How to Stabilize a Canoe (The best option I’ve found)

To stabilize your canoe for fishing, hunting or just traveling with dogs or young children, etc., you have various options, which is a good thing.

But, when you start to really think about those options, you’ll discover that most of those options involve making your own system which takes time, skill, and money.


How to Stabilize a Canoe With No Extra Work or Equipment

Of course, you can always maximize a canoe’s stability if you first know what factors make it stable and what factors make it tippy.

To maximize stability you would start with a canoe designed for stability, and that would be one with a flat bottom. It would also be quite wide (around 35 inches or wider at the beam) and have a keel.

Finally, the most stable canoe is one with minimal rocker.

Then, you would add weight, typically in the form of canoe trip gear in dry bags or food barrels. Once you’ve added 2 paddlers and a week’s worth of gear into a wide, flat-bottomed canoe with a keel and almost no rocker, you’ve officially optimized all the factors possible to have the most stable canoe.

If any one of those factors is missing, your stability is compromised slightly.

But what about all the paddlers out there (you’re probably one of them) who don’t have the luxury of having a different canoe for absolutely every type of paddling, or they want some of the good qualities offered by less “stable” canoes?

Are there other options? INDEED!

I’ve tried a few options and I’ve found what I believe is the absolute best option. I’ll tell you why!

The best option for stabilizing a canoe is to purchase a set of canoe-shaped stabilizing pontoons from a company called Spring Creek Manufacturing. It’s the best option for simplicity and it eliminates the need for a degree in mechanical engineering. There’s no need to experiment or take the time needed to create a DIY stabilizer. This set of stabilizers is incredibly durable and looks professional, streamlined, and efficiently shaped.

I’ll explain a bit more about how they work, where to attach them, how to adjust them, and where you can get your own set!


Why is my Canoe so Tippy?

Canoes are tippy because they are long, thin, and often have a high degree of rocker and no keel. They also have a round bottom (as opposed to the flat bottom many canoes have).

Many people love canoeing (in theory) but nearly all beginner canoeists worry about tipping the canoe over at the worst possible time.

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While the degree of “tippiness” varies greatly in canoes, here’s a quick overview of why a canoe is tippy.

Obviously, the very shape of a canoe is the biggest factor in its stability (or lack thereof) since it is long and thin.

However, some canoes are quite stable as far as canoes go because they have a flat bottom, they are wide (for a canoe) and they have little or no rocker.

All of those factors contribute to a more stable feel for the canoe, but those very same factors are the ones that make the canoe very inefficient, slow, awkward to paddle, and not generally suited to wilderness expeditions or canoe camping and portaging.

On the other hand, “tippy” canoes are often the perfect craft for speed, efficiency, maneuverability and have an overall high “fun-to-paddle” factor.

Tippy canoes have a rocker (which is meant for ease of turning and maneuvering), they have no keel (which also helps in quick turning), and they have a rounded bottom (which gives the canoe poor initial stability but better secondary stability.

INITIAL STABILITY (AKA “Primary Stability”) is the factor that makes a canoe feel very “stable”.


What is a Canoe with a Stabilizer?

A canoe with a stabilizer is simply a regular canoe with an added accessory that greatly adds to the stability of the craft and reduces “tippiness” significantly.

A stabilizer is basically an outrigger meant for a canoe. It’s a float on the end of an arm of some sort, and there is usually one on each side of a canoe. It’s attached to the canoe near the center (the beam) of a canoe and is typically removable.

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A canoe with a stabilizer float system (this one is from Spring Creek Manufacturing Co.)

Some stabilizers take the form of a traditional ocean canoe outrigger which is a large float (almost like another small boat) only on one side of the canoe. These are less common and more expensive.


Do Canoe Stabilizers Work?

I can say from lots of first-hand experience, YES, they absolutely do work. They work very well since they operate on a very simple concept that’s hard to get wrong.

However, it is very possible to miscalculate when deciding on how to best make your own stabilizer system, and end up with a set of floats that are inadequate and don’t offer enough flotation.

The best scenario is to talk to a reputable manufacturer of a stabilizer system to make sure it will work for your canoe.


Can You Make Your Own Canoe Stabilizer?

You absolutely CAN make your own canoe stabilizer system. However, you will almost certainly run into some design issues. You’ll need to be okay with compromising on some aspects of your stabilizer like aesthetics, efficiency, effectiveness, and any number of other factors.

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A typical DIY or homemade stabilizer

Most often, I’ve found that any DIY stabilizer system has compromised on everything and the ONLY advantage gained is a lighter price tag, though, if time is money, you’ve probably not even gained in that area!

Homemade stabilizers usually involve a 2×4 plank, milk jugs or some unsightly foam float, and some wire or twine. Even those that look a bit less offensive are still lacking in float aesthetics and efficiency, and usually effectiveness.


The Problem with Canoe Stabilizers

Now that you know what a stabilizer is and that you can make your own (there’s no shortage of DIY canoe stabilizer videos and articles online), what are some of the problems to be aware of whether you choose to make or to buy a set of stabilizers?

1 Canoe stabilizers are expensive to buy

Because the market for canoe stabilizers is not massive, there are relatively few manufacturers of such systems. Easy Rider is a company that makes canoe outriggers. However, I personally don’t like the look of their pontoon system, and all their systems (pontoons on both sides of a canoe or a large outrigger on one side of the canoe) start at $500, while their priciest version comes in at $1,450.

