I just purchase an American Trader's Atkinson Traveler wood canvas canoe from Craigslist. The boat seems to have been in storage for many years and was maybe only paddled two to three times. Overall it is in amazing shape. However, there are quite a few linear cracks in the enamel paint on the hull, a few chips from possible drops, and one spot on the bow that seems to be from an impact. I wonder if much of this is normal wear if these cracks came from someone dropping the canoe or something falling on it while in storage or from deep freeze cycles. All of the woodwork is in great condition and shows no signs of damage or splitting. Pictures attached for reference.
  • What would be the best thing to do to repair these cracks?
  • Can I paddle it as it is?
  • Is the damage significant enough to be of concern?
  • Is the red color, where the paint is chipped, the filler or a primer?
  • Does it just need to be sanded and repainted?
  • Does this warrant re-canvasing the canoe?
Any insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all for your time!


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First, are you sure that the covering is canvas? American Trader often covered canoes with fiberglass, and some of your pics show a fabric weave that could be glass. Properly filled canvas is generally very smooth, with the filler effectively hiding the texture/weave of the canvas. And canvas generally has a finer texture than the covering that is visible through the paint. On a canvas-covered hull. I would not expect to see the fabric texture that is clearly visible in the two photos of white paint with the bright reflections, and even visible in the photo of the green bulls-eye damage.

If it does not leak (only one way to find out), you might get away with paddling it as is -- but those cracks will eventually leak, and you will be better off if you deal with them now -- they are not like a skinned knee that will heal -- these cracks will only get worse.

Whether glass or canvas, you should not need a new covering. I will leave it to others to discuss how to deal with the cracks if it the covering is fiberglass.

But if it is traditional paint on filled canvas, you should be able to fix things up pretty well. You could try to deal just with the cracked areas, but that would mean trying to match paint color, something that is usually not a complete success. Painting the whole canoe, once the cracks are dealt with, is actually a fairly fast and easy job -- you can sand and smooth a hull exterior in less than a morning.

Now, as to the cracks -- and these comments only apply to a canvas covering that has been filled with a traditional filler:

At least two of the cracked areas seem to be the result of impacts -- the bulls-eye crack in the green paint, and the "S" shaped cracked area in the white paint with much red showing through. The other cracks may also be the result of impact, or they may be the result of the paint drying out over "many years" of storage.

Whatever the cause, the treatment is much the same, but long-term success is more likely with impact cracks -- if cracks are the result of drying out, more are likely to appear and the existing ones may re-appear.

Especially where paint has chipped away, sand to feather the edges of the chipped area, and similarly, sand the edges of cracks to eliminate sharp edges of cracks. This may be difficult on this hull because of the overall fabric has not been filled to the point of smoothness, and you do not want to sand into the canvas.

Once you have sanded as smooth as you can, you have two choices. On canvas that has been traditionally filled to a smooth surface, I would apply a spot putty such as Bondo spot putty (comes in a tube at auto shops -- not the two-part Bondo used to repair dents). One or two applications, sanding after drying, will give you a fair surface that can then be painted and the repair could be invisible.

But on your hull, where the texture of the fabric clearly shows., the repaired smooth areas filled with the spot putty will be noticeably smoother than the adjoining unrepaired areas. So, alternatively, you might want to skip the spot putty, and just apply a couple of coats of primer and paint. This might leave visible vestiges of the cracks, but the new primer/paint will actually seal things enough that there should be no leaking. Then paint the entire hull with the color(s) that you like -- the 2-tone green/white is very nice, but if you would prefer something else, this would be a good time and you should feel free to go with what you like. As to what paint to use -- some folks use top grade marine enamels -- expensive, durable, and great if what you want is a high-gloss finish. Other folks use Rustoleum, or a good porch and deck paint (Benjamin Moore or other good grade paint). Note that a semi-gloss paint will tend to hide any paint-job defects, while a high-gloss paint will tend to highlight them -- given what you are dealing with, I would go the semi-gloss route.

In any event, you will not have a hull that will pass a concourse d'elegance inspection, but should pass the 20 foot test -- "looks pretty good from 20 feet away."

And you should be able to get quite a few years of service from your very nice canoe.
Greg Nolan, thank you for the info! I really appreciate it! I am going to call American Traders today to find out what the boat is covered in and what the age is, based on the serial number. My hope is to get a few seasons out of it before having to get it recanvased. Thanks!
I'd Be interested to learn what the covering actually is -- and if it is glass, was it painted green/white by American Traders (which typically sold its glass-covered boats clear coated) or was the paint applied by an owner after purchase.

