Canoe at El Nido, Philippines
A canoe is a relatively small boat, typically human-powered, but also commonly sailed. Canoes are pointed at both ends and usually open on top.
In its human-powered form, the canoe is propelled by the use of paddles, with the number of paddlers depending on the size of canoe. Paddlers face in the direction of travel, either seated on supports in the hull, or kneeling directly upon the hull. In this way paddling a canoe can be contrasted with rowing, where the rowers face away from the direction of travel. Paddles may be single-bladed or double-bladed.
Sailing Canoes (see Canoe Sailing) are propelled by means of a variety of sailing rigs. Common classes of modern sailing canoes include the 5sqm and the International 10sqm Sailing canoes. The latter is otherwise known as the International Canoe, and is one of the fastest and oldest competitively sailed boat classes in the western world.
Confusingly, the sport of canoeing, organised at the international level by the International Canoe Federation, uses the word canoe to cover both canoes as defined here, and kayaks (see below for a brief description of the differences between a kayak and a canoe). In fact, the sport of canoe polo is exclusively played in kayaks. This confusing use of canoe to generically cover both canoes and kayaks is not so common in North American usage, but is common in Britain, Australia and presumably many parts of the world, both in sporting jargon and in colloquial speech. In these circumstances, the canoe as defined here is sometimes referred to as an open, Canadian, or Indian canoe, though these terms have their own ambiguities.
A 'canoe' in this ambiguous sense is a paddled vessel in which the user faces the direction of travel.
The parts of a canoe
Thwart (a horizontal crossbeam near the top of the hull)
Gunwale (pronounced gunnel; the top edge of the hull)
Deck (a compartment containing a foam block which prevents the canoe from sinking if capsized)
Some canoes, particularly those used for extended trips, are equiped with a yoke across the center of the boat. It is designed to allow one person to carry the canoe, and is sometimes molded to the shape of shoulders.
Canoe hulls are generally open on top. However, slalom canoes are closed in with a spraydeck, like many kayaks.
Canoeing on the Concord River.
The earliest canoes were made from natural materials:
Early canoes were wooden, often simply hollowed-out tree trunks. This technology is still practiced in some parts of the world. Modern wooden canoes are typically strip-built by woodworking craftsmen. Such canoes can be very functional, lightweight, and strong, and are frequently quite beautiful works of art.
Many indigenous peoples of the Americas built canoes of tree bark and sap. The Amazonians commonly used Hymenaea trees. In temperate North America, birch was the preferred tree, with tar mixed into the sap.
Modern technology has expanded the range of materials available for canoe construction.
Wood-and-canvas canoes are made by fastening an external canvas shell to a wooden hull. These use of canvas for this purpose was invented by Union scouts during the United States Civil War.
Aluminum canoes were first made by the Grumman company in 1944, when demand for airplanes for World War II began to drop off. Aluminum allowed a lighter and much stronger construction than contemporary wood technology. However, a capsized aluminium canoe will sink unless the ends are filled with flotation blocks.
Composites of fiberglass, Kevlar and carbonfiber are used for modern canoe construction.
Royalex is another modern composite material that makes an extremely flexible and durable hull. Royalex canoes have been known, after being wrapped around a rock, to be popped back into their original shapes with minimal creasing of the hull.
Polyethylene is a cheaper and heavier material used for modern canoe construction.
Depending on the intended use of a canoe, the various kinds have different advantages. For example, a canvas canoe is more fragile than an aluminum canoe, and thus less suitable for use in rough water; but it is quieter, and so better for observing wildlife. However, canoes made of natural materials require regular maintenance, and are lacking in durability.
Rounded and flat bottoms
A rounded-bottom canoe exhibits poor resistance to tilt. Its initial stability is poor, but its final stability is better. A flat-bottomed canoe has excellent initial stability, but if tilted beyond a threshold, becomes unstable and will capsize. Round-bottomed designs are also able to go over obstructions more easily, due to a small area of contact with the obstruction, though they do have a slightly greater draft. Many canoes are symmetrical about the centerline, but some advanced designs are asymmetrical.
Rounded-end canoes are able to turn easily. Angled-end canoes are somewhat resistant to turning, but have greater tracking ability. Tall ends serve little purpose other than catching the wind.
Keels on canoes will slightly increase the ability to 'track' in a straight line, but decrease the ability to turn quickly to avoid an obstacle. The hull, moving through the water, is much larger than the keel alone, and has considerably more effect on a canoes path through the water. "Shallow Vee"-bottom canoes have an integrated keel-like protrusion of the hull, which increases initial stability. Some sort of keel is beneficial when traveling on open water with crosswinds, but the associated increase in draft is undesirable for whitewater.
In aluminum canoes, keels are manufacturing artifacts, where two halves of a hull are joined. In wood-and-canvas canoes, keels are rub-strips to protect the boat from rocks and as they are pulled up on shore. Plastic canoes feature keels for stiffening the hull and allowing internal tubular framing to be flush with the sole of the canoe. Hull shape, particularly the manner in which the hull flows to the bow and stern, along with paddling technique , determine how well (or not) a canoe will track.
Traditional designs around the world
Early canoes in many parts of the world were dugout canoes, formed of hollowed logs.
In the Pacific Islands, dugout canoes are fitted with outriggers for increased stability in the ocean. These canoes can be very large, and were once used for long-distance travel, such as the very large waka used by Maori who ventured to New Zealand many centuries ago. In Hawaii, canoes are traditionally manufactured from the trunk of the koa tree. They typically carry a crew of six: one steersman and five paddlers.
In the temperate regions of eastern North America, canoes were traditionally made of a wooden frame covered with bark of a birch tree, pitched to make it waterproof. Later, they were made of a wooden frame, wood ribs, other wood parts (seats, gunwales, etc.) and covered with canvas, sized and painted for smoothness and watertightness.
The main difference between a kayak and a canoe is that a kayak is a closed canoe meant to be used with a double-bladed paddle, one blade on each end, instead of a single bladed paddle. The double-bladed paddle makes it easier for a single person to handle a kayak. Kayaks are more commonly enclosed on top with a deck, making it possible to recover from a capsize without the kayak filling with water, although there are also closed canoes, which are common in competition. The deck is an extension of the hull, with a special sheet called a spraydeck sealing the gap between deck and the paddler.
A rowboat is not really like a canoe, since it is propelled by oars resting in pivots on the gunwales. A single rower works 2 oars, and sits with his or her back toward the direction of travel. Some rowboats, such as a River Dory or a raft outfitted with a rowing frame are suitable for whitewater.
The outrigger canoe consists of a hull and a secondary floating support.
The Adirondack guideboat is a rowboat that has similar lines to a canoe. However the rower sits closer to the bilge and uses a set of pinned oars to propel the boat.
As modern canoe design has progressed, a catagory of whitewater canoe has emerged, often referred to as the "Specialist Open Canoe". The distinguishing design feature of these canoes is their relatively short length, and large amount of rocker allowing them to ride up and over waves and holes and affording them a greater manoeverability.
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