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Can a Canoe Sink? (Reasons Explained)

Canoes are becoming more and more popular with people regardless of their age or gender- due to how it is both a workout and a fun activity at the same time. That being said, a beginner might ask how safe it is to be riding one in unstill waters. So, the question arises,

Can a canoe sink?

While canoes are advertised as unsinkable water vessels due to how lightweight they are- they can absolutely sink. If a canoe surpasses its buoyancy limit, it will sink- regardless of what it is made of or what it has built inside it. Some canoes, however, can be tipped over but not fully sunk.

While what it is made of matters when it comes to the buoyancy of a canoe, it can still tip over if the user is being careless. Flotation devices will help, but it is constant vigilance that will provide the largest safety net of them all.

Reasons why does a canoe sink

There are a few reasons why a canoe can sink. One of the main reasons is its material, whilst the other being whether it has an installed flotation device. It also matters the amount of load you have on the canoe as well.

You can read here more about how canoes float.

Basically, a canoe will sink once it has more water or weight it can handle. The more amount water is in the canoe, the heavier it will become, which in turn makes it go down. Factors that lead to such causes are:


It is widely believed that wooden canoes are unsinkable, whereas aluminum or fiberglass canoes will topple over for they are heavier than water.

While canoes are by nature made to be unsinkable or at least remain afloat even at the bare minimum- it is clear what material they are made of determines how easily they will tip.

Flotation device

Lack of flotation is not only a safety risk; it also can be the reason why your canoe sunk.

Adding devices that allow your canoe to float on the stern and bow will make it, so the vessel does not submerge fully into the water.

Overloading weight capacity 

The weight capacity limit in a canoe is a tricky calculation. The weight capacity depicted on the website or with your canoe dictates how it can carry a “regular” person or multiple persons and maybe some things with them.

It is highly recommended to never exceed the weight capacity mentioned for your canoe. Overloading means endangering yourself and your loved ones, for it is the highest cause for canoe submersion.

User Error

Some say user error or the way people use their canoes matter more than materials, weight capacity, or anything else combined. Letting water into the canoe is ultimately the reason why it sinks, and it only happens due to user error.

Knowing how to sit in a canoe or how to get in and out of one are crucial knowledge, for these are also the times water can get into the vessel as well. Bad judgment calls also lead to an unfortunate end.

Bad weather

This is pretty obvious, but bad weather- that is to say, rough winds, stormy waters can absolutely topple over a canoe, even if it has a floatation device installed.

This is why you should always check the weather forecast before heading out into the water with your canoe. If the weather is horrid and the water is highly turbulent, no amount of flotation device will help to keep the stability.


The type of canoe you have can also determine how easy or hard it is to sink it. A sit-on-top canoe has the reputation to generally not sink for their design itself ensure self-bailing.

Self-bailing is a method where the hull itself has holes built in- thus making sinking impossible.

A sit-inside model, in contrast, carries the risk of having water enter the cockpit, causing the hull to quickly fill with water. This will inevitably lead to your craft sinking.

Solo canoes also require to follow precise weight limits, so overloading them can lead to sinking as well.

Anything that can sink a boat will also sink a canoe. But it should be a matter of relief that it is inherently tough to sink or flip a canoe, and a lot needs to happen for it to take place.

Will an aluminum canoe sink?

The aluminum canoe should not sink, but it might. As aluminum canoes do not have an inherent buoyancy, they are at risk of sinking, especially when too much weight is added on to them.

However, the way to counter it is to keep sure you don’t pass the weight limit, and you are good to go.

Will a fiberglass canoe sink?

Same as aluminum, compound materials such as fiberglass do not have an inherent buoyancy, so they will be heavier than the water and so will be at risk for sinking.

If water is displaced inside of a fiberglass canoe, it will mess up the center of gravity for the canoe and will start submersion. To say the exact scientific reason why, it is because fiberglass weighs more than the equivalent amount of water per volume, so making it sink.

Will a wooden canoe sink?

Before compound composites were introduced, wooden canoes were all the rage. Nowadays, wooden canoes are regarded more as a “traditional” canoe, but they are still well known for their inability to descend.

This is because most wood used for making canoes is lighter than water; the heavier kind of wood is simply not in use for boatmaking. A birch canoe is known to be “virtually unsinkable.”

Will a plastic canoe sink?

Plastic canoes will not sink, but they will barely stay afloat as well. Most plastic canoes are made of layered polyethylene with “air cells” in-between, which provides adequate buoyancy to get by.

But if it gets completely swamped, most of the boat will be underwater, with only the stems being visible. 

Will a canoe sink if filled with water?

A beginner into kayaking’s nightmare is the scenario of losing control of the vessel and letting the water fill up into it. So naturally, you may ask, will it sink if completely full of water?

You will be glad to find out that a canoe will not sink even if fully submerged. The only way it can go down is if the hull (side profile of the canoe) is damaged or the upper edge (the rails of the canoe) is ruptured or broken. 

Worry not, in this case, if you are in warm or calm water- you may be able to get out of it by removing some of the water from the vessel in order to sit higher in the waterbody.

How do you stop a canoe from sinking?

A canoe sinking can be a scary, traumatizing thing, so proper precautions must be taken. One of the simplest yet most effective methods is to install floatation devices onto your canoe.

While most canoes have said devices installed, especially the ones being rented- if you do not have them in your personal canoe- fret not. They are cheap and fairly easy to install.

A floatation device makes sure your canoe can be used as a makeshift life raft if things do take a turn for the worse. They also make it easier to retrieve the water vessel.

These aids look like simple airbags that help make the canoe buoyant. Placement-wise, they are tied or packed into the stern and bow zone of the kayak or canoe.

You should always make sure to check your flotation tank, pod or airbag before starting your journey. A damaged device will just be useless in your time of need.

An outrigger can help make the craft become more stable, which may help to make it not topple over and so get water into your vessel as well. It protects the hull, and so it protects you.

Necessary tips:

  • Always check the weather before setting out, especially if it is a terrain you have not encountered yet.
  • Keep safety and emergency devices near you.
  • Make sure to investigate floatation aids each and every time.
  • Do not exceed the weight capacity.

It is understandable to find canoeing daunting, especially for the first time you are going to try it out. Hopefully, the knowledge that canoes are statistically hard to sink and there are ways to prevent it brings some peace and encourages you to try this fun and daring activity out! 

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