Trolling Motors for Canoes (Mounts and More)


Trolling Motors for Canoes

My first canoe was an aluminum squareback canoe that my dad bought when I was 15. We painted it camouflage and put a 4 horsepower motor on the back of it. We spent hundreds of hours trolling from that canoe before we ever upgraded to a bigger fishing boat.

We didn’t mess with electric motor canoes back then, because canoes with gas trolling motors were the “way” to go. And to tell you the truth, battery technology wasn’t what it is today. Nowadays, electric trolling motors on canoes are the more popular option, but I still smile whenever I see a gas motor on the back of an old squareback aluminum canoe.

Now that we’ve basically answered the question, “Can you put a trolling motor on a canoe?”, yes, you probably want to know how to mount a trolling motor on a canoe.

How to mount a trolling motor on a canoe? There are three places to put a trolling motor on a canoe. The bow, the stern, and the transom. To mount a trolling motor on a canoe you need to get the right motor, attach a mount to the canoe (if it doesn’t have a squareback transom already), then clamp and screw the motor mounting bracket bolts into the mount.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, but by the end of this article you’ll know exactly what canoe trolling motor you need and how to put a gas or electric trolling motor on a canoe.

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But wait, we might be getting ahead of ourselves. Just what is a trolling motor and why would you want to mount one on your canoe?

Trolling MotorOpens in a new tab. – On a canoe, a trolling motor is a self-contained mechanical unit used for propulsion. It’s specifically designed for fishing by “trolling” or maintaining constant speed and direction while pulling a fishing lure or bait behind a boat.

Why Mount a Trolling Motor on a Canoe?

There are two main reasons you might want to mount a trolling motor on a canoe.

  1. You want to use your canoe more like a boat to travel, transport passengers and gear, and generally get around the water faster.
  2. Or the more popular reason, you want to mount a trolling motor on your canoe so you can troll for fish.

Trolling for fish is basically keeping your canoe in constant motion, “trolling” along, in order to pull a fishing lure or bait a certain distance behind the boat, down a certain depth beneath the water’s surface, and at a set speed. And you do that to entice a fish into thinking the lure is swimming prey so it will chase the lure and bite it.

Now, you could troll your canoe the old fashioned way by continuously paddling it. However, as fun as that might sound for the first thirty minutes, if you plan on trolling your canoe for hours at a time, a trolling motor’s a better, less exhausting option.

So a trolling motor mounted to your canoe will allow you to simply:

  • Fish more – Catching fish takes time. A trolling motor on your canoe will keep you fishing longer.
  • Paddle less – A canoe trolling motor will save your arms from paddling and wearing out before you have a chance to catch any fish.

More great reasons to put a trolling motor on your canoe:

  • Can keep your canoe in one spot in heavy wind, or river or tide current.
  • “Up a creek without a paddle?” – A trolling motor on your canoe is a good backup.
  • And the number one reason – Trolling … for fish.

Basic Parts of a Canoe – Review

Before we get into where to mount a trolling motor on a canoe it might be helpful for you to learn or review the basic parts of a canoe.

Parts of a Canoe

We go into greater detail in our article on the different parts of a canoe, but for understanding canoe trolling motor mounting locations that diagram should give you some context for canoe motor mounting locations.

Now let’s look at the types of canoe trolling motors and their major parts.

Electric vs Gas Trolling Motor

For canoes, you pretty much have two trolling motor choices, gas or electric. Each has its advantages and at the end of your investigation into the best trolling motor for your canoe, it’ll most likely boil down to personal preference.

That being said, you need to be aware of some key benefits of hanging a gas or electric trolling motor on a canoe.

Electric Trolling Motor Advantages

Us old school canoeists always wonder, Are electric trolling motors any good? Actually, today’s electric trolling motors have some great advantages:

  • Electric Trolling Motors are Quiet – Electric trolling motors will push your canoe through the water with almost as little noise and water disturbance as you create when you’re paddling it. Though I’ve never asked any fish, some fishermen swear that an electric trolling motor doesn’t scare away fish like a gas motor will. (Although, literally hundreds-of-thousands if not millions of fish have been caught behind gas trolling motors, so…)
  • Electric Trolling Motors are better for the environment – Avoiding a long, heated discussion about how the materials to manufacture large marine batteries are mined from the earth, the actual operation of an electrical engine produces much less polluting materials and discharges less into the water while it’s being run.
  • Electric Trolling Motors are Powerful – Modern electric trolling motors come in 12, 12/24, and 36 volt sizes and this gives them plenty of thrust to push even the heaviest canoes through the water.
  • Electric Trolling Motors are Lighter – Compared to a gas outboard canoe trolling motor, electric trolling motors are relatively lightweight. (It’s the batteries that weigh a lot.)

