How Deep Does a Canoe Sit in the Water?

Canoes float easily in the water as long as you can properly maintain the weight distribution. Unfortunately, far too many beginners make the mistake of not checking the weight limits of their canoes, which leads to a variety of issues right off the bat. The depth of your canoe is a clear indicator of whether or not it’s over-encumbered.

A canoe sits about 6 to 8 inches deep in the water. However, this number can fluctuate depending on the weight of the load, the canoe’s material, and the buoyancy of the water. For instance, saltwater usually offers more buoyancy, lifting the canoe about an inch or so higher than freshwater.

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following information about how deep canoes sit in the water:

  • the effects of gear and rider weight on a canoe
  • how to know which type of canoe you should get
  • the depth that a canoe needs in order to float

How the Weight of Riders and Gear Influence How Low the Canoe Sits in Water

Determining your canoe’s weight limit will allow you to sit in it properly without it tipping over. Investing in a canoe with the proper weight limit also helps prevent flooding, splashing, slowing, and so on.

Most canoes have weight limits that are shown without the actual weight of the canoe involved. So, for example, a canoe that can hold 500 pounds doesn’t include the fact that the whole canoe is actually 60 pounds. Let’s delve into the details below.

Relationship Between Canoe Weight Capacity and Waterline

There’s actually a simple equation to figure out the canoe’s weight capacity. This formula is essential since, as the weight increases, the level of the water rises. Water displacement is caused by increased internal weight, which lowers the canoe while slightly increasing the water level around you.

The equation to figure out the canoe’s weight capacity looks like this (source):

(Length x Width) divided by 18

Once you’ve determined the weight limit of your canoe, you can ensure that you don’t exceed the max capacity. You’ll be able to prevent the water line from increasing too much, reducing the chances of excess splashing, flooding, and sinking. Ultimately, this will make for a higher-quality canoeing experience when you do decide to venture out onto the water.

Different Canoes Have Different Weight Capacities

Canoes have varying weight capacities. Besides the manufacturer’s recommendations, you’ll be able to estimate the limit by knowing these impacting factors:

  • The Material is Worth Knowing – Aluminum is usually heavier than other canoe materials, but it’s capable of holding more weight. Not only that, but it can take the blunt force of nearby obstacles without lowering in the water.
  • The Size of the Canoe Matters – Big canoes can hold much more weight than small canoes. The length, width, and depth are all important to know before you buy a new canoe.
  • The Construction is Important – Almost all canoes are either hollow (air-filled) or packed with tight foam. Air doesn’t hold as much weight as foam because it’s not as buoyant.

As you conduct personal research and gain more experience in canoeing, you’ll begin to get a feel for how much weight a canoe can hold just by looking at it. However, to establish this base foundation, it’s crucial to start paying attention to these fundamental elements first. You can then begin to form your assumptions from this knowledge.

How to Determine What Canoe Will Sit Properly in the Water for You

Getting a canoe that sinks as soon as you sit isn’t very encouraging. Even if you can move around, the raised waterline will drastically reduce your speed. Fortunately, you’re in the right palace to figure out what type of canoe will allow you to sit properly with your gear and body weight.

Estimate the Combined Weight of the Riders and the Gear

The quickest way to know if the canoe works for you is to add your weight with the combined total weight of your gear. Many extra-large canoes are capable of holding over 1,000 pounds (source). This limit might seem like a lot, but it’s not as much as you might think.

By taking the 1,000-pound weight limit and adding two 200-pound riders, you’re already down to only 600 pounds. Add fishing poles, paddles, tackle boxes, tool boxes, first-aid kits, food, drinking water, and other supplies, and you’ll only have a few hundred pounds to spare. Keep in mind that this equation only uses two riders, so you might have to calculate another rider.

Nonetheless, 1,000 pounds is on the high end, and it’s more than enough than most riders need. Check the riders’ weight and add it with the gear you’re bringing, then add 50 pounds for good measure.

Get the Appropriate Sized Canoe That Can Sustain That Estimated Weight

Once you’ve determined how much weight you’ll add with your gear, yourself, and other riders, you’ll be able to get the right-sized canoe. For example, a 16-foot canoe can typically hold between 900 to 1,000 pounds (source). On the other hand, a much smaller 14-foot canoe can only hold between 500 to 875 pounds.

As you can see from the examples above, there’s a whole lot of room for error. After taking a look at the weight capacities above, you might be asking yourself, “How could a 14-foot canoe have such a wide range of weight capacity?” But, again, the materials and inner filling matter quite a bit, as does the canoe’s shape.

How Shallow Does the Water Need to Be to Start Canoeing?

Canoeing in shallow water is fun, especially if you’re learning the ropes, canoeing with children, or trying to fish. However, going too low can be a bit problematic. You won’t be able to stay afloat if you keep scraping the bottom.

Since a canoe usually needs between 6 to 8 inches to stay afloat, it’s safe to say that you need to be in at least 10 to 12 inches of water to move around. Keep in mind that this number includes your bodyweight and your gear. Without anything in it, you’ll be able to keep the canoe afloat in water that’s 5 inches or less.

Note: More gear and water displacement are far more apparent when you’re in shallow water. Slight movements that cause small ripples can scrape the bottom or cause you to float back to shore. The shape of your canoe can also impact the results, especially if it is flat or pointed on the bottom.

With this information in mind, it’s a smart idea to develop a habit of being selective of your launch areas. You don’t want to launch into the water from just anywhere, especially in particularly shallow waters.

Before carrying your canoe to shore, scout out an open area with little to no physical debris that could interfere with the launch. Once these criteria have been met, check to see if the water is at sufficient depth to support your canoe. During the launch, your canoe may have to scrape against the shore slightly, but it’s in your best interest to keep this scraping to a minimum.

If you want to get a visual of what a proper canoe launch looks like, check out the clip below.

From the video, you can clearly see that canoeing in extremely shallow waters is possible. Paddling under these circumstances may not be ideal, but it’s certainly doable.

Is It Bad for the Canoe to Bottom in Shallow Water?

Bottoming in a canoe refers to scraping against the ground when you’re in the water. As explained by a tale from Washington Post, hitting bottom can go one of two ways (source):

  • You hit the bottom, and nothing serious happens because you barely touched it or your canoe is tough.
  • You hit the bottom, and it scrapes a thin layer off of your canoe.

High-speed impacts against a rocky bottom can cause dents, cracks, and holes in a canoe. However, it’s not the end of the world, in most cases.

Many canoeists say that either you’ve already hit bottom, or you will eventually. In other words, bottoming in shallow water is inevitable. If you hit bottom, try to put your feet on the riverbed to elevate the canoe, then push it out to deeper water.

If this solution seems simple, it’s because it is. However, it’s effective at minimizing the amount of damage that bottoming can potentially do to the hull of your canoe. Fortunately, canoes are built to withstand the outdoor stresses of whatever the seafloor decides to throw at them.

Regardless, it would help if you still tried to paddle out to slightly deeper waters whenever possible. There’s no reason to subject your canoe to unnecessary damage when it’s easily avoidable.


Canoes don’t sit too deep in the water because they’re filled with buoyant materials. The whole purpose of a canoe is to stay afloat, but failure to abide by the weight capacity can cause it to sink too low.

Here’s a quick recap of the post:

  • Canoes can hold between 200 to 1,000+ pounds, depending on several factors.
  • Most canoes usually need about 10 to 12 inches to stay above the bottom.
  • Make sure you determine the canoe’s weight limit and keep it over your body weight combined with the weight of your gear.

Sources: 1 2 3 4

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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