Upgrading or modifying your canoe can be either a fun and profitable task or a scary, daunting task depending on your mindset and your skillset. Most avid paddlers will do their own simple upgrades, mods and repairs including repair of holes in the hull or deep scratches.
Here’s a list of modifications that nearly anyone can do with minimal experience, that will increase the value and usefulness of your canoe. I’ve done most of these on my canoes and of all the modifications you can do (there are dozens), I believe these will offer you the most return on your investment of both time and money.
Table of Contents
1 – Replace your factory yoke
Many otherwise good canoes come with a carry yoke that looks just like a basic thwart or a quickly cut, cheap thwart that will need a pad or lifejacket on top of it in order to allow you to carry the canoe over a long portage.
Before I replaced my standard yoke, I assumed it was a very good yoke and because it had some shape to it that appeared to accommodate my neck and shoulders, I thought it was comfortable. It still hurt my neck and I needed to cover it with padding, but I thought that was as good as it gets.
After a few years, I stumbled across something called a deep dish or contoured yoke and realized the difference is MASSIVE! The comfort level increased so much that I no longer needed padding and I could carry my canoe for several kilometers without discomfort. It even had a cutout for the bone near the top of my spine!
Replacing a yoke is a project of less than an hour (took me about 25 min.) and requires only measuring the exact width of your canoe where the yoke will be placed (or measure the yoke you remove) and then cut the new yoke to the proper width.
You then need only to drill holes into it (use your old yoke as a template) and screw it into place.
If you’d prefer a bit of a step-by-step outline of how to replace the yoke, here’s a good outline of the process;
- Assess the current yoke: Examine how the existing yoke is attached to your canoe. It may be screwed or bolted on, or it might be held in place with clamps or brackets.
- Remove the old yoke: Use the appropriate tool to remove any screws, bolts, or clamps holding the yoke in place. Keep track of all the hardware you remove, as you may need it later.
- Measure the dimensions: Take accurate measurements of the old yoke, including its length, width, and thickness. Transfer these measurements to the replacement yoke if it’s not an exact match.
- Position the new yoke: Place the replacement yoke in the desired position on your canoe. Ensure it is centered and aligned with the existing holes or attachment points.
- Mark the attachment points: Use a pencil or marker to mark the locations where you’ll need to drill holes or install screws or bolts to secure the new yoke.
- Pre-drill or prepare attachment points: Depending on your canoe and the replacement yoke, you may need to pre-drill holes or prepare the attachment points. Follow the instructions provided with the replacement yoke if available.
- Install the new yoke: Align the replacement yoke with the marked attachment points and secure it in place. Use the appropriate screws, bolts, clamps, or brackets to ensure a secure fit. Tighten the hardware properly but avoid over-tightening, as it can damage the canoe or the yoke.
- Test for stability: Once the new yoke is installed, give it a gentle shake to ensure it is stable and firmly attached. Check for any movement or signs of weakness.
- Adjust and fine-tune: If necessary, make minor adjustments to the position or attachment of the new yoke until you’re satisfied with its stability and comfort.
2 – Replace plastic or cane seats with weave
Unless you’ve been paddling your canoe for years you may not realize that unless you bring lots of padding for your butt, plastic or cane seats (never mind metal seats) are not very comfortable for hours of paddling.
I used to like cane seats until I realized they weren’t quite as comfy as weaved seats and the caning will rot or tear fairly easily compared to the comfort and durability of a weaved or woven seat.
A weaved seat is made from a weave of seat belt material (nylon) and I showed the details of how I made mine in the video below. I made a removable seat, but this is even easier if you just remove the cane seat (or wait til it tears) and use the existing frame.
3 – Add a motor mount and electric motor
You can purchase a motor mount for a canoe from a variety of retailers, but it’s not difficult to make your own. A trolling motor brings your canoeing options to a whole new level.
I like to think I’m all about deep wilderness paddling 1000 miles from the nearest person, but in reality, I also enjoy fishing with my canoe. When I fish, I use stabilizers and a trolling motor. Here’s how you can make your own motor mount in less than 1 hour (maybe 2 if you have to scavenge for materials).
If you’d like a mount but don’t have the time or tools to make it, Amazon has some great options that are usually a bit less pricey than other outlets.
Keep in mind that motor mounts for canoes are always removable but not all mounting hardware is friendly to wood gunwales. In my video tutorial on how to DIY, I make sure all hardware contacting the gunwales is made of wood to minimize scratches, etc.
4 – Stabilizers will enhance your recreation and angling experience
Canoe stabilizers are another DIY project that any handy person can figure out how to make. There are lots of YouTube videos showing a variety of construction styles.