Gas Canoe Trolling Motor Advantages

I try to be objective, I really do. But give me a strong, reliable, gas powered trolling motor on my canoe… I digress.

In all seriousness, gas powered trolling motors have some particular advantages you need to know:

  • Gas Trolling Motors are Tried and Tested – Small gas engines have been around for a long, long time. Dare I say a hundred years. Modern gas canoe motors do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.
  • Gas Trolling Motors Last – Properly maintained, a gas trolling motor will give you years and years of reliable service.
  • You can Easily Refuel a Gas Trolling Motor – Unlike a battery-powered electric trolling motor, you can refuel a gas trolling motor pretty quickly. (recharging 1, 2 or 3 12 volt electric batteries takes a while)
  • Oh the Power – Comparatively speaking, gas trolling motors are pretty powerful. And though electric and gas canoe motors troll pretty equally, when it’s time to run back to the dock or across the lake to a better fishing spot, you can’t beat a gas engine for zip.

Gas and Electric Trolling Motor Differences

We’ll get specific below, but here are some key differences between gas and electric canoe motors you should consider before making a buying decision:

  • Fuel – Stating the obvious, electric canoe motors run off the stored charge in one or several 12 volt batteries connected in series, and gas canoe motors are powered by combusting refined petroleum—gas.
  • Power Units – The power of electric canoe motors is measured in pounds (lb) of thrust. And gas motors are measured in horsepower (hp). Which should give you another idea about how long gas engines have been around.
  • Weight – Electric trolling motors are light and gas ones are pretty heavy. Now, a 12V battery can weigh between 30-50 pounds, while a 5 Gallon gas can to fuel your gas trolling engine weighs about 35 pounds. Which puts the fuel weight about equal. So weight advantage goes to the electric canoe motor.
  • Noise – Hands down, electric motors are much quieter than gas trolling motors. And silently gliding in your trolling canoe through the water on a calm mountain lake is about as zen as fishing gets.
  • Price – This is the biggie. Bottom line is that gas trolling motors are significantly more expensive than the most popular electric trolling motors for your canoe. As in 4 to 5 times as expensive.
  • Environmental – Now, here’s the wildcard in all of this. There are an increasing number of lakes in North America that are only allowing electric motors and prohibiting gas-powered canoes from operating on them. In that case you have two choices—don’t go on them or buy an electric trolling motor for your canoe.

Saltwater vs Freshwater Trolling Motors

The main difference between a saltwater and a freshwater trolling motor is the materials used to make them. Saltwater trolling motor housings are made of materials that resist salt corrosion.

Stainless steel, zinc, and magnesium are all materials used in many of the trolling motor’s hardware parts in order to hep prevent corrosion from long term exposure to salt.

So the type of water you’ll mainly use your canoe trolling motor in will help determine what type of motor you need. But don’t worry, if you happen to occasionally need to use your freshwater trolling motor in salt water, all is not lost.

Outboard motor salt water flush

As quickly as possible after using even a saltwater trolling motor in salt water, thoroughly rinse all of the motor with fresh water. This is of particular importance on gas engines as many of them pull in and circulate water throughout the engine in order to cool it.

QUICK STORY: My friends and I salmon fish at Seiku, WA at the mouth of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. On the way back from that trip we don’t wait until after the 8 hour drive home to clean the engine. Instead we back the boat down the ramp of a nearby freshwater lake and run the trolling motor to circulate fresh water throughout the motor’s cooling system.

If you don’t have access to a body of freshwater, as soon as possible, hook up a garden water hose to your trolling motor using a clamp-on round or rectangular flushing bracket and then run it for a few minutes. This circulates fresh water through the engine’s cooling system and “flushes” out the salt water and its residue.

I’ve even seen big garbage cans, filled with water and the trolling motor’s lower unit/shaft submerged inside them, used to do this.

So, to recap. Salt water—bad for your canoe’s trolling motor. Rinse it off and out ASAP! And yes, of course, because of the materials used saltwater trolling motors are going to cost a little more.

Electric Canoe Trolling Motor Parts

Here are the main parts of an electric trolling motor for a canoe.

