Bell Canoe Wooden Gunwale Problem???

Just wanted to get some opinions on this. I recently bought a new Bell YS Solo with wood gunwales. After having it about two weeks I noticed that the gunwales are separating a bit by the seat hanger.

The outer portion and innter portion of the gunwales are separating vertically by just a bit. Maybe a 1/16th of an inch and for a length of maybe 18 inches or so.

The separation seems to have grown a bit from when I first noticed it.

I have notified the dealer that sold me the boat but am not sure I want to make a 2 hour drive to get their opinion as to whether this is a warranty issue.

Do you think this is going to be an issue in the long run or is it something not to worry about?

Do you think this is likely something that would be covered under warranty or is such a separation not all that uncommon?

If it is a warranty issue and I can get the boat replaced do you think I should scrap the idea of wood gunwales? Right now I am a bit leary of them on this boat given that they are separating already.



I have noticed that on all my wooden
gunwale boats. I attribute it to pressure on the gunwale from avoirdupois on the seat. The lignin cells rupture. However I am not sure that is correct.

At any rate it does not seem to get much worse over time.

Certainly you have to expect some shrinkage in wood over time but the loads on inwale and outwale are quite different.

I can’t help you with your problem, but
I have thoughts on wood gunwales

First; I have canoes with wood, aluminum, plastic and carbon gunwales.

I love the look of the wood, but of the ones mentioned, I least prefer the wood simply because they require more maintenance, and you have to be more careful in loading them on your roof rack, (think not sliding the boat from the rear).

The easiest for care are the aluminum and the plastic.



I dont find that true…but perhaps its because I have five coats of Cabots on my wooden gunwales.

I do enjoy a rainy day in the shop doing touch up. Does not really take that long.

You might be able to get some good advice from the folks at the WCHA on why the sinking is happening.

I sure think you’re due an explanation.
It would surprise me if Bell was using a gunwale system such that a separation of that sort was “expected.” Now, it might not get worse, but you shouldn’t have to wonder about it.

Same experience.
The inwales shifted almost from the start, and after a week in the BWCA I actually had a screw hole to screw hole split developing. I had purchased the boat in Wisconsin, and the thought of a 20 hour round trip and the issue of my weight got me to making some modifications to the inwale. First I added inwale-to-outwale screws in between the factory locations. Still had the separation taking place.

I then added an “auxilliary” inwale under the existing one, extending from the rear thwart to a point eight inches in front of the fron seat hanger hole. This did the trick.

Tomorrow eve I will post a link to pictures to show what I did.


Prepared to stress-test any and all equipment.

That’s a Royalex boat, right?

– Last Updated: Sep-17-09 9:59 PM EST –

First off, if all this is too much to read and understand, just try doing what's described at the beginning of the second paragraph. It should at least partly fix the problem.

The process that I envision to be happening as follows. First, by way of introduction, if the inwale and outwale were in solid contact with each other, this wouldn't happen. For one piece to shift position in this way relative to the other would require the screws between them to "tilt" slightly, which could not happen (to a visible extent) if the screws were tight AND the two wood pieces were in very tight contact with nothing between them which is "squishable". Royelex IS "squishable" as the tremendous ease with which it dents illustrates. With close to 1/4-inch of fairly soft Royalex between the inwale and outwale, nothing can prevent the movement you describe, though installation of several additional screws would probably reduce the movement. This kind of movement can't get worse indefinitely, because the greater the shift between the inwale and outwale, the greater the amount of "squeeze" pressure applied to the Royalex, and I'm sure there's a practical limit to how much the diameter of the Royalex can "give way" when squeezed like this.

Now, if this whole theory of mine is correct, you SHOULD be able to partially correct the problem after a while (after the Royalex has been squished a tiny bit), by manually shifting the inwale back to its proper position and re-tightening the screws that connect it to the outwale. Unfortunately, the laws of geometry dictate that when the screws are at exactly 90 degrees to the joint between the inwale and outwale (as originally installed) they will provide the least amount of resistance to shifting, because as the screws tilt, the magnitude of the squeezing movement increases exponentially while the magnitude of the squeezing force decreases exponentially, so the motion WILL stop when there isn't enough mechanical advantage produced to squeeze the Royalex any further. Thus, you might have to live with a certain amount of misalignment.

Wooden Gunnels
I think this should be a warrantee problem. I’ve got an old (30+) fiberglass canoe that I picked up as a piece of trash about 20years ago. Put new outwhales and inwhales made of oak (sorry, it was the only 18’ plank I could find at the time) on it and used brass screws from end to end. 20 years after I did that repair the canoe is still good shape; the gunnels have not moved (although the wood is a bit weathered now).

I’d go back to the dealer with it; if it isn’t designed and built to take the seat loading you can apply then it shouldn’t have been sold to you.

