How Fast Can A Canoe Go? We Find Out.

How Fast Can Canoes Go? We Find Out (With World Records).

Sliding over the glass-like stillness of a peaceful morning lake, a ride in the canoe is an incredible experience. The mist rising slowly off the water and wildlife waking to the coming day can be a nearly magical experience for the canoeist. However, it may not be only about peace and tranquility. If you like adventure and excitement, then perhaps you’re wondering just how fast can canoes go?  After all, getting some speed is a part of an exciting water adventure.

A canoe can go fairly fast when the person operating it knows what they are doing. 

The world record time for a single person in a canoe for a 200m distance is 37.446 seconds. This equates to an average speed of 12 miles per hour or 19.2 km per hour. Most average canoeists can achieve top speeds of about 9 miles per hour.

Canoe Speed World Records (Averages)

Take a look at the following graphs. They show the average race speeds for the world record holders for the 200m, 500m, 1000m (Men’s), and 5000m (Women’s).

A chart showing average speeds for world record canoe races for men in 200m, 500m, and 1000m.
Graphic courtesy of Farm 6 Media.

These graphs show the meters per second in blue, the average kilometers per hour in red, the average miles per hour in orange, and lastly, our friendly boating metric – knots, in green. To derive these numbers, we took the distance and divided it by the total world record time. Then, the numbers were converted to the corresponding unit of measure.

A chart showing average speeds for world record canoe races for women in 200m, 500m, and 1000m.
Graphic courtesy of Farm 6 Media.

There are a few things to note about the numbers shown in the above two graphs. There are also several considerations to consider when it comes to canoe speeds and what is really achievable. For the interest of saving your precious time, I’ve put both into the same list for your reading pleasure; let’s take a look.

How Fast Can Canoes Go? – Canoe Speed Considerations

  1. The average speed is not the top speed. The average speed calculated includes the initial acceleration curve. If one were to start the equation halfway through the race, when the watercraft would be at their peak average racing speed, the final average speed would be slightly higher. However, the amount would be negligible for all common purposes, so we didn’t feel it warranted inclusion in the equation.
  2. The canoes used in these races are specially designed for racing. The average canoe will not be able to travel as fast as a racing canoe by design.
  3. The world record holders are the best of the best, and common canoeists are likely no match for these world record holders’ canoe speed abilities. Therefore, although one might aspire to achieve speeds obtained by the world record canoe racers, it is doubtful that the common canoeist will achieve similar speeds.
A young lad holds a paddle wrong in this image.  He will never get much speed if holding the paddle the wrong way.
That doesn’t look like the right way to hold a paddle, now does it?

The Paddle Matters (And How You Hold It)

  1. The type of paddle used will also be a factor in determining a canoe’s overall top speed. Racing canoeists use specialized lightweight paddles designed specifically for racing. Common paddles are not designed for such use, and thus typical canoe speeds will be further reduced from world record holders.
  2. The weight of gear being held in a canoe increases the vessel’s overall weight. When weight is increased, the canoe’s hull is pushed deeper into the water, increasing displacement. Think of it this way, with forces requiring equilibrium, the downward force of the gear’s weight is being countered by the buoyancy force of the hull of the watercraft. This push-up and down with gravity versus buoyancy create a certain amount of friction between the watercraft’s hull and its surroundings. The greater that friction, the more power is required to propel the canoe forward. In other words, the lighter the canoe (with gear and occupants), the faster it will be able to travel.
A second paddler in a canoe can help to drastically increase the speed a canoe travels.
A canoe buddy makes canoeing fun and faster. After all, two paddles are better than one.
  1. The number of canoeists in the canoe and paddling will also determine the canoe’s overall top speed. The ability of these canoeists will also play a factor in speed. For example, two young 10-year-old boys in a canoe will be no match for two twenty-year-old boys. And if they are well-versed in paddling skills, then, even more, the advantage.
  2. One of the things many tend to forget until out on the water is the wind’s effect upon a canoe. If one is out on the water and a strong or even moderate wind comes at you head-on, you will soon find that paddling into the wind is more difficult than paddling in still conditions. Not only can a strong wind push your canoe like a sail, but also kick up some nasty whitecaps that can swamp your watercraft.