Electric Canoe Motor Parts
  • Handle/Controls – The handle on an electric trolling motor for a canoe is how the driver steers and applies more or less throttle to make the canoe go faster or slower. On most trolling engines, you apply more or less throttle by twisting the handle clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Electronics Housing – The handle is attached to a bulge-shaped housing at the top of an electric trolling motor. This housing contains the wires and connectors that are used to send signals from the controls to the electric trolling motor itself.
  • Electric Trolling Motor Shaft – The shaft has both an upper and a lower section. The electric trolling motor shaft is basically the center of all the other canoe trolling motor parts—everything attaches to the shaft.

    Also, the trolling motor’s shaft is hollow so that the electronic signal wires from the controls at the top of the motor can be run down to the electric motor that’s attached to the bottom of the shaft. The shaft provides a waterproof pathway to run those electrical wires down to the submerged-in-water electric motor, because remember, electricity and water don’t mix!
  • Electric Trolling Motor Mounting Bracket – On any canoe trolling motor, be it gas or electric, there has to be a way to attach it to the canoe trolling motor mount. This is done with a trolling motor mounting bracket. The motor mounting bracket is usually located in the center of the shaft on shorter shaft lengths and the top third of the shaft on longer ones. (We’ll get to proper canoe trolling motor shaft length below)
  • Mounting Bracket Screws – There are normally two screws on an electric trolling motor mounting bracket. They each have a round foot on the end of them that, when you screw them up against a canoe motor mount, tighten the electric canoe motor mounting bracket to the canoes motor mount.

    And whether it’s simply tightening those screws onto the built-in transom or an add-on canoe motor mounting bracket, the screws with round ends are how the electric motor stays attached to the canoe mount. The round disks on the end of the screws also prevent the motor mount screws from simply driving into and through the motor mount instead of simply squeezing it enough to stay attached.
  • Electric Motor – The actual electrical motor on an electric canoe trolling “motor” is located at the very bottom of the shaft. This motor is usually coned-shaped on the forward edge of a long cylindrical tube. This shape isn’t arbitrary—the electrical motor and the housing around it are shaped like a bullet so they can cut through the water with as little resistance as possible.
  • Propeller – The propeller on an electric trolling motor for a canoe is mounted at the rear edge of the electric motor’s housing. The propeller is shaped like a fan with angled blades. As these blades rotate, they push or “propel” water away from the blades. Pushing on the water hard enough causes the canoe to move in the opposite direction of that push—either forward, or if the blades are rotating the opposite direction, backward.
  • Skeg – Most people don’t know the term “skeg” or what this part of a trolling motor does. A skeg is the long angled fin or blade at the bottom of a canoe trolling motor’s shaft. A skeg has two functions:
    • The skeg is blade-shaped and angled which helps the trolling motor track straight through the water ahead and aids the motor in turning and maneuvering the canoe.
    • The skeg also protects the electronic motor and the propeller from impacting the bottom if you go over water that’s too shallow or hit a submerged object.
  • Battery Wires – Last and not pictured above are the wire leads that go from the control housing at the top of the shaft and attach to the positive and negative terminals on the canoe’s trolling motor battery
  • Battery/”Fuel” – An electric trolling motor on a canoe is powered by … electricity. More accurately, stored electricity in the form of an electrical charge in a battery. An electric trolling motor battery looks very similar to a car batter with positive and negative terminals to attach the power leads from the trolling motor.

    Trolling motors for canoes come in 12 volt, 12/24 volt, 24 volt, and 36 volt types. (More on this below…)

Gas Canoe Trolling Motor Parts

And here are the main parts of a gas trolling motor for a canoe.

Gas Outboard Canoe Trolling Motor Parts

Gas powered trolling motors for canoes used to be the main motor choice when I was growing up. Times have changed and electric trolling motors for canoes are now arguably more popular.

However, small gas-powered trolling motors are still widely used today, especially around the world and outside the United States.

But while gas trolling motors may look the same on a canoe as electric trolling motors do, and they do share many of the same parts and functions, their designs are quite a bit different in some areas.