However, when it comes to stabilizers, I chose to buy mine from a reputable company that makes the absolute best stabilizers on the market. I explain all the details in the video below, and I can assure you that if you add the stabilizers along with the motor, you’ll have a fishing experience not unlike fishing from a bass boat (minus the ability to walk in all directions).
5 – Install a spray deck for seaworthiness
Spray decks are typically installed on whitewater canoes or extreme wilderness or distance voyagers! However, just about any canoe used for wilderness excursions would benefit from a spray deck.
Rainy weather can fill your hull with inches of water while potentially soaking your gear on a trip. Most importantly, a canoe could be totally filled with water in a capsize without a spray skirt, while potentially, almost no water would enter the canoe if a skirted canoe were to capsize and be righted quickly.
Using a spray skirt on a canoe can provide lots of other benefits, especially in specific conditions or types of paddling. Here are some reasons why you might consider using a spray skirt:
A spray skirt creates a barrier between the inside of the canoe and the outside water. It helps keep water from splashing or entering the canoe, which is particularly useful in rough or choppy waters. By preventing water from entering, it helps keep you and your gear drier, enhancing comfort and reducing the risk of hypothermia.
In colder or inclement weather, a spray skirt can offer protection from wind, rain, and spray. It acts as a shield, keeping the elements away from you and maintaining a more comfortable paddling environment. This is especially important for maintaining body heat and preventing exposure-related issues.
The tight fit of a spray skirt creates a seal between the paddler and the canoe, enhancing stability and control. It helps maintain a snug connection, allowing you to maneuver the canoe more effectively and maintain balance in challenging conditions. This is particularly beneficial in whitewater paddling or when dealing with strong currents.
By reducing the entry of water and minimizing the impact of wind and waves, a spray skirt can improve the efficiency of your paddling strokes. It helps maintain a smoother and more streamlined motion, translating into better speed and performance. This is especially advantageous during longer trips or when covering greater distances.
In rough waters or whitewater situations, a spray skirt can provide an added layer of safety. It prevents water from flooding the canoe, reducing the risk of swamping or capsizing. It also minimizes the chance of gear getting wet or lost, which can be crucial for wilderness trips or when carrying valuable equipment.
Some paddling techniques, such as kayak-style strokes, benefit from the use of a spray skirt. If you prefer to kneel or sit in a lower position and use torso rotation for more efficient paddling, a spray skirt can help maintain proper body alignment and technique.
It’s important to note that using a spray skirt requires proper training and experience, as it can present its own set of challenges. You should practice wet exits and self-rescue techniques to ensure you can safely remove the spray skirt in case of an emergency.
Consider the specific conditions you’ll be paddling in, your comfort level, and the type of canoeing you’ll be doing when deciding whether to use a spray skirt.
6 – Consider a Kneeling Thwart
A canoe kneeling thwart, also known as a kneeling thwart or a kneeling yoke, is a structural element typically found in canoes. It is a crossbeam or thwart positioned in the center of the canoe, near the midship area, and is specifically designed to provide support and stability while paddling in a kneeling position. Here’s why you might need a canoe kneeling thwart:
Kneeling in a canoe lowers your center of gravity, improving stability and balance. The canoe kneeling thwart provides a solid platform for you to place your knees and maintain a stable position. This is particularly beneficial in rough waters, whitewater paddling, or situations where quick maneuvers are required.
Kneeling in a canoe offers advantages in terms of paddle control and power transfer. It allows you to engage your core muscles and utilize torso rotation for more efficient and powerful strokes. The kneeling thwart provides a point of contact and support for your knees, enabling you to maintain the kneeling position comfortably for extended periods.
By kneeling, you have better control over the canoe’s movements. It allows you to shift your weight more easily, facilitating quick turns, pivots, and corrections in various water conditions. The kneeling thwart acts as a reference point, allowing you to apply pressure and adjust your body position to navigate the canoe precisely.
For some paddlers, kneeling can be more comfortable than sitting on a seat for long periods. Kneeling helps to distribute body weight more evenly and reduces strain on the lower back. The kneeling thwart provides a dedicated space for your knees, relieving pressure and offering a more ergonomic position.
Canoe kneeling thwarts are typically removable, allowing you to adapt the canoe’s seating configuration to your needs. If you prefer sitting or if you have multiple paddlers with different preferences, the kneeling thwart can be easily detached or repositioned to accommodate different seating arrangements.
Kneeling in a canoe is a traditional paddling technique that has been practiced for centuries. It connects you to the history and heritage of canoeing, particularly in regions where kneeling was commonly employed by indigenous peoples or early explorers. Using a kneeling thwart allows you to engage with this traditional style of canoeing.
It’s worth noting that not all canoes come with a kneeling thwart as a standard feature. If your canoe doesn’t have one, you can purchase a kneeling thwart separately and install it according to the manufacturer’s instructions or seek assistance from a professional outfitter or canoe builder.
