5 Easy Steps to Get You on the Water

A beginner’s guide to a first float.

When the summer solstice comes around, a day on the lake/river sounds like the perfect way to cool down! But for those of us that don’t want to buy a motorboat (or constantly mooch from a friend that owns one), what’s a simple way to get on the water? (Albeit, a season pass to the local pool)?

Enter… the canoe. An easy boat to store and maintain for those summer days that you want to hit the water. Here are 5 easy steps to think about while acquiring a new canoe!

1. Buying the Boat

Fiberglass canoe sits atop our Subaru. Paddles and life jackets in front of it.

If you’re not wanting to buy new, sometimes Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace has what’s needed. I’d recommend buying a canoe made of aluminum or fiberglass, both sturdy materials that can get a bit beat up and handle the sometimes mucky water of southern Minnesota. We also own a Kevlar canoe, which is our go-to for Boundary Waters trips due to its low weight. Although, she’s a sensitive boat that can’t handle many scratches. Plastic is also a frequent option, but these boats are harder to navigate and must be stored inside during the winter.

If you go with the Craig’s List route, a couple of tips to know it’s a good buy:

  1. Inspect all areas of the canoe, ask the seller if you can flip it over to analyze the bottom.
  2. Check for the straightness/curves of the gunwales. A dent in this spot is often unfixable.
  3. Try picking the boat up, does anything fall off or feel not right?
  4. Does the person have the canoe license/title on hand? Sometimes it can be a rigamarole to get the required paperwork when purchasing a new boat.

Oftentimes you can come across a used Fiberglass canoe that needs simple repairs, like a spot requiring a Gator Guard patch. Fiberglass repair kits are sold all over the internet, so don’t be scared! They’re easy to use, as long as you care more about the function than the looks.

Our winter storage place for boats!

2. Paddles & Life Jackets

Next, you’ll need to acquire a few paddles. I’d recommend buying 1 for each person as well as a spare. Nick and I keep an extra paddle in the boat, wiring it under our seats inside the canoe. This is the “just in case bad things happen” paddle, like perhaps we both get crazy and lose our paddles in the middle of the lake!

Also know that it’s illegal to float without a life jacket for each person. A new canoe owner can get themselves into some inexpensive life jackets from the Fleet Farm pretty easily. But be honest with yourself, if you’re not a great swimmer- maybe you need to go up a model.

3. Boat License

The next thing to think about after acquiring a new canoe is the boat licensing. With the registration of the boat and a bill of sale (one time, this was simply my name and the date on the registration card signed by the previous owner) head down to the DMV to pick up a new license and change the registration of the boat to your name. The price will vary depending on the boat but is usually in the $20-40 range.

4. Roof Racks

The next thing to consider is some cross bar roof racks for your vehicle. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, I’ve seen people use pool noodles before….

One idea is to head to the dealership that the car is from to buy roof racks (then, they’ll put them on for you!) There’s also the Amazon route, my recommendation here is to search for “whisper bars” and to stick with known brands like Yakima or Thule. Again, there’s the Craig’s List/Facebook Marketplace option, but sometimes there’s nothing available to fit your car.

The next item needed is a good set of ratchet straps, you’ll need at least 2, 15-foot straps to tie the boat onto the car. Something that’s not necessary, but makes canoe hauling easier is a Portage Canoe Carrier. This keeps the canoe secure on the roof racks and is especially nice if driving far distances.

5. Find a Lake

Once everything from above has been acquired, the next thing to do is look up nearby lakes in the good ole’ Road Atlas Map. With a canoe, there may be more locations available due to motor restrictions. 

At the end of the day, don’t hesitate to visit a lake for fear of motorboats. I’ve been to Fourth of July celebrations, paddling up in my canoe to multiple pontoons tied together and everyone was super neighborly! And if you’re scared of big waves, know that most people slow down near canoes, and if they don’t just paddle perpendicular to the wake and wave a nearby bird.

Luna paddles in river ahead of canoe. Cloudy blue skies above.

Owning a canoe is an easy way to get into outdoor hobbies this summer. And the best part about a fiberglass or aluminum canoe is the minimum storage required in the wintertime! These boats can handle laying upside down outside, with or without a tarp on top, and still be ready for the next dog day’s fishing expedition.

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This post was written by Annie Schmitz, June 2021.

Annie laying on a cow in the pasture. Calves stand in the background.

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