Paddling a canoe can often be a relaxing and sought-after pursuit in and of itself, but not always. Sometimes you’ll want to get out on the water to try for a record walleye or largemouth and you could use a fishing machine more than a tranquil, wilderness experience.
Enter the motor! A motor will not only save you energy and inconvenience, but with the right motor, you won’t spook the fish!
Is it Possible to Attach a Trolling Motor to a Canoe?
It is absolutely possible to attach a motor to a canoe. Some canoes are manufactured specifically to accept a motor, while others may need a bit of modification. Canoes can accept gas-powered motors and electric motors effectively and safely.
With just a little bit of education and common sense, you can know what type and size of motor to mount to your canoe, and exactly how to mount it for ease of use and safety. I’ve done it successfully with gas and electric motors of various sizes and I’ll show you how to be on your way to mounting your own canoe motor.
Why Would Anyone Want a Motor on Their Canoe?
Far and away the most common reason for mounting a motor on a canoe is for fishing. Specifically, for either trolling (pulling a lure behind the boat as you travel slowly near fish hangouts!) or for getting to a fishing spot easier and faster than paddling.
Another reason you may want a motor on your canoe is just for the sake of “utility” or being able to use your canoe for the movement of people or cargo from point A to point B without paddling.
A third reason I’ve discovered in my years of expedition canoeing is that some paddlers feel more safe and secure if they have a backup propulsion system when they’re far from civilization. What if they’re injured and can’t paddle? What if their main paddle breaks or is lost?
What Type of Canoe Motor is Best for Me? Electric or Gas?
Whatever your reason may be, there’s likely a motor that would work pretty well, and another option that may not work as well. Let’s take a closer look at the two main types of motors and why you might want one rather than the other.
Electric Motors Pros and Cons
● Electric motors are far less noisy and have fewer tranquility-disturbing qualities.
The quietness of electric motors is undeniable, and indeed, it’s the main feature they are used on professional bass tournament fishing boats (and every other kind of sportfishing boat on planet earth). Not only do they scare fish less, but they enhance your wilderness experience if you are fishing in a tranquil environment like a quiet mountain lake or in a wilderness preserve.
● Electric motors may be the only type of motor allowed in certain areas.
There are over one quarter of a million lakes in the province of Ontario, Canada and many of them have been designated by the government (Ministry of Natural Resources) as being out of bounds to gas-powered motorboats. The same is true for many other regions in North America and indeed, worldwide. Gotta love electric at this point eh?
● Electric motors have a small and sleek profile.
In addition to being small and light, electric motors are less visually invasive on your canoe. This is a bigger issue than you might believe! No one likes ugly, but some don’t know why they like the look of a small sleek trolling motor over a bulky and intrusive gas engine.
● Electric motors win on the environmental front
While in operation, electric motors don’t add or subtract anything from the wilderness. Water is not pulled into them for cooling, nor is there any discharge or potential discharge of fuel in the water or fumes in the air. It’s all clean!
● Electric motors are more affordable by quite a margin
While a new 2.5 HP gas motor will run you $750 USD, a 40-pound thrust electric motor (which is admittedly, less powerful) will cost about $200 USD.
● No need to buy fuel
Here’s a no-brainer. Once you have a battery, you’re good to go for many years (depending on usage). Some manufacturers claim that a deep cycle marine battery will last 2-3 years, but the one I had in my fish and ski boat years ago lasted over a decade!
● Depth can be adjusted
With the turn of a knob, you can raise or lower your propeller to operate over a meter under the surface (depending on your shaft length) or just a few inches below the surface.
● Electric motors require the companionship of a ridiculously heavy battery (about 60 lbs in my case)
Read more: New river overnight canoe trips
Even considering a fuel reserve for a gas motor, the small, light electric motor loses overall weight advantage when you consider the deep cycle marine battery needed to give you a decent day’s fishing.
● Electric motors are generally not as powerful as a gas-powered motor
Most electric motors are measured by their thrust in pounds. A 40-pound thrust motor is good for most 16 to 18-foot canoes, but considering a 75-pound thrust motor is equal to about 1 horsepower on a gas motor, you can see how the gas motor has a bit of an advantage in this category.
● If an electric motor runs out of power, it’s not easy to simply “re-fuel” and keep going
You’ll need an extra deep cycle battery on hand if you plan to use your motor for more than about 8-10 hours at a time. That’s a very heavy and expensive solution to a potential problem. Gas motors just require a small cupful of gas to keep you going for another hour or more.
