canoe that's too light?

-- Last Updated: Oct-12-15 9:59 PM EST --

I decided that at some point I'd get a clipper packer. It's 27.5" @ 4 in., 14' long, 42 lbs, fiberglass. In the classifieds on this site someone is selling a Wenonah Vagabond. It's about the same width, 13', and 20 lbs. The main thing that I don't like about it is the shorter length. I don't think it would track as well or be as seaworthy. What I keep thinking about is its 20 lb weight. This would be a snap to load/unload from a car. I wonder if a 20 lb boat would be tossed around like a cork compared to a 42 lb boat. this would be for fishing smaller freshwater and saltwater bays.

The wenonah vagabond is 14’6"

It was my first solo canoe years ago and I used it for coastal Everglades and inshore bay fishing here in south Florida. It is plenty seaworthy and fitted with a custom cover can be used for extended camping.

two boats, actually

– Last Updated: Oct-12-15 10:30 PM EST –

You're right. The vagabond weighs 30 and is 14.5'. The 20 lb boat is GRB newman design rambler.

Total weight
Paddler + 20 lb canoe = 200 lb, e.g.

Paddler + 42 lb canoe = 222 lb, not much difference.

A bigger person or significant cargo will make it less of a difference.

The main benefit of lighter boats is portage/transport, and to a lesser extent reduced rotational inertia.

I see your point, but I question it (respectfully).

The issue seems to be distribution of weight. I can move around relative to the canoe.

He is correct
Canoe weight has nothing to do with seaworthiness.

I suspect you’d like to hang on to erroneous beliefs

I would suggest you talk to a canoe designer and learn. I did. Several.

Hull shape has everything to do with seaworthiness and sea kindliness

Some boats that are sub 20 lbs are very seaworthy. Some over 80 have no place in rough water

One comparison

– Last Updated: Oct-13-15 9:48 AM EST –

One of my canoes is a Bell Merlin II that weighs 31 pounds. I've been out in some pretty strong winds, and never felt like the boat was too light. You are correct that, especially in certain ways, the boat moves independently from you, but if it weighs less, you have much greater control over that independent motion.

For the boat to have greater inertia in regard to the type of motion that tends to be independent of the paddler is not an advantage, in my opinion. My other boats are all a lot heavier than the Merlin II. One, my Supernova, is very maneuverable but it weighs in the neighborhood of 60 pounds, and it's a very common occurrence for me to wish it had "less heft" when I'm trying to make it suddenly maneuver the way I need it too.

Inertia might be your friend, on average (in other words, "not completely"), when slogging into a headwind, but in that case it will be the overall weight that matters most. When it comes to total weight though, as has been pointed out, having a lighter boat won't contribute to a really huge difference.

thanks for the reply
Got it.

The only downside to light weight is that I’ve had a boat blow away from me on the beach. On the water, it’s a small percentage of the total weight, and having light ends generally makes it more responsive.

bodies in motion tend to do what and bodies at rest also…

adding a keel form for straight ahead energy gain isnot a factor.

but the jiggle jiggle and track track is a major factor figuring energy consumption…psychological ease of passage…rocker hullists take notice !

for when you pry that massive hulk ahead and then it untrack and you pry the hoggish water buffalo over and then back and then…wow you’ve blown a lotta calories.

Itsnot 220 vs 245…and not arithmetic either.

If you go over to bicycle searching energy use per OZ bike weight, silicone valley number crunchers will show you the way

lower weight is a money and how many times do I smack the garage door jamb before it cracks problem.

Yep. Blowing away is a big concern with
ultra light canoes and kayaks. I don’t wait for calm winds to paddle.

Weight and seaworthyness
This is interesting to me and I do think that intuitively there is for most of us a sense that extremely light hulls are less seaworthy than heavier hulls all else remaining constant. But I do recognize that sometimes our intuitive sense of things can be off base. It would be wonderful if an expert in boat design without any bias would address the issue here or if someone could link us to an unbiased discussion of the issue by experts out there on the web.

My personal intuitive sense is based on the definite feeling of stability that I get when I paddle a canoe in the 70-80 Lb range as opposed to the same hull in the 50 Lb. range. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me? Or maybe I have a bias toward traditional building materials> Like wood for instance?


– Last Updated: Oct-14-15 9:38 AM EST –

This sounds like some of the debates in the ocean-sailing world.
It can be hard to separate hull construction and design. Lightweight construction tends to be used in newer designs that favor performance(usually defined as speed) over comfort in strong conditions. Older designs tend to use more traditional, heavier construction techniques.
A lighter hull will respond more quickly to wind and waves, which can be perceived as "nervous". A slower response can feel more secure. But that can be deceptive -- a boat that's heavy at the ends will plow into waves instead of rising with them, increasing the risk of taking on water. Weight is good only when it's low and centered, both fore-and-aft and side-to-side.
Sound is part of it. Waves slapping a lightweight hull can be very loud compared to the near-silence of something like wood-and-canvas hull.
If the light hull oilcans at all that will be perceived as less secure than somthing that feels solid.
For identical designs, I'd much rather have a 40-pound hull and the option to add ballast than a 70-pound hull.

Sailing vs paddling
To compare the argument here, light vs heavy canoes, to the same argument in the sailing community does not get us far because the hull weight really is the major portion of the overall loaded vessel weight in a sailboat. In a canoe, the paddler(s) are the major portion of the loaded vessel weight.

I feel, as others do, that the heavier boat is more stable/seaworthy, but I cannot come up with a rational justification.


Overall, light weight is a definite …
… but costly virtue.

Even if heavier canoes are slightly more “seaworthy” (whatever that may mean), I would make three points based on 15 canoes/kayaks and 60 years of paddling:

  1. The advantages of light weight far outweigh any diminution in seaworthiness. These advantages, assuming post-novice paddling technique, include maneuverability, buoyancy, portagability and liftability. Light weight becomes more and more appreciated as one’s body gets older and older.

  2. The average canoeist is not going to, or would be foolish to, take any canoe out in truly unseaworthy wind and wave conditions. A canoe is the wrong kind of watercraft for an average paddler to battle those conditions.

  3. Very experienced canoeists and racers, who regularly run violent rapids with advanced to expert technique, generally prefer light weight – again because of the overall performance advantages.

X’s 2
Jack L

I agree that a heavier canoe can feel more stable. I do not think that necessarily makes it more seaworthy.

Stability and inertia are fine on longer, shallower swells, but can be a problem if the bow or stern is slow to rise to an oncoming wave.

In really big lake conditions in a tandem, I found that having both paddlers move in from the ends towards the center made a huge difference in being able to ride up over waves.

It’s easy to try with a solo – just put some weight in the bow and stern and see how the boat responds.

Canoeing vs. ???
Interesting observation and true that the differences in paddler vs hull weight makes sailboats and canoes dissimilar.

Canoes (and kayaks) are unusual in that the cargo is many times the weight of the hull. Cargo ships are likewise, but canoes have their cargo CG well above the water line. The only other craft I can think of that are like this are surf/SUP boards.

Maybe a comparison between the old-time heavy long boards vs newer light weight boards will help separate out the effect of hull weight on stability and seaworthiness in a canoe. Of course, that means everyone has to agree on what stability and seaworthiness mean, which is obviously not the case. I’m not sure either can be defined in a complete and unambiguous manner.

I used to race small sailing dinghies with centerboards, where the rigged hull weight was close to the crew weight. 420s and FJs weigh 200-250 pounds and are sailed with a 2-person crew. Not as extreme as a canoe/kayak, but a long way from a keelboat.