Every canoe design is a combination of several different elements of design. Each element has advantages and disadvantages.
One of the most important design elements in canoe building is the overall length of the canoe. The longer a canoe is, the faster it will paddle and the straighter it will track, provided the width remains proportional. The longer canoe will have a greater capacity, but will be harder to maneuver. Canoes designed for whitewater need to be very maneuverable. They will be shorter than canoes designed for general recreational use and have greater rocker. Rocker is the amount the canoe’s ends rise above the bottom center of the hull.
The width of the hull at the 4″ waterline will influence a canoe’s stability, cruising speed and load capacity. Wider canoes will displace more water and will have more resistance as they pass through the water.
Canoe hulls are made in many shapes. A round hull will be very fast, but it will lack stability and have a low carrying capacity. A canoe with a perfectly flat hull will have great initial stability but a low cruising speed. Flat hulls tend to be hard to control in rough water. What felt steady on flat water seems to take on “a mind of its own” when the conditions are rough.
A shallow arch hull will be quick to paddle, it will offer good stability and be predictable. If a canoe requires more initial stability, the arch will be flattened out slightly. If more speed is required, it will be made longer.
A canoe’s maneuverability is influenced by its rocker. Increased rocker in a canoe allows the ends to rise easier when meeting waves. Canoes with no rocker (flat keel lines) track straight, but are very hard to maneuver.
The side of the canoe above the waterline influences carrying capacity, seaworthiness and ease of paddling. A canoe with flared sides will be more stable when it’s leaned on its side than a canoe with tumblehome. The flared canoe will be more seaworthy. Canoes designed for whitewater will have the bow and stern rounded to shorten the waterline and they will be flared to provide buoyancy in waves.
One of the most important elements in canoe design is the position of the seats. Canoe seats in recreational canoes should be placed low enough that the paddlers are stable without having to kneel in the canoe. A canoe like the Tripper, equipped with the Clipper Performance System, is designed so that the canoeist can sit and lock his/her knees under the gunnel. This allows a five point brace. The paddlers’ feet are pushed against the footbrace with the paddler held firmly in place with the contoured plastic seat. This position allows the paddlers to use their “hips and thighs” to help control the canoe. They are able to lean the canoe over until the gunnel is near the water level without having to brace with the paddle. This type of control is nearly impossible in a canoe with the seats placed high for kneeling.
The keel line of the racing canoe will have little or no rocker. If you want a maneuverable two-man canoe, look for one in the 15′ to 17′ range with a rounded bow and stern, slight rocker, and large volume. If speed is your primary consideration, choose a 17′ to 18’6″ canoe with a sharp bow and stern line, little or no rocker, a stiff bottom, and a sliding bow seat.
A stable canoe should have a shallow arch bottom extending well towards the bow and stern. Seats should be 7″ to 9″ off the hull bottom to provide a low centre of gravity. The seats should be close enough to the ends to allow the paddler to sit in the centre of the seat, and easily reach the water on either side.