Damage to Canoes

Sooner or later, most of us have to deal with the repair of a canoe that is damaged while we are out paddling on a trip.

Damage can range from simple problems like a loose seat or portage yoke to holes in the hull or in a worst case scenario, a canoe that is folded around a rock in fast water and all but demolished.

The most important way of preparing for this eventuality is to have a decent repair kit tucked in your equipment pack.  With a few simple tools and some other equipment, most damaged can be repaired 'in the field.'

It's important to remember that the repair doesn't have to be permanent in nature, nor does it have to be pretty.  The only consideration is getting the boat back in serviceable condition.  If if floats and can be paddled out, you've performed a successful repair.

Small holes can almost always be patched up with the judicious application of a piece of duct tape.  If you want your duct tape to stay in place, take the time to dry the canoe hull before applying it.  A piece of good quality duct tape applied to a minor crack or hole can last the rest of the paddling season, if you aren't inclined to do a permanent repair.

A major hole can often be patched if the 'pieces' are salvaged.  If you smack into a rock and punch out a section of fiberglass, you can usually put it back together 'jigsaw style' and hold the whole thing together with duct tape.

For a higher-strength, more permanent repair, you can apply a patch in the field using fiberglass cloth, resin and hardener.  Epoxies set up quite quickly, and you can be paddling a previously-demolished canoe in fairly short order.

Our "patch of last resort" is a piece of vinyl swimming pool liner and a small can of contact cement.  If we ended up getting a major hole, and our patch job wasn't keeping out the water, I'd contact cement the vinyl over the entire area.

The minor repairs like loose or lost seat bolts, shaky portage yokes and the like are an inconvenience if you have the repair items in your kit, and a major pain if you don't.

It's these times when the creative genius of your group has to rise to the forefront.  Given some time for sober assessment, creative problem-solving and hay-wire type repair strategies, there are few boats that cannot be put back into paddling condition.


My only experience with a major repair involved a fiberglass canoe that got wrapped around a rock in Cedar Rapids on the Spanish River in Ontario.

After it was freed from the rock, it was found to have two broken gunwales (extruded aluminum), five holes of assorted size and severity, a missing portage yoke and a half torn-out thwart.

Our first impression of the canoe (folded into a banana shape) was that it was a complete write-off.

However, there were two paddler counting on it as a means of transportation back home, so we pulled out an assortment of tools and our repair kit and set to work.

In less than an hour, we had pounded the boat back into a canoe shape, refastened the thwart and yoke, patched the holes with duct tape, and were on our way again.
The lesson learned?  Don't give up a a canoe, no matter how bad the damage looks.  It's amazing what a little duct tape and ingenuity will do.