I’ve been asked about canoe storage strategies for decades by my friends and canoeing colleagues, and there are a lot of techniques and approaches that can help you successfully store your investment in just about any conditions. I’ve been storing my own canoes for over 40 years. Here’s what I’ve learned!
The proper way to store a canoe is gunwales down on parallel braces, indoors, and protected from extreme conditions like humidity, heat, sun, or extreme cold. A canoe can also be hung gunwales up using wide straps that encircle the hull in 2 – 3 places about one-third of the way in from each end.
What Do the Pros Say?
In our search to find the most accurate and helpful answers about canoe storage, we contacted several canoe manufacturers for their input. Who better, we thought, than the people who have the most experience, the most to lose from being wrong, and the most to gain by being right in offering excellent information?
Here’s what they had to say:
In my research, I was glad to find that most credible sources more or less agree with each other when it comes to storage principles and best practices. It also happens that my own experience meshes nicely with manufacturer recommendations.
Here’s what another authority had to say:
Hey, if a manufacturer of anything makes a quality product and then puts out an owner’s manual on best practices, I have a tendency to think they know what they’re talking about and I’ll listen to the maker! It’s kind of like that with the Bible too. The maker of me put out an owner’s manual because he knows his invention better than anyone else right?
And, like the Good Book, Mad River also tells us what to avoid. It’s common sense, but just in case you’re passing this info on to a friend, here’s what they say:
And, for my final quote of the day, I was able to get in an interview with Wenonah Canoe Company in Minnesota…
How to Create Proper Supports
As a rule, the ideal storage supports that connect with the upside-down canoe’s gunwales should have a few important characteristics:
Have at Least Two Supports
The first quality is that there are at least 2 of them. It’s not typically more advantageous to have more than 2 except for maybe a 21 foot 3-4 person monster expedition canoe (which can have 3 supports).
Parallel to the Ground
Another quality is that the supports should be pretty close to parallel with the ground. Though I store one of my Kevlar canoes on a slight angle, it’s true that plastic canoes stored on an angle can warp over time and exposure to outdoor elements of both hot and cold, not to mention humidity and dry fluctuations.
Gravity Can Cause Warping
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If the supports make the canoe lean over to one side and gravity pulls it against a wall or other structure, there is a chance gravity could warp the hull.
A third important quality for your canoe storage arms or braces is that they should be as close to parallel with each other so gravity does not warp the hull in a twisting action. It’s best to use a level when installing support arms and be sure they are exactly the same in their angle.
Proper Spacing Can Save Your Canoe!
The last thing that tops the list of important things to consider when building a canoe storage system with supports or arms, is that the spacing should be carefully considered. Each of the 2 support arms should be spaced approximately 1/3 of the length of the canoe in from each end.
If you place them closer together than 1/3 in, the canoe may be less than stable in some conditions. If you place them farther apart from each other (ie. closer to the bow and stern), there is a chance that gravity will start to pull the center of the canoe down, so that when you place it in the water, the floor of the canoe will be slightly higher in the middle, than on the ends.
If you are using a multiple canoe rack storage system like the one drawn below, and you are storing boats of multiple lengths, I would suggest making the supports slightly closer together. More harm is done to boats whose supports are too far away from each other rather than too close.
How to Store a Canoe Outside in Any Weather
We’ve heard from some experts that the ideal place to store a canoe is inside. But what about those who don’t have indoor space? Is it okay to store your canoe outside?
A canoe can be stored outside as long as it is protected by a roof or overhang, or a breathable, waterproof tarp that is not in direct contact with the hull itself. Porches, sheds, carports, awnings, and overhangs are ideal protectors.
Swift Kayak and Canoe Company weighed in on this issue. They told us:
Since you’re not storing your canoe indoors, you’ve (unfortunately) given up your biggest advantage for keeping your canoe as “new” as possible and as safe as you can from theft or damage. However, not all is lost.
Now, it’s wise to control the things you can control. For example, be sure to store your canoe in the ideal manner which is gunwales down on a good set of supports like 2×4’s according to the directions we outlined earlier.
If you can either build or otherwise acquire an awning or overhang of some type, that would be ideal for protection from UV rays, snow, ice, and water. Wind protection may also need to be considered.
Should You Cover Your Canoe?
Covering a canoe with a plastic tarp can be a risky endeavor. You’ll protect it a bit from UV and snow, but you’ll also make it mold and discolor unless you’re very careful.
If no outdoor shelter is available, a canoe should be covered with a breathable waterproof tarp that is separated from direct contact with the hull using foam blocks or similar alternatives. A regular plastic tarp does not breathe and will eventually cause mold and discoloration to the canoe underneath.