Overall, a canoe kneeling thwart provides stability, enhances paddling technique, and increases maneuverability while kneeling in a canoe. It can significantly improve your paddling experience, especially in challenging or dynamic water conditions.
As with many other accessories, you’ll be able to buy a kneeling thwart online from a variety of retailers. It’s best to buy one from the manufacturer of your canoe. However, it’s not difficult to make your own.
One of the best tutorials is found at Bear Mountain Boats.
7 – Knee padding is essential … for me!
Padding for my knees while canoeing is essential as I get older. On long trips I continually change my paddling position from seated to kneeling so comfort in both positions is a non-negotiable.
One method of padding your knees can be to simply wear volleyball knee pads, but this is quite uncomfortable. Knee pads will cut circulation and leave red welts, so the only real option is padding on the floor of your canoe.
If you are an avid tripper, it’s best to permanently attach the padding to the floor of the canoe instead of just throwing a piece of sponge down in the canoe.
A proper, semi-dense foam pad is fairly inobtrusive, durable and won’t need to be removed and transported separately on portages.
Here’s how you can make your own with nearly no work!
8 – Install a Lining hole in the bow/stern for control
Admittedly, I do not have a lining hole in my canoe because I rarely need to line my canoe through rapids or anywhere on a river. However, many paddlers find themselves either often or even exclusively on river routes where lining a canoe (guiding it through shallow turbulent water with ropes while standing outside of the canoe) is a regular activity.
Lining a canoe is necessary in shallow water where your weight would make the canoe hit the bottom of the shallow river section, but lining can present at least one BIG problem; If you tie your lining rope(s) to the carry handle on the front or back of a canoe, the force of your pull will potentially tip the canoe over into the water on its side.
If you could pull the canoe this way and that way with a rope that is attached lower to the water line (down the freeboard) than the carry handles or handholds, it would have less of a tendency to topple over.
Creating a lining hole in a canoe is a process that involves drilling a hole through the hull to allow for the attachment of a lining or painter line. This line can be used for various purposes, such as securing the canoe or towing it. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a lining hole in a canoe:
First of all, gather the necessary tools and materials: You will need the following tools and materials for this task: a drill with an appropriate drill bit, masking tape, a pencil or marker, sandpaper or a file, and marine sealant.
Then, choose the appropriate location on the canoe’s bow or stern for the lining hole. The location should be sturdy and free from any structural reinforcements or obstructions. It’s common to position the lining hole on the bow, just below the gunwale or on the stem.
Next, use masking tape to mark the spot where you want to drill the hole. The tape helps prevent the drill bit from slipping and also protects the canoe’s surface from scratches. Use a pencil or marker to mark the center of the lining hole on the tape.
Select a drill bit with a diameter suitable for your lining or painter line. It should be slightly larger than the diameter of the line to allow for smooth movement. Insert the drill bit into the drill, making sure it is securely tightened.
With caution, position the drill bit on the marked spot and start drilling. Apply steady pressure and keep the drill perpendicular to the canoe’s surface. Use a slow and controlled drilling speed to prevent overheating or splintering of the canoe’s material. Continue drilling until the hole is fully formed.
After drilling the hole, you may notice rough edges or burrs around the opening. To ensure a clean finish and prevent any potential snagging, carefully sand the edges of the hole using sandpaper or file. Smooth out any rough surfaces until the edges are even and free from any sharp edges.
To protect the lining hole from water intrusion and maintain the integrity of the canoe’s hull, apply a marine sealant around the edges of the hole. This helps create a watertight seal and prevents potential damage caused by moisture. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying and curing the sealant.
Attach the lining or painter line: Once the sealant has dried or cured, you can thread your desired lining or painter line through the lining hole. Ensure the line is securely fastened, tied, or attached according to your intended use.
It’s important to note that modifying your canoe by creating a lining hole may impact its structural integrity and void any warranties. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with this process, it’s recommended to consult with a professional canoe outfitter or contact the manufacturer for guidance specific to your canoe model.
That said most paddlers make their own painter line hole by drilling a hole and then inserting a piece of plastic plumbing pipe which is then secured by epoxy so it won’t slip out or allow water into the hull (usually the floatation chambers).
While there are numerous upgrades you can do to your canoe like a new gel coat, paint job, rudder installation, anchor addition, paddle and fishing rod holders, floatation upgrades, fancy seats with back rests, and more, experience in flatwater paddling has given me some insight into what I believe are the best upgrades for your time and money. The 8 upgrades oulined will most definitely increase every positive metric on your canoe!
Even if you only ever tackle one or two of these upgrades, your canoe will be a more functional, better-looking, and more valuable watercraft.
References: Bear Mountain Boats