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Choosing a Design

Choosing A Design

You’ve been thinking about building the perfect boat, and you’d like it to be beautiful as well as suited to your needs. In the early planning stages, there are two main considerations to factor in.

If you are a paddler/rower, choose a design that will fit your intended use. The design specifications will give you the necessary information to make a wise choice. Resist the urge to choose a design just because it stirs up familiar images.

On the other hand, you may be a builder first and a paddler second; in this case there is nothing wrong with building to suit your eye. Aesthetics may well be the biggest influence on the boat you decide to build. 

Lastly, don't forget to consider your building area. If storage and workshop space is limited, a shorter canoe may be your best bet.

This guide is intended as a short, practical introduction to Bear Mountain Boats' range of offerings. For an in-depth look at how canoe shape affects performance, see the excerpt from Canoecraft, Anatomy of a Canoe: Essentials of Good Design.

For more on kayak design, see this excerpt from Kayaks You Can Build, Choosing the Right Kayak.

Every Bear Mountain Plans Package includes:

  • Full-size drawings showing the profile, plan and section shape of the hull.
  • Specifications and technical details
  • Full-size plans for the mold stations (and carbon paper for tracing onto the mold material)
  • Plus extra useful booklets: Building a Bear Mountain Style Canoe, Epoxyworks newsletter, WEST SYSTEM® Technical Manual and Canoeroots Magazine
  • Customer support: our friendly staff is available by phone or email to answer your building questions

Before You Start to Build…

If this is your first boat, knowing you are beginning with an accurate mold will give you the confidence to start building. Without having to worry about your mold, you can enjoy all the other learning opportunities that will keep your project going.

Steve Killing, a highly respected Canadian yacht designer, has been involved in all Bear Mountain plans. Steve has contributed new designs as well as fairing and analyzing our traditional designs. Steve is known for designing boats that perform better than intended and look better than they need to. Combined with his skill as a rower and paddler, we are confident that Bear Mountain plans will produce beautiful, safe boats.

However, no boat performs equally well in all conditions. If you intend to paddle your canoe, knowing the type of paddler you are in advance will help you choose a model that is suited to your style. Whichever model you choose, take the time to study the process thoroughly and prepare your materials accordingly. 

For Versatility and Stability, Consider…

The Freedom 15 and Ranger 15 are versatile and responsive designs that will give good all-round performance. Beginning paddlers will appreciate high stability, and both designs will serve well on camping trips and day trips.

The Freedom 15 steers easily and adapts well to solo paddling. The Ranger boasts an excellent carrying capacity for a canoe of this length while being easier to handle than a full freight canoe. Both strike a balance between straight tracking and manoeuverability.

The Nomad 17 strikes an excellent balance between traditional designs and easy paddling. The design resembles the Chestnut Prospector, with some alterations to the hull to reduce resistance. It is intended for extended tripping and can easily carry two paddlers and a load of gear. If you are looking for a build that won’t be too challenging to plank and handles nicely in the water, this model may be for you.

Finally, the Coppermine is very similar in design to the Nomad 17 but with a transom that will accept a small electric or gas motor, perfect for canoeists seeking an alternative to traditional paddling.

For Intermediate Paddlers, Consider…

The Cottage Cruiser is a strong choice for those looking for good performance across a range of conditions. It offers less stability than the models above, with the trade-off being enhanced speed and agility. It shares some DNA with the Prospector models, meaning it has a respectable carrying capacity for its size.

For Extended Tripping, Consider…

The Chestnut Prospector 16, as the name suggests, meets the needs of the prospector – high carrying capacity with good manoeuverability through wilderness and whitewater.

The Freedom 17 is a fast, responsive boat with generous gear capacity for two canoeists on a longer adventure. It is also a pleasure to build. We frequently choose the Freedom 17 as our model in canoe-building workshops. If you need extra room, the Freedom 17’9” is even more capacious.

If You Are an Experienced Paddler…

The Redbird 17 may be for you. It is fast and responsive and seasoned paddlers find it performs well in most conditions. Less practiced paddlers, however, may have trouble adjusting to the lack of stability compared to some of the more forgiving models above.

Both the Freedom 15’3” and 16’2” offer medium manoeuverability and low freeboard, making them fine solo canoes. However, they require at least intermediate paddling skills due to their lower-than-average stability.

If You Are a Solo Paddler...

The Bob’s Special offers a very stable platform for fishing, sketching, painting, etc. It makes for an extremely comfortable leisure paddle, with a slight trade-off in terms of speed and efficiency.

For canoeists willing to commit to a double-bladed paddling style, the Rob Roy 13 is an excellent choice.

The 17’ Solo Tripper features an asymmetrical design and may be paddled from a tractor-style seat while switching sides every eight strokes, or from a traditional seat with the canoe heeled over. Over two and a half inches of tumblehome on either side bring the gunnels in for comfortable paddling.