A breathable waterproof tarp is not a cheap investment, but it’s your best bet for protection if you can’t store your canoe indoors or in a shed or covered outdoor structure.
Protection from Mold
Now that you’ve decided you need the breathable tarp (since you don’t have a carport or empty shed big enough for your canoe), you’ll need to take one last HUGE precaution. When you cover the canoe with a breathable tarp, you absolutely MUST ensure the tarp is separated from direct contact with the hull. The best method I’ve found is using the 4 foam blocks you might have used to attach your canoe to your car.
If you’re not using those blocks, it might just be worth it to buy them in order to have a set of good “separators” for your tarp. You can secure your tarp in one of many ways depending on your storage situation. You can tie it down to a couple (or more) concrete cinder blocks, or tie it to the base of the rack on which it’s stored.
An alternative to a breathable waterproof tarp would be a specifically designed canoe cover. They are available from Amazon and there’s lots of selection. Most will claim to be ready to go and offer perfect protection. The reality is that you should still do your best to separate the tarp from full-time air-tight contact with the hull.
A few foam blocks on the up-turned hull should do the trick. I like the canoe cover option because it does not leave any part of the canoe open for rodents or other critters to make a new winter home in your $3000 Kevlar dream machine!
How to Keep Your Canoe Secure Outdoors
Depending on where you live and how visible the canoe is to others, you may need to employ some method of security so your canoe does not magically find legs and walk away in the middle of the night! We’ve touched on this issue in the past and you can read all about what others have done and what you can do about theft right HERE!
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The best method of security is to be sure that almost no one knows you have a canoe stored outdoors, and then, if possible, put it in an area that makes it very difficult to walk away with. An example would be a backyard with a tall fence around it and a locked gate with no way in except through that gate.
Realistically, there are a few ways you can deter or prevent all but the most determined thief. If your canoe has a tug eye (the hole in the bow of the canoe), I’d suggest putting a very tough cable through it (or 2 if you’re concerned) and securing it to a large tree. Even if you just pass a Kryptonite cable under all the thwarts, yoke, and carry handles, it would go a long way to deter theft.
We’ve written an extensive article offering you 10 different ways to secure your investment.
How to Store Your Canoe In a Garage
This might seem like an obvious option, and while it may be, there are lots of ways to take advantage of canoe storage space in your garage.
The best way to store a canoe in a garage is gunwales down, sitting on at least 2 secure, evenly spaced, parallel braces, five to six feet apart. Another popular method is using 2 straps as slings to wrap around the hull and hanging it from the ceiling.
1 – Use a set of sawhorses and rest the gunwales on them. Be sure to position them approximately 1/3 of the length of the canoe in from each end (which also means the sawhorses will be about 1/3 of the canoe length away from each other.
2 – Use a wall-mounted system of storage (you can see my setup in the next photo). I’ve attached a set of 2×4 braces to an existing shelf unit in the garage, and for my other canoe, I’ve installed 2 iron wall hooks that are more typical for kayaks. While it’s not recommended to store a plastic canoe on its side because of the potential for warping over time, I’ve done this for nearly 15 years with my kevlar in the same position with no warping or other negative consequences.
3 – Use a pulley system to hoist your canoe to the ceiling of your garage. This option may be a challenge since many garages only have enough ceiling space to accommodate the garage door tracks, and you can’t store the canoe in that area. If you have the room, it’s a great option that leaves wall space for shelves, benches, and other uses.
Also, note that you can use a rope or strap and flip the canoe hull-down for storage, though the preferred method is still on a sturdy brace with gunwales down.
How to Winterize Your Canoe and Accessories
You might get lucky and get away with doing virtually nothing to prepare your canoe for winter storage – especially if you store it in a nice, warm garage. But for many, the process of outdoor cold-weather storage preparations will be the difference between a canoe that lasts decades or one that lasts only a few years before needing a complete overhaul.
To prepare a canoe for winter storage, it’s best to clean it and then apply a canoe protectant spray. Determine and prepare a storage location indoors, or if necessary outdoors, with protection from direct UV sunlight like an awning or a breathable canoe cover.
For canoe protectant sprays, we like 303 or Meguiar’s.
Position is Everything
For long-term winter storage, the best method is to store your canoe gunwales down on wood support beams inside your garage or other protected building. You can even attach the 2 support beams (place them about 5 or 6 feet apart) to a rope and have the canoe hang gunwales down from the ceiling.
Another good option is to hang the canoe gunwales up with a set of ropes or straps hugging the hull.
Finally, you can do what I did for one of my kevlar canoes, and that is to use large, padded steel hook arms and then place your canoe hull-down(ish) and on a slight angle. It’s discouraged generally (especially with plastic canoes) to store a canoe on its side, but I’ve done it for nearly 15 years with my kevlar with no negative consequences.
