Why do Canoes Float ?

It’s always a sight to behold seeing a canoe or any other water vessel float on water, yet it’s supposed to sink especially considering its heavy weight.

Of course, for a number of people, this unique phenomenon passes unnoticed as it’s just too common to see a water vessel float. But there’s quite a lot of immense expert work put in by canoe crafters to ensure it floats even with people and luggage aboard.

So what is the science behind the floating of a canoe ?

A canoe floats because of the upward buoyancy force acting on it (pushing it upwards), which supersedes the gravitational force acting downwards. Thus, as a general rule, for a canoe or any object to float, it should have lesser weight than the volume of water it displaces.

Keep reading this insightful article for more discernment on the magical marvel regarding the floating of a canoe. We have more on why a canoe floats and other essential information pertaining to the working of canoes. Read on.

How do canoes float ?

Fundamentally, a canoe will float because it obeys the law of density, which states that any object less dense than water will float on its surface.

Therefore, in principle, canoe manufacturers design the vessels to have a larger volume than the water they displace. Consequently, their density is lower than water’s; thus, they float.


Ideally, any canoe will float irrespective of the material it is made of. No wonder you’ll find a metallic and wooden canoe floating while at rest. Thus, a canoe’s design and overall shape largely contribute to its floating attributes. Also, for any vessel to float, it must displace water equalling its weight.

In addition, the canoe’s paddle stroking force and the stroking direction contribute to its floating. However, other factors such as the amount of load and its distribution determine the tipping direction while on water.

Lastly, loading the canoe with more than its designated weight will cause it to sink as this disrupts its density relative to that of water.

What makes a canoe float ?

A canoe, unlike other water vessels, lacks an engine/motor. Rather, its motion is enabled by manual paddling, yet despite its weight and size, it remains afloat.

As earlier mentioned, a canoe will float because of buoyancy or the upthrust force pushing objects on water upwards. Upthrust works on objects that are partially submerged on the water’s surface, and it principally depends on the object’s density.

Hence, filling the canoe with water will induce a change of density, thus prompting sinking. Many canoeists take care of this by having cans to remove the water that enters during sailing to maintain the canoe’s density lower than the water’s.

In addition, stepping on the canoe will sink it lower than normal temporarily because of the density disruption induced by the introduced force. Nonetheless, it readjusts once you come to rest.

Conversely, when you step out of the canoe or remove goods from it, it floats higher. Again, this is because the upthrust force acting on it increases significantly because of the canoe’s density shift.

How does a canoe work ?

Generally, all canoes have one end (the front) pointed. Thus, upon paddling, the canoe’s sharp front slices through water akin to the motion of an arrow, thus causing it to move forward. In turn, the water surrounding the canoe is split to the sides, and a series of these events engineer continuity in motion.

Also, you might have noted the ripples on the canoe’s side body. These are caused by the pressure from the water from the sides resulting from the increased water velocity in the surrounding. Nonetheless, the pressure from the sides will decrease as the boat slices through the water, remaining only at its tip.

Besides, the canoe’s back area (stern) has relatively lesser pressure than other parts. Hence, it easily follows the forward motion of the canoe without any significant resistance, primarily because there’s limited pressure at the back.

It is also imperative to consider the nature of paddling and the canoe’s weight when determining its expected motion on water. For instance, using a huge force during paddling results in faster motion of the canoe.

In addition, paddling in the direction of the wind also eases motion more than rowing against it.

How do concrete canoes float ?

As a general rule, the material used to make a canoe has no impact on its ability to float or sink. Instead, a canoe and any other water vessel will float because of its hull design, shape, and the ability of its hollow interior to displace water equalling its weight.

Correspondingly, flotation will depend on the density of the vessel, which is ideally a factor of mass per unit volume. Thus, while concrete may be heavier than other materials, it will also displace a larger volume. Hence, as long as its overall density is lesser than that of water, it’ll float.

In general, concrete is also lesser dense than materials such as steel and aluminum, which are some of the most common in canoe manufacturing. Moreover, in concrete canoe manufacturing, the primary material is mixed with additional additives such as foam pieces and microsphere to lower its density.

Do I need float bags for my canoe ?

Your canoe will float even without having float bags aboard, but as an additional safety precaution, you should carry always carry them.

