Test Your Canoe IQ

By Cliff Jacobson

Canoe IQ Quiz A flickering campfire, simmering coffee and good friends provide the perfect ending for a great day on the river. You wander over to your canoe for a look at the scars incurred from the day's run. As you run your hand over the broken gel-coat a friend sarcastically remarks that every canoe but yours cleared the last rock.

"Better get a boat that turns...or saw that one in half," he chortles. With that, the stage is set for a no holds barred equipment shoot-out. Here are some technical questions to battle; one or more answers [or none] may be correct. The first two questions review basics. After that, it's war!
Answers are listed at the conclusion of the quiz.


1. Match the following canoe parts with their definitions:
1. keel
2. stems
3. beam
4. rocker
5. tumblehome
a) the width of the canoe
b) the upward curve of the bottom of the canoe at each end
c) the extreme ends of the canoe
d) a shallow fin that runs along the bottom of the canoe from end to end
e) the inward curve of the hull just below the gunnels

2. Which of these canoes would you choose to use on a twisting stream that has a lot of shallow, rocky rapids?
  1. An 18 foot, fine-ended Kevlar canoe with a straight keel-line.
  2. A 17 foot aluminum canoe.
  3. A 17 foot Royalex™ touring canoe that has fine ends and slight rocker.
  4. A high volume, 16 foot Canoe IKevlar canoe that has buoyant, rockered ends.

3. What do the following terms have in common? Static axle, bow wedge, cross-post, snap-turn, Christie:
  1. They describe the complex white water maneuvers that are required in Olympic canoeing events.
  2. Flat-water racing teams use these procedures to get around obstacles .
  3. White water paddlers use these techniques when they play big holes.
  4. They describe movements used by freestyle paddlers.

4. Ahead, the river picks up speed and makes a sharp bend to the right. High waves on river left flow through a downed tree to create a dangerous sweeper. To avoid the sweeper you must:
  1. Point the canoe towards river right and paddle powerfully forward as fast as you can.
  2. Point the canoe towards river right and paddle backward as fast as you can.
  3. Point the canoe towards river left and paddle backward as fast as you can.
  4. Allow the canoe to drift forward on river right. Side-slip the craft right or left as necessary.
Answers are listed at the conclusion of the quiz.

5. You are paddling stern in large, incoming lake waves. You should:
  1. point the canoe into the waves and rudder to hold the angle, while your bow partner paddles powerfully forward.
  2. point the canoe into the waves and paddle powerfully forward.
  3. angle the canoe about 30 degrees and "quarter" the waves.
  4. turn the canoe sideways to the waves to shorten its waterline.

6. True or False?
   For lake travel, choose a canoe with a deep fin keel.
   For river travel, a canoe without a keel is best.

7. Given three canoes of similar shape, which is fastest?
  1. Canoe "A" is 18 feet long
  2. Canoe "B" is 17 feet long
  3. Canoe "C" is 16 feet long

8. You want a fast, easy paddling canoe for use on inland lakes. Which hull material(s) is least suitable?
  1. aluminum
  2. Royalex™
  3. Kevlar™
  4. polyethylene
  5. cedar strip or wood-canvas
Answers are listed at the conclusion of the quiz.

9. Many modern high performance canoes feature some asymmetry below the water line, i.e., the bow section is narrower than the stern. The advantage(s) of asymmetry is (are):
  1. the canoe is faster, especially in shallow water
  2. the canoe is more seaworthy
  3. the canoe will carry a heavier load
  4. the canoe turns better

10. Your are drifting through a rapid when you spot a large eddy to your right. To get into the eddy you paddle powerfully forward and...
  1. brace and lean the boat to the right (upstream) as you cross the eddy line
  2. brace and lean the canoe to the left (downstream) as you cross the eddy line
  3. braces and leans are not needed when moving from currents to eddies

11. You are lining your canoe through a complex rapid. To prevent broaching (turning broadside to the current) and capsizing, you must:
  1. keep the canoe angled to the current--bow towards shore, stern further out in the river
  2. keep the canoe angled to the current--stern towards shore, bow further out in the river
  3. keep parallel to the current at all times
  4. set the canoe broadside to the current

12. When running rapids it is best to:
  1. kneel in your canoe
  2. sit, don't kneel in your canoe
  3. makes no difference whether you sit or kneel
  4. kneel only if your canoe has high seats and a floor area that's spacious enough to permit a wide kneeling stance


1. 1-d, 2-c, 3-a, 4-b, 5-e

2. D
The design of the canoe, not the material from which it is made, is what counts.
For quick turns in rapids, you want high volume, short length (under 17 feet), and a heavily rockered hull.

3. D
"Freestyle" canoeing combines classic northwoods paddling style with artistic maneuvering.

4. C
Safest way to negotiate bends is to backferry around them, tail pointed towards the inside curve. The canoe will move across the river without slipping downstream.

Back to the Questions
5. B or C is correct, depending on the conditions and your skills.
Generally, beginners--and everyone who paddles highly rockered canoes--are less apt to broach (turn broadside to the waves) if they power straight into the wind.

6. False!
Good canoes don't have keels (exception--wood-canvas canoes). Keels are primarily used to stiffen the flat, floppy bottoms of badly designed canoes. Straight tracking is best achieved by combining fine, deep stems (ends) with a long, straight keel line.

7. Canoe A
Canoes are displacement hulls whose maximum speed is a function of in-water length. Thus, the longer the canoe, the faster it will run. You can compute the relationship by applying the over-simplified formula:
Speed (in miles per hour) = 1.55 times the square root of the waterline length (measured in feet).
Thus, an 18-1/2 footer will peak out at around 6.7 miles per hour while a 16 footer will barely manage 6.2 miles per hour. However, speed and "ease-of-paddling" are not the same. The formula tells you the maximum hull speed, not the effort required to get it there. A sophisticated 16 footer may paddle more easily than a workhorse 18 footer!

8. A, B, and D
Aluminum, polyethylene and Royalex are difficult to form in the tight curves which produce the racy lines needed for speed.
If you want a fast light canoe, stick with Kevlar, composite or wood.

9. A
By placing the maximum beam (width) of the canoe behind center, the bow presents a finer entry (narrower wedge) to the water. When paddled hard (especially in shallow water), the canoe creates turbulence (a wake) at its tail. The stern sinks and the canoe slows and feels like it's going uphill. A buoyant, asymmetric stern helps level the boat for more speed.

Back to the Questions
10. A
Lean down current when maneuvering into or out of eddies. The current within an eddy flows opposite to that of the river, so you must lean upstream (in relation to the river's downstream flow) when you drive across the eddy line into the reversed flow. Lean downstream to leave the eddy.

11. B
Most lining accidents are the result of allowing the stern to "swing out" as the boat drifts downstream.

12. D
Kneeling is practical in the bow of a canoe only if the paddling station is wide enough to permit you to spread your knees wide against the bilge's for stability. If it isn't--and most fine-lined cruisers are not!--then it's best to sit on the low mounted seat and brace your feet firmly against a bow flotation tank or an improvised brace.

11-12 correct: Tech-weenie and champion of the equipment shoot-out!
9-10 correct: Local trivia master.
7-8 correct: Aspiring canoe yuppie: your score will improve if you read more and paddle less!
6 or less: Better make coffee while your friends are arguing.

Cliff Jacobson is a professional canoe guide and outfitter for the Science Museum of Minnesota, a wilderness canoeing consultant, and the author of more than a dozen top-selling books on camping and canoeing.

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