Canoe Specs

I’m thinking about buying another solo canoe and have been collecting information on all the boats I can find, e.g. length, beam (max and waterline), rocker (bow/stern), depth (bow, center, stern), etc. Do all manufacturers follow the same conventions when making such measurements? For instance, is depth measured

inside the boat (as I would expect) from top of the deck to the floor - or outside the boat from deck to the ground? What about rocker? Is this simply the maximum distance from the bottom of the boat to the ground when the boat is placed on a flat surface? I notice most manufacturers provide both bow and stern rocker, whereas some just provide a single number (e.g Mohawk, some Wenonah solos, Souris River). When only one number is given does this mean it’s the same rocker for the bow and stern? Of course I’m considering other factors (hull material/shape/symmetry, weight, price) and will paddle as many as possible. But I know I won’t be able to paddle everything and the info will help narrow the field; hopefully, it will also help me to understand canoe performance/behavior a little better once I have paddled them. Thanks.


I have a well maintained spec sheet listing all solo canoes currently made, but, unfortunately, woith 09 prices. ’ be glad to forward if you email me at

Dimensions measured the same?
nope. Rocker is the often mentioned wild cat. No uniformity on that one.

Wish there were schematics from the end…,that would give you a lot of information on hull shape, which is a guess with waterline beam and max beam.

And the laughable one. Capacity. A canoe is not a half ton truck.

Hmmm by going to a FreeStyle Symposium you can knock an awful lot off your to try list.

Thanks Charlie,
I’ll send you an email.

I’ve pretty much ignored
capacity in my comparisons, and I suspected that there isn’t universal agreement on other measurements as well. Obviously, ‘quantifying’ boats can only go so far. The Florida freestyle symposium is tempting, but no way to make it; I hope to make it to a symposium in the midwest next year.

Western PA opportunities
In addition to “the” Midwest Symposium in September, you have the Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous in June. Both are opportunities to try various canoes and pick up some serious handling skills. Also, a group, tandem and solo canoers were getting together weekly this fall at Morraine to work on FS skills. That should start up again in spring.

Turnign ability is so influenced by
hull design that rocker figures are not very useful. I don’t even bother with rocker figures. I try to get some images showing the boat from various angles.

The Western PA symposium
was the one I was thinking about, at Cooper’s Lake right? However, I didn’t know about the gathering at Moraine, that would be great. I’m only about 20 minutes from Lake Arthur, so I paddle there fairly often.

I think I understand
what you’re saying, that small differences in rocker may be relatively insignificant compared to other differences in hull design. But surely (yeah, I know, don’t call your Shirley) one can’t ignore it completely. For instance, for what I want to do, I couldn’t imagine buying a whitewater boat with 5" of rocker.

But would you even be looking at
a whitewater boat? If you’re considering a dual purpose boat like my Mad River Guide/Freedom, then you would want to know the rocker, as well as the hull design. You would want to know that the Guide, when paddled empty, sits light on the water, but that when a week of gear is added, the hull is pushed down in the water so that it tracks better, but turns less well because of the load. So, one thing you have to consider is how much of a load will you typically carry, and how will that affect handling and turning.

My opinion remains that hull design varies so much that rocker figures can be hard to interpret. Pay attention also to whether rocker is distributed well back from the stems, or whether a hull has “dead rise.” Our Bluewater Chippewa tandem and our old Moore Voyageur tandem have almost no rocker through the center 65% of their hulls. But in the last few feet of the bow and stern, they have “dead rise” to give a rocker-at-the-ends effect. We used to have an Old Town Tripper where rocker was distributed over most of the hull, just leaving a flat or pivot zone over the middle 40% of the hull. I pushed the center of the boat down with a minicell pedestal, increasing the boat’s maneuverability.

Usually when you consider a manufacturer’s description of a canoe’s intended use, you will be able to make more sense of the rocker numbers. You need to use the builder’s statements, and the statements of those who own and use a canoe, to predict maneuvering behavior. Rocker numbers aren’t going to do nearly as much to help you.

