How Much Weight Can a Canoe Hold? (Max Weight Capacity)


How Much Weight Can a Canoe Hold

Once you’re through your beginner or recreational phase of canoeing, you’ll want to find out how much weight a canoe can hold. Because before your first day-long, overnight, or multi-day adventure canoeing trip, you’ll need to plan out how much weight in people and gear a canoe can carry.

The average canoe is 16′ long and holds 2 people. With that in mind…

How much weight can a canoe hold? The average canoe can hold 940 pounds. That’s the maximum weight the most popular sized canoe, a 16′, 2-person recreational canoe, can hold. The average 14′ canoe can hold 700 pounds of passengers and gear. And the Average 17′ canoe can hold over 1160 pounds of passengers and gear.

That being said, canoe maximum weight limit capacities vary widely depending on build materials, length and width, and between manufacturers.

Factors That Affect Canoe Weight Capacity

In general, canoe dimensions and hull shape are the most important factors in determining how much weight a canoe can hold. Here are the largest factors that affect a canoe’s ability to hold weight.

  • Canoe Length – Generally speaking, the longer a canoe is, the more weight it can hold.
  • Width (Beam) – Also, the wider a given length canoe is, the more weight it can hold.
  • Depth – If you don’t want to change the length or width, the more depth—distance from the gunnel to the bottom of the hull—a canoe has the more weight it can hold.
  • Fullness – Fullness is how fast a canoe becomes wide when you move from the bow or stern toward the middle. Fuller canoes can hold more weight than thinner canoes.
  • Build Materials – In general the cheaper build materials like polyethylene plastic, are heavier and thus detract from a canoe’s overall maximum weight limit. Whereas canoes built with Kevlar are very light and this allows them to hold more overall weight.

If any of the above terms confused you, read this article on the Parts of a Canoe.

Canoe Weight Capacity Limits

Modern canoes are designed to hold 3 basic types of loads:

  • Paddlers and Passenger Capacity – This capacity has to do with how many people can safely and comfortably ride in a canoe at one time. It’s less than the overall gear, people, and motor capacity.
  • Canoeing Gear – Gear isn’t necessarily called out as an individual weight limit for canoes. Rather, it’s included in overall capacity that a canoe can hold. Gear includes everything from what you’re wearing, to your paddle and life vest, to any and all camping equipment you might have for an extended trip.
  • Canoe Motor HP and Capacity – There are 2 important factors to canoe motor capacity limits—weight and horsepower. Your canoe motor’s weight is included in a canoe’s overall carrying capacity, and horsepower is a maximum power limit based on what’s a safe amount of power and speed to propel a canoe of a given size.

Canoe Weight Limit Maximum

Non-motorized Canoe Weight Limits

A canoe’s maximum weight limit in gear and people is set by the manufacturer. This is the most weight that a canoe can hold and still float—be seaworthy. If you were to load a canoe to this limit several things would happen:

  • Your paddling efficiency and speed would go down.
  • The canoe’s maneuverability would go down.
  • The waterline would approach the gunwales and makes any tipping bring you close to swamping the boat.

Motorized Canoe Weight Capacities

Canoe Weight Capacity Decals
Canoe Capacity Decals – Old and New

A square-back, capable of being motorized, canoe’s maximum allowable capacity is normally posted on a USCG maximum capacity decal on the inside of the canoe. (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)

Canoe Performance Weight Limit

The fact that many high-end canoe manufacturers state an “Efficient”, or “performance” or “practical” capacity limit that’s significantly lower than their stated maximum weight limit… It’s clear that the maximum weight capacity that a canoe can carry is not its practical, daily-use weight limit.

Some manufacturers like Wenonah Canoes and Clipper Canoes don’t even publish maximum weight capacity limits on their individual canoes’ specifications pages.

Here’s why:

Wenonah Canoes Max Capacity Statement

Many canoe makers publish specific weight capacities for their hulls. These are highly misleading for many reasons:

1. Even if you know how much weight you’ve put into the canoe, water in the bilge rapidly increases the load by an unknown amount.

2. If loaded anywhere near its claimed limit, a canoe may not be overloaded officially, but it will handle very poorly.

3. Waves or strong current call for an increased safety margin, hence less load.

4. Paddlers’ skills play a major role in what weight a canoe can transport safely.

We don’t print specific figures. Rather we say our hulls have reserve capacity for their intended use. A Heron or Fisherman is for shorter day-trips. A Rogue, Adirondack, Aurora, Kingfisher, or Escapade will take two typical adults with moderate gear. A Spirit, Escape, Boundary Waters or Cascade is meant for two adults with lots of gear. The Minnesota II, and Champlain have a bit more capacity, while the Minnesota 3, and Itasca will carry three to four adults and lots of gear in most situations.

If you’re worried about the capacity of any model (made by us or by anyone), a published figure is not a reliable guide. Load the hull with the intended weight and test it. If the canoe is overloaded, a test will reveal it better than any published figure could.

Wenonah Canoe Max Capacity Statement from their FAQ Page

That statement just about sums up the reality of the entire question of how much a canoe holds. Because stated maximum canoe capacities are guidelines only. They’re meant to give you an idea of how much weight you can load into a given canoe and still be safe.