For Aesthetic and Historical Appeal, Consider…

The Peterborough Canadien is no slouch in terms of performance, but historians have a particular fondness for it because it is based on the time-honoured design of the earliest cedar-strip canoes to emerge from Peterborough, Ontario.

The Champlain 16 also evokes the classic canoes of old, and fans of traditional symmetrical styles will be pleased by its appearance as well as its performance when recreational paddling or light tripping.

The Huron Cruiser also follows a classic aesthetic, though its claims to fame of good carrying capacity and good rough water performance remain relevant today.

The inspiration for the J.G. Lorna Brown comes from a 1900 design by J.G. Brown Manufacturing Co., and was refaired in 1999 with little alteration to the original shape. It is narrow and fast, with a handsome traditional aesthetic.

Technical Considerations

Below you can find a more thorough breakdown of the factors that influence canoe design. Read on to learn more details that may influence your model choice, or skip to the bottom for a comparative chart.

Consider the Hull Shape

Traditional canoe hull shapes are generally symmetrical; the bow is the same shape as the stern. While this does permits the canoe to be paddled in either direction, the stern does sink as the speed increases.

Asymmetrical hull shapes are most often found on modern craft. The bow will show a fine entry line, a full stern and the widest point of the hull will be aft of the centerline. The long, fine entry will ease the water aside and the full stern will keep the stern from sinking as speeds increase. To achieve the longest possible waterline length, the bow/stern profile is generally plumb.

Our book, KayakCraft has an excellence design chapter that will demystify the complexities of small boat hull design.

Terms to Look for When Studying Boat Plans

Capacity: Safe working load.
Displacement: Weight necessary to sink the boat to the design waterline.
Weight to immerse: Number of pounds necessary to sink the hull each additional inch past the design waterline.
Prismatic coefficient: Is a measure of how much volume is contained in the ends of the boat in relation to the size of the maximum section. A low number, for example 0.5, indicates the ends of the boat are very fine, while a number hovering around 0.7 would indicate very full ends. A comfortable prismatic target for canoes and kayaks would be from 0.53 to 0.60.
Stability/Capacity: In the past, manufacturers listed capacity as the amount of weight that can be loaded into the boat with an unspecified amount of freeboard remaining. Loading a boat with cement blocks then counting the blocks after the boat sank did not give us useful information that related to the safe use of the boat.
Steve Killing developed this unique formula to express stability in measurable terms, and capacity as the optimum load a boat can efficiently carry.
Our stability figures are measured at 15 degrees of heel and are related to the height at which the vertical line through the center of buoyancy intersects the hull centerline. For comparison purposes, we have chosen a value of 100 to be midrange; higher values indicate greater stability, lower values indicate less.

Use our chart along with the description accompanying each design to assist you in choosing the plan that is right for you

🟥   Requires skill and experience (except the Rob Roy & Venture - see below)
🟧   Requires skill but the experience will be comfortable
🟨   Comfortable for most paddlers
🟩   Very stable and comfortable for all paddlers

* The stability factor for the Rob Roy and the Venture are deceptive. Both boats are designed for single paddlers seated low in the boat so, even though the stability numbers are low both craft are comfortable and stable.
Canoes Stability Factor Optimum Capacity (lbs)
🟥 Marathon 18'6" 49 150 - 250
🟥 Rob Roy Solo 13' 71* 110-250
🟥 J.G. Brown 16' 74 280 - 390
🟥 Canadien 16' 86 280 - 390
🟥 Hiawatha 15' 88 150 - 390
🟧 Huron Cruiser 15'9" 92 180 - 450
🟧 Champlain 16' 92 280 - 450
🟧 Solo Day Tripper 17' 92 150 - 250
🟧 Red Bird 17'6" 92 280 - 510
🟧 Cottage Cruiser 15'6" 97 150 - 450
🟨 Freedom 17' 98 150 - 510
🟨 Bob's Special 15' 100 150 - 450
🟨 Nomad 17' 102 350 - 680
🟨 Prospector 16' 103 350 - 540
🟨 Freedom 15' 104 150 - 450
🟨 Ranger 15' 104 150 - 450
🟨 Chaa Creek Expedition 19'9" 105 430 - 820
🟩 Freedom 17'9" 111 400 - 680
🟩 Coppermine Square Stern 17 115 350 - 680
Kayaks Stability Factor Optimum Capacity
🟥 Venture 14 72* 90 - 200
🟨 Endeavour 17 100 150 - 260
🟩 Resolute 16/6 121 130 - 250
🟩 Reliance 20/8 121 250 - 500
🟩 True North 19/3 124 300 - 460
Small Boats Stability Factor Optimum Capacity
🟩 Stoney Lake Skiff 141 180 - 600
🟩 Ontario Whitehall 168 160 - 780
🟩 Rice Lake Skiff 169 180 - 600


Still researching? Visit our Getting Started and FAQ pages, or check the Building Advice section of our blog.