Demoing a canoe

I am going up north about 200 miles next week to test paddle some canoes. I have a routine of tests I use when trying out kayaks. However, since I have never canoed I am not sure if there are some specific things (besides just paddling) that I should try during the demo. Of course since I have not canoed, I may not be capable of doing more technical tests.

I would appreciate any suggestions you might have for how to properly demo and evaluate a canoe. I will only be trying out solo canoes if that makes a difference.


solo or tandem?
If it is solo the testing would much like a solo kayak,handling, speed, comfortetc. If it is a tandem the testing is much easier then a tandem kayak,because you won’t be hitting each others paddles etc.

On a tandem I grabbed a competete paddler and put him in th eboat with me and we hammered away, Carved used front rudder strokes and played sloppily.

I would also check wear points, bow, stern stems , areas where the canoe would be tied on to a car etc.

One issue common to demo on any boat
is whether the outfitting allows you to fit and control the boat in a way appropriate to you. I think demos are over-rated. I’m so large, and relatively heavy, that often I can’t demo, but by gathering info from appropriate sources, I have made a bad decision only once out of 14 boats.

If you are so lucky as to find those solo canoes set up to suit your weight, height, and paddling style, then obviously you first want to see if a boat will run straight when you want it to, and whether it has enough “coast” to reward your effort. Then you want to try turning to your on or off side, and see if the boat responds well to your intentions and efforts. It would be nice to try the boat out in waves and quartering wind, to see if it is easy to control or cranky. Some might want to see how the boat handles when leaned down to the paddle side.

However, in my opinion, the best boats have acquired a reputation, and you have to use your contacts and the internet to find out that reputation.

Some things to do on a canoe demo
- If this boat is going to be your tripper, paddle it with your usual load. Then also paddle it without the load. Note performance and handling in both conditions. Note the draft with the load. Is there 7.5 or more inches of freeboard at the center with your expected load? Does the canoe have the capacity you need?

  • If possible demo the canoe in 6” – 12” waves. Paddle into and with the waves, and then quartering from all directions and note how the boat handles. Get an idea if you would want to be out in 18” or bigger waves with this canoe.
  • Bring the paddle you expect to use with the canoe. If you are thinking bent shaft, borrow one if you don’t have one. Cruise a shoreline where you will have to hold a straight track, and where you will have port and starboard turning to do as you cruise. Paddle at your normal cadence, using the paddling style you will predominately use (hit and switch, same side paddling, whatever). Note tracking vs maneuverability. Is this boat the right mix for what you want to do?
  • Get the canoe to cruising speed in deeper water then take it in and cruise the shoreline in water less than 2 feet deep. Does the boat slow to half speed (suck water hull) or does it maintain good speed? Does this mater to you?
  • If speed (= distance at the end of the day) is important to you, bring a GPS and note the moving average speed after a 10 minute or so run at your normal cadence. Compare this to other canoes you demo.
  • Note the comfort of the paddling station(s). Any pressure points on your legs from the edge of the seat or gunnels? Is the seat height good for you? What effect does the width of the canoe have on your paddling? Can you reach the water and paddle as vertical as possible?
  • Paddle out a ways and just sit (or kneel) still in the water. Are you comfortable with the stability when dead in the water? Would you be comfortable fishing from this canoe or taking a picture if this is an activity you want to do?
  • Consider the minority activities you may want to do with this canoe like poling upstream, soloing a tandem canoe, citizen racing, canoeing with a dog, or whatever. Find out if this canoe will be suitable for whatever you intend to do with it.
  • Consider the weight of the canoe. Can you or you and your partner lift and load the boat on your vehicle. If this canoe is to be portaged, put the canoe on your shoulders and walk a ways. Is the yoke comfortable and is the load balanced?