● The battery will cost you about the same as the motor itself
Actually, depending on the motor you buy, the battery can cost even more! However, even if it does, the whole system is still quite a bit less expensive than a gas motor will cost even without the on-going cost of fuel.
Gas Motor Pros and Cons
◐ More Power
Technically, gas motors offer quite a bit more power. Even if they cost twice as much or more, a small 2.5 HP gas motor is mathematically equivalent to a 50-pound thrust electric motor. A 3 – 4 HP would fit nicely on many canoes while most would not have an electric motor as big as a 50-pound thrust motor.
More power also means getting you from here to there much quicker than an electric motor.
◐ Refill and keep going – no need to charge and wait
With a handy dandy gas can, just fill ‘er up and keep going. You won’t need to paddle back to shore to recharge and wait 12 hours or more.
◐ Combined Weight Advantage
Even if you carry a small fuel can with you in the canoe, the total weight of gas can and motor is less than a 60+ pound deep cycle battery. Plus, you can put the gas can anywhere you want in the boat to help balance. With an electric motor, you’ll need the battery to stay close to the motor unless you modify the system with a cable extension kit.
◐ Way too noisy for most fishing applications
While it is true that you can troll with a 2.5 HP outboard gas motor, you’ll have to be sure the lure is probably a good 50 feet or more behind the boat to avoid spooking fish. And that’s the BEST thing I can say for a gas motor for fishing.
The bigger problem is that if you’re not actually trolling, but rather casting into weeds and moving slowly along the shoreline casting into cover, a gas motor is not practical to use for surgical navigation around submerged tree stumps, rocks and weed beds.
An electric motor can be pulsed on an off for tiny movements that last only a second or two, and it can do it noiselessly. Not so for a gas motor which is not meant to be used for 5 seconds at a time every 20 seconds.
◐ On-Going financial output for fuel
So, there’s an on-going financial output …. for fuel 🙂 I don’t like that. I feel like I’ve just bought into a monthly subscription for something I could have gotten for free!
◐ Dirty, Smelly, Expensive
There, I said it. Now we can move on! While it won’t destroy our planet single-handedly, I still don’t like the puffing fumes coming out the top of the motor and the pretty rainbows it leaves in the water every now and then.
Plus, I kind of don’t like dropping $1K just to get that monthly subscription which is loud, dirty and smelly. Enough said!
◐ Typically, depth cannot be adjusted
Read more: Best canoe for boundary waters
Electric motors can be adjusted to operate with the prop just inches below the water surface, or down to nearly 3 feet. That adjustment is not typically found in a gas motor.
The Type of Canoe Can Determine the Type of Motor
If your canoe (or the one you’ll be using) is something that’s fairly big and wide (say 37″ beam and around 18 – 20 feet in length) and has a square stern, then I would seriously consider a gas motor. It’ll fit very well and indeed, it was probably made for a 2.5 HP to 4.0 HP outboard motor.
Qualifier: If you really just want to move along the shallows casting for bass, then forget anything with a gas motor
On the other hand, if have a kayak or a 12 – 16 foot light, kevlar canoe that’s used for expeditions, then I’d go for a very temporary mount and a small electric motor. In fact, I don’t think a 4.0 HP motor would work safely at all with a 13-foot ultra-light solo tripping canoe. The balance just wouldn’t work no matter what counterweights or techniques you use.
What Size Trolling Motor Should I Get?
As with most things in life, the answer is not always so simple. While many factors can come into play to determine the size of your trolling motor, there are some general best practices or rules that can be followed for best results.
Regarding gas motors, I’m not as big a fan of them (can you tell yet?), but I do acknowledge a place for them in our canoeing ecosystem. Most canoes are rated to hold a maximum of 5 HP but if I could offer my two cents, I’d say stick with a 2.5 HP motor. Why? Well, your 5 HP motor won’t win you any races across the country or the lake, but it will be considerably heavier than a smaller motor. It may also upset an already delicate balance in your canoe.
Plus, a 2.5 HP motor is considerably stronger than most electric motors, so you’ll enjoy life on the water more with a smaller, lighter, less smelly, less noisy motor that still gives you a higher performance factor than an electric motor.
Electric Motor Shaft Size
Technically, you can buy electric motors with different shaft lengths. Different lengths are good for different situations. A long shaft is best for a boat that sits high out of the water like the bow of a bass boat. A short shaft is far better suited to a kayak. That’s the good news – lots of choice!! YAYYYY!
