How Many People Can Fit in a Canoe?


How many people can fit in a canoe?

When I was ready to buy our first family canoe, I wanted to know how many people a canoe can fit. After all, how many people a canoe fits determines if you can take canoe trips with your whole family or just take turns while everyone else waits on the shore. And who really wants to do that?

How many people can fit in a canoe? Most canoes can fit two people. Manufacturers build and sell more 2-person canoes than any other size. Though the most popular canoes fit two people, 1-person and 3-person canoes are the next most popular sizes. And there are some manufacturers who build canoes that can fit 4 or more people.

Those three sizes—canoes that fit 1, 2, or 3 people—represent over 90% of the canoes built. Because there are very few manufacturers who offer canoes designed for 4 people to ride in them, and even fewer still who build canoes that can seat more than 4 people.

Why canoes that seat 2 people? With two people in a canoe, paddling is easier and more efficient, weight is distributed evenly from the front to the back (bow to stern) of the canoe, and if need be a canoe that’s made to fit two people can easily seat and be paddled by only one person.

That being said, canoes that fit more than 3 or 4 people, do exist. And we’ll get to them after we look at how many people can fit in the most popular canoe sizes. Because big canoes are so cool you’ll at least want to check them out.

How many people do you want to fit in a canoe?

The canoeing adventures that are the most fun are the ones with lots of people, so figuring this one thing out will enhance your time spent paddling.

We’ve talked a lot about canoe width, canoe length, and canoe weight in other articles. And though all that technical information about canoes is important in choosing a canoe, what most of us are looking for is a good time paddling with 1 or 2 friends or family members.

In other words, what’s really important is how many people you can fit in a canoe.

So, yes the average canoe can seat 2 people, but if you need seating to fit 4 people what should you do?

I’m lucky to have a very awesome (and economically advantageous) 4-person family. When I first started looking at canoes, I thought I’d get one that we could all ride in. But I quickly changed my mind.

Here’s why…

Longer canoes have several disadvantages vs a canoe that fits 2 people. We’ll go into detail below, but in general longer canoes are harder to paddle, maneuver, transport, and store.

How many people are allowed to fit in a canoe?

First things first—safety.

Motorized Canoe Seating Limits

The United States Coast Guard has rules and regulations around the maximum number of people a motorized canoe can seat. Those rules have to do with a canoe’s buoyancy, and that determines how many people a canoe will safely carry, how much overall weight those people can be, and in addition how much gear and/or any attached motor can weigh.

But how do you figure that stuff out? How do you know what a canoe’s legal weight capacity is?

Thankfully, canoe builders have made this easy on you. Most motorized canoes have maximum seating limits in number of persons, their weight, plus numbers for motor and gear weight limits. Those limits are printed on a capacity decal that’s permanently affixed to the inside of the canoe.

How Many People Can Fit in a Canoe - Capacity Decal
Old and New Motorized Canoe Seating Capacity Decals

This decal has been required on all mono-hulled vessels since 1972. And it applies only to monohull boats under 20′ except sailboats, canoes, kayaks and inflatable boats.

The old style aluminum canoes didn’t call out the exact number of persons, just their weight. So, if you buy a used aluminum canoe that can take a motor, you’ll likely find a capacity decal that simply lists maximum horsepower, maximum persons capacity, and maximum weight capacity (persons, motor & gear) specification.

So that’s why you’d see those 17′ aluminum canoes loaded up with 5 kids in the 80’s and 90’s.

On the new USCG decals, the maximum number of persons is called out right on the maximum capacity decal. So if it says 3 people can fit, that’s all you’re allowed to have when the Sheriff’s boat or the USCG pulls you over.

Non-motorized Canoe Seating Limits

Non-motorized canoes do not have a requirement to post a USCG weight decal on them. For them, the manufacturers determine a canoe’s maximum allowable cargo weight and people capacities and post them in the canoe’s specifications on their website and in the canoe’s manual.

2 Person Canoe

Let’s say you’ve got a family of 4 that you want to take on an overnight or multi-day touring canoe trip, knowing what I know now, I’d start looking at a couple of reasonably-priced, two-person canoes. Because two canoes designed to fit 2 people each will outperform, outmaneuver, out-capacity, and outpace one longer and more difficult to paddle 4 person canoe, hands down.

A 2-person canoe hits the sweet spot for length, width, weight, portability and ease of storage. And that’s why you’ll find at least twice as many two man canoes available than you will any other size canoe.

And there are good reasons that canoes that fit 2 people are so popular.

A two seater, two person canoe is on average 16 feet long, 34 to 37 inches wide, and weighs between 55 and 70 pounds. A two man canoe can be paddled efficiently by a 2 person crew, holds enough gear for 2 people to tour and overnight camp for several days, and is light enough that those two people can still carry it with little difficulty.

In addition, at 16′ long, a 2 seat canoe is relatively easy to transport on the roof of most midsize cars and SUVs, can be portaged overhead by 2 people, and when you’re done enjoying your canoe for 2, it can be stored in most single family home garages.

Some Canoes that fit 2 People

1 Person Canoe

And yet there are those times when you just want to go out and paddle by yourself, enjoying the water and the outdoors solo. And there are enough people who love to do that, that the next most popular size canoe, and second most built and marketed is a canoe designed to fit one person—a solo paddled canoe.

