flat-bottomed canoe with or without keel

I am wondering what the difference is in handling between a keeled flat-bottomed canoe (short and wide) and a non-keeled one. Is it hard for a short and wide flat-bottomed canoe to track straight? Thanks.


Good question
There’s a couple ways of looking at this. First, if tracking straight is your main concern, you will do better with a keel. That said, except for a few wood-canvas canoes and aluminum canoes, the only canoes with keels are cheapos, and the reason for that is that with halfway-decent paddling, you don’t actually need the keel to go straight. A more common approach to making a really short canoe go straight (as well as faster) without much effort is to use a double-blade paddle. Using a single-blade paddle with a short boat requires more correction and that limits your speed.

Many hard-core canoeists on this board might scold you for choosing a boat with a keel, but I won’t. If your needs are best served by a short, flat-bottom canoe, there may be nothing wrong with getting a cheap boat that has a keel. Just keep in mind that it will limit your ability to turn sharply, piviot, or slip sideways if you want to (such maneuvers are sometimes the reason for having a short boat in the first place). It won’t stop you from doing those things, it’ll just make it harder. If you go with a better-quality boat, you can’t get a keel, but you will be rewarded with lighter weight (and easier handling) and usually greater speed. It’s hard to say exactly what’s best without knowing more about your intended use.

OK, I’ll be the first to scold, first on the keel and second on the double-bladed paddle. Call me a purist.

True that it’s a hard question to answer depending on what you want, and what you’re thinking od when you say “flat bottomed”. But I’m no boat designer, so I won’t comment (much) futher, other than to suggest that you get a single blade, avoid a keel and practice good technique. If you want to have good tracking - that a keel would provide - go for a long boat with sharp entry/a long water line.


With two of the exact same canoes, the one with the keel will track straighter.

I also agree with Yarnellboats post.

Get one without a keel, paddle it with a single blade and learn the proper techniques.

There are two correct ways to propel a canoe which are single bladed paddle or pole.



The correct canoeist
Ha ha ha ha!

Sorry Jack, I got an image of some instructor looking down his impossibly long nose, about to whack my knuckles with his paddle.

There’s at least as many correct ways to propel a canoe as there are canoe using cultures. Certainly there is a long history of double blading not to mention sailing. Did you see this post http://www.paddling.net/message/showThread.html?fid=advice&tid=281372

on single oar sculling? I thought it was pretty interesting.

Scott, if you are interested in the art of canoeing with a single blade then Pat and Jacks advise is sound. If you are looking for something else don’t let anyone limit your options.

IMO for short distance quiet water paddling the difference between a short boat with a keel and a short boat without is not likely to be noticeable.

If you get seriously bit by the canoeing bug then you will be back asking more specific questions. In the meantime, the best boat is the one that gets you on the water and the correct method to move it is the one or two or more that work for you.

Say no to keel
A keel may marginally help you track straighter, but at a cost of maneuverability. Pass on the keel. These days few canoe builders offer models built with keels, those that do seem to be low-end builders who use the keel as a hull stiffener. The bigger question (I would think) would be: why would you want a flat bottomed canoe to begin with? It is well established that flat bottomed canoes are notoriously unstable when leaned.

flat bottom boats
I built my son a 14’ pirogue this year. I was tempted to put a keel on it because of the flat bottom and the approximately two inches of rocker that I put in it. I’m glad I didn’t. I have no problem controlling the boat and my son is learning fast. I suspect that he will graduate to a “proper” canoe this summer.

Another point about a keel. I do a lot of shallow water canoeing in streams with gravel and rock bottoms. I use a Coleman canoe for this as I do not mind scraping bottom or bouncing it off rocks. The keel on the boat is a real pain on those rare occasions that I get sideways in fast moving water and scrape bottom. When the keel hits bottom, it tries to flip the boat. That is not a problem when sitting, but I am usually standing up in shallow water.

One more keel consideration
If you’re going to be going through any ‘skinny’ water on rivers, you’ll be better off without a keel. Sometimes, the amount of water flowing over a ledge is only inches. So, if you’ve got an extra 1/2" or 3/4" of boat sticking into the water with the keel, that’s going to affect your ability to scoot over that shallow structure.

