How Do Canoes Float? (Explained for Beginners)

Heavy objects are supposed to sink, isn’t it? Canoes are heavy but float like a cloud on water!

It’s always a magical sight to see something as massive as a canoe float on water. Especially with several people on board.  So, what makes it float?

How do canoes float?

Canoes float on the water simply because of the law of density. The law of density says, if any object is less dense than water, it will float. Likewise, due to the design of canoes, their volume is higher. In turn, the canoe’s density is lesser than water, making it float despite its heavyweight.

Canoeing is a fulfilling experience. It is relaxing, and when you want it to be, it can be sporty and exciting. Canoes are primarily used for competitive races and recreation. Some use it for fishing; others just take their canoe to the water for a peaceful spin.

Canoes come in different sizes. Smaller ones can be less than 14 feet, while the longer ones can be up to 30 feet. The curved bottomed, narrow, and elongated vessel is stable and can float, no matter what material it is made of.

How and why canoes float is because of the laws of physics. The basis of that law says boats, ships, or canoes float as “the weight of the water they displace is equal to the weight of the boat”.

It has much to do with the force with which paddle is stroked and in which direction it is stroked. Moreover, the load and the distribution on the canoe will play a part in whether a canoe might tip on one side. It will also determine how fast your canoe moves.

What makes a canoe float?

Canoe does not use the aid of motors, and it only paddled manually with hands. They are enormous in size and heavy. So, what really makes canoes float?

The answer is buoyancy. In physics, buoyancy is what makes any object float. When an object is partially submerged in water, there is a pressure difference. This difference acts as a force on the object, in our case, the canoe. This force is called upthrust and is the principal force that makes a canoe float.

Buoyancy is related to the density of the canoe and water, as mentioned before. For example, if the canoe gets filled with water, the density of the canoe increases. This could result in the canoes getting submerged slightly instead of floating on the water surface completely. This is why canoeists are often carrying containers to toss out water to balance it again.

Moreover, when you step inside a canoe, initially, it gets submerged into the water. The opposite happens when we step out. However, the canoe still floats despite the heavyweight. This is because the water beneath the canoe is displaced, and buoyancy once again adjusts and acts accordingly.

How does a canoe work?

Now that you have an idea of the science of canoeing, it would be helpful to understand what goes on when your canoe is on the water.

A canoe is pointed at both ends of the vessel. When you begin to stroke the paddle, your canoe advances forward. As it speeds up, the pointed front end of the canoe cuts through the water like an arrow. In doing so, the water in front separates and is displaced to the sides of the canoe.

More pressure on the body of the canoe creates more waves. However, as the canoe travels steadily, the pressure on the hull or body of the canoe decreases slowly. Now the water force mainly works on the bow of the canoe.

The rear part of the canoe, which is called stern, is free to be navigated on turns. This is because of the decreased water pressure at the back.

The rest of the movement will depend on how the canoeist paddles and how much weight the canoe is carrying. The greater strength used to paddle a stroke, the faster the canoe will move. Other than the paddle, the wind should also be taken into consideration.

How do concrete canoes float?

Concrete canoes float on the water the same way other canoes float. The main principle is water displacement. The concrete canoe displaces water equal to its weight.

Concrete is also less dense than metals like aluminum and steel. Moreover, concrete ranges from lightweight to medium to heavy.

Other concrete structures may use materials such as rocks and sand. However, concrete canoes are made of specialized materials. These may include microsphere, foam pieces, or other sieve-like additives. Such mixes are used to make concrete less dense.

What’s important to note is that what materials canoes are made of will not determine whether they can float or not. The floating properties of the canoe will be largely dependent on its shape, hull design, and whether the hollow interior can displace enough water.

Do I need float bags for my canoe?

You need float bags for your canoe if you want more safety. To put it simply, float bags will keep your canoe floating or buoyant in case there is some serious damage during a rough adventure and water gets inside your canoe. When your canoe is flooded, these float bags help to displace the necessary water.

Although they take up a lot of space and can leave you with little storage for gear, one must always have float bags in their canoe if they plan to take the rough or rocky tides.

How do canoe float bags work?

Float bags for canoe or other boats are bags full of air that is installed inside the front and end compartments of the canoe. These float bags work as security in case the canoe gets filled with too much water.

Canoe float bags come in different sizes and are fitted to the center. First, the interiors of the canoe must be measured for an appropriate size float bag.

For a canoe user, it is also important to remember that hot weather can cause the bag to expand. In that case, letting air escape through the bag can work. Moreover, pouring cold water over the bags is also a good idea to cool down the bags.

There are a number of ways that float bags work for your canoe:

Prevents further damage:

When a canoe is flooded, there is always the chance of other parts of the canoe being damaged. If float bags are there taking up space, water is unable to fill up other compartments of the canoe, prevent more damage.

Works without adding extra load:

As the bags are filled with water, they are lightweight and can still allow the canoe to keep from tilting or sinking.

They are transferable:

You can use the same float bag on another canoe if need be. They can be fit into a similar-sized canoe and reused.

They have flexible inflation size:

Depending on how many people have boarded the canoe or how much load has been put into the canoe, the size of the float bag can be varied.

How to make DIY canoe float bags?

You might have surveyed the market, failing to find a compatible float bag for your canoe. Or maybe you’re not willing to spend on an additional float bag just yet. Whatever the reason, you could always go for do-it-yourself methods. Easy and inexpensive float bags for your canoe.

Here is how you do it:

Materials needed:

  • Any large-sized bag
  • A plastic bag
  • Empty plastic bottles and containers

The Method:

  • Step 1: If you have a large bag at home, possibly a flight bag, you can use it as your float bag.
  • Step 2: Get a large plastic bag and fit it inside the flight bag.  
  • Step 3: Fill the bag up with empty bottles and lightweight containers.
  • Step 4: Finally, seal the bag completely. Strap and chain the bag well
  • Step 5: Put pressure on the bag by either sitting on it or using your hands to make it even shaped.

How do you not tip a canoe?

Being a lightweight narrow boat, canoes can easily tip over. A lot of canoeists, while they love paddling around in their canoes, also worry that their ride might tip over. Here are a few ways to prevent a canoe from tipping over:

Kneel down:

One of the most common reasons canoes tip over is when the center of gravity is shifted. That’s why when two or more people tilt on one side; the canoe seems to turn over.

For this, the pilot must always kneel while paddling. This is the best and safest position, as it lowers the center of gravity.

However, being on your knees for long hours could be difficult. For that, the solution is to wear knee pads!

Don’t touch obstacles on the way:

While you’re canoeing, many times, hanging tree branches might come near your way. In such a situation, if you try to use your hand to push such obstacles, it shifts your center of gravity.

 The most useful action in this situation is to lower your body further down on the canoe. 

Enter and get off carefully:

Another time most canoeists have tipper over is when they try to enter to leave the canoe. For this, step on the canoe with one foot while pushing off with the other.

Canoeing can be fun and relaxing. Knowing how a canoe works and what makes it float can be even more satisfying. It only makes you better at canoeing and helps you be more vigilant.

Happy floating!

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a pack boat canoe?

What is the difference between a canoe and other boats?

Is canoeing harder than kayaking?

How much do canoes weigh?