  • Handle/Controls – Gas motors for canoes are still steered and the speed is still controlled by a long handle with a twisting throttle. But one of the differences is that on a gas engine there may be gear settings for forward (F), reverse (R) and neutral (N). Neutral is usually used to idle the engine while warming it up or just to prevent any motion on the canoe without turning the engine off.
  • Engine/Cowl – Also, instead of having an electric motor at the bottom of the shaft, a gas outboard has a combustion engine mounted to the top of the motor underneath an engine cowl. This is because internal combustion engines don’t operate well … underwater.
  • Pull Start – But it’s also so that the pull start chord used to start the engine is up where the driver can get to it easily. Some small outboards have electronic start but for the most part, small gas canoe trolling motors will have a pull starter that’s manually pulled to turn over the engine and start it.
  • Motor Mounting Bracket – For the most part a gas motor’s mount is very similar to an electrical motor’s mount. It’s “U” shaped so it can be hung over a canoe’s motor mount.
  • Mounting Bracket Screws – These perform basically the same function as on an electric trolling motor, but on a gas canoe trolling motor they may be more heavy duty to hold the heavier gas engine.
  • Motor Shaft – On a gas trolling motor the shaft contains a drive shaft with a gear on the bottom end that meshes with a gear on the propeller shaft. When the engine is “in gear” it turns this long shaft which turns the propeller shaft, causing the propeller to push forward or pull backward, depending on the gear that the engine’s turned to.
  • Propeller – This is essentially the same as an electric canoe motor’s prop. The difference is that instead of attaching directly to the cylindrical electric motor at the bottom of the shaft, it’s mounted on a propeller shaft whose gears mesh with the drive shaft coming down from the top-mounted engine.
  • Skeg – This performs the same function on all outboard trolling motors, electric or gas—aid in steering and protect the propeller and shaft from impacting objects or the bottom.
  • Gasoline/”fuel” – This is where things get tricky… A gas motor can be either 2-stroke or 4-stroke. Depending on this, a 2-stroke gas trolling motor will require a continuous gas/oil mixture used as fuel and a 4-stroke will simply take straight gasoline from the pump.
  • Gas/”Fuel” locations – To make it more challenging, a small 2-stroke outboard gas trolling motor on your canoe may have a built-in gas tank with a fill hole at the top of the motor right next to the engine. And it will also either require you to premix gas and oil before you use it in the tank, or the newer motors have an oil reservoir that automatically mixes the oil and gas for you as the motor is operated.

    NOTE: Some, often slightly larger, outboard canoe motors may require the use of an external gas tank connected to the engine with a gas line.

What Size Trolling Motor for Your Canoe?

At some point in your search for the perfect canoe trolling motor, you’ll wonder what size trolling motor you should get for a canoe.

Just how big of a motor can you put on a canoe? How big a trolling motor you can put on your canoe is mainly dependent on two things. Most importantly, the maximum size canoe trolling motor that’s allowable by the canoe’s USCG maximum capacities decal. Then it’s the size of the canoe and how much weight in passengers and gear you plan to put in it. And finally, what you plan to use your canoe for.

We’ve written an entire article on how much a canoe can hold. Here’s the highlights of what you need to know for your trolling motor decision.

USCG Canoe Motor Capacity Rules

How Many People Can Fit in a Canoe - Capacity Decal
Sizing a Trolling Motor for Canoe – USCG capacity decals (Old and New)

You’ll find the above United States Coast Guard “Maximum Capacities” decal on many old squareback aluminum canoes and most modern plastic flat transom, squareback, Colema’s Scanoe®, scout or other canoes specifically designed to mount a motor directly to the hull of the canoe.

The USCG decal contains information on maximum weight capacity the canoe can carry and specific outboard canoe trolling motor horsepower maximums for that canoe. (I’ve yet to see a sticker with max electrical thrust numbers…)

Canoe Trolling Motor Power Requirement

A canoe’s trolling motor needs to have enough thrust or horsepower so it can:

  • Get up on a plane quickly and easily
  • Troll for extended periods of time at up to 3-4 mph
  • Track relatively straight without being blown off course too easily

Trolling Motor Thrust to HP (Horsepower)

It’s very difficult to make a comparison between electric trolling motor thrust and gas trolling motor horsepower. Because they are two different types of measurements.

Thrust is measured in lb. (pounds). It’s a force measurement. And horsepower is a measurement of per-unit work. 1 HP is equal to 550 ft-pounds of work per second.

In addition, in order to compare thrust and HP you’d have to know the relative speed of the canoe when the electrical thrust was measured. Not easy…

Trolling motor thrust to hp comparison formula

However, what we can do is estimate the horsepower equivalent of an electric trolling motor by multiplying what it draws in amps times the battery voltage to find the motor wattage.