The Current Cannot Be Forgotten

  1. The current plays a huge role in all waterways, lakes, and oceans, but we really can’t see it. We can only see things being swept along by the current – like the wind; it is invisible to the human eye. But a robust current can pull your canoe along at a pretty good pace. Consider a river. A canoe might only be able to get up to a speed of, say, nine or ten miles per hour, but that might be relative to the water and not relative to the land. A fast-moving river with a canoe paddling along with the current can make the canoe go significantly faster than you might find even a world-record-holding canoeist can achieve.
  2. The last mention for affecting a canoe’s speed has to do with how the canoe is propelled. We’ve been talking all along about a person propelling a canoe utilizing a paddle – the most common method. It is becoming increasingly popular for people to opt for a lazier method of propulsion – electric trolling motor propulsion, to be more precise.

Most Trolling Motors Will Get A Canoe To 4 – 6 Miles Per Hour

How To Speed Things Up (In A Canoe)

Trolling Motors To Speed Up Your Canoe

Okay, so this is cheating, but who cares, right? The only requirement is a trolling motor, battery, and a trolling motor bracket. The downside is that the trolling motor will weigh one side of the canoe down more than the other. There are a few solutions, but I like to use an outrigger of sorts and make your canoe more like a catamaran. But that’s getting into a whole other topic (although it can potentially help you get even faster!).

Electric Trolling Motor Mounts

Take a look at the following picture. It shows an effective trolling motor mount currently (at time of writing) being sold on Amazon. This bracket comes in at under $100 and is quite rugged in its design.

A rudimentary trolling motor block
A rudimentary, yet effective, trolling motor mount to speed up your canoe.

Grab the above trolling motor mount on Amazon here.

Using a bracket like this is:

  1. Cost-effective – Allowing you to easily convert your canoe to powered propulsion with a few simple adjustments and at only a small cost.
  2. Simple and easy to use – A quick installation and removal mean you can easily toss this bracket in the back of your car with the canoe mounted on the roof rack above. Drive out to your favorite spot, and within minutes you can be in the water, powered up and ready to go.
  3. Lightweight – The bracket doesn’t weigh down the canoe, so you don’t worry about adding this small but effective component.
  4. Robust – A sturdy design from respectable materials means that you don’t have to worry about this attachment breaking off and losing your trolley motor to Davy Jones’ Locker.

Looking for something more secure?  This other one definitely fits the bill:

Grab your professional grade trolling motor mount on Amazon here.

Marine Batteries & Smart Terminal

But, to add the powered propulsion to your canoe to help speed it up, you’ll need a marine battery and a trolley motor too. You could now toss a marine battery into the canoe with some basic cables and be done with it, or you could go all out with the charging marine terminal lid. You can use it to charge your phone, monitor the battery, and best of all, protect your battery for extra longevity – which can save you money! 

A Newport marine battery smart terminal cover is shown in this file photo.
Another great innovation from Newport – the smart marine battery terminal cover.

You can find your own Newport Marine Battery Terminal cover on Amazon here.

Of course, the battery you should grab for your trolling needs is easy enough to get shipped over from Amazon. I recommend the Mighty Max, as shown in the following picture.

A Mighty Max 12V basic trolling motor battery is shown in this file photo.
The Mighty Max – A 12V Battery made to last.

Grab your Mighy Max 12V sealed battery here on Amazon.

Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more heavy-duty, then check out the VMAX MR137. This sealed marine AGM battery is perfect for up to 120 AH for a 50-110lb thrust Minn Kota or Newport trolling motor. It pairs beautifully with the Newport I like below.

A VMAX MR-137 marine battery is shown in this file photo.
The VMAX MR-137 Marine Battery can be found here (on Amazon).

You can grab your own VMAX on Amazon right here.

Trolling Motors – Top 2 Picks For Canoes

And last, but certainly not least, is the trolling motor itself. You will want a reliable and lightweight model so it won’t tip your canoe over. Take a look at this one by Newport in the following image. It’s reliable, simple to set up and use, and pretty strong, so it can really help speed up your adventures.

You can get your Newport Trolling Motor from Amazon here.

If Minn Kota (and a stormtrooper look) is more your speed, check out the following sleek and sexy Riptide trolling motor.

Grab your own blizzard-white Minn Kota here on Amazon.

Now that we’ve looked at a powered option to increase propulsion and speed up your canoe, what about other means?  Think more like a person of the past, before power. Let’s talk about sails and outriggers for canoes to speed them up.

More Speed Needs More Stability

Even if you use the powered trolley shown above, it’s still great to have some outriggers to stabilize the vessel. And if you don’t think they can help make you faster, ask a catamaran owner if their boat is faster than a monohull – it is, so don’t even worry about it.