As far as means of propelling the boat, decide if you’re a purist or not. If you’re not, get what you like. However, I’ll mention that there’s a reason why single blades are so popular with canoes. It’s simple. With a single blade and good technique (a fairly upright paddle close to the boat), you will actually get less turning force than with a double bladed paddle. A double bladed paddle used from the center of a canoe will either force you to lean one way and then the other to keep the blade reasonably upright, or it will force you to have every stroke effectively be a sweep. Now, that’s not bad, but it’s not straight either. It’s basically a very tight wiggle that averages out to straight. (This is assuming solo paddling). With a “J” stroke on a single bladed paddle (I used to teach five year olds to use a “J” stroke - it’s not hard), you can actually go straight, which means less distance overall, which means less effort for you the paddler. Nothing wrong with a double bladed paddle if that’s the way you decide to go. One major advantage of the double bladed paddle is that if you get an obstruction on one side of the boat, it’s very simple to just take several strokes on the other side of the boat, but then you’ll still need to make minor adjustments to the boat’s direction as you would with a single bladed paddle. Some will also say that you will have a blade in the water faster (recovery stroke) faster with a double bladed paddle. I haven’t timed them, so can’t say one way or the other.

  • Big D

Years ago I bought my first canoe. It was a Grumman 17 Standard and it was flat bottomed and had a keel. Grumman also offered what they called a “shoe keel” if memory serves. Grummans are aluminim and they must use a keel of some sort, but their “shoe keel” protruded less into the water. My wife and I had the opportunity to paddle a “shoe-keel” Grumman 17 and we both preferred it. It was still a keel mind you, but the boat worked better overall with less keel. Later of course we found other, better canoes and to this day I have never bought another canoe with a keel.

With respect to the best way to move a canoe through the water, there is no question in my mind that the most efficient is to row it. Yes there are rowing retrofits for canoes and they fly. An electric motor is not even as fast as a strongly rowed canoe over a reasonable distance.

For esthetic reasons, we prefer a single bladed traditional paddle. My favorite paddle is a straight shaft, beavertail, pear grip, made of ash by Tenney of Maine. My carbon-fiber, bent-shaft, high-tech jobbie never gets used anymore. In the end, if I want high efficiency, fast and all that a canoe is not the right vehicle anyway.



I am not a purist!
Thank you for your replies. First of all, I do enjoy paddling but this canoe is mainly for fishing. I will use a trolling motor or a double blade paddle to push it. I am looking for a solo/tandem canoe which allows me to stand with ease. I only weigh 150 lbs and will bring another 100 lbs of gear (battery and motor) to the boat. So the boat is loaded at 250 lbs. I want something that is less affected by crosswinds. I am trying to compare different sporting canoes, such as OT Stillwater 14 and other brands. Your comments are apprepiated. Thanks.


fishing canoe
i’m somewhat of a purist, although i can appreciate your needs. if you’re concerned about cross-winds and you’ll be using a motor much of the time, i’d go for a keel model. canoes with keels are typically cheapos, but if you’re going fishing and want a boat that can handle flat water and standing/casting, a flat bottom canoe would work.

on the downside, keels add a few inches of draft, although that wouldn’t be a concern if you’re motoring 'cause the prop would hit first.

as for paddles, if you’re not in paddling for the enjoyment of canoeing then it doesn’t matter. pick what you like. lots of folks here like double-blades, poles, etc. you won’t catch me with a double anytime soon, but it’s all about what works for you and allows you to get the most enjoyment from being on the water.

When around Killarney last summer
the great majority of the private canoes we saw had keels. I mean clearly over 80%. I was careful to exclude rental fleets and boats marked as rented from somebody. Scott and Bluewater both still make boats with keels. I think Swift does not. I don’t like keels, but for lazy Canadian lake canoeing, they may make sense. Our no-keel Bluewater Chippewa, being lightly loaded, skated around a bit in crosswinds.

For fishing with a trolling motor and a double blade, I still would suggest at least a foot of additional length, and a bit less width. A longer, narrower boat can be more stable for fishng than a short, wide boat. And it will troll on battery longer than a short, wide boat.