Then by dividing that wattage by 746 will estimate the horsepower of the motor. Because every 746 watts is roughly equal to 1 horsepower.

Amp Draw x Battery Voltage/746 = HP (horsepower)

Trolling Motor Thrust to HP Comparison Example

It’s always easier to understand these complicated formula issues with an example. Here’s an example using:

Newport Vessels NV-Series 55lb Thrust Saltwater Electric Trolling MotorOpens in a new tab. available on Amazon.

Opens in a new tab.

This trolling motor is a 12V that draws 52A. Applying our formula above:

  • 52A x 12V = 624W
  • Then divide 624W by 746 to get .84 HP

Luckily, Newport Vessels know most of us don’t want to go through all that math, we just want the answer. So they publish HP comparison numbers on most of their electric trolling motors. Whew…

Electric Trolling Motor Thrust

We talked a little bit about this earlier, but electric trolling motor power is measured in pounds (lbs) of thrust.

  • Trolling motor thrust to horsepower – Generally speaking, 75 lb. of thrust is roughly equal to 1 gas engine horsepower.
  • Battery Voltage – Higher voltage means higher thrust. Most trolling motors come in 12V, 24V and 36V configurations.
  • High Thrust Trolling Motors – The most powerful electric trolling motors have over 100 lb. of thrust. To put that in perspective, it’s enough to push a medium-sized pontoon boat quite well.
  • Maximum Thrust – Battery maximum thrust capabilities at different voltages are about 12V/55lb., 24V/80lb., with 36V electric trolling motors capable of over 100 lb. of thrust.

How much thrust does a trolling motor need?

Here are some guidelines. But keep in mind, “enough” power is a seriously subjective thing. One person’s “enough” is another’s not even close. But everyone can agree on one thing, you don’t want to have too little power when you need it.

It’s better to have at least a little more power than you think you’ll need … just in case.

Thrust to Canoe Length Guide
Canoe LengthPounds of Thrust
12′20 lbs.
14′30 lbs.
16′40 lbs.
18′50 lbs.
20′55 lbs.
22′65 lbs.

But length is only one consideration when sizing an electric canoe trolling motor. Because thrust isn’t only about speed, it’s about power. The power needed to push the combined weight of your canoe, your gear, and your passengers easily through the water.

So in that regard, overall weight is just as important if not more important than canoe length.

There’s a general rule that for every 100 lbs. of canoe/gear/passenger weight you have, you’ll need about 2-3 or even 4 lbs. of thrust. Keep in mind our earlier maximum thrust from a 12V battery is 55 lbs.

Canoe Weight500 lbs.750 lbs.1000 lbs.1250 lbs.1500 lbs.
Canoe Length10′12′14′16′18′
Minimum Thrust20 lbs.25 lbs.45 lbs.55 lbs.55 lbs.
Performance Thrust25 lbs.35 lbs.55 lbs.55 lbs.80 lbs.
Engine Volts12V12V12V12/24V24V

Electric Trolling Motor Size in Volts

You can see in the chart above that electric trolling motors for canoes come in different voltage rating sizes—12V, 12/24V, 24V, and 36V. The different configurations are very important, because mismatching battery capacity with an electric motor not capable of handling that voltage will damage your electric trolling motor.

So it’s impartant to understand that electric trolling motors are sized for two things:

  1. Volts – What charge they need in order to run
  2. Thrust – How much power in Watts they can draw from that voltage rating

So when you see a 55 lbs. thrust 12V electric motor, it means that motor can handle a 12V battery and will put out a maximum of 55 lbs. of thrust.

Gas Trolling Motor Horsepower

Man, all that “amps, watts, volts, thrust” talk wore me out. Luckily, things in the gas trolling motor HP world are a bit simpler.

Most canoes are only rated and USCG approved for a maximum horsepower outboard motor of 5 HP or lower. That being said, a 2.5 horsepower outboard canoe motor will push your canoe, 2 people, and all your gear along at a seriously fast clip.

The 4 HP outboard Johnson trolling motor I mentioned at the beginning of this article, pushed our squareback aluminum canoe along like a little speedboat. It was fast, fun and a tank of fuel would last all day. And that was 20… uh, a long time ago.

But comparatively speaking, most electric canoe motors are the equivalent of less than 1 HP.

Gas Canoe Trolling Motors – Going old school…

From an old school, nostalgic perspective, and if weight, speed and range are important to you, then there’s no other choice but a small gas outboard trolling motor for your canoe.

