Outfitting our Canoe

We haven’t been out in our home-made canoe yet this year. Probably a number of reason for this but the main ones are:

  1. It’s not going to be easy to man-handle onto and off the roof rack of our camper.
  2. I’ve been wanting to add some buoyancy to it for the sake of safety.

Although it’s made of wood, and therefore floats even if full of water, it would be difficult to get it back if you happened to capsize any distance from the shore. It would be fine in a small river but we are more likely to be out in estuaries or lakes and I didn’t feel safe taking Anna and Morgan out in it without a little more security. I wanted to fit some air bags to it to help keep it afloat a little more in the event of a capsize.

Canoeing in Borth

Canoeing in Borth

Equipment and Tools for Outfitting our Canoe

The first job was therefore to add some way of attaching the airbags to the canoe so that they wouldn’t just pop out if submerged. They need to be fixed quite securely in place. Whilst doing this I thought that I might as well stitch some rope all along the side of the boat so as to add attachment points for equipment inside the boat as well. It’s not likely that we’ll be going on any major expeditions in it any time soon but it would nice to be able to secure equipment in it at some point should I decide to head off on a canoe camping. Beside, the very act of boat-building and outfitting a canoe is a pastime in itself so adding new features to a boat we’d already built ourselves seemed like a fun thing to do.

Ideally I would have paddled lots of boats and tried out all sorts of ways of doing things so that I would know exactly what I wanted where. That isn’t the case. We built the canoe on a whim last year and have since played around in it once or twice. I thought a simple set up that provided plenty of flexibility was therefore the way forward. The simplest solution seemed to be a basic rope weaved along the side of the boat on both sides. I therefore set to work.

We’d already bought a set of Peak Air Bags.

So I bought 15m of 4mm climbing rope.

and 5m of 5mmx8mm PVC tubing. That’s clear tubing with a 5mm internal diameter and 8mm external diameter.

Once it arrived (which was next day thanks to Amazon Prime!) I assembled some tools and set to work.

Marking things Out

The first job was to mark out where to drill the holes. Drilling the holes into a perfectly sea-worthy and waterproof boat was always going to be a little worrying so I wanted to make sure I got it right first time. Measure twice and all that. In the end I measured once and seemed to get it spot on straight away, so didn’t bother checking again! I did place some masking tape along the sides of the canoe under the gunwhales first.  This allowed me to not only mark on where the holes would be but also draw on where the rope would go too. I was able to make sure that there would be ropes and loops in the right places.

Marked Up

Marked Up

I placed the first hole about 15 inches in from the front and back of the boat which would allow me to have a piece of rope crossing the width of the boat between the decks and the handle. From there I placed holes at 6 inch intervals all along the boat. When I got to the center I left a 10 inch gap so as to make things symmetrical. The holes were placed centrally between the gunwhales and the design on the side of the canoe. This looked neat and was about the right place for them anyway.

Outfitting a Canoe

With everything marked up it was out with a drill and a 9.5mm drill bit and off I went merrily drilling holes through our lovely canoe! This didn’t take long so the next task was to remove the masking tape and then varnish the holes.

Varnishing didn’t take long either but I left it overnight to dry. Really I should have added a few more coats of varnish but with all the pieces in place ready to go I didn’t have the patience for that. In hindsight, as I’ll mention later, I doubt if the single coat of varnish has sufficiently sealed the wood inside the holes so I might try sealing them with some clear silicon now that it’s all finished so as to keep the water out of the holes.

With the varnish dry it was then time to start threading the rope through the holes, I knew where it was going to go so this was a simple task. I was going to do it as two separate lengths of rope, one for each side, but in the end did it as one continuous piece. The first two stitches I left as bare rope and pulled it tight against the hull on both the inside and outside of the boat. This is the area where the air bags would be so I wanted tight, secure fastening for them. For the other stitches along the boat I wanted to add little loops of the PVC tubing so as to make it easy to fasten and unfasten thing to them. I therefore threaded 7 inch long pieces of the PVC tubing onto the inside sections of rope.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the 4mm rope wasn’t easy to get through the 5mm internal diameter of the tubing. (Maybe I’d bought 5mm rope!) Soaking the PVC tubing in hot water helped a little but in the end I sewed a section of thinner paracord onto the end of the rope so that I could pull it through the tubing.

Internal Loops

Internal Loops

Threading 15 m of rope through each hole in the side of the boat and threading the PVC tubing onto it took a while. I’m also fairly certain that the very act of pulling the rope through each of the holes will have worn off the single layer of varnish that I had painted on so I may need to add some additional sealing now that things are finished. It was starting to look good though.

External Stitching

External Stitching

Adding the Air Bags

With the stitching along the side completed, it was time to cut the rope and tie it off and then use what was left over to form a criss-cross pattern to hold the airbags in. The airbags also have a plastic D-loop on them which I have threaded into the cross-crossing to hold them in place better. On top of that the air bags have O-Rings at each corner which could be used to further secure them should I wish. I think the criss-cross mesh work that I’ve created using the rope will be sufficient though.

Air-Bag in Place

Air-Bag in Place

Hopefully that will provide enough buoyancy to keep the boat floating high enough in the water for it to be bailed out should we capsize. In turn hopefully that’ll mean we can get out in it soon. If not, then it was fun adding these features and it looks good too. Hopefully the h=guys at Orca Adventures who taught us how to build the boat will be proud.

Ready to go

Ready to go


1 Response

  1. Avatar forComment Author Mum says:

    Sounds like you’ve been busy…again x

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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