Fiberglass should be different
I wouldn’t expect this as much with fiberglass hulls. Fiberglass is hard and won’t compress, so the situation would be the same as if the inwale and outwale were butted against each other. If the screws are tight in that case, the only way to get that kind of movement would be for the wood to give way and let the screws start pulling out, and that’s not gonna happen just from the load applied to the seat. Again, this is just my expectation based on geometry and physics. I’d love to see a whole bunch of examples of different hulls with wood gunwales and look for a pattern.

On composite boats there is a rabbet cut on the inwale or the outwale, usually the inwale, so that the sharp edge of the hull is covered. A rabbet on the inwale might also retard shifting.

I almost mentioned that, until …

– Last Updated: Sep-18-09 9:31 AM EST –

... I remembered that on the gunwales that I refurbished early this spring, the rabbet was so thin and delicate (1/16th inch at most, but I think even thinner) that it wouldn't have helped a bit (I had to treat it with great care to keep from cracking it, and it would have buckled under pressure had it actually made firm contact with the other half of the gunwale when the screws were tightened). The boat I was working on was a Blackhawk. Perhaps some builders provide a much more substantial thickness on that rabbet. In any case, the fact that you mention this shows that you understood what I was trying to explain.

Qs and As

– Last Updated: Sep-28-09 8:40 AM EST –

We still do not know if Bowler's hull is composite or rubber.

That said, Bells inwales have an 1/8" rabbet, unique to Bell and Placid boatworks, to minimize inwale drift downward. Of course, that presupposes the attention to bottom the rabbet and hull before clamping and drilling.

Both Bell and Placid pre-drill and countersink inwales at 6" centers on a drill press, so the holes are square when the hull and outwale are drilled. This minimizes twisting.

If Bowler's hull is composite, remove the screws for, say, 3 feet in center, seat the rabit down to the composite edge, clamp, redrill and reset the screws. Then, with a #8 countersink, drill appropriate screw holes on 3" centers near the seat and add extra screws.

If a rubber hull, adding extra screws will help, but as noted above, the thickness of the ABS adds quite a toggle joint.

Further, while we've discussed the adverse effect of aluminum rails on rocker, wood and ABS are a poor combination. Wood rots in the South, and the differential contraction of wood and ABS in the cold North causes hull splits at the stem screws.

Vinyl may be the best rail choice for ABS boats.

questions and answers
My boat is royalex. What is the adverse effect of aluminum rails and rocker? Have not heard that one before.

So my bigger question is if it is a possible warranty issue. If so I am going to take it back to the dealer for evaluation. If not, then I won’t waste the time since it is a 4 hour round trip.



While I respect the comments specific to Royalex hulls, I honestly do not believe (and would not accept) that the gunnels should be shifting after only two weeks of use. Only be nicely asking, and then demanding, satisfaction from the retailer/manufacturer will the consumer ensure that he is not sold sub-standard product.

Would you accept a car dealer telling you that the “problem” with your new car was because of the way it was designed and built and therefore you shouldn’t expect them to make it right?

Polite but firm and insistent.

aluminum gunwales

– Last Updated: Sep-20-09 5:28 PM EST –

On some boats, aluminum gunwales, unless they are preshaped to match the shearline of the boat, will actually change the shape of the hull since they want to remain fairly straight. This can reduce the amount of flare in the hull towards the stems, and can tend to want to push the stems down toward the keel line, decreasing rocker.

An example was the Mad River Outrage. The aluminum gunwales originally fitted to this boat were poorly-shaped which reduced bow and stern flare. Wood gunwale Outrages had a visibly different hull shape.

bowler 1 , I can tell you this much …

– Last Updated: Sep-21-09 12:18 AM EST –

...... there is no way that an inner and outer gunnel that are connected to each other (as in closed top) should have "any" shift in elevations . (with one exception to follow) ...

The smoothness of the top should always remain just as smooth as if it were a solid top !!

Since you are having this inner/outer shift , it is a problem (call it by no other name)... not something that is suppose to or should be expected to happen .

A simple design addition could prevent this from ever happening , but I'm doubting it's incorperated into your gunnels from the sound of things .

I can see the inner and outer gunnel tilting inwards some under a load , but tilting as a solid unit ... not shifting in elevation , that's wrong !!

Perhaps a weakness in the design (needs beefing up) , or an inferior piece of wood , or some reason along those lines is causing it to happen ... but regardless , IMHO is should not be tolerated in a new canoe and it would bug me to no end until I did something about it , be that through the manuf. , the dealer , or bottom line after all possibilities thought on ... corrected the situation myself (not rocket science securly joining two pieces of wood so they don't shift , even a butt and mechanical fastner join) ... but why should you have to upgrade and customize the manuf. design in a new boat , let them do it in whatever way it takes them to permenantly correct this , as long as it gets corrected because it's not right ... is it ??

ps., ... I could accept "some" (very slight), differential shrinkage of inner and outer over quite a considerable time ... which then you would simply sand out flat again , re-seal and that's it for eternity (a one time maintenance thing), but that's not your case at this time , perhaps well into the future on a correctly paired inner and outer it may be .