Sure they cost more, but a 2.5 HP gas outboard trolling motor weighs less than a deep-cycle battery with even medium amperage.

Compared to the weight of an electric motor with a battery, the weight advantage of a gas trolling motor is huge. Even with several days of fuel. Regardless, several days worth of constant trolling simply can’t be done with an electric trolling motor.

Also, a small gas motor will be much faster getting to and from the fishing grounds.

Trolling Motor Shaft Length Guide

Electric canoe trolling motors come in many shaft lengths, while gas canoe trolling motors usually only come in two.

Electric Trolling Motor Common Shaft Lengths:

In general, here’s a guide to the right length trolling motor shaft for canoes.

  • 30″ shaft trolling motor – Canoes and Kayaks
  • 36″ shaft trolling motor – Average Fishing Boats
  • 42″ shaft trolling motor – Taller Fishing Boats
  • 55″ shaft trolling motor – Pontoon Boats

Gas Trolling Common Motor Shaft Lengths:

  • Short Shaft Trolling Motor – Canoes
  • Long Shaft Trolling Motor – Average and Taller Fishing/Pontoon Boats

While the standard shaft length on a fishing boat trolling motor is 42″, canoes sit much lower in the water.

Canoe Trolling Motor Ideal Shaft Length

Generally speaking, you’ll want the electric motor or gas propeller submerged 10-12″ below the waterline. This give the propeller enough clearance to operate at maximum efficiency and ensures it stays underwater as the boat rocks in waves.

To figure out the right shaft length trolling motor shaft for your canoe, measure the distance from where the motor mount is mounted across the bow or stern or from top of the transom to the waterline. on most canoes, this is around 10-12″.

Then add 16″ to 20″ and select the next closest measurement. And that usually ends up being a trolling motor with a 24″ or 30″ shaft. (Actually, kayaks sit so low in the water that the 24″ length is more appropriate for kayaks than canoes.)

So let’s go bold…

What’s the best trolling motor shaft length for a canoe? A 30″ electric trolling motor shaft is perfect for most canoes. This will allow you to get the motor and propeller far enough into the water to use the full thrust of the engine. But it will also give you some extra shaft length to put the motor down deeper in the water in case you’re in choppy, bucking water.

Most of the time a short shaft gas trolling motor is the right size for a canoe.

Canoe Trolling Motor Mount Basics

Canoe Trolling Motor Mount Locations

There are really only 2 practical canoe motor mount locations available today.

  1. Clamped onto the Built-in Transom – As we mentioned above this takes a specialized type of canoe with a squareback transom built into the stern of the canoe’s hull.
  2. Clamped over a Canoe Mounting Bracket – Whether you’re going to mount a trolling motor toward the bow or toward the stern of your canoe, a typical canoe, pointed on both ends, will require a canoe trolling motor mounting bracket.

The third option is one I really don’t like. It’s a so-called “deck-mounted” canoe trolling motor. But deck-mounted trolling motors are designed more for flat front deck, larger fishing boats with plenty of room to bolt down the mounting bracket. That mounting bracket typically requires a flat deck to physically screw the mounting bracket to.

But if you’ve ever been in a canoe, you’ll realize that most canoe decks are too small for that long, deck-mounted motor bracket to be screwed in so it’s secure enough to support the motor. So, practically speaking, this option’s out—don’t buy a deck-mounted canoe trolling motor.

Trolling Motor Mount for a Canoe – Example

The image below is of an Old Town Standard Canoe Motor MountOpens in a new tab. available on Amazon.

Opens in a new tab.

Canoe Trolling Motor Mount Design

There’s really only one main design to make a safe and strong canoe motor mount. Whether you buy it or perform a little “canoe trolling motor mount DIY”, most canoe motor mounts include the following:

  • A cross beam/bar that spans the width of the canoe where you plan to mount it and extends roughly 8-12″ to one side or the other, beyond the edge of the canoe.
  • 2 screw-secured clamps that can be turned easily by hand.
  • These two clamps are used to securely clamp the cross beam/bar of the trolling motor mount to the gunwales (both the right and left side of the canoe—Starboard and Port)
  • A thick wooden or ABS plastic square or rectangular block that the engine motor mount can be hung on and then clamped and screwed down tight to the canoe motor mounting bracket.

PRO TIP: From experience, I can tell you that even the best canoe motor mounts may fail. Do yourself and your bank account a favor, string a short security rope from your trolling engine to your canoe. Maybe the thwart or a d-ring on the bow or stern or around a built-in handle.