Speaking of WPASCR…
Have the 2010 dates been announced? Weekends in June are tough for me, but I would really like to attend.

yep whispering here …hijack
June 11-13. Same place.

Thanks for your input,
I appreciate it. You’re correct, I won’t even be considering WW boats - my comment was only meant to ‘illustrate’ the position that one can’t ignore rocker specs entirely (otherwise, what’s the point of a manufacturer even publishing the spec?). Nonetheless, I can imagine (since I don’t have the experience that most PNetters seem to have) that there is a lot of truth in your comments. I don’t doubt that the complexity of hull design & behavior far exceeds what can be summed up in a short list of specs (John Winters’ article on “The Shape of the Canoe” alone is convincing of this). My original question was really just trying to understand if there is any consistency or convention on how/where these measurements are made by all of the manufacturers. The responses so far are (paraphrasing): “No” (kayamedic) or “don’t bother with the specs” (g2d) (and Charlie Wilson’s compilation, which is comprehensive - thanks very much!)

Not a problem,
I was wondering about the dates also. Thanks.

Numbers count
The way designers compare hulls within different genre is with numbers.

One of the more important numbers is the waterline Length/Width ratio. This can be difficult to figure as max width is usually greater than waterline width, and layout in the stems can hide a significantly shorter waterline length.

That said, the higher that number is, the better a hull will track. The lower that number is, the better a hull will turn.

Most folks want differential rocker - less in the stern than in the bow. This doesn’t change the hulls inherent tracking much, but resists the yawing forces of less than perfect forward strokes, and so improves course keeping.

Width is another number that counts. The range in solo boats is 27.5 to 32 in max width, with smaller folks not able to get a vertical paddle shaft when in wide boats and larger folk finding the narrower hulls sink too deep and compromise stability. What we really need to look at is width at the knees, which, along with seat height, determines stability.

Cross sectional shaping affects knee spread as much as width does. Round bottomed hulls like the Curtis DragonFly start out narrow at 28.5" width, but fit narrower still because the round bottom forces our knees closer together. That indicates a higher seat; both tendencies reducing stability.

So, back to the symposia / on-water event option[s]; take your paddle and knee pad and go try a bunch of boats without prejudice. The results usually amaze!

Specs are only a hint
Specs are rarely uniformly applied from manufacturer to manufacturer. Length and beam can help but after that having some knowledge of the manufacturers typical designs is more useful than their specs. If you have an idea what you are looking for, photos can be usefull but they can also be misleading.

Subtle differences can have a lot of impact on performance. The same hull design can be dramatically affected by different materials, outfitting and sometimes even the day it was built. The paddler has a huge influence as well both in expectations and how the hull performs.

Ultimately you really need to get into as many boats as you think might interest you and paddle them. For that there is no substitute. That’s why the solo canoe rendevous are so valuable.

If you’re a rocker, your boat will too.

Hey tbone…
Specs can tell a very experienced observer a great deal. But very experienced observers know how most major manufacturers take measurements and filter those specs through that particular lens. Also they are so well versed in “spec” language that they can get a good read quickly. Their abilities come with years of dealing with this language and actually paddling the hull in question. It’s like learning a foreign language. Only after being immersed for a long time does one become fluent. So, paddle as many hulls as possible and look at the specs offered by the maker soon after and remember the longest journey begins with but one step.

Gunwale width -
If you want to know how much clearance you have for your hands, ask the seller what the gunwale width is from the outside edge to outside edge.

This measurement can vary a bit for the same hull fitted with different gunwales, such as wood, aluminum or vinyl. Might be nearly an inch difference.

Hi pagayeur,
I think you hit the nail on the head. Like Charlie said above, numbers do count, but I’m sure they become much more useful and informative after you’ve gone through a long “calibration” period (i.e. paddled a lot of boats from a lot of manufacturers). In that respect, I have a long (but enjoyable) way to go.

(As TommyC1’s profile says, “Living to Learn” - great philosophy)