Now the bad news. In most cases, motors do not come with an endless supply of shaft lengths in practice. What I mean is that if you go to Wal-Mart or Amazon or even your local fishing store to get a trolling motor, you won’t have the option of a specifically sized motor (ie. 45 lbs Thrust) while also being offered that exact motor in a variety of shaft lengths.
I know this because I just bought 2 of them. For example, a Minn Kota Endura C2 only comes with a 30″ shaft standard in most stores with no other option. My Minn Kota Endura Max (40 lb) only comes with a 36″ shaft though I would have loved a 30″ shaft.
Back to some good news! Electric motors have the ability to be raised as much as you’d like out of the water, so you can still run your prop shallow if you like. However, no one wants a 3-foot shaft sticking out of the water with your motor on top. It’s ugly, awkward and dangerous. Still, it can be done. You don’t really have that option with gas motors.
Trolling Motor Mounts Made Specifically for a Canoe
Before I show you some options (and what I did) to secure your motor to your canoe, I have to say that your motor will HAVE to have a clamp mount like the one pictured above. It is the only practical solution for a canoe and it easily screws/clamps onto a chunk of wood.
There are other mounts, but they are meant for bass boat decks, so I won’t even bother explaining. Just look for a clamp like the ones pictured above and below!
Can I Make my Own Trolling Motor Canoe Mount?
You absolutely can (and SHOULD) make your own trolling motor mount for your canoe. The reason I say this is that a similar version on Amazon will cost you at least $70, but it will only be able to fit at one location on your canoe, so if that location (front to back) does not suit you, you’re out of luck.
I have a version that can fit multiple locations on your canoe, and it was built for a lot less than $70
In the video above, I mentioned that I made the mount using random hardwood I had in my shop. Some pieces were just under 3″ wide (the main cross piece) and less than 1″ deep. The mount itself was 4″ x 1″.
I also mentioned in the video you could use 2×4’s wherever I used any of my own hardwood. While that is true, you might have better luck with 1×3 boards. Though 2×4’s are considerably smaller than actual 2″ x 4″, they’re still a bit bulky. 1×3’s seem to do the trick and will offer the same structural integrity as a larger board, but it’s cheaper and weighs less. It’s a win/win for the smaller board!
Where Should I Install the Canoe Motor Mount?
One of the big problems with trolling motor mounts you can buy on Amazon, is that they are meant to either only fit in one location (width-wise) on your canoe, or they’re made to fit the narrow stern AND even narrower! That’s Rubbish!
You should be able to install your motor mount in multiple places in your canoe. One place would be behind the stern seat, and the other would be behind the bow seat (when you’ve turned the canoe around and you’re using the bow seat as a stern seat.
When I use my motor, I will either use it right behind the stern seat (that’s how most mounts are made to fit) when I’m with someone sitting in the bow seat, OR (even more often), I’ll use the motor just in front of the bow seat (which becomes just behind me when I flip the canoe around and sit backwards in the box seat (which is now the new stern seat).
Alternatively, you could mount your motor near the bow of the boat, but that usually means that you won’t be able to operate it since you are likely at the stern or just behind the mid-point (midships) of the canoe – either location will preclude you from effectively operating a bow-mounted motor.
Most trolling motor mounts you buy won’t have the ability to fit both narrow and wide locations. That’s why you need to modify the design and make your own (I show you in the video above).
How Fast Can My Canoe go with an Electric Trolling Motor?
On average your canoe will be able to go 4.5 mph with a trolling motor. Obviously, there will be other factors that can help or hinder your speed like load, size of canoe, style of canoe, size of motor, wind or current direction, etc. However, in all our tests with different sized motors using the same load in the same canoe, we came up with an average of 4.5 mph.
I did a speed test with my 16-foot kevlar prospector with the motor mounted behind the stern seat. The entire cargo load including the motor was 370 lbs. The first test was with a Minn Kota Endura with 30 lbs of thrust. In calm conditions with only a very light daytime breeze, I was able to hit a maximum speed of 4.1 mph.
When I switched that motor out with a Minn Kota Endura Max with 40 lbs of thrust in the same conditions, I was able to hit 4.7 mph.
I was surprised at how little the gap was between the 30-lb and the 40-lb thrust motor speeds.
YOU CAN SEE OUR FULL SPEED TEST VIDEO HERE:
How Much Thrust Do I Need for a Canoe Trolling Motor?