There’s been more than one poor mounting job or mount failure that’s sent an expensive canoe trolling motor to the bottom of the water.

Where to Mount a Trolling Motor on a Canoe

There are two basic canoe body shapes.

  1. The classic canoe that’s pointed on both ends
  2. And the square stern, flat back or so-called “squareback” canoe. (A squareback canoe still has a pointed bow.)

And on those two types of canoes there are three places you could mount a trolling motor.

  1. Canoe side mount trolling motor toward the bow
  2. Canoe side mount trolling motor toward the stern
  3. Trolling motor on a Canoe with a transom (squareback canoe)

Mounting a Trolling Motor on the Bow of a Canoe

The majority of canoes have the motor mounted in the back or stern end of the canoe. It’s just more convenient, especially if you’re canoeing solo. But there are a few reasons you might want to mount a canoe trolling motor to the front or bow of your canoe.

  • Better Canoe Control – Mounting a trolling motor on the bow of your canoe gives you more control of the entire canoe. Because unlike a car which steers at the front and “pulls” the rest of the vehicle along behind it, “pushing” a thin canoe through the water with a stern-mounted trolling motor gives you less control.
  • Lessen the effects of wind/current – Because long, thin canoes are more affected by wind and current than other boat types, the bow of a canoe tends to want to “swing” in whatever direction the wind, waves, or current are pushing it. This forces you to continually correct the engine direction.

    I can tell you that I’ve been in some windy conditions that made it almost impossible to keep my long, thin, and light-hulled canoe moving forward in a straight line.
  • Avoid tangled fishing lines – Another reason to bow-mount a trolling motor on a canoe is that when the driver of a stern-mounted trolling motor canoe gets a fish on, a lot of times they have to cut power to the motor so the fish doesn’t get tangled in the propeller when they reel it in. This leaves the canoe at the mercy of wind, waves, and current and just about guarantees that the fisherman in the bow will have to reel in to keep from hitting bottom or getting their line tangled up also.

    However, if the canoe’s trolling motor is mounted forward of the front seat in the bow of a canoe, you can keep trolling while either the front or back fisherman reels in a fish.

Side Mounting a Trolling Motor on the Bow or Stern of a Canoe

However, mounting a trolling motor on the front of a canoe or the back of a pointed canoe poses some unique challenges. Those are:

  • Limited Trolling Motor Mount Locations Without a Bracket Mount – You’re almost certainly going to need some type of canoe motor mount in order to mount a trolling motor on either pointed end of a canoe.

    Most canoe hulls are simply not thick enough or strong enough to hold the weight of the trolling motor and withstand the thrust of the motor as it propels the canoe through the water. So you’ll need a mount.
  • Instability of a Side Mounted Canoe Motor – That canoe motor mounting bracket above is most commonly used to mount the canoe motor to one side of the canoe or the other. Not only does this unevenly distribute weight in an already narrow and less stable vessel, but it means you may have to lean to the side to operate/steer the motor. This will cause even more instability.
  • Loss of Canoe Cargo/Passenger Space – Canoes, vs Kayaks, are designed to carry passengers and more gear than say, a kayak. Depending on where you place the cross-braced canoe motor mount, you could give up some interior canoe capacity as well as some passenger maneuverability or legroom.

    And don’t forget the battery or gas can used to fuel the trolling motor. Either of those will take up space on the floor of the canoe that you could otherwise use to transport gear.

Mounting a Trolling Motor on the Transom of a Canoe

A squareback canoe has a transom that’s designed to have a small outboard trolling motor mounted to it, much like a powerboat has a large outboard engine in the back.

A sqaureback or flat stern/back canoe is specifically designed with the rear tip of the canoe “cut” off creating that transom area. This transom is there for the sole purpose of providing a built-in canoe mounting bracket where you can mount a canoe trolling motor.

The sqaureback canoe negates the need to buy or build a specialized canoe motor mount in order to mount a motor on your canoe.

Advantages of a squareback canoe with a trolling motor:

  • Centered engine – A trolling motor mounted directly down the center line of the canoe prevents you from having to constantly “crab” the boat through the water, angling the canoe forward and toward the opposite side of the engine as you go.
  • Fishing lines stay to the side – Yeah, right… In a perfect world, a center-mounted canoe motor on a sqaureback transom allows you to go straight forward. This helps keep fishing lines to the sides of the canoe in order to prevent tangling.
  • Nostalgia – I mentioned above that I grew up on the water with a squareback aluminum canoe, so I have a soft spot for squarebacks.
  • OCD Prevention – I’m guilty of a little obsessive compulsive on my boats. So, you know, a perfectly center-mounted trolling motor on your canoe helps to avoid my “OCD” (Obsessive Canoe Disorder) of that lopsided-mounted trolling motor.

