Canoes are relatively small narrow open topped or decked boats that are propelled using hand held single bladed paddles. They were originally paddled from the kneeling position, and that is still the case in competitions like the Olympic Games, but thankfully most of the canoes that you or I are likely to use now have seats. The seating position is higher than in a kayak which makes them more comfortable for a lot of paddlers, but it also means a higher centre of gravity, so greater width is required to maintain stability. Canoes have a lot of storage space and allow easy access to your gear and are favoured for multi-day trips close to shore, like the Upper Noosa River in Queensland and Shoalhaven Gorge in NSW.
Indigenous people from North America, the Amazon, and even Australia have long been making them from bark and hollowed out trees. Who can forget the fantastic 2006 Australian movie Ten Canoes? Surprisingly, the oldest canoe ever found was in the Netherlands. It is believed to have been constructed somewhere between 8200 and 7600 BC.
Outrigger canoeing has its origins in the islands of the Pacific. An outrigger canoe has one or more parallel support floats called outriggers attached. Each float acts as a separate hull and gives the canoe more stability. This can be particularly useful when standing in the boat to fish, and when sailing on open water. Outrigger canoe races like the Molokai Hoe in Hawaii are now much publicised annual events. Outriggers are available commercially for some canoe models.
In Australia, two person canoes are by far the most popular option. This doesn’t necessarily make sense, since seat number considerations for canoes should be the same as for kayaks (see previous section), so it’s probably just because “that’s the way it’s always been”.
One and three person canoes are also available. Families sometimes opt for the additional seat so that more of them can go along for the ride. One person canoes are popular in the US and will probably take off here soon too. After all, if you’re the only paddler you know, it’s worth making the comparison between a single kayak and a single canoe.
Single canoes start at around 3.5 metres in length, and can get to over 5 metres. Double canoes are usually between 4.5 and 5.5 metres long, and triples are sometimes longer than that.