In 2013, my wife interviewed Tim Cutherbertson who then owned American Traders. At the time he acquired the company in 2002, American Traders canoes were built by a number of small shops in Quebec. By 2013, Cuthbertson was dealing with only one supplier. He subsequently sold the company, I'm not sure when. I assume American Traders continues to get canoes from the same supplier, but I am not sure. But their facility in Brattleboro, Vt. is a retail sales operation only and canoes are not built there.
If it is glass covered, the fastest way to fill the weave texture on a fiberglass surface is to slather it with a resin/microballoon mixture. This would then be followed by a quick sanding (might take an hour to sand the entire canoe with the right disk sander) and paint. The fastest way is not really the best way as a microballoon mixture (which just happens to be a dark reddish brown color) is kind of brittle and not very strong or abrasion resistant. Over time and a few seasonal heat/cold cycles it is also not the least bit unusual to see the fiberglass weave texture showing up a bit (called telegraphing) on what was originally a perfectly smooth surface. It's not a problem structurally, but you can see it. If it is microballoon filler, the damage is also pretty much cosmetic and not likely to leak. To fix/fill crazing and small cracks you generally use a Dremel with a pointed bit to cut the crack into a shallow "V" shape then fill it with some sort of resin /filler mixture or putty, sand it smooth and paint. It's not hard, but it's pretty tedious work.

If it is "regular" filled canvas I'm surprised that they put so much pigment into it to make the color so dark.

If you tap lightly on the surface with something like a metal screwdriver fiberglass covering will have a very bright, crisp sound. Most canvas jobs will have a somewhat duller, thumpy sound.
I spoke with a Tim (not sure if it was Cutherbertson) at American Trader's this morning. Based on the Serial # it was built in 1997 and is a wood canvas canoe. The primer was red back then and the paint was Epiphanes Marine Enamel. Honestly, given the rough edges under the inwales and the end cuts on the seats, I think the build was rushed, and/or the canvas was underfilled or over sanded. This is probably why the canvas pattern is showing. It's not the nicest, smoothest wood canvas boat, but it was only $500. And, I think with some sanding and new paint it will hopefully give me a few years to enjoy it before I need to get it recanvased.
One more question for you all. Could I carefully sand the hull down to the filler/canvas and apply shellac to the hull (below the waterline) instead of repainting it? I like the idea of having a surface that I can touch up each year and looks a bit more "graceful" with scratches. Thoughts on this approach? And, has anyone out there attempted to shellac a hull after it's been previously painted. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in and shared their advice and experience. It's priceless. Thank you!
First, keep in mind that no one sees the hull below the waterline when the canoe is in the water -- and below the waterline is where scratches and scrapes generally occur.

It is very difficult to sand all the paint off an entire hull without sanding through the filler into the canvas. Given what appears to be a textured hull surface of your hull, either from printing through or from insufficient filler, I would be surprised if you would get a uniform color by simply sanding. You would likely sand into the high parts of the canvas weave before sanding out the color-filled low spots between the warp and weft threads.

If the dark red showing through the white paint is indeed the filler, the shellacked area will end up quite dark. Shellac, being translucent, will let every blemish and variation in the underlying hull color and texture show through, and will do nothing to hide scrapes and scratches that break or penetrate through the shellac.

Why not just keep your two-tone paint scheme, re-painting it after repairing existing scratches and blemishes. When touch up is needed below the waterline, touch up with the same white paint. Or perhaps alternatively, paint the entire hull a darkish red approximately the color of the filler, so that scratches and chips will be less obvious until touch up time.

Shellac is not magic -- it will show scuffs and scrapes, and it may even alligator a bit all by itself until touched up. It is easily applied and fast drying, but getting a good touch up that does not look blotchy can be tricky and may require coating the whole shellacked portion of the hull -- easily enough done -- but so is painting, either for touch up or to cover a whole section of the hull (such as below the waterline). Shellac can look nice -- here is our Model 1889 when we picked it up from Jerry Stelmok's Island Falls Canoe shop -- but just daubing on shellac to cover a small scrape can disrupt the shellac's color and sheen uniformity.

ss cr ed IMG_2682.JPG

ss cr ed IMG_2683.JPG