often hard to categorize a boat.

 

Flat Bottom

Flat canoe bottoms provide excellent initial stability. They're perfect for flatwater paddling and general canoeing fun. Flat-bottom boats tend to turn easily (since very little of the hull is below the water line), but they can be slow when fully loaded with gear.

 

Rounded Bottom

Canoes with rounded bottoms provide little initial stability, but they offer excellent secondary stability. They're slow to tip over in rough conditions. Rounded hulls are designed for speed and efficiency through the water. They are usually found on specialized, high-performance canoes.

 

Shallow-arch Bottoms

Shallow-arch bottoms provide a compromise between flat and rounded bottoms. They offer decent initial stability and very good secondary stability. They're more efficient through the water than flat-bottom boats, and they stay on track better.

 

V-bottom

V-bottom hulls have a slightly more pronounced centerline or "keel" than shallow-arch hulls. They provide a good mix of initial and secondary stability, with even better tracking and maneuverability than shallow-arch boats.

 

Rocker

The “rocker” refers to the shape of the bottom of the canoes hull when viewed end-to-end. A canoe with no rocker is straight along the bottom while a canoe with rocker will have the ends raised up relative to the centre. All our canoes have at least some rocker, giving them the maneuverability you require in most paddling situations.

  • A canoe with little or no rocker will track straighter
  • A longer canoe with more rocker will steer more like a shorter canoe
  • Rockers have little or no effect on speed

 

Flare and Tumblehome

The flare and tumblehome of a canoe refer to the shape of the side of the hull above the waterline.  A canoe with a tumblehome curves in at the sides. A canoe with flare widens-out near the gunwales.

  • Tumblehome allows one to keep the paddle closer to the hull and gives the canoe a more traditional look.
  • Flare helps deflect waves more efficiently when paddling in big water.

 

Entry Lines

Entry lines affect the speed and handling of a canoe.

  • Straight vertical entry lines cut through the water well and improve a canoe's speed
  • A flare at the waterline push the canoe up when encountering waves, allowing it to ride big water better (and keep you dryer) at the cost of a little speed
  • A fine entry line cuts through the water better, resulting in a faster canoe with better tracking. A more blunt entry line has better impact-resistance

 

Fullness

Fullness refers not only to how wide a canoe is, but also to how quickly it widens-out.

  • A canoe that widens-out quickly will have higher capacity
  • A canoe that widens-out quickly will be slower, but more stable
  • A canoe that widens-out quickly will be more buoyant in big waves
  • A sleek canoe that widens-out more gradually will have less volume, and tend to cut through the waves rather than ride-up on them
  • A sleek canoe that widens-out more gradually will be faster but less stable

 

Bottom Arch

A flat-bottom canoe is, well, flat. A shallow-arched hull is rounder or slightly vee shaped at the bottom.

  • A flat-bottom canoe is highly stable when entering or exiting, when the canoe is not in motion, and on calmer waters. It is a good general-purpose hull shape, and ideal for fishing.
  • A shallow-arch bottom will feel less stable when entering or exiting, and on flat water, as it will tip slightly from side to side. This effect is reduced when the canoe is in motion.  A shallow-arched canoe may be slightly faster, as there is less surface area in the water for the same weight. It will also be more stable in very rough water, as more of the hull will remain in the water relative to a flat-bottomed canoe.

 

The Extras

Number/Position of seats

Most canoes have 2 seats, although some solo models have just 1. Seats should sit low enough in the boat for stability, but high enough for comfortable kneeling.

 

Type of Seats

Woven cane seats are tough and durable, plus they let water drain to keep you dry and comfortable. Woven plastic seats work the same way, but require less upkeep than cane. Solid plastic seats are more durable, but they don't allow air to circulate, so water won't evaporate as quickly. If you prefer plastic, molded models offer more comfort than flat benches.

 

Thwarts

Thwarts are the wood, fiberglass or aluminum struts that brace the sides of the canoe and provide support, stability and shape. If you plan on portaging your canoe, look for a center thwart shaped for comfortable carrying. Also, make sure it's positioned so the canoe is easy to balance.

 

Gunwales

Gunwales (pronounced "gunnels") are the side rails running along the top edges of the canoe that reinforce it and provide a convenient place to grab hold. Gunwales should be strong because they take a lot of abuse. Look for smooth edges to protect your hands and paddles from wear.

