fiberglass canoes

Gunwale 101

Shopping for a canoe often involves more than people expect. Between choosing a model, material, trim and colour, the experience can feel overwhelming to some. Because most people want to invest in one canoe that will last them a lifetime, they want to be sure that they’re getting it right the first time. This blog entry is dedicated to simplifying one area of choice: gunwales.


et’s start with the basics. What are gunwales? Gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”, sometimes referred to as “rails”) are the part of the canoe that run along the top edge of the hull. Canoe manufacturers often offer gunwales in different materials, each with different advantages and disadvantages. Read on for the run down on our gunwale options.


Canada Canoe



Nova Craft offers a different standard gunwale material and trim package (seats, yoke etc.) according to the canoe’s hull material. Standard trim systems are included in the price of the boat.


Vinyl Gunwales

Nova Craft SP3 hulls on our Outfitters Series boats are always trimmed with vinyl gunwales. Vinyl gunwales are the most flexible option and are therefore less likely to be kinked or damaged by hard impacts. Our Outfitter Series canoes are designed for maximum durability as they need to stand up to heavy use and abuse in rental outfits and summer camps. Vinyl gunwales are also less expensive and help keep the cost of these boats low. The downside? Weight. Vinyl is heavy, and so is the SP3 material we use in the hulls. Overall, these are the heaviest boats we produce.


Aluminum Gunwales

On our composite hulls (Fiberglass, TuffStuff, TuffStuff Expedition, Aramid Lite, Blue Steel), aircraft grade black anodized aluminum gunwales come standard. The anodized aluminum gunwales are the lightest option we offer. If you enjoy canoe tripping off of the beaten path, you’re likely no stranger to portaging. Shaving pounds off the total weight of the boat is usually very important to portagers, and aluminum gunwales help keep this number as low as possible. An additional benefit of the aluminum gunwales is that they are virtually maintenance free and can last forever.


Available Upgrades

In addition to the standard aluminum gunwales on our composite hulls, we also offer an upgrade to white ash gunwales. “Why upgrade?” is one of the more frequently asked questions we receive.


Aluminum Gunwales

There are many benefits to upgrading to our ash gunwales. The most obvious reason is aesthetic. Wood gunwales have a classic and traditional look that is tough to beat. But there are also some practical reasons why one may opt for ash over aluminum. Wood trim is quieter on the water. If you are interested in hunting, nature photography, or simply observing wild animals in their natural habitat, travelling very quietly is important. Animals are less likely to be scared away when paddles knock against wooden gunwales. Ash is also very comfortable to handle and carry because it is a non-conductive material. Aluminum, on the other hand, will heat up in the sun and get quite cold in low temperatures.

Our ash gunwales are oiled but not varnished. There is some upkeep required in order to keep oiled wood healthy and beautiful looking. Properly maintaining ash gunwales requires sanding and oiling them a couple of times a year. Also, canoes with wooden gunwales should be stored indoors over the off-season in order to prevent rotting.

We put a lot of time and careful effort into installing ash trim on our canoes. Because of the extra time and craftsmanship required by this process, there is a considerable upgrade fee which reflects the extra labour costs.