In fact, it’s probably best to back off of a canoe’s maximum weight capacity by around 20% when loading it up, rather than push the limit and risk swamping or sinking your canoe.

However, and thankfully, manufacturers are also very conservative when setting maximum canoe weight capacities. This is probably for liability reasons, but I’ve found that even loading to maximum capacity will not swamp a canoe. It will, however, severely degrade its performance and safety, as I mentioned above.

So, unfortunately the best way to determine max practical weight capacity of a canoe is to test it out with different loads. Since this is financially impractical for most of us, we have to do research and make estimations.

Let’s continue…

Canoe Weight Limit Calculator

If you’ve bought a used canoe or your canoe doesn’t have the USCG maximum capacity decal on it, or you can’t find the weight limit online or in a manual, there’s a way to estimate how many people it will hold and how much total they can weigh by hand calculating a canoe’s passenger weight capacity based on length and width.

Hand Calculating Canoe Passenger Weight Limits

The formula for hand calculating a canoe’s passenger capacity and weight limit is:

Length x Width / 18

  • First, multiply the length of your canoe in feet by it’s width, converted to feet. For example if your canoe’s length is 16’6″ and it’s 36″ wide that would be 16.5 x 3 = 49.5.
  • Then divide that number by 18. The number 1 represents an average canoeist weight at 180 pounds. (Many formulas I’ve seen on the Internet use 15/150 pounds, but if you’re like me and wonder who in their right mind still thinks that the average person weighs 150 pounds anymore… I’ve seen 18 used in more recent formulas to represent an average weight of 180 lbs.)
  • Regardless, our number above 49.5/18 = 2.75 people or roughly 2.75 x 180 lb = 495 lb or rounded to 500 lb.

So in this example a 16’6″ x 36″ canoe would hold 3 people up to 500 lb.

This method is merely an estimate of the number of persons a canoe will hold as using this hand calculated method results in a weight capacity number that’s far below the maximum weight limit that’s published by several of the most popular canoes I checked. (See chart below)

14 ft Canoe Weight Limit Examples

Most 14′ canoes are day use or overnight canoes designed to hold the weight of 1 to 2 people and a light amount of gear.

How much weight can a 14 foot canoe hold? The average 14′, 1 or 2-person canoe can hold 700 pounds of passengers and gear at its maximum capacity.

Canoe Brand/ModelLengthWidth# PersonsPersons lbsMax Capacity
Old Town Saranac 14614’6″36″2+435 lbs750 lbs
Old Town Guide 14714’7″38″2461 lbs900 lbs
Mad River Adventure 1414′37″2431 lbs875 lbs
Merrimack Baboosic 1414′34.5″1402 lbs550 lbs
Novacraft Fox 14 Solo14′32″1373 lbs550 lbs
Novarro Otter 1414’6″34.5″2416 lbs500 lbs
Wenonah Fisherman 1414′39″2455 lbsN/A – 800 lbs(est.)

16 ft Canoe Weight Limit Examples

Most 16′ canoes are all-day use, overnight, and multi-day touring canoes designed to hold the weight of 2 to 3 people and a moderate amount of gear.

How much weight can a 16 foot canoe hold? The average 16′, 2-person canoe can hold 940 pounds of passengers and gear at its maximum capacity.

Canoe Brand/ModelLengthWidth# PersonsPersons lbsMax Capacity
Hemlock Eagle 1616’5″35.25″2482 lbs900 lbs.
Old Town Saranac 16016′37″2+493 lbs850 lbs
Old Town Guide 16016′39.5″2526 lbs1250 lbs
Mad River Explorer 16 FGX16’3″34.5″2468 lbs1100 lbs
Mad River Explorer 16 T Formex15’11”35″2464 lbs1100 lbs
Merrimack Prospector 1616″34″2453 lbs900 lbs
Merrimack Souhegan 1616′36″2480 lbs750 lbs
Navarro Loon 1616′35″2/3466 lbs900 lbs
Navarro Otter 1616′36″2/3480 lbs675 lbs
Wenonah Aurora16′36″2480 lbsN/A – 1000 lbs (est.)

17 ft Canoe Weight Limit Examples

Most 17′ canoes are designed as multi-day touring to full expedition canoes that hold hold the weight of 2 to 3 people and a heavy amount of gear.

How much weight can a 17 foot canoe hold? The average 17′, 2-person canoe can hold 1165 pounds of passengers and gear at its maximum capacity.

Canoe Brand/ModelLengthWidth# PersonsPersons lbsMax Capacity
Mad River Journey 16716’7″37″2514 lbs1100 lbs
Merrimack Traveler 1717′35″2496 lbs850 lbs.
Navarro Loon 1717′35″2496 lbs900 lbs
Old Town Discovery 16916’9″37″2516 lbs1400 lbs
Nova Craft Haida 1717′36″2510 lbs1200 lbs
Old Town Penobscot 17417’4″36″2520 lbs1500 lbs
Wenonah 1717′37″2524 lbsN/A – 1200 (est.)

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.

Recent Content