2 – Canoe Stabilizers add weight and bulk to your canoe

Adding extra weight might be no issue at all if you’re not portaging your canoe, but if you plan to carry your craft over land and through a forest multiple times, you may want to leave the pontoons at home.

My scale told me that my stabilizer system (which is, I believe, the best one, weighs 13.5 lbs).

That’s not insignificant when you consider the entire system will not only weigh over 13 lbs but require its own trip across the portage unless you have a comfortable bag or another system to carry it along with other items on the portage.

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13.5 lbs is the total weight of my Spring Creek Stabilizer system which includes a receiver arm with 2 flotation pontoons.

3 – Canoe stabilizers can look pretty ugly

Looks may not be a big deal to you, but then again, they might! It’s always nice to appear as though you’re not too desperate or destitute in any situation, so a nice-looking new or well-made DIY system is nice to have

4 – Canoe stabilizers won’t always work well if they are homemade

I’ve seen several videos and blogs explaining why a DIY stabilizer may not work well for any number of reasons. Even some of the best versions I’ve seen that look good, don’t work as well as a properly engineered set of stabilizers, and DIY systems that DO work, look like a sloppy, bulky disaster.

5 – Canoe stabilizers can make paddling and docking awkward and difficult

There’s no question that with your stabilizer system installed and activated, paddling (if there’s a center paddler) and bringing your canoe parallel close to shore, are difficult tasks. It would be nearly impossible to get into or out of your canoe if your landing spot is a rock shoreline (not a beach) and there are waves to complicate things.

6 – Even commercially available stabilizers can be flimsy (inflatable) and offer incomplete rigging

I was able to find some cheap stabilizing floats on Amazon but soon realized I didn’t like the “cheapness” of the system. They were inflatable (which does make them lighter) but construction is very flimsy and some even come with no rigging at all so you’ll need your own pole and securing system.

7 – DIY stabilizers usually lack a high degree of adjustability

Most homemade (and lots of cheap commercially made) stabilizers have an adjustment to change the height of floats (in relation to the height of the gunwales) but no adjustment to determine how far away from the canoe itself the floats can be. This is an important adjustment because it will affect issues such as ease of docking, obstruction of paddling, etc.


The BEST Solution for Stabilizing my Canoe (My Opinion of Course!)

I stumbled across the Spring Creek Stabilizer System about a year ago, and after lots of research, I was convinced that this product is the best one on the market, while not being the most expensive.

The Spring Creek Canoe Stabilizing System has so many advantages over both DIY options and other commercially available stabilizers, that I had to give it a try. Here’s what I found;

This system looks good. It also has “canoe-shaped” floats that cut through the water instead of just sitting on top of the water or plowing through it.

The floats come in 3 different colors (red, yellow, grey). The rigging nomenclature is (sort of) customized to your specific canoe and you can choose what level of stabilization is best for you.

For example, with the floats out at their minimum extension, you still get quite a noticeable increase in stability while minimizing docking or landing problems as mentioned earlier.

A carry bag accessory is available which facilitates portaging more efficiently.


How to Stabilize a Canoe

Check out our YouTube channel for this and other canoeing and outdoor life videos.

Specifications:

  • made of Polyethylene plastic
  • made in an efficient hydrodynamic design to cut through water and reduce drag
  • available with 3 different sizes of receiver (the arm that goes across the gunwales) to fit your canoe (30″, 36″, 40″, 45″)
  • easy locking cam lever arms (like the lock on your bicycle seat and wheels)
  • is adjustable on two planes (raising/lowering & distance in/out horizontally from the canoe)
  • floats are 37″ tip to tip
  • floats weigh 4 lbs each
  • receiver arm weighs 7lbs – 8.5lbs
  • receiver arm extensions can place each float up to 20″ away from the canoe hull or gunwales
  • each system comes with 2 floats, 1 universal receiver, 2 telescoping arms and 1 set of clamps
  • as of this article, the cost is $370 USD

NOTE: I found my system weighed over 1.5 lbs less than the stated weights of the individual items. Maybe my scale is bad 🙁


Key Takeaways

1 – Some canoes are very tippy because the factors that make them tippy are the same factors that make the canoe efficient in the water and easy to maneuver.

2 – A canoe stabilizer is a tool or apparatus that attaches to your canoe’s gunwales and acts like an outrigger or a set of flotation pontoons to resist the tipping of the canoe.

3 – You can make your own stabilizers but you may not be further ahead financially, and you’ll have spent lots of time and energy while making a contraption that may not work well … or at all!

4 – Canoe stabilizers do have their drawbacks, but are well worth it for anglers or canoe sailing buffs

5 – The best solution I found is a stabilizer system from Spring Creek Manufacturing which includes an aesthetically awesome system that works very well and is efficient and intelligently designed.

It’s durable and customizable and relatively low-priced compared to any alternative that offers as much.

Spring Creek Manufacturing

In my opinion, here’s the best option for the lowest price you can buy for a sturdy, good-looking, easy to use and efficient canoe stabilizing system (this is an UNPAID and unsolicited … as well as unbiased) product review

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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