“Disposable” Canoeing – building a canoe in a few hours.

Quick Canoe plan information

UPDATE -The numbers are growing – one took 4.5 hours to build, two other builds took 5.5 hours.  Others have taken a week of evenings.

See the list of articles.

Well, I have been having a big think.

Me, a kayak, and a big bag of chips on Lake Powell in Utah

Me, a kayak, and a big bag of chips on Lake Powell in Utah

One of the byproducts of the trip to the USA was that I now know that distance canoeing and kayaking is waaaay more fun than I thought.

I sortof imagined it would be tedious compared to sailing.

And it kinda is, but your mind adapts and you are off and going very nicely indeed.  The thing I liked was just setting the mind to the task and keeping going, particularly when there are headwinds.

I also liked the independence of camping and the days of having to carry lots of water are over with the gravity filters available these days.

Full Photo set of paddling a canoe on Lake Powell, Utah.  Part of the Colorado River.

but back to reality …

Because my income is so little I have pared things to the bone.  I find cheap places to rent, have very few belongings and certainly don’t have a car.  I remember doing the calcs about 15 years back and finding that a car would cost me an extra $70/week if everything was counted.  I doubt it is any cheaper now.

So how do I mix my interest in canoe touring and nice boats with not having a car?

So I started to think in terms of disposable boats.  Building really cheap and fast from the cheapest materials available.  Either buying them on location at the start or having them shipped there – maybe with bits cut out in advance.

Assembling the boat over a day or so, quick coat of paint, load it up and head off.  Up the Murray Darling or any other of the river systems in OZ

At the end the boat just gets given away.  It could even work as a group thing.

But how does this influence the design?

Ultra lightweight Rushton Wee Lassie built in Balsa - 12lbs.  Note the fin shaped entry of this classic hull

Ultra lightweight Rushton Wee Lassie built in Balsa - 12lbs. Note the fin shaped entry of this classic hull

We all know that even a little classic canoe like Rushton’s Wee Lassie will outperform and out handle many of the fibreglass production canoes.  When the wind and waves come up it goes straight and true, rather than wandering about like a GRP bathtub.

The difference is chalk and cheese.  The reason is the hollow in the ends of the wee lassie – which provides a fin at the front and back of the boat.  Forget about trying to make a boat track with an inch deep keelson – it is these fins, appropriately placed at the ends of the boat where they have real grip that do the work.  A fin at the front and a fin at the back.

You can read more about my Balsa Wee Lassie Canoe here.

The classic shapes are gorgeous. and most quick build canoes are like boxes which handle about as “well” as the mostly poor fibreglass canoes that are available in Australia.

So I wondered … how can the basic simple shape be played with.

I had this idea while talking to Andrew Linn when I was in Oregon looking at lakes and rivers.

Clear Lake in Oregon.

Clear Lake in Oregon.

So … why not have a fin at the back AND the front to make up the side view of a regular canadian canoe.  It won’t be as sweet as the real thing, but it will possibly handle rougher water better than a pure flat bottomed thing.

The other thing that went into the pot – actually the thing that really started the pot were the free boat plans for the “Peace Canoe” that Woodenboat supplied for free to get people started in building boats.  I was gobsmacked to see that it came out of 5 sheets of plywood and weighs in at over 100 pounds if built of quality ply.

So introducing the Quick Canoe.  Image below.

Not many pieces and the final shapes are worked out already – IT FITS ON THE SHEETS!!!  Dimensions are worked out.  Am currently working out how to get as much of the boat together in as few sessions as possible.  I don’t think it will be quite possible to put the boat together in one day and paddle the next 🙂

Will it have good directional stability in rough conditions?  I do imagine it will be more bouncy in those conditions than a proper canoe but it will have more directionally stable than the normal flat bottomed boat.

A simple, cheap plywood canoe with some classic features.

A simple, cheap plywood canoe with some classic features. Click image to Zoom

Will it paddle well?  It does have more wetted surface than the Eureka, but I have sqeezed the bottom panel to be quite narrow at the ends.  The stability at small angles of heel is about 30% greater than the Eureka.  I was tempted to make it a lot skinner to reduce the wetted area – that might be a worthwhile way to go for a second boat.  But the more conservative one is good for a trial.

What will it look like?  It will be kinda cute from some angles and I expect it will look strange from others.  I did take the sheer curve and widths from the Eureka, so this should look fine.

It is a bit shorter than the Eureka but will come out of three sheets of [B]imperial sized[/B] ply.  Maybe around the 60lb (27kg) mark out of a not too heavy species of cheap 6mm (1/4″) ply.

I am working on a smaller solo boat to come out of two sheets.  Looks like the length target for that one is a little longer than the Wee Lassie at 11.5ft and probably the weight will be around 45lbs (19kg)

And what do you do at the end of your trip?  Just give it away or see if someone will store it for you until the next part of the voyage.

The test boat is built and works fine.  Plans are $30.

More pics of the simple plywood canoe.

Get more details and plans for the Canoe.

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11 thoughts on ““Disposable” Canoeing – building a canoe in a few hours.

