How to care for a canoe


Canoeing is a great way to get back to nature. Canoes can go places other, more aggressive watercraft cannot. You can enjoy time on the water without the loud roar of motors. And you often get glimpses of wildlife that are frightened off by noisier approaches.

A good canoeing experience depends on skill, wisdom, and the right equipment. Taking care of that equipment is as important as selecting the right canoe in the first place. Learn how to care for a canoe and your peaceful trek can be all that you intended it to be.

Wisdom on the water

Make sure the craft you select matches your goals for boating. As a rule, canoes are not designed for white water rafting. Different materials used in the construction will influence the cost, weight, durability, and ease of care. Know your canoe’s capabilities before heading to the water.

Canoes can be made from many materials, including fiberglass, aluminum, cedar strips, birchwood, kevlar, polyethylene, and royalex.  


Plan ahead

Canoes are ideal for extended trips. But planning carefully is essential to keep your canoe in good condition. Study your route well ahead of time. Know where you will encounter rapids, or beaver dams, or other objects that require portage. Learn the proper way to carry the canoe. Be prepared to store it properly—even overnight.

Whatever adventure you have planned, keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t overload your boat.
  • Balance the load
  • Don’t drag a loaded boat into (or out of) the water
  • Avoid rocks and sharp objects
  • Clean your canoe after each use
  • Exercise caution when transporting the canoe
  • Store the canoe where it will be protected from the elements

Up a creek without...

Your paddle is an extremely important part of your gear. Keeping it in good condition will lighten your workload. Clean after use. Check for nicks and holes. Slight damage can be corrected by sanding. Emergency repair can be done with a strip of duct tape.

To prevent damage, use care in utilizing the paddle. Rocks and sand can cause gouges and damage the finish. Avoid using the paddle for pushing the canoe or prying rocks.

As with the canoe itself, you should protect the paddle from UV rays. You can purchase a bag for storage. Make sure you develop a routine about packing your paddle. This will help you avoid leaving without it. Some types of paddles will benefit from a complete refinishing every few years.


Whether you’re storing your canoe on an overnight camping trip, or for the season, some of the same rules apply. Never store the canoe wet. Turn it upside down and lift it up off the ground. Protect it from the sun’s rays and from extremes in weather. Cover with a tarp or canoe cover for extended periods. The cover should allow for air circulation to prevent mold. Never store it on its side, as that will warp the gunwales (or gunnels). Never store anything on top of the canoe.


Transporting the canoe to and from the water source is your first consideration. With the right carrier, it can be carried on top of your vehicle. Fasten it securely.

Portage around impassible places in the river or stream is another matter. Remove all heavy objects from the canoe. Plan the portage with your companion. Know where you are heading and how you will carry the canoe before you pick it up.

A person in good physical condition can manage to carry a canoe alone. Carrying with two or more people requires good planning and communication. This is accomplished more easily on level land with wide trails.

Cleaning & polishing

For most canoes, rinsing out thoroughly with clean water is sufficient. Be sure to clean the boat after each use.

A boat or car wax should be applied at least yearly. This process is more than just cosmetics. The wax acts as protection from the elements. You should also spray the canoe with 303 protectant two or three times during the season. This protects it from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.


A frequently-used canoe is subject to a lot of motion. It moves in the water and is vibrated when transported on your vehicle. All this movement and vibration is going to loosen some of the bolts and screws that hold the craft together. Inspect this hardware carefully to ensure a safe trip.

Look for damage to the keel as well. Most canoes have a protective coating. When that coating is severely damaged, you will need to take action. Learn the difference between surface cracking and structural cracks. Surface scrapes and scratches record a visual diary of your adventures. Structural damage is more serious and must be attended to.

Keep on trekking

To get the most from your water treks, learn how to care for a canoe. Then you can enjoy the fishing, the camping, and the hiking. Your mind won’t be preoccupied with whether the canoe is going to survive the trip.