 

Wood gunwales are attractive, easy on the hands and quieter than other materials. They're also tough, flexible and repairable, but they do require regular maintenance. Vinyl gunwales are less expensive and more durable than wood gunwales, and they don't require special care. Aluminum gunwales are also tough and maintenance-free, but they can be loud when you hit them with your paddle. They're also difficult to repair if damaged.

 

Canoe Design Considerations - Summary

When choosing a good canoe, consider your use style, frequency and paddle location(s) as your primary considerations to choose the best material. Next, you should consider the canoes stability, weight, durability and control features to choose the model that fits your user profile best.

 

While price can often have a major impact on your canoe choice -particularly if you are on tight budget- exceptions can often be made on some features in the interest of cost. In this instance, you must consider what features are most important and choose what fits best potentially leaving some others behind. With good research and consideration you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the right canoe and giving you years of great paddling.

 

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Canoe Equipment and Gear Considerations

Like most water sports there are a few items that you need to bring along with you before you can actually go canoeing. Below is a listing and general description of the items you need to bring (along with some extras) before heading out on the water.

 

Essential Canoe Equipment & Gear

Paddle

Everyone knows you can't canoe without a paddle. Make sure that you buy enough though. You need to purchase at least one more than you need. Every canoeist should have an extra paddle with them secured in the canoe in case of an emergency, it breaks or it is dropped in the water and it cannot be recovered.

 

Personal Flotation Device

Personal Flotation Device (or PFD) and is essentially a life jacket or life preserver for canoeists. You'd be surprised how many people don't include PFD’s with their canoe equipment but make no mistake it’s absolutely essential to have one on when canoeing and everyone on board should be wearing one whether they are paddling or not.

 

Flotation Bags

Flotation is only a requirement for whitewater canoes. These bags tie securely in place in the bow (front) and stern (back) of the canoe and prevent your boat from sinking should you end up flipping over.

 

Helmet

Helmets are only a requirement for whitewater canoeing.

 

Non-essential Canoe Equipment & Gear

Wetsuit: The most popular wetsuits for paddling are made of 3mm thick water permeable neoprene. When fitted properly these suits provide good insulation against cold water when temporarily submersed in water. They come mostly in farmer john/jane style but you can also get them in ¾ leg and full body suits, which fully covers the limbs.

 

Drysuit, Dry Jacket & Pants

Paddle clothing in these categories comes in a variety of types and styles but the general premise is the same – to keep you dry from the inside and keep water out! Most are made of waterproof breathable fabrics and include latex gaskets to ensure the neck, wrists and feet keep water out. Choosing to wear waterproof clothing is often dependent on outside weather conditions, personal water temperature and personal preference. While most people paddle without any of these items it can be handy to have them if weather conditions are poor or water temperatures are cold.

 

Water Booties

Most are made of neoprene or rubber/neoprene combinations and provide good insulation, good grip on slippery rocks and decks along with additional abrasion resistance.

 

Pogies/Gloves/Mitts

Handwear for canoeing that is designed to keep your hands warm and/or dry. Styles are plentiful and can be made of neoprene or waterproof breathable fabrics. While not everyone carries them, they can come in handy if weather conditions are poor or water temperatures are cold.

 

Hat (Brimmed or billed)

Come in many designs and fabric types. Sunny conditions means high exposure while rainy conditions can make paddling less enjoyable if your head isn’t covered; combine that with waters high reflectivity under most conditions and it means a hat comes in really handy in almost any conditions.

 

Rescue Flotation Device

While not required for canoeing you never know when you may need to throw someone a flotation device to rescue someone from drowning. If you need another reason to bring one, they also make great seat pads when they are not being used to save a life.

 

Rope Bag

It could help you save the life of a friend. I strongly recommend all paddlers to carry a rescue throw bag.

 

Paddle Knife or Multitool

Though it’s one of those items you will probably never use it can come in really handy in the event you get tangled in a rope or stuck under a raft… When that happens, you'll be really glad that you took it along.

 

Whistle

This should probably be on the essentials list but nevertheless a whistle is a very simple and effective safety device to carry along when canoeing. Consider bringing one for each paddler and attaching it securely on the PFD with a lanyard.

