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Time To Open Up

Pete Catterall - Plas y Brenin's ''Head of Paddlesports ' "The Open boat or canoe has been around for thousands of years from its historic roots in North America to cart wheeling at a play hole and running technical white water all over the world. The open boat has evolved into what could be described as the most versatile boat in the world. This article looks at all aspects of the open boat. It’s not just the North Americans that use this type of boat to travel; if you go to any remote corner of the world you will see an open boat of one kind or another.."

Pete Catterall - Plas y Brenin's 'Head of Paddlesport '

The traditional use

Canoeing on a multi day self contained journeyThere are few better ways to travel than by canoe whether it’s a single day trip or a multi-day journey linking systems of waterways together for mile on end, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of canoe tripping. The traditional location for tripping is in its spiritual home of Canada where the canoe was used for everything from transport to hunting and trading. Modern day’s use of the canoe is for journeying and Canada has endless possibilities for an extended trip with its huge systems of lakes and rivers. Most paddlers use local outfitters for the canoes and associated equipment and for those who feel the need to get really remote the option of flying in by float plane is a fantastic way to start any trip. The canoes that you see today are not that different in shape and design from the original birch bark or dug out canoes.

What makes this boat so versatile?

Canoeing on a multi day self contained journeyThe open boat can be used in a huge variety of ways from multi day trips to single day journeys on your local stretch of white water, sailing across a expanse of open water or ripping it up at the local play spot. The open boat can do it all. Why? Because its light enough for one person to carry, it can be put on the roof of your car, you can switch between using a paddle and pole or even a sail or outboard and it comes in so many different shapes and sizes and is made from various materials like royalex, aluminium, wood strip or carbon fibre.


Getting the right equipment

On a budget

Choosing the right canoeing equipmentIf you are on a small budget and wish to get out open boating then its best to buy a second hand boat and there are various web sites and paddling magazines that all have a private sales section. For clothing there is no reason that you shouldn’t make use of any other outdoor kit that you have like fleece and waterproofs and a set of wellies. The only specialist pieces of kit are the buoyancy aid which is a must and should not be scrimped on as it is a life saver so it should be a good fit and in good condition, and a helmet which is a good addition especially if venturing out on to white water.


A bit to spend

If you do have a bit of spare cash then its time to get some specialist open boating equipment. In most regions there are good canoe retailers with racks of shiny sleek looking paddling kit and the choice is vast. Good footwear is essential as you will be in and out of you boat during your adventures often walking on wet slippery uneven ground. A good set of thermals will keep you warm and comfortable; a thermal top that is quick drying and has a zip neck for venting is the best option. The outer layer is a very important part of your kit. Sallopettes are great as you can wade around in the water and have a good chance of staying dry in the event of a capsize. On top an open neck touring cag is by far the most popular choice among open boaters as it will have latex seals on the wrists to keep the water out and a comfortable open neck with hood for when the weather gets really bad. And again the buoyancy aid is an essential piece of kit and one with a few additional pockets can be very useful for all the things that you need close at hand like chocolate and sun cream!

Big budget

As above, but with the addition of a dry suit for those days when you know you going to be in the cold water. Other options include dry trousers and open neck cag or dry cag for those cold days on white water.

Added extras

Dry bags for all your spare kit and camping essentials – a big one with rucksack straps is useful when portaging round big rapids as you can fit all your stuff into one bag for carrying Knee pads or kneeling mat (saves a lot of pain) Tilley hat as nobody will take you for a serious open boater without one Bailer or sponge.

The weapon of choice

When choosing the right paddle for you it’s easy to get lost in the endless choice of different paddle shapes that are all named after different animals. There a few categories to look at:

Canoeing on a multi day self contained journeyDeep water paddles.

These are generally made from wood and have a long narrow blade for easy movement through the water and a nice feel in your hand. And you look the part!

Whitewater blade.

A shorter wider blade for more shallow water normally made from a composite but some are wooden at the more expensive end of the market.


It is really important to get the right size paddle for you as if its to long it will feel cumbersome and give you to much leverage and too short will mean that you are leaning to far over the boat to get the paddle blade in the water.

Safety equipment

As a minimum it’s a good idea to take a first aid kit, some spare clothing and some form of emergency shelter like a bivvy bag or group shelter, as you never know when things are going to go wrong and being caught out in the middle of nowhere could make life a bit tricky.

Family use

Open boating is a great way to get the family out on the water as you can get boats with different seating options and its possible to get canoes to take 3/4 people safely. You can get shorter paddles for the young ones in your family, and a boat light enough for you all to be able to carry.

Solo or Tandem?

Choosing to go Solo or tandem is something that depends on your future plans. There are lots of advantages either way for example; going solo means you have the boat to yourself and the satisfaction of moving it around on your own, but no one to share the carrying of the boat with! Tandem canoeing brings some camaraderie as well as someone to help you get across that windy lake. If you are going to go on long journeys then most people paddle tandem. There is nothing better than a practised tandem team working together on a river.


The Open Boat allows you to travel into some fantastic environments. You can drift down a calm estuary, enjoy white water rivers, surf at your local play spot, sail across a lake, paddle into some remote mountains, or pack your boat and go on an extended trip for months on end linking up water systems. The options are endless!

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