How Long and Wide is a Canoe? (and why it matters)

To be sure, canoes come in a variety of lengths from under 10′ to over 30′.

The more you know about length and how it affects everything from how well it sits on your roof rack, to how fast it will travel on what type of water, the more you’ll make an intelligent decision on what canoe to buy!

I’ll give you a SHORT, readable, and helpful guide to canoe lengths and what they mean for you.

The average canoe length for the majority of canoes on the market today is right around the 16-foot mark. This length seems to be the best general length to fit the needs of most canoeists from weekend warriors to serious trippers.

This answer only creates more questions like “does length really matter?” and “how long are solo canoes or 3-person canoes?”, “how wide is a 16′ canoe?” and so on. Read on, my friend. I have some information that will enlighten and surprise you!

How Long are Most Canoes?

I’ve written an extensive article about canoe length and weight capacity and if you’re interested in seeing various canoe lengths (like around 31 of them), you can check out the article HERE.

In a nutshell, the article covers popular lengths, and those are lengths that range from 13′ to 20′. Anything outside of those lengths tends to be a very specialty canoe like a whitewater playboat or a replica voyageur craft.

16′-18′ seems to be the sweet spot where about 90% of all tandem canoes (for 2 people) seem to fall with a sharp decline in demand for canoes on either side of this range.

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Some canoes are quite short and can still hold 3 people like this Pelican 14’6″ canoe. However, it would have a flat bottom and would be very wide (38″) and very heavy (90 lbs). That means it is extremely inefficient and not suited to expeditions, whitewater, or anything other than a family recreation boat.

How Wide are Most Canoes?

Within the sweet spot of 16′-18′ canoes, widths will vary from 33″ to 37″ with most coming in around 35″ or 36″. Some canoes are very wide and they have a beam (widest part of the canoe) of 37″ or more.

Only specialty canoes meant for more than 5 people typically have beams even wider than 37″ though there are some exceptions like the Pelican recreational canoe pictured above. It has a width of 38″.

How Long is a 3-Person Canoe?

A good quality 3-person canoe can be just a modified 17′ or 18′ touring canoe with an extra seat, but a great-quality dedicated 3-person canoe (like high-end models from Wenonah) range from 19′ to 23′ in length.

They have a bit of tumblehome so they range from about 34″ to 35.5″ at the beam (or the widest point) with the tumblehome making the overall width about 1.5″ to 2″ wider than the beam.

Mike Cichanowski, president of Wenonah Canoe Company in Minnesota, says this about 3 or 4 person canoes, and why you might want one:

Grandkids, families with little kids, or if you want to have 3 or 4 people paddle.

Also, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota, the rule is that you can have a maximum of 4 canoes in a party with up to 9 people, so you may have to have some canoes that are multi-seated. The longest canoe we build right now is the Minnesota 4 and it’s 23 feet.

Mike Cichanowski – President – Wenona Canoe Company

How Long Should a Solo Canoe Be?

Solo canoes for lake expeditions and touring generally range from 14’6″ to 17’6″ in length. Whitewater solo canoes are a bit shorter with some of the shortest being just over 9′.

Higher-end canoe makers understand that length is a very big factor in determining the level of paddling efficiency a canoe will offer, how fast it will travel, how much gear it will carry, and how heavy it will be.

All of these factors are calculated in determining the optimal length of a solo canoe. We’ll explore some of these factors in the next section.

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Solo canoes average in close to 16′ but they are as much as 10″ narrower than a tandem 16′ canoe at the widest point.

How Length Affects Performance

Now that we have a general idea of various lengths for a variety of different canoes, the question is “why does it matter?” I mean, if a 15′ canoe is no different than a 16′ canoe (other than an extra foot in length which surely doesn’t mean much), then why would I buy a longer canoe?

For starters, let’s look at your vehicle and its ability to carry a canoe. Most cars won’t be stressed by carrying an 18′ canoe over a 14′ canoe, but some might be.

It’s important to consider this if you have only a very small car. For example, if you’re looking for a solo canoe and you own a Toyota Prius or Corolla, I’d stay away from a 17’6″ solo touring canoe.

Speaking of carrying a canoe on a small car, here’s a helpful video about how to safely transport a (nearly) 18-foot canoe on a 4-door sedan with just cheap foam blocks!

Safely Mount a Canoe to a Car With Cheap Foam Blocks

Nearly any length canoe can fit on most vehicles with some precautions on tie-down procedures. I’ll outline the process here.

It can be done, of course, but there are lots of great touring canoes closer to 15′ with similar weight capacities and performance qualities that will fit better on your roof racks or foam blocks.

That’s just scratching the surface of how length may affect performance and your buying decisions.

Another important issue pertaining to length is maneuverability. Obviously, shorter canoes (especially if they have lots of rocker) are much easier to steer.

However, it’s a scientific principle that a longer craft (considering all other factors are equal to a shorter craft) will travel noticeably faster.

Does speed sound enticing? While we’re at it, I can tell you that a narrower craft will also travel faster and more efficiently. That is, for each unit of energy you spend paddling forward, a narrower craft will move a bit farther than a wider canoe.

Many solo canoes are made longer since they are not only faster and more efficient but also hold more gear. That is why my dreamboat is the Wenonah Voyageur with a very narrow width (21.5″ at the gunwales) and a very long hull measuring 17’6″.

How Long is the Longest Canoe on Earth?

The world’s longest canoe is 149 feet and 1 inch long. It was built at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, Maine. It was officially measured in July of 2006 and it was a science project sponsored by many local businesses. Unfortunately, it was not a performance craft, nor was it meant to last.

It was constructed of plywood in 8-foot sections by teams of students and all sections were identical other than the 2 end pieces. It also doesn’t really look like a canoe, but it did work for a short distance!

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World’s longest canoe – built in Newport, Maine by science students at Nokomis Regional High school in 2006


I hope you have a bit of a better idea of how length will affect a canoe’s performance and its efficiency, not to mention your level of convenience for transportation.

If so, these factors should have an impact on your buying decision, but now you’re a much more educated consumer right!?

As always, our goal at Rugged Outdoors Guide is to equip you with the knowledge to use wilderness recreation as a tool to connect with your loved ones and with the God who loves you!

Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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