 

Dry Bags or Barrels

These waterproof gems will keep your clothing, snacks and camera dry. Just make sure they are attached securely inside the boat.

 

Sunscreen

Since you are completely exposed to the elements in most canoes and water is highly reflective, it is always a good idea to bring along some extra sunscreen during the summer months. Start with a minimum SPF rating of 30 and apply generously over exposed areas.

 

Sunglasses

Like sunscreen protects your exposed skin, sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UVA/UVB rays. For best results, consider using polarized sunglasses which greatly reduce glare coming off the water and allow you to see even more clearly.

Canoe Courses and Clinics

Through Escape Watersports, The Outfitters offers Canoeing Basic Skills - the starting point for individuals seeking to learn the art of Canoeing. No previous canoeing experience necessary but good swimming ability/confidence is highly recommended. Includes: Paddle Canada Program Overview, Paddle Canada certification. 

Canoeing Essentials - Canoeing Basic Skills

Administered by Escape Watersports

Cost: $80

Location: TBA

Includes: Paddle Canada Program Overview, Paddle Canada certification.  Excludes: personal equipment, transportation or meals.

Certification Available

Paddle Canada Canoeing Basic Skills

Prerequisites

No previous canoeing experience necessary but good swimming ability/confidence is highly recommended.

Group Size

Maximum of 10 (i.e., 5 canoes) per instructor - as set forth by Paddle Canada.  This small group size will provide ample opportunity for one-to-one instructor/student interaction.

Course Length and Structure

Canoeing Basic Skills is a half day course that will focus on safety and skill development. The course will utilize on-land lectures, in-water rescue session and on-water skill development.

Course Objectives

Canoeing Basic Skills is the starting point for individuals seeking to learn the art of Canoeing.

 

There is a strong emphasis on water safety, equipment use/care, canoeing fundamentals and skill development.  The candidate will learn the theory and skills necessary for paddling close to shore in a calm lake environment. The course includes: demonstrated assisted rescue techniques, basic equipment care and knowledge, and basic forward and turning skill development.

Theory Items

Candidates will be introduced to the following theory items:

  • Parts of a Canoe, design and performance 
  • Parts of Paddle, design and selection
  • Water/Wind/Waves/Weather (concerns, hazards and risk)
  • Hypothermia and Hyperthermia
  • Transport Canada Regulations 

On Water Skills:

Candidates will be able to proficiently perform the following:

Safety

  • Paddling Positions (3 point contact) and balance
  • Paddle stance and manipulation 
  • Switch paddling positions
  • Enter and exit a canoe (shore and/or dock)
  • Lifts and Carries
  • Perform aided rescue manoeuvres (i.e., swim with swamped canoe, tandem re-entry, Canoe-over-Canoe, Parallel Rescue)
  • Canoe Towing Rescue (Instructor Demo)
  • Shore Based Throw Bag Rescue (Instructor Demo)
  • Demonstrate knowledge of safe canoeing procedures

Skills

Strokes
  • Forward/Power
  • Reverse
  • Check (stop)
  • Draw
  • Push Away
  • Sweep
  • J-Stroke
Manoeuvres
  • Pivots
  • Sideward’s Displacement
  • Forward Straight Line
  • Reverse Straight Line
  • Stop

Evaluation

Course evaluation will be comprised of an ‘on-going’ skill assessment.  Participates will be evaluated not only on the completion of specific skills but also personal conduct, equipment care, and acquired canoeing knowledge.

What to Bring

Canoeing is a water-based activity. Therefore participants should be prepared to get wet at any time.  Not including items for personal comfort, participants should bring the following:

  • MCP Card
  • Pen/Paper
  • Swim ware for in-water rescue session 
  • Wet shoes – i.e., footwear that will be comfortable when wet
  • A spare change of clothes (in case of a capsize)
  • Please avoid cottons -participants are encouraged to wear polypropylene, fleece or wool clothing that will retain warmth when wet but also breathe well if the temperature rises. NO JEANS.

Contact Information

For additional information on this course, please contact Escape Watersports at:

Escape Watersports
3 Amherst Heights
St. John’s, NL
A1E 3H9
PH: (709) 728-2383
Email: escapewatersports@yahoo.ca
www.escapewatersports.ca

 

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800-966-9658