Selecting the Right Boat

Choosing your canoe or kayak model is an important decision! The best answer is to pick the boat that suits your paddling needs. Come and talk with us about your paddling needs.

Here are the main points to consider:

What Type of Paddling Will You Be Doing?

Consider what type of paddling you will do MOST of the time. You can always rent a boat for that one trip in a year where you need a particular kind of boat.

We are looking for images of wood canoes and kayaks in the following types of paddling situations to help fill out this section. If you have any you would like to share, please contact Dempster Boats.


Most people are recreational canoeists who just want paddle at the cottage or lake.  For this kind of general purpose use, a canoe in the 14 to 16 ft range is perfectly fine. While hull profiles vary, most have a wide beam to provide stability and ease of paddling. Good designs will also paddle nicely solo.


People travelling into the backcountry will want tripping canoes that are usually 16-18 ft. in length.  They may have an asymmetrical shape for efficiency in paddling long distances. These canoes tend to have a large capacities so you can carry a fair amount gear (kitchen sink, barbeque.. 😉  The tradeoff is a larger turning radius (think limousine vs two seat sports car) and a need for ballast if being paddled solo.


Expedition boats are boats outfitted to keep gear and paddlers dry in rough water conditions. They are often long in length to provide volume to carry lots of gear and 2 to 3 paddlers. They may also be heavily built or re-inforced for use on rocky coasts or in the presence of ice.


Those who like to paddle rivers will want canoes with a rockered profile to allow quick turns on fast moving water. They will also want a symmetrical design as the canoe often has to be paddled backwards as well as forwards in these conditions.


Whitewater boaters want strongly rockered boats that are also fat in the bow and stern areas. This type of hull shape helps the boat stay on top of air filled chaotic water rather than dive into it. They are often designed to be used with additional flotation and may be outfitted to allow paddler to use straps and braces to exert maximum control over the boat.

Drift Boats

Drift boats are river fishing boats that can be described as very broad rowing ‘canoes’.  They have strongly upturned ends to facilitate turning in a river and can be rowed either direction from the centre of the boat. You can fish standing up in these boats.


Racers want extreme profile boats. They need to be able to move forward at high speed through the water. Their narrow beam and often V shaped hulls make them very tender (tippy). These boats require fitness, good balance and training to handle.


Those looking for something less common to build might consider sailing canoes, multi-passenger voyageur canoes, freighter work canoes or out-rigger canoes. These can be quite challenging and intriguing to build.

Capacity (Load to Be Carried)

Determine how much gear or how many passengers you are likely to carry MOST of the time.The weight of the boat itself must be included in calculating your load. Any boat loaded to more than its capacity is unsafe.

Things to consider:

  • Will you be paddling solo? Are you a big person or a small person?
  • If paddling with others, are your paddling partners big or small? Will you have kids and animals with you?
  • What type of cargo will you be carrying? Are you going on a multi-day camping trips? Will you be gathering materials and having to bring back a load?

Construction Types

The most common types of wood canoe and kayak construction are cedar strip, skin on frame, and plywood. Traditional wood canvas canoes are still available from a number of independent builders but only a few commercial manufacturers continue to produce these beautiful craft.

Skin on Frame

The modern minimalist will appreciate these boats – a strong, thin skin stretched over a wooden skeleton that is lashed together makes a boat that is substantially lighter than any other kind. Quick and easy to build, these are a great project for the whole family or the first time builder.


Beautiful lines, lightweight and fairly easy to build, the modern plywood boat leaves plastic boats in the mud. Fibreglass inside and out, these boats are strong. A great project for the first time builder.

Cedar Strip

Cedar strip epoxy boats have a smooth interior with no ribs to hurt your knees they are a pleasure to paddle. They are lightweight compared to plastic or traditional wood canvas canoes, yet strong because the wood hull is sheathed in fibreglass on both sides. They are the most challenging of the group to build but well within the reach of a first time builder.

Wood Canvas

Bending Ribs on a Wood Canvas Canoe MouldThe traditional wood canvas canoe uses a rib structure to support wood planks that form the hull. The planking is covered with canvas, which is sealed with a waterproof filler. This classic method of construction is the heaviest but is easily repaired and these boats can have a long life.

Ecological Impact

No discussion of boat building is complete without considering the environment. From an ecological point of view, a skin on frame boat has the smallest carbon footprint. It uses the minimum amount of wood, metal and synthetic materials. You can even replace the ribs and floorboards with tree branches instead of processed lumber. This style of boat building as been around for about 20 years.

Epoxy resin is a petroleum derived product (although plant derived epoxies are now becoming available).  In the late sixties/ early seventies builders began constructing wood hulls with coatings of fibreglass impregnated with epoxy resin. This allowed for a relatively lightweight yet strong construction compared to solid wood boats of the past.  Wood-fibreglass canoes and kayaks can be fairly easily repaired and will last several generations if well taken care of. Over such a lifespan the carbon footprint is small.

The traditional wood canvas canoe is a heavier construction than the modern boats we just mentioned, but all of its structure is made with and can be repaired with hand tools. From an ecological point of view, the worst part is the ‘filler’, the coating that is put on the canvas to waterproof it. Today we have a choice between waterborne latex fillers and solvent based, silica containing fillers.  Lead based fillers, despite their toxicity were still in use into the 1970’s and many canoe builders must have suffered from lead exposure. For this reason, we will not sand and re-paint the canvas on old canoes. We simply replace the canvas.

Plastic boats are pretty common these days. If what you want is a beater boat for the kids to bash their way down the rocks on the Credit River (or any other river) in the spring, then plastic is the way to go.  You’ll find many to choose from at your outdoor retailer or hardware store. Kids are not likely to learn much in the way of paddling skills if they know their boat is indestructible but that is a topic for another forum.  Plastic boats of course, are a petroleum derived product. There is however, a second ecological issue.  When your plastic boat reaches the end of its lifespan, try going to the store where you bought the boat and asking them if they’ll take it back! You’ll typically be asked throw it in the garbage – if they don’t actually throw you out of the store.  My municipality (just outside Toronto) told me they just put them in the landfill. So unless you make a specific effort to take your boat to a plastics recycling facility, it is likely just going to end up in the dump.

Given that wood boats (and boards) can be repaired and put back to use so many times over, they really are more ecological than plastic, kevlar, carbon fibre and other exotic materials.  We have a skin kayak in the shop that was built during World War II and served three generations of the same family. It only needs a new skin to put it back in service. We don’t know of any small boat made of plastic, metal or composite materials, that could withstand more than 70 years of use and be made good as new again with almost nothing in the way of materials or effort. Do you?

See all news »
Upcoming Events
  • No upcoming events
AEC v1.0.4 View full calendar »