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How Many People Can Fit In A Canoe?

Mark Armstrong
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If you want to know how many people can fit in a canoe you may need to calculate the maximum weight capacity of the canoe.

Many canoes are designed to fit two people, with some having a third seat for an extra passenger. There are also canoes that have room for 4 or more paddlers.

When you’re trying to work out how many people can fit in a canoe it can be worth checking out the manufacturer’s recommended maximum weight capacity for that particular vessel.

Canoes come in different lengths, with longer ones usually being more suited to more than one paddler. To help you decide which size of canoe might suit you and your paddling partners best, we’ve put together some information that you might find useful.

Also read our guide to canoe size and length

How Many People Can Fit In A Canoe - PinterestPin

The Law – How Many People Are Allowed To Fit Into A Canoe?

The US Coast Guard requires all motorized boats that are less than 20 feet in length to have a maximum capacity decal fixed to the side of the boat. This is not a legal requirement for canoes, kayaks or sailboats. However, if the canoe is designed to have a motor attached or is sold with a motor attached then it will be required to have this decal.

This will usually apply to canoes that have a square stern that has been crafted to have a trolling motor attached. In this case, most of these types of canoes will have the capacity decal already attached when you purchase them.

The decal states the maximum number of people that the vessel can safely carry or the maximum weight that it can hold, as well as the maximum horsepower motor it can take. If one of these totals is exceeded then you could be in breach of the law if you were stopped by law enforcement.

This means that if you have three people on board a motorized canoe with a maximum capacity of two, even if the total weight of the three people is less than the maximum weight capacity, this would still be breaking the capacity regulations.

Non-motorized canoes are generally not subject to the capacity regulations but you may find if you overload the boat beyond its maximum weight capacity, it may not perform as well as you’d hope.

Other countries, such as the UK and Australia, generally recommend not exceeding the maximum weight capacity of your canoe, as overloading can be dangerous and can affect the stability of your boat.

How Many People Can Fit In A Canoe? (Canoe Person Sizes)

The number of people you can fit in a canoe will usually depend on the size of your canoe. Generally, the longer your canoe, the more weight it should be able to hold and therefore the more people it can fit.

Calculating Weight Capacity

You can calculate the approximate weight capacity of your vessel, even if there is no decal stating this information. One way to do this is to first measure the length and width of your canoe in feet.

Multiply the length in feet by the width in feet. Then divide this by 15. This will give you the number of people your canoe can carry, based on a person of 150 pounds. You can adjust this by changing the number you divide by. For example, 18 for an average person of 180 pounds.

To get the weight capacity you can simply multiply the number you get by the average person weight you used.

Example: 16 by 3 foot canoe with an average person weight of 150 pounds = 3.2 people (3 people) or 480 pounds (16 x 3 = 48 ÷15 = 3.2 x 150 = 480).

1-Person (Solo) Canoe

A solo canoe is usually built with just one seat, meaning it will usually be shorter than a multi-person canoe. This is so that it can be more easily maneuvered by one person. Single person canoes will also usually have a lower weight capacity than larger ones.

If you plan to paddle by yourself in a solo canoe you should still find that there’s plenty of room for your gear or even your dog.

Single person canoes tend to be easier to transport because they are often lighter than multi-person canoes. They can range from around 13 feet to 14 feet but you may find some are shorter or longer than this.

A one person canoe may be less versatile than a tandem, as you’re limited to only paddling on your own. The weight capacity may also be significantly less than what you might find in a tandem boat.

The Mad River Serenade 13 Canoe is a lightweight, solo canoe that can be ideal for a range of activities, from fishing to camping. It has a weight capacity of 300 pounds so you may not have a lot of capacity if you’re a larger paddler and want to load it up with heavy gear.

2-Person (Tandem) Canoe

A lot of canoes that you see on the water, or at rental outfitters, tend to be tandem canoes. These types of canoes are generally designed for two paddlers, which can take a bit of getting used to, particularly if you normally paddle on your own but they can sometimes hold more or less people.

Video: How to Paddle a Tandem Canoe

In many cases a tandem canoe will also have a center seat or room for a third person, such as a child and so they can also be considered three person vessels.

A two person canoe can be more difficult to paddle if you’re on your own because of the added length and the difference in the weight distribution, but it can be done. However, you may find you need to adjust your paddling style for this and even face the opposite direction in the boat.

The best canoes

Video: How to Paddle a Canoe Solo

Generally, tandem canoes will be longer than solo ones and tend to range from around 14 feet to 17 feet in length, but this can vary significantly between brands and models.

A tandem canoe can be ideal for family camping trips but you may need two of them for a family of four to be comfortable.

The Old Town Saranac 146 Canoe is a 14 foot 6 inch tandem canoe that has a maximum capacity of 750 pounds. This can make it a great option for camping trips. It also has a center bench seat that can be ideal for a smaller third passenger.

3-Person Canoe

A three person canoe can hold up to three people but can usually be paddled with less. For example, some tandem canoes may also fall into this category.

These types of canoes can be ideal if you want to paddle with another two people, as they should give you enough space per person for comfort, as well as room for all of your gear.

Canoes designed for three people will tend to be longer, which can mean they’re more difficult to transport on land and trickier to maneuver on the water. But this may not be as much of an issue if there are three of you compared to trying to move it by yourself.

Some three person canoes are often a similar size to tandem canoes and can be found in the range of around 14 to 17 feet.   

The Pelican 15.5 can be a good example of a three person canoe. It is 15 foot 7 inches long and features three bench seats. It can be ideal for a family fishing trip since it has built-in rod holders included.

4-Person Canoe And More

Canoes that are designed to carry four or more people tend to be less common. This is because you usually need a lot of extra length to accommodate the additional weight. This can make them more difficult to transport and store, and they can often be more expensive.

A multi-person canoe can be ideal for trips where you need to meet regulations, for example, if you’re paddling within the Minnesota Boundary Waters and Canada’s Quetico Wilderness (BWCA) area.

Within this area, groups are limited to a maximum of four canoes and nine people, which means you would need at least one canoe that seats more than two people to meet regulations in a group of nine.  

Four person canoes will often be around the 20 foot mark. You may struggle to find a canoe that is built to seat more than four people. If you plan to paddle in a group of more than four, you may find that two or more canoes may be more suitable.

The Wenonah Minnesota 3 is a 20 foot canoe that is designed to carry three paddlers with enough room for a fourth. With a stern seat, a sliding bow seat and a removable center seat, you can configure it to suit your family.

Wrapping Up

When you’re trying to decide what size of canoe would best suit your needs, it can be important to think about who, if anyone, you will be paddling with. Many two person canoes can also be paddled solo, so if you paddle on your own sometimes but with a partner most of the time, a tandem canoe can be ideal.

As well as the person capacity, it can also be worth remembering that there will usually be a weight capacity for the canoe, recommended by the manufacturer. It can be safer to stick to within this limit.

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