  1. […] plywood “disposable” canoe (see here) has been renamed the more salubrious “Quick Canoe”.  I quite liked the name of […]

  2. I keep coming back to your designs. I really like this one for a number of reasons.

    First, I cut my teeth on canoes, and have a fondness for them.

    Second, I was wondering before finding this design “Can’t I just use duct tape instead of wire or zip-ties?” I guess that question was answered

    Third. that is a heck of a lot of boat for the money.

    Fantastic work!

    • Hi Alf, The Quick canoe has only very gentle twists for the side panels so the tape works quite well. The thing to watch for is that there are quite high forces at the ends of the boat trying to pull the sides apart so there is some advice to use cable ties, copper wire or just a couple of temporary screws in those locations. This may have been a factor of the cold weather the first couple of boats were assembled in too – but something stronger than the tape is a good failsafe.

      With the Eureka Canoe there is a severe twist in the bilge panel as it goes from about 30 degrees from the horizontal in the middle of the boat to vertical at the ends. This requires quite a bit of force and duct tape or even cable ties are not quite enough. So it is wire for that model.

      Thanks for the great question!

  3. I am amazed that you can build them out plywood. Have you used on of those on the murray? How long would it last? Eg do you think you could go a long trip it?

    very cool article!!

    • Hi Vegas,

      Boats out of plywood have been used for huge trips. Some parts of many rivers are suitable.

      The basic canoe would be fine on the Murray River in Australia or the Mississippi in the USA. The photos in the article show me paddling on a dammed section of the Colorado River known as Lake Powell. There are certainly parts of some rivers that are not suitable for canoeing.

      Much of the Colorado river is too dangerous.

      Plywood boats can take a bit of abuse – so choosing the water is important. They will take some impact with rocks etc, especially if they are fibreglassed on the outside, but even the standard would be fine for many of the smoother and slower flowing rivers.

      A plywood boat built and coated with epoxy before being painted will have a very long life with little maintenance – ten years, twenty years. One built of alternative glues – which are not as good or polyester resin – which is easier to get but not as strong will probably give at least three years of reliable service. If maintained well – it might go for a long time.

      Thanks for the questions

      • hello Michael,
        Congratulations on your ingenious designs. I have a question. Every summer i put my sit on top kakak on top of my car and travel a thousand miles or so and paddle around in fairly tame water in the estuary of a large river or on fairly calm open ocean (Atlantic).

        I was wondering whether i might just build one of these canoes and leave one in each location, rather than all of this transporting that I do. I built a double kayak designed by Hartley Marine of New Zealand, hoping that I could do that with it. Unfortunatly, i find it is too low to the water and a little tippy for anything but a calm lake. Do you think I could use your canoe for open but not rough water like this?

        thanks Joe

      • Hi Joe,

        Kayaks offer a much better margin of safety than a canoe in general. The three downsides of canoes are that the weight is up much higher – reducing stability, they can catch the wind badly and so be blown out to sea and waves will find it more easy to fill the boat up.

        The kayak sounds like the best idea. The Quick Canoe really is not just a single boat. I am looking to expand the range. It might eventually end up including a kayak … but the next version will be an electric version for use with a trolling motor.

        Best wishes

  4. Plywood boats can go anywhere a GRP boat can go. The opposite is not allways true.

    Plywood is strong an will last forever if good quality is used an maintained. Epoxy makes it less maintenence then PolyesterGRP. Only downside is its so simple to work whit that everybody think they dont ned too learn how to do it proberly. Too use plywood in a marine environment isn’t difficult,

    You just need to know how.

    • Very good points Dan,

      People need to know the right way to buildl a boat. My plans very carefully cover every detail of the boat construction. A lot of that information about the right ways to do things in the plans is on my boat building and repair FAQ.

      In a sense it is not an important question because most people will never be in a situation where they might break their boat. And those who do use the boat in a way that might break it carefully study what they need.

      I would say that both fibreglass and plywood break in different ways. Even for those who might break their boat because of extreme use there may be times when plywood is better. For example in some situations a fibreglass boat might be penetrated and tear easily because of the thin hull thickness. A plywood hull of the same weight would be about four times thicker.

      However .. main point is most will not be in situations where a boat of any construction is likely to be broken.

  5. Great designs,

    Michael… I just recently started working in the boat building/repair industry, mainly luxury yachts. After spending some time working on these craft I now have the bug to build my own boat, but, like you, my budget is limited and space and cartage is an issue. So it’s the Eureka for me.. it’d suit my lake touring ambitions nicely, I think.

    I love the lines, it looks the business, and it’s relativly simple to build. I’m looking forward to getting some space around me, buying your plans for it and getting into some stitch and glue fun.

    Bring back the basics, I say.. there’s nothing like replying to the admiring comments of others with the words ” I built that myself.”


    • Hi Steve,
      Having worked in various parts of the marine industry I know exactly where you are coming from. After working all day over several days to do one job or one section on a larger boat there is a great attraction in doing something that takes shape quite quickly.

      The smallest and simplest boats are the most used. I try to make them look good and work well too – as well as trying to make them different from everything else in the marketplace – a lot of my inspiration there is tradition.

      Nothing like a nicely turned out sheerline!

      Best wishes

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