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Canoes are versatile boats, and most can handle a variety of lake and river conditions. However, canoe manufacturers generally combining specific shapes and features to optimize their models for particular uses.

Photo: Kristian Olauson

Boat types can be broadly categorized under the following types:

Once you've selected a suitable category, you can narrow down your choices by:

Types of Canoes

Recreational or Touring

These canoes are intended mainly for lakes – they emphasize stability, sturdiness, and a high degree of primary stability (in other words, they don't feel tippy).


These canoes are generally long and deep to accommodate heavy, bulky loads, and feature clean entry lines that allow the canoe to track well through rough waters.


Whitewater canoes emphasize manoeuvrability and have a high degree of secondary stability – they feel more tippy to begin with but can lean way over without capsizing. Both these characteristics accommodate the more aggressive paddling techniques needed to navigate through rapids.

Canoe Materials and Features


A few wood and canvas canoes are still made for traditionalists, who find the greater warmth and beauty is well worth the extra effort needed to maintain the organic materials. However, the vast majority of canoes sold today are made of either plastic or fibre composite.

To compare the benefits and types of both plastic and fibre composite boats see:

About Plastic Paddlecraft

About Fibre Composite Paddlecraft

Design Features


The beam is a canoe's width, measured at the widest point of the boat. Everything else being equal, a wider hull is roomier and more stable but slower than a narrower one. Wider hulls are more manoeuvrable because they sit higher in the water, although this is a mixed blessing since the boat may be blown about more by the wind.


Other things being equal, a longer boat is faster and tracks (goes in a straight line) better than a shorter one. Touring canoes are generally longer for speed and efficiency, while whitewater canoes are shorter so that they can be turned quickly and easily.


Rocker is the degree of upward curve along the bottom, from one end of the canoe to the other. A boat with a lot of rocker (highly rockered) turns easily.

Whitewater canoes are generally more highly rockered for manoeuvrability, at the cost of some reduction in speed and tracking. Most touring canoes have less rocker so that they can cover long distances in a straight line more efficiently.

Flare or Tumblehome

A boat with its maximum width well above the waterline is flared. Flared canoes require a longer reach with the paddle but keep you drier. Conversely, a canoe with a lot of tumblehome (inwardly curved sides) is easier to paddle, especially solo, but not as dry inboard.


A keel is a seam-like strip running lengthwise down the middle of the canoe's bottom. A keel improves tracking (travel in a straight line), minimizes sideways drift caused by wind, provides some protection against abrasion, and stiffens the hull.

In whitewater, a keeled canoe's resistance to turning or being drawn sideways may not be a good thing. A keel can also interfere with a canoe's ability to slide smoothly down the face of larger waves coming from the side. In addition, it can catch on rocks in running water, increasing the risk of capsizing.