Once in a while, as you’re canoeing, you might experience mishaps while in the water, and this is where the float bags come in handy. The canoe float bags keep it afloat if its hull is severely damaged. In such a case, a boat cannot stay afloat on its own.

Remember, if water enters your canoe, it’ll increase its density, thus prompting it to sink. Therefore, the float bags take over the role of managing the floating.

Hence, given that no canoeing experience is accident-proof, you should carry at least one float bag aboard the boat. While the float bag will occupy a significant amount of space, its purpose in ensuring safety overrides the downside. This is especially imperative when you plan to canoe during turbulent tides.

How do canoe float bags work?

Typically, a float bag is an air-filled package that is useful in keeping a canoe afloat if water enters its deck. There are also different-sized floating bags for various canoe shapes and breadth.

Carrying canoe float bags has the following benefits:


1. They limit further canoe damage

Flooding on one part of a canoe has to be stopped. Otherwise, the entire boat will be full of water, thus extending the damage. Therefore, by occupying quite a significant space in the canoe’s compartment, they hinder water entry.


2. Canoe float bags have insignificant weight

During an on-water accident, the last thing you’d want in your canoe is any luggage that increases its weight. Canoe float bags limit the damage by keeping you afloat while applying little weight on the boat’s hull as they are primarily filled with air.

Besides, they prevent the canoe from tilting to one size as you’d expect if you were carrying a hefty load.


3. You can vary the canoe float bags size

Since they are inflatable, you can increase or decrease the float bag size depending on the number of people aboard the canoe or the load size.


4. Canoe bags are transferrable

If you don’t have a canoe bag, you can borrow one from a friend, and it’ll be as effective as if it were bought together with the vessel as long as it’s rightly sized.

How to make DIY canoe float bags ?

If you own a DIY or non-standard size canoe, you may struggle to find a canoe float bag that perfectly fits it. Also, suppose you’re working on a lean budget, making a canoe float bag using locally available materials may be a more feasible option than buying a custom-made one.

Irrespective of your canoe size, you can make a cheap float bag to serve you anytime via a few simple steps, as explained below.

Necessary materials

  • A large bag, preferably a flight bag
  • A plastic bag
  • Lightweight plastic bottles/ containers

Key Steps

  1. Insert the plastic bag into the flight bag.
  2. Next, put the lightweight plastic bottles inside the plastic bag.
  3. Then, make an airtight seal on the flight bag.
  4. Lastly, give the bag a shape by either sitting on it or softly slapping its sides.

How do you not tip a canoe ?

Canoe accidents are common, and quite a number result from tipping primarily because it’s lightweight and relatively narrow. However, the following tips will come in handy in mitigating tipping, which can spoil your canoeing experience and overall safety.

1. Consider Kneeling down

It sounds like quite an arduous undertaking, but this actually works. In principle, a canoe will tip if its center of gravity (COG) is not down through the center and if it is not kept as low as possible. Thus, this is why canoe tipping is commonplace when there’s uneven weight distribution in the canoe.

Therefore, for even weight distribution, kneel while paddling. While at this position, the vessel’s COG will be at its lowest point, thus increasing the boat’s stability.

Also, wear knee pads to prevent swelling of the knees, especially if you paddle for long while kneeling.

2. Don’t Touch Obstacles while Canoeing

Often a tree branch or another solid obstacle may get in your way while canoeing, prompting you to reach out and get it out of the way. This motion will change the center of gravity, especially if the canoe carries a heavy load.

Thus, it would be best if you remained in a firm position throughout.

3. Enter and Leave the Canoe Carefully

Your canoe is most likely to tip as you enter or leave it. Hence, as a general rule, put one foot on the canoe as you enter, then push off with the other. Also, you need to follow this process while leaving the canoe.


Canoeing is among the most enjoyable outdoor sporting activities. Also, you might consider using a canoe for your fishing expedition as you explore the beauty that the sea avails. However, as we have found out, the cardinal thing is ensuring that the canoe remains afloat.

Luckily, a canoe’s shape and design ensure that it’s kept afloat by the water’s upthrust force. Also, depending on the nature of your paddling, you can move your canoe as you wish. Hopefully, you’re now in the know of the canoeing basics and the science behind its floating capabilities.

Once again, thanks for being here to the end, and see you next in our other insightful canoeing articles.

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