Wood/Canvas Canoe In Salt Water

Scot T

LOVES Wooden Canoes
Hello All,

I'm new here but have been hiding in the shadows for a while, absorbing all the excellent information. Enough to keep me going for years.

I recently completed a cedar strip/epoxy 15' Hiawatha from Ted Moores Canoecraft. Great book and fun canoe but now I'm looking to my next project. I'm really not keen on building another canoe using the fiberglass/epoxy method, after a Rob Roy and a Hiawatha (TOO much of a sticky mess for my tastes!!) and am setting up to build a wood/canvas. I have purchased Jerry Stelmok and Rollin Thurlow's books and a set of plans (I think my fate is in good hands) but I may adapt my Hiawatha forms to wood/canvas construction for my first learning experience....a lot of the form building work is already done!

I live on the west coast of Canada which gives me a big ocean to paddle around in. Thus my question... I read somewhere, (maybe in this forum but I cannot find it...) that there can be problems with wood/canvas canoes and salt water. If so, what can be done during the construction and after to minimize the damage?

Thanks in advance.
The problem with canvas canoes in salt water has to do with the de-zincificiation of the brass fasteners. Galvanic action causes the zinc to leach out of the brass, leaving crumbly fasteners and little white halos around each one. This can be mediated somewhat by giving the canoe a good washing with freshwater after each use. Since you are building new, you might consider using copper tacks and bronze screws in place of brass. Copper canoe tacks are still available, though pricier than brass.

After having seen numerous Willits Brothers canoes used in salt water I can tell you that copper tacks do not seem any less prone to salt water damage than brass ones. As Dan said, thoroughly rinsing the canoe immediately after each use greatly slows the damage, though, and it should last your lifetime if you do so. It also helps to keep varnish on the interior in great shape and patch leaky canvas as soon as it occurs to prevent as much direct salt water exposure as possible. You can see the effect of salt water on brass screws on the coaming of an old Willits in the attached photo.

I know a couple of paddlers from B.C. that routinely paddle on saltwater and their canoes do not show damage to the tacks. Their canoes are oiled rather than varnished, though, and I wonder if the oil somehow offers better protection?


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I replaced over 3000 copper nails on an all wood Lakefield canoe that had been used in the salt chuck. They had become a green powder. The brass screws it had weren't much better.
The key is a thorough washing immediately after use in salt water. I paddle regularly in the Pacific Ocean, but I wash immediately and never let the salt water dry on my boat. You have to be very diligent about this.
I've used my two Chestnuts in saltwater quite a bit and I always wash them out very thoroughly afterwards. In the right places, like paddling on Maine's craggy coast, I'm glad to run the risk.

One side issue is, "which ocean?' I read sometime back that the saline concentration of the Atlantic is significantly higher than that of the Pacific. This explained to me why the Pacific never smells like the ocean I'm used to smelling.
Thanks guys, for all your input. Looks like I might be getting back into the "sticky mess" after all. Not a particularly comforting thought, I might add.

I'm in need of a bigger, more stable canoe for Pacific Ocean coastal touring where I may not be able to wash it out immediately and/or thoroughly. Fiberglass/epoxy seems to be the safest bet.

But that will have to wait until I've had a go at the wood/canvas.
Don't worry about saltwater

I have been exploring the west coast for 18 summers in wood and dacron covered freighter canoes, one I built suffered great indignities with the scouts for a few years and suffers no ill affects to the construction when we recovered it as a project after 17 years use. The wood is much easier to repair, stronger for weight(use multiple layers of aircraft dacron and a 23ft freighter wieghs 230 to 270 lbs depending on design). I don"t wash out the canoes until the end of each trip(200-350nm each summers canoe trip). Photo if it makes it is of the moore islands hecate str. 2 013.jpg