Based on our testing, we’re happy with a 30 lb thrust motor, or if your canoe is big enough and you don’t mind the extra shaft length, a 40 lb thrust motor is even better. Those motors will give you enough speed to cover a small body of water without feeling like you’re wasting time traveling.
Canoe Trolling Motor Legal Requirements and Permits
One of the more common questions we’ve come across regarding canoeing with a trolling motor is the question of legality and licenses, permits etc.
Is it legal to use a trolling motor and will I need a license?
You can absolutely use a trolling motor legally, but in just about every state in the union, you’ll need a permit or license of some kind from the state governing body like a Department of Motorized Vehicles. You’ll also need to display a registration number and a Hull I.D. number near the front (bow) of the canoe.
You can easily find the information you need by Googling “Montana motorized canoe permit” (obviously you would substitute your state for “Montana” unless you live in Montana!).
You can also view our own state law overview (we’re working on it almost daily, and if you don’t see your state, it means we’re researching the laws or we’re updating them). See them HERE
Will My Canoe be Stable Enough with a Trolling Motor?
Before I rigged my canoe with a trolling motor, this was my number one question. After all, the whole endeavour would be useless if my canoe became really unbalanced and tippy with the motor. Would my canoe be stable enough?
Your canoe will absolutely be stable enough with a trolling motor. To make sure it is, you’ll have to follow one (or both) of these simple rules. If you don’t have the right hull shape and width and don’t take steps to compensate, then you may have a problem. You need to either;
1 – Mount your motor on a wide, flat-bottomed canoe with at least one main keel
2 – Use a quality set of outriggers to stabilize your canoe while adding to (not detracting from) its aesthetics
If you have a wide, flat-bottomed canoe like a SportsPal for example, you should be good to go with no further modifications necessary.
On the other hand, if you have an efficient, lake tripping canoe or a good whitewater prospector, etc. that you may occasionally use with a motor, you’d probably like a set of outriggers.
I’ve done lots of research and a bit of testing, and honestly, NO ONE comes close in both quality and looks like Spring Creek Manufacturing and their Hydrodynamic Canoe Stabilizer System. It’s ideal for any canoe with a side-mounted motor, and nearly essential for super light Kevlar canoes with no keel and a rounded bottom.
Without stabilizers, you may find yourself listing to one side perpetually which makes it awfully difficult to enjoy your day on the water boating or fishing.
I was able to try the Spring Creek Stabilizers and was beyond thrilled. So, I bought them and I use them every single time I’m using my motor. It increases stability several times over not having them, and I can even stand up and cast without reservation or worries. I would never have done that without the stabilizers even if I didn’t have the motor!
You can see my full review video HERE and my blog post review HERE!
One Last BIG Tip You Won’t Get Anywhere Else!
If you’re looking at maybe getting an electric motor, there are several good ones on the market. Minn Kota (what I use), Motorguide, and Newport are all good names. BUT, in my strongly held opinion, I would make sure that the throttle (control handle) of the motor offers continuous variable power INSTEAD of a stepped system like “forward 1, 2, and 3”.
The Minn Kota Endura C2 offers 5 forward set speeds, while the Endura Max offers variable speeds with no specific speed settings (other than a variable percentage from 1% to 100%). It’s like a dimmer light switch compared to an “on/off” light switch. Which one offers better control of light intensity?
It’s so much nicer to have a variable speed that allows you to tweak your position rather than rely on 1 of just a few set speeds when the odds are none of them will fit exactly what you need every time you move the canoe.
It may sound like I’m splitting hairs here and that I’m being a little too picky, but I’ve experienced having both types of controls and it really is nicer to be able to control your speed precisely.
Canoe Trolling Motor Take Away and Wrap Up
Whew! That was a lot of info coming fast and furious(ly). I trust you’ve come out of that knowledge dump feeling a bit more confident about making your own trolling motor mount for your canoe, and which motor might be best to fit that mount.
I also trust that you’ll feel safe and secure in your canoe with perhaps a set of stabilizers that will round out your fishing canoe rig.
I couldn’t be happier with my own rig and my goal was to try to bring you to the point that you can be just as thrilled with your own rig. After all, the whole point of a canoe in the first place is to enjoy yourself right?
If you’re interested in perhaps buying a trolling motor, we like the Minn Kota Endura C2 or the Endura Max. You can start your research by clicking the orange button below!