    If you will be on rivers:
  • Paddle out; go from seated position to kneeling position and back and forth a few times. Can you get your feet under the seat? If you capsized when in the kneeling position could you easily remove your feet?
  • Paddle several figure 8’s as tight as you can turn. Then go the other direction. Do several 180’s (eddy in’s). Note the canoe’s performance at maneuvering.
  • Do draws, prys, cross bows, sweeps, and spin the canoe to find out how the canoe responds.
  • Paddle backwards holding a straight line and also turning and find out how the canoe responds. Would this canoe back ferry easily enough if this is something you will be doing?

Get a DVD from
It would be very beneficial to know about those strokes to evaluate tracking and maneuverability.

…ditto DuluthMoose’s
As DuluthMoose listed, see if you CAN work the boat for maneuverability. You haven’t mentioned just what type of canoe it is or where you’ll be paddling it most, but think about where you’ll be paddling it most…that’s where you’ll wanna be smiling the most. Relax your hips and let the boat do the talking(boat do the talking??#$*;-)…and see if you think you’ll be able to improve! enough to enjoy it…


Don’t be so careful with the new boat
that you sacerfice giving it a good test. Scratches are a part of a demo boat and can’t be avoided.

Some Minor Points

– Last Updated: Feb-17-08 2:14 AM EST –

Duluthmoose gave you quite a rundown on things to try. I've talked to him personally on more than one occassion about how various canoes handle, and believe me, he knows his stuff. With regard to his recommendations about seat comfort or your ability to easily pull your feet out from under the seat when kneeling, remember that you can always adjust the seat to a different height and different angle, or put a completely different seat in the boat, so you are not stuck with whatever seating arrangement the boat has when you try it. On a related note, I find that a seat with a curved frame is immensely more comfortable than a perfectly flat seat, and have fitted two canoes that way. Tractor-style seats are a different subject, but the boats you were considering won't have one of those.

Not having canoed before, you probably won't be able to do all the tricks Duluthmoose suggests and interpret the results, but by all means try. In the process, there are a couple of over-simplyfied things you can do to compare handling of different boats. If most of your paddling will be in a straight line, that's easy to test. Even if you can't paddle a canoe worth a crap, you are already an experienced kayaker and you'll have no trouble telling which one tracks better. I seem to remember you are looking for a solo boat for river use, so turning will be important to you. All the boats you originally were considering (as listed in your older post) will turn quite nicely, but to see which one turns the easiest even if you lack a lot of skill, just do a series of wide sweep strokes on one side and see how tight a circle each boat naturally travels. This won't tell you which boat is "best" for your use, but it will give a pretty accurate idea of how much each boat "likes" to turn relative to the other choices. If you are comfortable doing so, do the same test with the canoe heeled over toward the paddle side. Also, you can apply any of the turning strokes you use when kayaking (as best as can be done with a single blade) to do the same thing.

I particularly liked the advice about test paddling going backwards. A good back-ferry is a super-handy skill on rivers, and some boats don't back up without becoming squirrelly, while others back up with ease.

I can't say I agree with the poster who said scratches are unavoidable during a demo paddle. There's really no reason I can think of for running into rocks or the shoreline when seeing how a boat handles, and you won't scratch it just by paddling. Maybe I'm wierd in this respect, but I wouldn't want to be the one who knocks a couple hundred bucks off the value of the canoe that was taken off the shelf just for my benefit, though I'd feel okay about it AFTER I decided it was the boat for me and paid for it. All the demo boats I've seen at our two local shops have been in primo condition and sellable as new.

Pay attention to the layups
If you are going to a remote area an Ultralight layup may not be sufficiently durable…

You will probably be tempted to take the most go ahead straight boat… That is fine up to a point. Be mindful that your canoe stroke will improve with time and in time you will paddle any canoe straight.

That said taking a straight ahead boat and transforming it into something else can be done… Bell Magic has a rep for a go ahead boat but it can do 180s for FreeStyle…albeit heeled over… With time you will be able to take a boat as it is and make it behave a little differently by changing the underwater hull shape.

When I got my first solo… I was sure I was going to die…it felt so wobbly… Resist the temptation to give in to the slower more initally stable boat. You will be happier in the long run.