Canoe Terms & Definitions

Canoe Term Definitions

Gel coat – silica sand in a resin base which is applied to the canoe to reduce abrasion in kevlar or fiberglass canoes.  Adds weight and sometime cracks up.  Gel coat is on everything from canoes, to speed boats, to shower stalls.  Makes a nice clean, smooth finish but also hides serious flaws and sloppy workmanship.  Avoid canoes which have gel coat on the inside – too heavy and who knows what your getting?

Polyethylene (P-tex) – available in linear or crosslinked design.  Linear is just one sheet of tough polyethylene which has been formed to make a canoe using heat.  Incredibly tough, but makes a cheap, bathtub-like canoe which usually needs the support of a keelson (long pipe or tube that lays in the keel in the bottom of a cheap canoe) and other aluminum tubing to keep its bottom from flopping up and down in the water.  Cross linked polyethylene canoes are usually formed from poly pellets in a heated, rotary mold which spins and rocks as the first layer (outside layer) is dumped into the mold and melted into a canoe.  Then the middle foam layer is added and finally the inside layer of pellets is added. Whole thing then cools and out pops the craft.  These are heavy and indestructible canoes and about the same price as lighter weight aluminum canoes.

Cloth Layup Canoes – canoes which are made from essentially some sort of cloth that comes off of a big roll.  Layers of cloth is cut into a rough shape, laid into a female mold and resin is pour in on top of the cloth and then squeegeed  thru the layers using paint rollers and rubber squeegees. These canoes are made out of various blends of cloth including but not limited to kevlar, carbon fiber, fiberglass, duralite and tuffweave  (both proprietary cloths made by different companies as a less expensive alternative to more expensive exotic cloths like kevlar, et al.)

Vinylester resin – a two-part resin used to hold cloth layup canoes together in the shape of a canoe.  Generally thinned out with liquid styrene to make if flow more easily at room temperature.  Cures at room temp.  Bonds to fibers at about 500 PSI .

Epoxy Resin – a two part resin that holds cloth into shape of canoe.  Applied under heated conditions and requires heat to cure it in its purest form.  Bonds to fibers at 2000+ PSI

Skid plates – A “shoe” or covering made from kevlar felt material.   It’s a thicker cloth that acts more or less as a sponge to hold a larger quantity of resin in one place for the canoe to use as guard in the bow and stern areas which take the greatest abuse on any canoe.  Skid Plates or Bang Plates save the bow and stern from abrasions received while landing the canoe or pushing off from shore.  The bow and stern take the most abuse since the entire weight of the canoe ends up on a little strip about 1/2″ wide by 4″ long if you slam into shore.  The bows of  kevlar and plastic canoes without a good skid plate don’t last long in these situations so you see a lot of “wet foot” canoeing where paddlers jump in up to their knees to save that delicate bow or they install the skid plate themselves.  A few companies build them right into their canoes.  On other canoes, it’s up to the canoe owner to install or have them installed if needed.

Skin-Coat hulls – are made of,  in most cases, just the resin that’s been squeegeed thru the cloth layup of the canoe when it was built. The shine you see on a skin coat is resin which cured making a duplicate of the female canoe mold.  Many major companies make skin coat canoes because they are the lightest in weight.  Unfortunately, the resin doesn’t provide a lot of abrasion resistance and rocks literally can tear into the bulky/coarser weave of kevlar cloth as the canoe passes over them.  When you flip over most used,  skin coat kevlar canoes and examine them closely, you’ll see that there are fibers about 1 mm long sticking out along many of the the scratches.  To prevent fiber tear-out in kevlar canoes, some builders apply a thin layer of fiberglass over the kevlar.  Fiberglass is easier to repair, holds up to abrasion much better and ultimately protects the main cloth (kevlar, carbon, etc.) from excessive damage. 


Freeboard refers to the amount of canoe that remains sticking up out of the water when the canoe rests. An empty canoe has more freeboard than a loaded canoe. Canoes that don’t provide decent freeboard when loaded, should be themselves loaded into a rocket and fired at the sun.Uh-huh…you know what canoe brands I’m talking about…


Tumblehome means the canoe’s sides are bent in at top for easier paddling and less knuckle bashing. Tumblehome does absolutely nothing for the stability of the canoe. Extreme tumblehome makes putting packs in and out of the canoe more difficult.  A little tumblehome for hand clearance is helpful.

Foam Core – stiffening system used by some manufacturers to hold the bottom of a cloth layup canoe rigid.  A sheet of Styrene foam is sandwiched between layers of whatever cloth the canoe bottom is being made out of which  prevents the bottom from flexing up and down on it’s own in the finished canoe.  It’s a readily-used older technology that is effective in making a rigid bottom for faster performance,  but has weaknesses in its ability to be crushed from the bottom upwards when paddled over an obstacle with a load due to the fact that it cannot flex when needed. 

Flexible Rib System – Alternative style of canoe bottom stiffening which relies upon special ribs to hold bottom rigid in cloth layup canoes.  While not as stiff as racing/performance canoes, these ribs do a good job in keeping the bottom rigid during normal paddling.  Running over an obstacle results in the upward shifting of the bottom of the canoe and it then pops back down into its normal position after the obstacle has been crossed leaving only a scratch in the hull.  While this system has been applied to vinylester resin canoes, that resin tends to delaminate or tear apart along ribs of the canoe  due to the lack of bonding provided by vinylester resins.  Epoxy resin canoes, however, can be flexed repeatedly over a long period of time with no ill effects due to the superior bond provided by the epoxy resin. 

Tracking – the canoe’s ability to travel in a straight line.  Some canoes track so hard that they don’t turn well.  Others turn too easily and require too much correction for relatively efficient travel down a lake. 

You don’t see too many of these types of bottoms any more.  When the canoe is paddled “empty=no gear” cantilevered bottoms can make the canoe tip from one flat side to the other.  The canoe is not going over, but it is an unnerving feeling if you aren’t expecting it.


They still make lots of these bottoms. In this type of canoe bottom, when you are paddling empty, they can have a “tender=tippy” feel to them as they rock chine to chine (where the side meets the bottom of the canoe).  This can be unnerving for some.  Once loaded, the shallow arched hull has maximized wetted surface.  Then initial stability is the best, however, when you decide to paddle “empty=no big gear” then it can feel tippy again.  Shallow arched canoes will lay over on a tip and many times will be a bit more resistant to finally going over all the way.  They still will tip over when everybody reacts incorrectly.


Flat bottom canoes maximize the wetted surface of the canoe meaning that they feel pretty stable all the time.  However, this canoe shape, if in place from bow to stern, will translate into a canoe that will lean over quite a bit and then suddenly tip over, usually without warning.

Rockered canoes turn more easily but track in a straight line with more feathering of the paddle required.  Severely rockered canoes are usually used in white water situations where turning quickly is more important than forward speed.

Non-Rockered Canoes don’t turn very easily at all.  In a cross wind, they are very difficult to head into the wind after being turned broadside without the bow paddler knowing how to do a cross-bow-rudder or effective draw-stroke.   These canoes are great for calm days and paddlers who have lack paddling skills regarding straightline travel.  However, the trade-off lies in the canoe’s ability to be controlled in wind and water currents.  A zero-rocker canoe is the fastest shape, but not guaranteed to be easy handling in many conditions other than fairly calm water when it comes to non-expert paddlers.

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