A one person, one man, or “solo” canoe is roughly 13′ to 14′ long, about 33″ wide, and weighs on average about 50 pounds,

Most solo canoes are designed to seat one person and are generally paddled from the middle of the canoe. This is to ensure that the person’s weight is evenly distributed and so they can more efficiently paddle the canoe. For this reason, most one man canoes have the seat installed in the center of the canoe.

But there are also those one person canoes that are designed to be ultra-versatile. These canoes are primarily solo canoes, but come with 3 seats and are designed so they can also seat 1, 2, or even 3 people.

The Old Town Discovery 133 is the perfect example of a “solo” canoe that can fit and be paddled by up to 3 people.

Solo canoes designed to fit only one person, are easier to transport on the roof of most small to midsize cars, can be portaged overhead by 1 person without a problem, and when you’re done enjoying your solo paddling trip, one person canoes can be stored much easier than a 2 or 3 person canoe.

Solo Canoes that can Seat 1 Person

  • Mad River Serenade TR ULTRALITE is a 13’1″ long, 28.25″ wide, ultralite canoe that can fit one person and be paddled from a single center seat.
  • Old Town Next is a 13′ long, 29″ wide, canoe that can seat one person.
  • Wenonah Wee Lassie is a 10’6″ long, 27″ wide solo sports and leisure canoe that’s designed to seat one person.

3 Person Canoe

Speaking of canoes that fit 3 people… What if you ended up, by some miracle of nature as often happens, with a 5 person family? Well, I guess you could take off in your pair of two person canoes and leave little Johnny on the shore to watch and wish he could go with you… (Uh, no.) Or you could get one, 3-person canoe and one canoe designed to seat 2 people.

But whether you’re three friends, 3 sisters, or just a 3-person family that’s yet to have that fourth paddler show up, a 3 person canoe has a lot of advantages.

Advantages of a canoe that fits 3 people

  • First off, you only have to buy, maintain, and store 1 canoe
  • A 3 person canoe can fit more gear and people
  • 3 person canoes allow the option for 2 people to paddle while one takes a rest
  • 3 person canoes are maneuverable enough that they are easy to handle in many paddling situations
  • 3 person canoes double as solo canoes that can be loaded up with gear

Canoes that can fit 3 People

  • Mad River Journey 167 is a 16’7″ long, 37″ wide canoe that can be configured with an optional center thwart to brace an optional center seat which alloows it to fit 3 people.
  • Old Town Saranac 146 is a 14’6″ long, 36″ wide canoe that can fit 3 people but also be paddled by one person from the center seat.
  • Wenonah Solo Plus can fit 1, 2, or 3 people depending on how you want to use it. It’s a 16’6″ long, 29″ wide touring canoe that’s extremely versatile.

Canoes that seat 4, 5, 6 and 7 People

In all my research, it seemed like though canoes that fit 4 people used to be pretty popular in the era when aluminum canoes reigned supreme—the 80’s and 90’s—today, it’s harder to find a canoe specifically built to seat 4 people.

And when you do find a canoe that’ll fit 4, it will most likely be quite a bit more expensive.

And canoes that fit 5, 6, and 7 people are like unicorns—just about impossible to find.

But there are pretty good reasons for this actually.

  • Longer canoes are heavier and more difficult to carry
  • Longer canoes that can seat more than 3 people are hard to transport on top of most cars
  • You have to have a long passenger van, a pickup with a lumber rack, or a dedicated trailer to transport a 4 or more person canoe.
  • Since fewer people want to buy them, canoe builders get less economy of scale with longer canoes that seat more people, and thus they’re more expensive

Some Canoes That Fit More Than 3 People

A canoe that will fit 8 people?

Here’s where things get more interesting and more fun, in my opinion. Because if you’ve ever been to summer camp as a kid or just wanted to pretend to be at summer camp as an adult, you may dream of big canoes.

At least I do.

Fitting a bunch of people in a canoe and then setting out across the lake to figure out how to get them all paddling in the same direction at the same pace? It’s the stuff that slapstick summer camp movies starring John Candy and Dan Ackroyd are made of.

I mean, what could be more fun, right?

Well, if you happen to have a wad of extra cash lying around, you might want to check out Clipper Canoes, because they have a canoe that fits 8 people and fulfills that summer camp dream.

Fitting 14 people into a canoe?

We’re going to wrap this article up with the following thought.

Sure, a canoe that fits 2 people is practical, economical, easy to paddle, easy to carry, and easy to store, but how much fun would a 14 person canoe be!

Okay, I know you thought that fitting 8 people into a canoe was ludicrous, but… Oh yes…

Because that 8 person canoe we just talked about… Well, the builders over at Clipper Canoes thought that was just too damn small! So they went and built a 29′ long “war” canoe that can hold, wait for it, 14 people.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t even know 14 people I’d like to get into a canoe with for more than a few minutes. But I bet about 5 minutes after I got all of them into a 29′ Clipper Langley, we’d be having so much fun it wouldn’t matter.

I think we’ll just end this right there, because fitting any more than 14 people into a canoe would be—okay, it would be fun.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology donkey behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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