Water Sports

Guide to Average Canoe Speeds: How Far Can You Paddle In A Day?

There are a few different things that can affect not only the average speed of the canoe but also the distance you can travel in a day.

Hitting the water in your canoe is a great way to banish boredom and get some fresh air at the same time. Aside from that, you can make it a social event by inviting your friends along for the ride, in their own canoe of course.

The question remains, how long do you plan to stay in the water? How far will you go before you get hungry? Most importantly, how far can you paddle in a day on a canoe.

Understanding how speed interacts with canoeing on the water will allow you to calculate just how far you are likely to go. This can be extra helpful if you plan to have a ride waiting for you at the other end. After all, they will need to know where to pick you up at the end of the day unless you plan on making your journey a round trip.

Factors That Affect Canoe Speed

There are a few different things that can affect not only the average speed of the canoe but also the distance you can travel in a day. The actual ability of the person rowing and the effort put into moving the canoe play a big role, but there is more to it.

The weather, shape of the canoe, paddler skill, and even the temperament of the water can all increase or decrease the numerical averages. Let’s break down some of these areas further.

  • Weather – the weather will affect how well the canoer is able to navigate along the water, but it will also affect the water itself. Wind, for example, can make it harder to paddle due to opposing forces, but the same wind will also change the water currents. When a person is paddling with the flow of the current, their progress will be much faster than someone who is paddling against the current.
  • Canoe Shape – Materials and design also have an impact on the speed of travel. Most canoes are built with square sterns or V-shaped sterns. Those that have a V shape are crafted for speed and will cut through the water much easier than others. Those with a square stern are built for weight and will move slower, but be able to carry a heavier load. The square stern also allows a motor to be attached which can increase or decrease the speed depending on use.
  • Weight – the amount of weight in the canoe will also affect the speed of travel dramatically. There is food, gear, the actual traveler, the boat itself, safety gear, and more. The heavier the load is on the canoe, the slower it will move in the water.
  • Canoe Material – Highly durable materials such as plastic, aluminum, and wood can slow a canoe down, but they increase durability and longevity. Kevlar and fiberglass composites on the other hand are much lighter and will facilitate a quicker journey.
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Average Speed of Canoes

Keeping in mind that speeds can be affected by the factors mentioned above, 3 miles per hour is a typical speed for a canoe. This speed is for a canoe paddled over still water, with two paddlers, and in a straight line.

Most people will be able to paddle for about ten miles before taking a break to use the toilet or eat, which would take three and a half hours at the above speed with two paddlers. When calculating a full day of paddling, let’s assume that it means between sunrise & sunset which is an average of 12 hours depending on your location. With these numbers in hand, the average distance you can paddle in a day is 34 miles.

Just keep in mind that the distance and the time may change depending on the weight of the load in the canoe, the number of paddlers, the weather, and the paddlers. When planning your trip, it is always better to overestimate the time you will need to reach your destination than to underestimate it. W

hile the number above is correct on paper, it is not likely anyone would actually be able to paddle 34 miles in 12 hours. So let’s look a bit deeper for our true answer.

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Canoer Effects On Speed And Distance

Although outside factors play a role in how fast and how far you can travel on a canoe, the speed is mainly dictated by those in charge of the paddles. The type of canoe material and shape is chosen by the paddler as is the time and place they chose to enter the water.

Paddlers control how much effort they place on getting to their location as well as steering the boat in the direction they wish to travel.

Amateurs paddlers and professional paddlers will also have different speeds and distances. Those who have been in the water with a canoe for years will fare much better than those who just started out canoeing.

Much about canoeing comes with practice and repetition. The more you paddle, the stronger your upper body becomes, which can help increase your endurance and your speed. Veteran canoers understand how to properly control the canoe, steer in various types of currents, and even know which boat is best for each season. This all results in being able to paddle longer, further, and quicker than an amateur.

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New canoers will have less endurance and upper body strength which will result in a slower, shorter trip. They may also face difficulties when steering or controlling the canoe in unpredictable currents. Newer canoers also tend to ignore speed in lieu of getting lost in the experience, or simply by trying to maintain control of their canoe.

A veteran canoer is able to reach speeds of six miles per hour while new canoers tend to hover around one or two miles an hour. This is a big difference in speed that will come into play when calculating the distance and speed that can be traveled in a day.

Aside from skill, the weather also plays a big role. Veteran canoers will understand how to adapt to sudden weather changes and changes in the current while newer canoers may be forced to shore. Planning ahead is an important step in the canoeing process, while veterans may arrive prepared for complications, new canoers would not have the experience that guides them on what to do when there are sudden changes.

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How Fit Are The Canoers?

Canoeing speed on paper is one thing, putting that speed into action, in reality, is quite different. Canoeing, in general, takes a tremendous amount of upper body strength, those who are not in good shape or who have been slacking on their cardio will find themselves tired out rather quickly.

Paddling is similar to running long distances, the more you train the easier it will be. The first time you go out on the water, you may find yourself tired out after about 40 minutes, but with time and practice, your endurance will improve.

Paddling 10 miles may seem like a walk in the park, but it is very difficult to paddle that far consistently, for three to four hours straight. If there is any type of cross current, paddling will become that much harder. The amount of effort a canoer puts into their trip will directly affect how fast and how far they travel. Two people paddling make for quicker progress, but if one of them has no experience, it can actually make the trip take longer and progress more slowly.

Taking breaks is not often factored into the time frame, but depending on the number and type of breaks you take, an extra hour can be added on to your overall itinerary. Some breaks are simply coasting in the canoe, while others may require an actual stop at the shore, such as for bathroom breaks or for a meal.

In Conclusion

If you are thinking about hitting the water on your canoe, consider how far you plan to travel, who you plan to travel with, and of course, check with mother nature. The average speed you can expect to hit as a beginner is two miles per hour, but with practice, that can be bumped up to anywhere between four and six-mile per hour.

Your distance is the next hurdle, the healthier you are, the better you will fare when canoeing. Endurance plays a big role, so start out with shorter trips and work your way up to traveling long distances.

Those who have been canoeing for a long time can easily travel between 10 miles and 15 miles in a day, or rather 3.5 to 5 hours. Even though there are 12 hours between sunrise and sunset, it is not physically possible to paddle for 12 hours straight no matter how much of an expert in canoeing you may be. The overall average a moderately healthy person with canoeing experience can travel in a day is 18 to 20 miles on smooth water.


Adrienne is a traveller and blogger with many years experience of the outdoors life. An adrenaline junkie at heart she loves to try different sports and activities all year round. With a degree in journalism she combines her love of sports with writing here at BeActiveOutdoors.com Contact adrienne@beactiveoutdoors.com

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