triple keels?

Rob von Bitter

Enthusiastic about Wooden Canoes
I've got wideboard Gordon and seen a few other all-wood varieties that have 3 keels. Someone once told me that these triple keels were put on canoes that were going to be used by trappers, so the boats could be hauled across the ice. Does anybody know if this really is the reason for triple keels, or is it to help the canoe track straight?

Thanks in advance,


I was curious when I read your thread... I entered triple keels into Google and came up with many yacht keels but this site makes and sells large freighter canoes with triple keels. You might want to contact them...
CYA. Joe

I also have a Willits with triple keels. I recall having read someplace that it was for tracking in big waters. This would make some sense as the Willits were designed for costal waters. (Puget Sound) The Willits I have was built as a livery model or a scout canoe. It was built with no seats, just thwarts. I have another Wilits on the way that has just a regular keel. This is a sailing canoe. It goes to show that the triple keels were an option, (or the other way round??).

HTH, Mark
Triple keels???

Hi Rob,

In the Peterborough area and specifically around Rice Lake the term trapper canoe often referred to a small 13 to 15 ft long x 28 to 30 in width wide-board raised rib & batten canoe used by the local trappers. The bow and stern on those canoes was built with a good undercut so the canoe easily could be run up on the ice or on the shore. It was equipped with three iron-clad hardwood keels for protection and to a small degree to easily glide upon ice. The sheer line of those canoes was also quite flat in sideview to not get caught up in brush etc. along the shore line.

In the case of modern “plastic” canoes the three keels are there to stiffen an otherwise flimsy bottom.

Dick Persson
Headwater Wooden Boat Shop
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Bilge Keels


The Willits Bros. called them bilge keels.

I have attached a picture of my Willits that has them. The picture shows them to be half the hight or less of the main keel.



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Willits bilge keels

Willits Brothers canoes always came with a keel and outside stem. Bilge keels were an option. A customer could get one set of them, or two sets (two bilge keels on each side of the main keel so you would have 5 keels!). Most Willits canoes I've seen have the single keel. I think I've seen only one with 2 sets. Interestingly, the bilge keels didn't parallel the main keel. Rather they followed the curve of the outer planking. I don't think they were added to improve tracking as the main keel was sufficient for that. I've a copy of a letter from Earl Willits to a client in which he says he can add bilge keels to a damaged canoe and that they would help stiffen the hull somewhat. They also added a measure of protection on the bottom for those paddlers who were uninformed enough to drag a canoe on shore.
When set on the ground, a canoe with bilge keels would sit one of them and the main keel. This minimized contact between the hull and the ground. When all you've got is a bit of varnish over the wood, every bit of protection helps.

They would also, of course, act as rails and stiffen the bottom as described.