Learn about the different materials
Understanding the wide variety of different materials used to construct canoes and the different issues that can affect each is important in your buying process.
Many of the red flags described below are not the end of the world or even a reason to not purchase. They are simply common attributes of used canoes you should be aware of, and with time and effort can be repaired.
Compared to wooden canoes, aluminum canoes are extremely low maintenance. First produced after World War II by the Grumman Aircraft Company, aluminum canoes are very durable, but also heavy, noisy and downright frigid on cold days.
They are often on the less expensive side and a good fit for casual day trips on flatwater or as a boat to have at the cottage. Their weight makes them challenging to portage.
You get what you see with aluminum canoes. Doug Chapman from Canadian Quetico Outfitters says having a good look at the number of dents on the canoe can give you a general idea if it has been well taken care of.
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Leaks are easiest to identify with some pressure in the boat, so make sure you not only test paddle an aluminum canoe but bring along some gear. Sit in the seats and use your hands to check that the thwarts are secure.
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Composite canoes are made with materials like glass fiber, aramid or carbon fiber being laid in a mold and mixed with resins to produce a canoe hull. Composite canoes tend to be very light and stiff.
Used composite canoes will very likely have scratches on the hull, even if the owner was extremely careful. Most scratches are probably just cosmetic, but be wary of deep scratches or cracking that goes through the gel coat.
This can expose the fabric underneath, compromise the integrity of the canoe and require restorative work. Another concern for composite canoes is oil canning, which is when the hull bends and flexes while paddling instead of remaining rigid.
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Kevlar canoes (Aramid composites)
Aramid composite canoes (Kevlar/Twaron) are stiff and light canoes composed with layers of fabric, cloth and resin. They are lighter but less strong than fiberglass composites. Their light weight makes them a good fit for canoe trips with lots of portaging.
One thing to watch out for with aramid canoes is float tanks that retain water. If you pick the canoe up and place it on your shoulders and notice it feels unbalanced—or you hear water sloshing around inside—this may be the cause. Aramid canoes will also fade to brown in the sun, which can give you an idea of where it was stored and the extent of the boat’s sun exposure.
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Fiberglass composites are stiff, strong and efficient canoes. They can be good for whitewater, have sharp entry and exit lines, and stand up well to abrasion.
Read more: How to repair a fiberglass canoe
Fiberglass composite canoe quality greatly varies. For every good fiberglass canoe on the market, there are dozens of very poor quality counterparts. There is a range of construction processes—be particularly wary of home-built fiberglass.
Gordon Baker of Algonquin Outfitters says a good weight for a 16-foot fiberglass canoe is around 60 pounds. If it is closer to 80 or 90 pounds, this could reflect its lesser quality.
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Carbon fiber canoes
Canoes with carbon fiber are extremely light, but also extremely expensive. Carbon fiber can be added in small sections on a canoe to strengthen without increasing the weight too significantly or can be applied as full layers mixed with other fabrics. Pure carbon canoes are designed for racing and can be slightly less durable than aramid.
Major cracks or scratches that expose fabric are not a good sign, but similar to other kinds of composites, surface scratches are almost unavoidable.
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