Customizing your canoe - how much is too much?

Hi all. I’m a middle aged outdoorsman who has paddled off and on since I was a kid (thanks, Boy Scouts), yet it was only a couple weeks ago when I bought my first canoe - a 90’s era Old Town Camper that has been well used and abused by a friend’s family over the last 30 years. It’s in need of some serious TLC but I’m excited at the new adventure possibilities as well as the renovation project in general. I see myself doing mainly day and overnight trips on relatively flat water, both tandem and solo.

My problem is that once I get started, I tend to go overboard (pun intended). So, I need a little advice because I don’t want to look like an over eager noob. Other than a clean up and revarnishing the wood, should I be installing grab loops and painters, cargo lacing, D loops, kneeling thwart, etc. or should I just be happy with an old beater and just go paddling? :relaxed:

Naturally, I’m looking for justification to go crazy customizing this beast, but don’t want to hear the snickers from the real paddlers at the put in parking lot, because, you know, appearances are everything :wink:

It’s yours…
Have fun…
Knock yourself out…
All they can do is point at us and laugh…
And at this point who cares? :sunglasses:


Whatever you need. Appearances are nothing
The more beat up the more the history


As noted, do as you please - you will anyway.

Grab loops and painters are a good idea. If you do plan to solo this then a kneeling thwart is a good idea - and then add some knee pads as well. Cargo lacing and D-rings - you don’t really need them but if you want …


Here is a great thread about customizing a canoe (thanks to @bud16415)

My Old Town Guide-147 - Advice -


I’d do it in chunks; I think its more about dialing in your set up than doing it at once. Make an alteration or two, go for a paddle to see what’s missing, and head back to the garage. I went a little nuts when I bought a canoe and ended up selling a bunch of stuff I didn’t need on craigslist because it just didn’t make sense with how I was using my canoe.

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Thanks all for the quick replies!

With every “kit” I have, be it various fly fishing types, hiking, etc. I’m typically overthinking, adding, modifying, subtracting, and generally overworking them to death. What can I say - it keeps me from thinking about work and other stressful stuff. I had been researching canoe rehab pointers and would come up with quite a few videos about all of those add ons. It seems in particular that paddlers in the UK really like those modifications. However, the previous owners of my new toy only changed out the seats in 30 years and I rarely see anyone here in NY state with lacings and such.

I’ll take Kurtzislost’s suggestion. Clean it up, maybe add grab loops and painters and take it for a couple paddles. I can go from there….

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Thanks to @raosborne for linking my thread.

Like the OP I worried a little at how my “Fred” canoe a term I borrowed from my biking experience with overdoing the mods to bikes. I have been pleasantly surprised to get 10 positive comments to each negative. Most people ask questions and are curious about my added floatation the most common comment is how comfortable I look sitting tall in my seat back when they are below water level in a rec-kayak with no room for gear. Last week we participated in a 450 boat river float for the firemen. There was one spot close to the takeout for about a half mile the river was super shallow and almost everyone was hung up. A guy and his wife had a high end tandem rec-kayak and he got out of the back thinking with the lighter load she could float and he would try and walk the slick river rocks. Him getting out made it worse because all the balance was lowering her end. All he needed to do was push down on the back as he walked her along. But he was getting mad and yelling at her to get out. I had my paddle tucked in and had my poling pole ready if needed. I have my seat located nearly perfect and if I felt the stern start to drag I would lean forward and the water would get under and move me. As I passed him he made some comments I can’t type here to the effect my old fat boat was floating thru and his wasn’t.

My goal was kind of like the OPs starting out wanting to convert it to a good solo with the option to tandem. What I kind of figured out is that my 14’7” canoe makes a perfect for my needs solo and is not long enough to include a center seat that is needed to really solo best. Kneeling was one option and my knees are too shot for that. The other was adding ballast to the bow even with turning the boat around and moving the bow seat closer to center I would still need to haul around 5-10 gallons of water. I was worried about the shallow draft would I get blown around and I sure did until I got the balance correct. It is not much of a factor now and like I mentioned above it is nice in the shallows.

I love the grab loops I added with drilling the hull and I love my painter lines. Around here rec-kayaks are big as the banks are steep even where there are well used put in and take outs. Dragging a boat up a mud hill is not fun and having the lines to lower it or pull it up are great. I have loops on the end and we have run my poling pole thru the loops and both of us have used the pole like a horse yoke and easily pulled it out of the water.

I thought about doing the loops along the sides but added thwarts instead that form compartments and allow stuff to be secured. The far bow and stern areas are filled with flotation.

My advice is make it how you want it and don’t worry about what other might think. I find I’m helping people more than I’m being helped and that is mostly because I thought ahead and had something I needed or they needed. :canoe:


I guess you can go a little overboard like this fishing kayak. AND when its too heavy to lift get a trailer.


It depends largely on how you intend to use the canoe. If you don’t plan to do anything more than flat water paddling you might not need anything, although I feel that grab loops are a good idea on just about any canoe. They facilitate securing the boat for car topping and tying it up to shore if you want to take a break.

If you plan to paddle the canoe solo and can paddle it stern first facing backward on the bow seat you might be able to get by if the canoe is not too badly out of trim. If it is then a kneeling thwart would be useful but it will get in the way of loading gear if you plan to use the canoe for more than day trips.

For river use other modifications might be indicated. Opinion is somewhat divided on painters as they can present an entanglement hazard if they get loose in current. Personally, I think they are indispensable but I make sure they are well-secured, usually under shock cords on the deck plates. Grab loops can be indispensable here as well if your canoe ever needs to be towed or rescued from a pin in that just about any carabiner can be quickly hooked onto a grab loop very quickly and the end of the canoe is often the most accessible place on a pinned boat.