Here’s a cheap little kit that’s pretty decent and can be used on a canoe or a kayak making it pretty versatile.

Stabilizers are shown that can be used on a canoe, kayak, or paddle board for increased stability.
The image is NOT a canoe, but you get the idea, it can work just the same on a canoe, kayak or paddle board if mounted properly.

Grab your own set of these watercraft stabilizers on Amazon here.

With an outrigger setup like this fastened to your canoe (I know, the image is of a kayak, they didn’t have a decent picture of a canoe), you can really improve stability. It works really well when you have that trolling motor mount hanging off one side of the watercraft.

A set of Hobie stabilizers are shown in this file photo.
A set of Hobie stabilizers is shown above as seen on Amazon. These can work pretty good to increase stability when going fast.

Grab your own set of Hobie stabilizers here (on Amazon).

The above is another set of outriggers. These are intended for a kayak but could easily be converted to canoe mount.

Wind Power Propulsion For Canoe Speed

If it’s one thing that’s true, it’s that the wind can get you moving really fast in your canoe if you can take full advantage of it. There aren’t too many sail kits that really do the job for canoes like kayaks. However, I’ve found two types that might do the trick.

A canoe Cup Sail is shown in this file photo. Sails can help to speed up boats by use of wind power.
What I like to call a Cup Sail for a canoe, kayak or paddle board. This one is as seen on Amazon.

The first sail that might be useful is what I’m calling a cup sail. From the picture above, you can see the sail is just a rudimentary cup-shaped device with a convenient window so you can still see where you’re headed.

Get your own Cup Sail on Amazon here.

A Slick Sail For Speed

A more professional design of sail is this kit shown next by Hobie. The kit is intended for installation on a kayak, but with a little ingenuity, it could be mounted on a canoe.

A Hobie sail kit intended for kayak, but adaptable to canoe can be seen in this file photo.
The Hobie sail kit as seen on Amazon (intended for kayak, but can be mounted if a modified mount is made to bridge the canoe hull).

Grab your own Hobie Sail Kit here (will need modification for a canoe mount).

The Hobie Mirage sail kit is pretty cool. It’s great to get you up to speed but I do strongly recommend you have an outrigger. A canoe isn’t as easy to steer as a kayak is and in a shifting wind, it can really rock things around. But, it can also really get you moving too.

If you aren’t looking to set up an outrigger, there’s also an anti-sink option. The long, black foam-filled bumper you see mounted on the side of the canoe in the following picture can really help to keep that canoe afloat if you’ve got it weighed down. It can also help if you’ve set up a sail to help speed things up. You can never be too cautious when trying to get that speed up faster.

A canoe sidewall float bumper can help protect the canoe from sinking and also protect the canoe from damage rubbing against things like docks.

Find your own canoe sidewall float bumper set here on Amazon.

Canoe Speed Final Lap – Tracking Speed In A Canoe

With so many different ways one could speed up a canoe, we almost forgot how we’re going to tell just how fast it’s going. Because the first question we looked at, after all, was how fast can canoes go, right? And with water currents, it can be deceiving to how fast a canoe is going compared to stable land.

I like to use my waterproof bike GPS unit when I go out canoeing. It uses GPS so although I’m not getting a speed relative to the water, I am getting speed relative to position over time. And that is good enough for me because I like to know how fast I’m going overall – like when I’m on a river and the current is bringing me along while I paddle to increase speed above that of the current. I’ve found I can go quite fast in a decent current but I wouldn’t have necessarily been going very fast compared to my surrounding water.

Take a look at the Meilan mini GPS bike computer. I use it on my bike and take it out on the canoe as well so I can see how fast I’m going. It’s waterproof and I can charge it via USB. It also looks pretty cool in white.

A waterproof bike GPS speedometer is a handy hack to use to track your canoe speed. You can find this one on Amazon.

Grab your own waterproof (bike) GPS computer here on Amazon.

So there you have it—top speeds for a canoe and also some clever ways to speed things up. I hope I’ve answered your query about how fast canoes can go; if not, leave me a comment, and I’ll revise for you. As always, at Boating Guide, we love full transparency. Although most of the information in this article came from our experience, there were a few places we looked for further information. See below.

Sources For How Fast Can Canoes Go Article Research

Cause we aren’t afraid to admit we do research. Nobody knows everything after all.

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