What is a Freighter Canoe?


A freighter canoe filled with passengers

Canoeing is a popular recreational activity and it is not unusual to see a canoeist paddling on an inland waterway or even in the ocean. Canoes usually come in sizes from 10 ‘ to 18 ‘ and work well for one or two paddlers. But what on earth is a freighter canoe and what is it used for?

A freighter canoe is a larger shallow draft inland waterway vessel used for carrying heavy loads and up to 12 people. A freighter canoe is similar to a standard recreational canoe only much bigger. Freighter canoes are also known as cargo canoes because they can be used for transporting heavy loads up to 3 tons. Freighter canoes are often fitted with an outboard trolling motor. They are commonly used in shallow waters for transportation, hunting and fishing.

What is a freighter canoe?

A freighter canoe is a much bigger version of a standard canoe.

Although there are outrigger canoes capable of ocean use the type of canoes you mostly see on American waters are recreational canoes with one or two paddlers onboard. A freighter canoe can carry much more people because they are bigger boats.

The modern canoe was, of course, developed from the native American dugout canoe though it is worth noting similar boats were also being used in certain parts of Europe. However, the canoe we all know and love today has its roots firmly set in the history of the Native American Nations.

Original native American canoes were tree trunks that were dugout to allow people to kneel in them and take to the water,

The original designs of these dugouts came in two different forms.

The first was the kayak which was a single cockpit boat, propelled by a single paddle and used by only one person. Obviously this design has its drawbacks when it comes to the transportation of people and goods and is more suited to activities such as fishing.

The second type of boat design is of much more interest to us as it is the traditional canoe.

A canoe is usually built to be between 14 feet and 17 feet long so it can accommodate two people with gear and supplies. Each canoeist will propel the boat using a single oar, each one paddling at either side of the boat to ensure the canoe tracks straight.

Canoes were extremely important in the pioneer days across North America, especially in Canada where the easiest form of transport was on the waterways that lace the country. The vast expanse of uninhabited areas would have been almost impossible to navigate without the aid of the canoe. It was in Canada where the freight canoe was born and it is there that it is still used today.

Early canoes, especially the Native American Nations canoes, were made of birch bark which is buoyant and sturdy and and these canoes could haul many times their own weight in freight. Freight, or cargo canoes, are based on a similar design but are much larger canoes capable of carrying heavier loads and more people.

Freighter canoes are so large that they are often fitted with an outboard motor. Trolling motors between up to 15 hp are used for a freighter canoe and offer enough power to help paddlers move upstream and/or achieve faster speeds when moving downstream. A 15 hp motor may not be powerful enough to move this large boat upstream unassisted if it has a full load but with the aid of paddle or pole it makes the job of battling the current much easier.

Some freighter canoe owners will mount trolling motors bigger than 15 hp. These more powerful motors may fix the problem of moving upstream but they bring with them different problems and can cause more trouble than they fix.

Freighter canoes can be operated by a crew of up to 10 or 12 paddlers. Like all canoes, a freighter canoe is easy to handle and can be maneuvered quite easily by the paddlers.

Freighter canoes tend to be flat bottomed but different hull designs do exist and, as with other canoes, some feel a little more tippy than others. For example, Grumman canoes offer better tracking, maneuverability and durability but can feel very tippy to the inexperienced freighter canoeist. It is also more difficult to mount an outboard on one due to the the design of the stern.

Although they are larger than standard canoes a freighter canoe can usually be portaged by 4 people.

Two paddlers, one at the bow and one at the stern, can also propel the boat even if it is full of passengers though this is not ideal and does require some effort.

Freighter canoes can carry many times their own weight in freight with some boats, such as the Montreal canoe, being able to haul as much as three tons.

Montreal freighter canoe on calm river
Montreal freighter canoe on calm river with a crew of 10

Freighter canoes have a strong historical link to the North America but there uses are not just historical. Freighter canoes are still in use today mostly in the Yukon river in both Canada and Alaska.

What is a freighter canoe used for?

Freighter canoes are used for transportation, fishing and hunting.

Historically these canoes were used to haul fur and other goods for trading. With the vastness of Canada larger boats were required to haul more stuff with each journey.

The weight capacity of the boat is extraordinary and its capacity for large numbers of crew also made it invaluable back in the pioneer times when the American continent was much more treacherous for travelers.

In modern times many freighter canoes are used for hunting because they are ideal for the purpose. Offering exceptional weight carry capacity for gear, hunters, prey and dogs it is difficult to find a boat with a shallow draft that would be a good alternative.

When you add to this the boat’s stealth (these boats are very quiet when under paddle or pole power) and its shallow draft, which allows it to access extremely shallow waters, it is easy to see why hunters love these canoes.

Summary

A freighter canoe is also known as a cargo canoe because it has a large carry capacity being able to haul many times its own weight in freight. Some freighter canoes can carry as much as 3 tons of cargo.

Freighter canoes are also popular for transporting large groups on rivers, lakes and other inland waterways especially in areas with shallow water.

Freighter canoes are often used as hunting boats due to their stealth, shallow draft and ability to carry large loads and crew.

A freighter canoe is large enough to easily handle a small outboard motor. You can usually mount a trolling motor up to about 15 hp on a freighter canoe without encountering any problems. If you for a motor that is more powerful than that you may run into trouble though as canoes were never designed for motorized propulsion.

If you plan to mount an outboard trolling motor lager than 15 hp please read the article can you put a motor on a canoe for safety tips and guidance.

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