What Is a Whitewater Canoe?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A whitewater canoe is a type of small watercraft designed to perform well in whitewater environments, where the water moves rapidly and tends to be filled with crosscurrents and other hazards. Canoers may use a whitewater canoe to successfully navigate a waterway with known rapids. These boats can also be used for a sport known as playboating, where athletes keep a canoe in a relatively fixed position and do tricks including flips and spins. Companies that produce canoes may have some whitewater models, and it is also possible to retrofit canoes for this type of boating.

Whitewater canoes are descended from the curved-keel canoes used by Native Americans.
Whitewater canoes are descended from the curved-keel canoes used by Native Americans.

The basic design of a canoe is double-ended, with a curving keel and an open body. The size can vary and may seat one or more people who operate the canoe by paddling. These crafts tend to be highly stable, and they are easy to get in and out of, which can make them suitable for less experienced boaters. The whitewater canoe features some design variations to make the boat safe in rough waters.

One notable feature of the whitewater canoe design is a very curved keel, known as an extreme rocker. This helps the boat sit higher in the water so it skims the surface and is less likely to sink or become unstable in rough waters. In addition, the canoe design often has flotation built into the ends to increase buoyancy and safety. Some whitewater canoes have partial screening across the top to protect gear. There are also straps and hard points for canoers to tie into for safety.

Whitewater rapids are classified by intensity, from mild to extreme. A whitewater canoe may be able to handle the full range or may be more suitable for more mild rapids. It is important to receive adequate training in handling whitewater, as it can be very dangerous. Canoers can take classes that will take them through a series of rapids so they can develop boating skills and practice under the eye of an instructor.

Access to waterways suitable for whitewater sports can be found all over the world. Touring organizations may provide gear, including boats, on tours to members of the public who want to experience whitewater rapids. It is also possible to rent equipment for private trips or to buy it. Used and new whitewater canoes are readily available, along with retrofitting kits and supplies. Ideally, it should be possible to test a model first.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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