Canoe Repair

When it comes to canoe repair, Dennis Davidson, engineer at Northwest Canoe in St. Paul, MN, has some helpful advice to determine whether you want to tackle a project on your own or seek professional advice. He compares the repairs to ski runs:

Green runs are those minor repairs required after regular canoe use—that good old wear and tear. Replacing seats, applying 303 protectant for UV protection, oiling gunwales and even applying skid plates are all things you can do at home.

Blue run repairs result from neglect or improper storage of your canoe (like leaving it under the blazing summer sun or leaving it outside over winter). Cracks, hull splits extending away from the gunwale screws or dry rot in the end decks and gunwales can develop. Taking care of these things, whether you’re an ambitious do-it-yourselfer or take it to an expert, will give your canoe a long, happy life.

Black runs? You got it: the most daunting repairs occur after your canoe flies off your car or gets pinned by any number of objects, like SUVs, trees and river rocks. Don’t despair. Davidson says experts can fix more than you think.

Read through some common canoe repairs to assess whether you can take on a project yourself or want to consult with an expert:

Canoe Repair: Kevlar, Royalex, Fiberglass, ABS Canoes

We’ve compiled some tips and links to get you started on some of the most common canoe repairs. Just remember—a call or visit to the manufacturer’s web site is always a good place to start.

Canoe Seat Replacement

Bench-style wood-cane canoe seats work with any canoe. Untrimmed seats (available as wood-cane or wood-webbing) range from 32″ to 41″ depending on the manufacturer, but can easily be cut to fit your canoe using the old seat as a template. For the ambitious, re-caning and re-webbing your seat are also options, but be prepared for the project to take longer than you expect—especially replacing the caning.

Replacing a canoe seat >

Re-caning a canoe seat (pdf) >

To purchase seats, check with your canoe’s manufacturer or the following vendors:

Northwest Canoes Canoe Seats >

Campmor Canoe Seats >

REI Canoe Seats >


Skidplates extend the life of your Kevlar, Royalex, fiberglass, composite hull or polyethylene canoe (like the Old Town Discovery series) by protecting it from scraping on rocks. If a lighter color, fabric or foam have been exposed on the bottom of your canoe, it’s time for skid plates. Don’t worry about drag. Davidson says that hull shape and wetted surface area have more impact on glide and efficiency than skid plates, and unless you’re a marathon canoe racer you probably won’t notice any drag.

Learn to size and install skid plates >

Purchase a kit:

Northwest Canoe Skid Plate Kits >

Wenonah Canoe Skid Plate Kit >

Old Town Canoe Skid Plates >

REI Skid Plate Kits >

Repairing Wooden Gunwales

Gunwales contribute to the integrity of the canoe—Davidson calls them the bones of the canoe. Keeping them in good shape keeps your whole canoe in good shape. Mad River Canoe recommends oiling wooden Gunwales twice a year, more if you store your canoe outside. If the gunwales are already grey and peeling, or even cracked, Davidson would call them a” blue run” repair.

Oiling Wooden Gunwales – from Mad River Canoe >

Installing wooden gunwales – from Northwest Canoe >

Replacing Gunwales – from Old Town Canoe (pdf) >

Purchase replacement aluminum or wood gunwales >

Or check directly with the manufacturer of your canoe.

Repainting Gelcoat Canoes

Painting a gelcoat isn’t as simple as picking out your color and going to town—it’s best to use a one-part polyurethane marine paint, available at most marine stores. You can also apply a gelcoat with a color finish mixed in.

How to paint and refinish gelcoats from Old Town Canoes (pdf)>

Gash Repair For Your Canoe

Don’t despair if you crack or tear your Kevlar or fiberglass canoe. Davidson calls these some of the most repairable canoes around. Even a Royalex canoe is very fixable. The key is to make sure you clean that boat before you begin repairing.

How to repair gashes >

How to clean a Royalex canoe from Old Town >

Fixing small dings >

Find gelcoat repair kits, a composite repair kit and a Royalex repair kit >

Canoe Repairs on the Trail

Of course, gashes, nicks and scrapes rarely happen close to home, and many a paddler has made fine use of duct tape for on-the-water repairs. Davidson recommends bringing a CanoeFix Patch instead. Heat activated, it adheres to aluminum, Royalex, fiberglass, Kevlar and gelcoat canoes. (In the field, activating the patch is as simple as boiling water, and placing the patch and hot water in a heavy duty zip lock bag).

CanoeFix Patch >


Repairing Wood-Canvas Canoes—Resources

Geographic listing of wood canoe experts and suppliers:

Wooden Canoe Heritage Association >

Restoration and Repair Shops:

Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (full list) >

Jim’s Boatworks (MN) >

Stewart River Boatworks (MN) >

Urban Boatbuilders (MN) >

Northwoods Canoe Company (ME) >

Island Falls Canoe (ME)

Salmon Falls Canoe (MA) >

Wood Canoe Repair Classes:

Northwoods Canoe Company (ME)

North House Folk School (MN) >

Stewart River Boatworks (MN) >

Salmon Falls Canoe (MA) >

Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (MI) >

Wood-canvas Canoe Materials:

Northwoods Canoe Company >

Island Falls Canoe >

Wooden Canoe Heritage Association >

Wood-Canvas Canoe Repair—DIY Instructions

Oiling and Repairing Wooden Gunwales:
Mad River Canoe recommends oiling wooden gunwales twice a year, and even more if you store your canoe outside. It’s an easy way to maintain the integrity of your canoe—some canoe experts call the gunwales the bones of your canoe, because they reinforce the shape of the whole boat.

Oiling Wooden Gunwales – Tips from Mad River Canoe >

Replacing Wood Gunwales – Tips from Northwest Canoe >

Patching and Painting Canoe Canvas:
From minor scratches to full tears, canvas is the skin of your canoe. Keeping it in good shape will keep the whole boat dry.

Scratches and Worn/Rubbed Spots
Touch up canvas with paint about once a year, at the end of the season. Skywoods Canoe Company recommends this kind of touch up over painting the whole canvas—that adds weight and can lead to cracking from too much paint.

Canvas touch-up >

Patching minor cuts:
The first rule of thumb for patching is to make sure that you’re working with dry material.

Patching canvas >

Filling and painting canvas
If you do need to repaint the entire canvas, sanding and proper preparation will keep the canoe from building up too many layers of paint.

How to fill and paint a wooden canvas canoe >

Tips for painting a wood canvas canoe >


Patching a Hole:

Even with the best of care, accidents happen. Patching a hole doesn’t have to be as complicated as you might think.

Sometimes the inside of a canoe needs a little TLC—a well sealed interior will keep the wood planking of your canoe dry and prevent rotting.

Refinishing exposed wood >

DIY Cedar Strip Canoe Repair

The cedar core of a cedar strip canoe is strengthened by layers of epoxy. Repairing a hole means first replacing the cedar strips in the area of damage, and then glassing the hull. Because of the simplicity of the canoe’s design, it’s a project you can take on at home.

How to Repair a Cedar Epoxy Canoe >

Fixing a Busted Old Stripper >
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