Be sure to give your canoe an overall inspection before leaving it for the winter. A kevlar canoe with aluminum trim needs next to no TLC before storage indoors, while a wood canoe (with wood trim of course) stored outdoors would need a whole lot of attention, including a new coat of oil or varnish and a tightening of all hardware, not to mention preparation of it’s resting place for the winter.
Most paddlers do little or nothing to prepare gunwales for storage, but we would all do well to at least give the issue a bit of attention. WOOD gunwales should be dried thoroughly before being (maybe) lightly sanded with 400 grit or finer paper and then re-coated with whatever you’ve been using, like varnish or oil.
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ALUMINUM gunwales should be touched up with paint if they are not unpainted. 220 grit sandpaper is a good prep. Without paint, chips can hold moisture or other impurities that can compromise the integrity of the surrounding coating.
VINYL gunwales are typically cared for by a basic cleaning with water and then lightly covered with a protectant spray to stave off the effects of UV and age. Color is rejuvenated with protectants like 303, and the integrity of the surface of the vinyl is also preserved.
Like the gunwales, canoes made of different materials can require slightly different preparation protocols. For example, ROYALEX or T-FORMEX canoes (and I stress this emphatically), REALLY should be stored inside (if you live in the northern states or Canada). They are extremely vulnerable to cracking from cold temperatures.
FIBERGLASS is similar, in that repeated freezing and thawing can cause cracks and a loss of hull and gunwale (and thwart) integrity.
POLYETHYLENE canoes only need a cleaning and protectant spray, but they are vulnerable to hull warping if stored in any way other than gunwales down on very sturdy and parallel supports. Any imperfect storage technique or position can result in a warped hull over time.
COMPOSITE canoes can be treated like polyethylene with just a cleaning and a protectant spray. It’s important that if you decide to store it outdoors, be sure it does not get hit with direct sunlight, and be sure it is not covered with a waterproof tarp that sits directly against the hull. This is a recipe for mold and stains, not to mention overall structural integrity loss.
As a rule, canoe paddles should be stored indoors, hanging vertically, not sitting on the floor vertically leaning up against a wall or lying flat on a floor. They should be well protected with a marine varnish, like Valspar.
If you lay them on the floor or lean them against a wall, gravity will start to warp them over time. There’s very little gravity can do to negatively affect a perfectly vertical hanging paddle.
You may not have room to store your canoe indoors, but please make room for your paddles inside. If you store them laying down in your canoe outside over winter, you’re doing the most you can do (other than leaving them completely uncovered and on the dirt) to accelerate the decay of your paddles (especially wood).
Off-Site Winter Storage Garages
It is with mixed emotions that I tell you about another option for those of you who love canoeing but don’t have any space for storage. Perhaps you live in a townhouse or apartment! If you do, I might suggest a pack canoe like this one from ORICANOE.
Near every large city in America and Canada, there are facilities that will offer canoe and kayak storage. Some are mini-storage units (you know, those rows of garages you see on the side of the highway), and some are at people’s own homes, in their garages or barns, etc.
You might find a great deal with a friend or neighbor, but mostly, you’ll be paying in excess of $100/month (at least in Canada), and in many cases near Toronto, you’d be lucky to find a space in someone’s garage (that you hope you can trust) for $250/month.
Now, I’m not a math genius, but it seems to me that in way less than 1 year, you would spend more on storage than just buying a great new canoe every year! That’s insanity! I would strongly urge you to find storage on your own property (annual fee is a case of beer) or find a canoe that can be brought into your own storage unit at no extra cost.
If you’re in a bind, here’s a bit of help to get you started in finding a mini-storage in your state:
What to Avoid – “Worst Practices”
If you haven’t already learned what to do in order to prepare your canoe for storage, then just read this part and you’ll get some of the point!
- store your canoe directly on the ground, either gunwales up or down
- store your canoe and paddles in direct sunlight outdoors OR indoors
- Store your canoe resting fully on its side for extended periods of time
- ignore season-end maintenance because it “probably doesn’t need it!”
- place your storage supports too close to the bow and stern
- lay a waterproof tarp directly against the hull of a canoe for extended periods
- ignore security considerations because “no one would steal my canoe!”
- store your canoe with ropes from the ceiling attached to the handles or thwarts
- store your canoe right beside a heat source like water heater or furnace, etc.
- store your canoe on slightly uneven or twisted support arms
I trust you’ve gained at least some insight as to how to store your canoe properly in any condition. Please remember to follow these practices, and then get outside to enjoy God’s creation, and keep looking up!
Swift Canoe Owner’s Manual (https://swiftcanoe.com)
Mad River Canoe Company (https://www.madrivercanoe.com/us/)