Why Canoe Width Is Important and the Options Available

While canoes have ancient roots and were used for practical purposes, modern canoes are mainly used for sports and recreational activities. If you are in the market to purchase a canoe, there are different types available to match a specific need. Before making a purchase, it will serve you well to think about your needs.


The width of the canoe is vital to consider as it affects the stability of the canoe, its speed, and how easy it is to paddle. It also affects the weight that the canoe can carry and the type of water the canoe is best suited to paddle in.


Let’s look at the different canoe widths and the best options depending on your canoeing needs. While we are deciding on the width of the canoe, it is also important to consider other aspects of a canoe like the depth and length. These specs, taken into account together, will contribute to a pleasant and safe canoeing experience.

How To Measure the Width of a Canoe

There are two ways to measure a canoe that will be explained in further detail:


  • Beam Overall (BOA)
  • Beam at the Waterline (BWL)


The Beam Overall method is simply measuring it at the widest part of the top of the gunwales. If you are looking for the gunwales, it is the upper side of the boat. This is a primary way to measure the width.


The Beam at the Waterline method is the better option to use because it will give you an indication of how much of the boat is submerged in the water. This is important to know because the portion of the canoe in the water determines the ease at which the canoe moves through the water as well as how difficult (or easy) it is to paddle the canoe.


There is a further layer added to the Beam at the Waterline method: measuring at the 4” (10.16 cm) waterline. What this means is that the width is measured when the canoe is at its maximum capacity.


This information will give you a proper indication of how the boat will sit in the water when it has reached its maximum weight capacity.

Widths of Canoes

Your choice of canoe width will depend largely on your canoeing needs. Consider whether you enjoy leisure activities like fishing or bird watching while canoeing. Or perhaps you love the rush of paddling through choppy waters or fast-flowing rivers, or maybe you simply want to take a slow, long-distance trip paddling through gentle water and taking in the scenery.


Once you have determined the primary purpose of your canoe, you can decide on the canoe width best suited to match your needs.


Canoes are typically available in three widths:


  • Narrow
  • Medium or Standard
  • Wide


Narrow canoes measure 33 inches (83.82 cm) or less. These canoes move through the water quickly, and they are easy to paddle. So if you are looking to race, this is the canoe for you. The downside is that they are not remarkably stable and usually cannot hold more than one person and a little gear.


Medium or standard-sized canoes are between 34 and 37 inches (86.36 and 93.98 cm) wide. This is the ideal canoe if you are a novice. A medium canoe can typically carry two people and is often used for recreational purposes and longer canoe rides.


The standard canoe can be described as the balance between the narrow and wide versions in that it is reasonably stable on calm water and could handle slightly choppy lakes. It can glide through the water at an average speed and offers the option for 1 or 2 people to paddle.


Wide canoes measure 38 inches (96.52 cm) or wider and can usually carry up to 3 or 4 people. They can also carry more gear than the standard and narrow canoes, making them ideal if you are going on a more extended trip.


Another advantage is that a wide canoe offers the best stability even in turbulent waters. This option is the best for you if you want to go fishing, as the boat will remain stable if you need to stand or move abruptly. It is also an excellent option for activities like photography and bird watching.


The disadvantage is that it is slow and difficult to paddle because of its bulky size.

Canoe Length

When it comes to the length of a canoe, there are also decisions to be made. Like the width, the length affects performance, and your needs will determine the length that will work best for you.


Typically long canoes track straight and move faster. They are also stable and suit long-distance trips. Long canoes glide well and can usually take more than one person and more gear.


Short canoes are easier to control, and because of their size, have the ability to maneuver through tight, awkward spaces. They are also reasonably lightweight, making them easier to transport.

Canoe Depth

The depth of a canoe must also be taken into account when deciding on the best boat for you. Deep canoes have tall sides. This is great because it keeps water out of the boat. These canoes can also carry heavier loads. However, the taller the sides are, the more the boat is affected by the wind.


Shallow canoes are better able to withstand wind, making them a great choice for choppy waters, but the shorter sides mean that they are unable to keep water out of the boat.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to canoes, width matters. Narrow canoes are your best bet if you are looking for speed and easy paddling. However, it is the least stable option.


Standard canoes are great if you are happy with an average speed, fair stability and would like the possibility of having more than one person in your boat. Go for the wide canoe if stability is a high priority and you plan on having more weight in your boat.

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