Also, try to test each flat-bottomed canoe you consider. Not all flat-bottomed boats have strong initial stability. It depends on the shape of the sides of the hull, and what those sides are doing for you when the boat starts to tip off dead level. You might really want a boat with just OK initial stability, but which really firms up for strong final stability as you go stepping over to the side of the boat in your haste to get a look at that boot you are reeling in.

I would have a look at Wenonah’s fishing models.

Have owned and paddled both and
I would stay away from a keel. The main reason is that it catches on logs and uneven bottom stuff and brings the canoe to an abrupt halt. If you’re standing and fishing, you are likely to be swimming. Also, when the keel catches, the boat can spin and tip. Some other posters mentioned this.

Our Grumman Eagle had a fin keel and is was useful on lakes or wide rivers in the wind. But the trade off wasn’t worth it. Our Penobscot 16 did very well in the wind on lakes. We didn’t stand when we fished, but the Penob is stable enough. Better secondary stability. I just looked at the Old Town catalog and the Stillwater has a molded-in keel. These don’t dig into logs, but still catch rocks. Colemans have a similar keel. We fished in a Coleman and it was more work and not as stable as our Penob. I would consider a Penob 16 or possibly a Camper if you’re going to go with an Old Town. The Camper has more initial stability and slides down a river easily. Also, a lot of people use Discoverys.

If you can deal with a seriously heavy canoe, there are some that are designed for fishing. They have built-in stabalizers and do well with motors. We saw quite a few of these in the U.P. and along Lake Superior. I’m not sure what you have in mind. You might also consider sponsons. I will now duck and cover…

As far as using a doubleblade, I switched to one after years of using a single blade. I’m paddling a Mohawk Odyssey, which is not as wide as the boats you’re talking about. I’ve found that a shallow paddling angle can cause a ‘wiggle’ in your track. I just rotate a little more and reach so that the stroke is more vertical. I don’t lean, because that also affects tracking. I can keep up with tandems and cover more miles easier than with a single blade. I know people who are very skilled with single blades who are very efficient paddlers. I’m not one of them. lol

If fishing is your primary use, post your question on the fishing forum on this site. The folks there have gone thru this whole process.


– Last Updated: Jan-19-05 5:40 PM EST –

I bought my wenonah vagabond specifically for fishing. And, being a kayaker naturally decided a solo canoe would really be great with a double blade. I find that this canoe has a relatively flat bottom no keel and is very stable for fishing.

I do think you could rig up a trolling motor bracket for it and there is room for a cooler,etc.

The plus side is that if you decide you like the canoe thing then it also serves as a nice day tripping boat where you could use either a double blade or single blade paddle so you can learn the right technique. It is pretty fast with the double blade and I can keep up with my kayak fishing buddies. So if the trolling motor battery runs out you won't have to struggle with a sluggish old pig boat to get back in.

"to keel or not to keel"
basicly have to agree with above posters on many things…

First of all, yes a keel does catch on obstructions and will lower your draft a bit which will mean getting out and dragging your boat a bit more then the identical boat with out a keel. When trying to make a turn in a current, you will often find you boat going side ways when the keel gets caught by the current… means you have to paddle like heck to get out of currents…

These down sides aside, I have to say that unless you have great technique, paddling with out a keel can be torturous… I’ve seen many a paddlers with poor technique (none) have their boat flipping directions, (bow for stern) and completly unable to maintain a constant direction…

So if you have limited experience (no propper technique), and don’t plan on doing a lot of paddling (making it hard to learn propper technique), or plan on paddling with other people who may or may not have the propper technique… I’d go with the keel, and learn how to manouver with the keel in a current. Learn its downfaults, and how to compensate for them. As for the sitting lower in the water… I’d suggest lightening your load a bit more to compensate for the deeper draft…

If you plan on doing a great deal of canoeing, with consistant canoeing partners that are willing to learn technique, by all means, going WITH the keel is the best option, as the absence of the keel has obvious benofits.

I myself have a boat with a keel (because that is the one I grew up with, and it was free), and use a double paddle. I have not learned propper technique, simply because I like many paddlers was self taught, and didn’t have any wise sage to teach me. I find that I can steer the boat better and get more power out of the double paddle… Others might disagree, but for me it is so. A double paddle more then compensates for lack of technique. Other added bonus, is that a double paddle functions as a spare paddle in the odd case that the bowmans breaks or is lost…

just my $0.02 worth!