If you are carrying gear on a river in current I would also recommend at least a couple of anchors of some type bonded to the hull bottom that you can 'biner dry bags, water bottles, and other gear to. Stuff that is tied onto thwarts will trail out of the boat in current and increase the likelihood that the boat will hang up. It also gets in the way of doing a boat-over-boat rescue if your boat gets swamped. I also secure packs and larger gear under some type of a lacing cage for the same reason.


I did my grab loops with the knot on the outside, most try and tie the knot on the inside and it is not imposable but is difficult and requires quite a bit more line to tie it and then work the knot up to keep the loop small. You don’t want the loop large enough to get a hand thru as in a rescue someone could become attached tightly if they or the canoe were to flip. I found with the large size line and the simple large knot you can get 3 fingers in the loop and then have the knot to get a grip on. I also made two free loops from the same line that I can loop thru the grab loop and they are about a foot long. When out of the water I put them on and you can put your hand thru and grab around the double line and it is very much easier to two person carry than using the handles on the decks. When in the water I loop them around the handles and stick them below the deck.

I started off with my painters attached to the grab loops as they should be and if you are going to be doing much lining that’s where you want them lower on the bow and stern. I had them rigged to not hang down much, but over the course of a day they would be hanging and I feared them getting snagged. So I moved them up and attached them to the deck handles as well and I like that better for the little bit of lining I do. Some people like just straight lines and that’s the proper method I believe but I added loops to mine for pulling and also a small float. Personal choice. The floats add some weight so I can cast the lines if needed and once I’m at the waters edge I bring both ends within reach of my seat. I wouldn’t likely do them that way if I was on fast moving white water because of snags.

I really don’t like anything sticking up much above the gunwales and agree with pblanc if you capsize you don’t want stuff attached but streaming out all over the place. With lacing stuff down to just the thwarts I would pack it into bags that fill the height fully for that reason. About the only thing I don’t have attached and secured is my water bottle and fishing pole. Everything else big or small is attached to me or my PFD or the canoe. Bonding a few D rings surely wont hurt.

I might add that paddling a canoe like the OT Guide or your OT camper as a solo with the proper weight distribution with you in the center, I have found works best with an extra long double bladed paddle. I’m using a 260cm and the reach is about perfect and the drips stay outside. The longer length makes for a harder stroke though with a full size paddle face. It is something you will notice if you try a kayak paddle.

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I agree it is fine to have the grab loop knot on the outside of the hull if it is too difficult to tie it on the interior.

I prefer a double fisherman’s knot for that purpose as it is very strong and looks a bit neater. But an offset double overhand knot (AKA “European Death Knot”) is actually quite strong as well and might allow the proximal loop at the end of a painter to run more smoothly from side to side.

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We pulled out at a new location for us last week it was directly behind the fire station and the hill was about 30-40 degrees steep and about 200 feet in length. They had made a skid/ramp out of a truck bed liner that bridged down into the water and then the mud hill they had put wood chips down. I got out of the canoe and a fireman hooked my canoe and another to a rope clipped between my grab loop and a JD tractor waiting and before I walked up 4 steps to start climbing the hill my boat was out of sight and I remember thinking I hope my knot holds and then I hope he didn’t pull the bow out of the canoe. When I got to the top a 4 wheeler was pulling 3 kayaks out and the tractor was back at the bottom already. I had a hard time finding my canoe as there was a sea of at least 300 or more all on a nice grassy yard they pulled them to. He pulled it up fully loaded with my cooler and our day gear. The knot and hull were intact. :canoe:

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The days are getting shorter. I’d start out by using it, could discover a few things that need attention. Take some 1/4" braided for a painter and leave the varnish for a wintertime project.

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Campers are fun canoes. One bad thing about adding stuff is that stuff adds weight. I agree with the folks that say just use it and see if it needs any additions to fit your needs.

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I have a Camper and I customized it to my needs. I installed eyelets on the underside of the gunnels. They weigh nothing and are out of sight until you need them. I can hook a carabiner into them or just thread a rope through. I drilled a 1/8" hole in the end of my deck plates so the water won’t pool in the ends when upside down. I also mounted bungee cords on the deck plates to hold my coiled painter lines.
After replacing the cane seats for the second time I went to Home Depot and got a roll on 1" Black webbing and fixed the seat. I also paddle with a plastic, snap-on seat back from Coleman.
My boats are mine and I modify them to fit my needs. I know I get sneers from purist but I don’t care. Most people that see the mods I have made say why didn’t think of that.

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Best mod ever. Mine was quarter inch holes. Always dry now. The water runs in between the gunwale and the hull when it rains with the canoe upside down.

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It’s your boat, do what you want.
Add equipment that makes sense for your intended use.
Stop worrying about how you look.

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This is even more important for canoes with wooden deck plates and gunwales. I have seen many wood trimmed canoes with the ends of the deck plates and inwales rotted out due to water collection under the deck plates when inverted.

Many do not realize that many, if not most synthetic gunwales have hollow interiors and the do not extend all the way to the ends of the hull but end somewhere beneath the deck plate. When water gets inside those gunwales and the canoe is inverted to drain it, all of the water in those hollow channels is funneled to the ends and pours out over the underside of the deck plates.


I store mine both the canoe and the rec-kayak all summer upside down on horses and I have one end a little low on both. The kayak has a plug I pull same place on the deck.

I don’t know with all plastic and aluminum if the water laying in there hurts anything but when I flip it over and it runs out it drove me nuts.

When I pulled the 20 year old carry yoke out the end had some rot started. I was also surprised it was a pretty heavy piece that I was never going to use so I got rid of it. They are great if you can flip it and get it on your shoulders and carry it. The canoe was just to heavy for my liking and the cart/dolly works fantastic.

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