My obsessiveness aside, what do you do if you want to mount a trolling motor on your classic canoe that has pointed tips at both ends? Or what if you want to mount a trolling motor on the front end of your squareback canoe?

How to Mount a trolling Motor on a Canoe

By now, you’ve probably got the picture that putting a trolling motor on a canoe isn’t rocket science. But you’ll still want to be careful to get it right. A properly attached and secured trolling motor on your canoe will give you hours and hours of fishing fun.

Here are the steps in how to mount a trolling motor on a canoe:

  • Determine the best and maximum size legal engine that can be put on your canoe. Then choose a size/power that suits how you use your canoe.
    • Lots of trolling and running back and forth, you may want a gas trolling motor with some horsepower.
    • If you like gliding on calm clear water and especially if the lakes you fish require it, you may be better off with an electric motor.
  • Using what you’ve learned from the information in this post, choose between a gas and electric canoe.
  • Figure out the proper canoe motor shaft length.
  • Decide where you’re going to mount the trolling motor (bow, stern, or squareback transom).
  • Screw in and attach the trolling motor mount to the canoe.
  • Hang the motor’s mount over the trolling motor mounting bracket.
  • Screw the motor mounting bolts tight against the motor mounting bracket.
  • Run a safety line from the trolling motor to a fixed point on the canoe.
  • Test drive the motor setup close to shore and with a spotter who can help you.

Canoe Trolling Motor Laws

As great as all this “canoe with a trolling motor goodness” sounds, you knew there had to be a catch somewhere, didn’t you? Well, you’re right.

Is it legal to put a trolling motor on a canoe? The short answer is yes. However, in most states in the United States and increasingly around the world, as soon as you put a trolling motor on a canoe, it’s got to be licensed and registered with some type of motorized vehicle department. Then the hull ID number and registration sticker have to be displayed on the bow of the canoe.

We write extensively about state kayaking laws on Paddle Camp, but those same laws apply to canoes with trolling motors and the requirement to register them. Just find the section in your state that talks about the laws for registering a canoe or kayak and the information will either be right there, or we’ll point you to that state’s web page regarding motorized canoe registration.

California Canoe Trolling Motor Law Example

For example, here’s an excerpt from our article on California’s trolling motor registration requirement:

Motorized Canoe Registration – Every motor-driven vessel (regardless of length) is subject to registration by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

California Department of Motor Vehicles Boat/Vessel RegistrationOpens in a new tab.

You really should read all the information on motorized canoe registration in your state’s kayaking/canoeing laws article, and then visit your state’s motor vehicle web site, but I’ll summarize them for you. (Once again, this is for general information purposes only, so read your state’s specific laws)

  • Registration – As soon as you put a trolling motor on a canoe you have to register it.
  • Squareback Canoe Registration – In fact, some states require squareback or flat transom canoes, specifically designed to mount a canoe motor on, to be registered whether they actually have a motor mounted to the canoe or not.
  • Hull ID/Registration Display – After registration, you’ll have to display a hull ID and registration sticker on your canoe’s bow
  • Invasive Species Sticker – In some state’s—Idaho and California are two examples—you may even have to buy and display an invasive species sticker.
  • Operator Minimum Age – Most states have minimum age requirements for operating a motorized canoe.
  • Engine Size – And your squareback canoe will most likely have a “Maximum Capacities” metal sticker attached to your canoe that states how large of a trolling motor you can put on it.

Canoe Trolling Motor Wrap Up

Well, that article kinda got away from me, didn’t it. Regardless, that should clear up a ton of incorrect, missing and misinformation that I found while researching and writing this article on trolling motors for canoes.

By now, you should be pretty well-informed about canoe trolling motors, what your particular requirements are so you end up purchasing the right one, and probably a lot of pretty useful information you wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

So whether you end up with a saltwater electric trolling motor for the canoe you’re going to take into an ocean bay, or you end up getting a gas canoe engine so you can troll on that lake for trout all day, I hope this helped clear up any questions you had about canoe trolling motors.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse 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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