Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stow, stow, stow your boat, gently...

Wednesday's post has got me thinking about boat storage. Generally, people don't do a great job of storing canoes. They tend to get left outside under a tarp and forgotten about - that is if they're luckier than the boat above. Stored outside, right side up is about the worst storage situation for a canoe. They fill with ice/snow/water and both the immense weight and the expansion and contraction of the freezing water can do a great deal of damage to any boat.

What constitutes the biggest danger for storing canoes? In no particular order, I think the following are pretty big hazards - particularly for wooden canoes.
  • Water - Causes rot in the wood and mildew in canvas coverings.
  • Sun - Causes UV damage and bleaching. Breaks down both polyester and epoxy resins.
  • Wind - Ever see a canoe after a tree branch falls on it?
  • Snow/Ice - The accumulated weight of ice and snow can deform or crush a hull without much problem.
  • Fire - Pretty rare, but it happens with obvious results.
  • Critters - of all sorts. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, porcupines, etc. love to chew on the finishes and the wood. Mice often nest in canoes and can cause a great deal of damage.
  • Theft - It's a pretty canoe isn't it? Somebody else might like to get their paws on it.
  • Gravity - make sure your supports are strong enough AND are properly spaced so adequately support the hull so that it doesn't deform.
  • The Owner - Ever drop a canoe? Heard about someone forget the boat is on the roof rack and drive into the garage with canoe on the roof? Owners can do a remarkable amount of damage to their own boats just moving them around.
It's remarkable to consider that some of the best storage seems to be a little benevolent neglect. Some of the amazing finds of old canoes are those found up in the rafters of barns, boat houses and sheds. These are generally not temperature or humidity controlled places, but they do have the benefit of good protection from the elements and most of the critters.

I know some people who store their boats on top of their car - year round. Most of these people have plastic boats and don't have a place to store the boat so they just leave the boats on the car. For the most part, it seems to work for them. I definitely wouldn't try this with any kind of wooden boat.

While definitely not ideal, the picture below is a small step up from the one at the top of this post. This plastic canoe with metal gunnels won't suffer much from rot, but heavy accumulation of ice and snow can bend the metal keel reinforcement. Plastic experiences sun damage, so covering with a tarp is better. Be careful with your tarp selection, too - the blue polyethylene tarps aren't UV resistant and they aren't very durable or waterproof after a short while. There are special heavy-duty white polyethylene tarps with a UV resistant coating that are OK for covering your boat with. It costs a bit more, but isn't that expensive.

The next step up would be to store the canoe upside down on a set of saw horses and covered with a tarp. This is a bit better as it allows some air circulation and should keep the boat off the ground and away from some of the critters and the danger of rot from contact with the damp ground.

The eaves under a shed are a good place. An overhanging shed roof is great protection and not hard to add a little extension to the back of a garden shed. In the picture below, a shed roof has been improvised against a fence using wood frames covered with tarps to shed the snow and rain.

My personal preference is the garage - my boats are hung from the ceiling on pulley hoists. It's out of the sun, the weather and (hopefully!) the critters.

Be careful when selecting pulley hoists to buy the kind that has two lines - one to each pulley. This lets both ends of the boat move at the same rate. I've tried the inexpensive bike racks, but they only have one rope so one end or the other goes up first and you wind up hitting the floor or ceiling with the boat - not great. The boat hoists that I have were found at L.L. Bean, but weren't listed in the catalog or online the last time I ordered. I had to speak to customer service to find them. Harken, the maker of sailing hardware (blocks, etc.) makes a great lift called the Harken Hoister. It looks a bit pricey, but worth it. Here's my livery snoozing for the winter:

Racks on the wall or webbing straps to hang canoes and kayaks from the wall are great solutions. Below is a home-made wooden rack, a professionally made metal one and finally a webbing "rack".

I've got one kayak that's almost ready for skinning that's being stored in the basement - just a pair of hooks and a bit of small nylon line. The boat is so light that it isn't a problem.

Still, no matter where you store your boat, you will not escape one critter - Arachnia Canoeus. Arachnia Canoeus is the common canoe spider and many paddler's regular paddling partner. We pulled one of my father's canoes out this past spring to take DS for a paddle and it was crawling with literally thousands of them. We had to rinse out the boat before we could take it. I don't mind bugs, but it made my skin crawl. Yech!

Another good resource for information came from WoodenBoat who published a special edition of Small Boats Magazine in 2008 that included an excellent section on how to integrate small boats into your life including how to store them. It's still available from their store as a back issue.

There are many ways to go about this, but the best tips are to avoid the elements, and the critters, keep the boat's weight well distributed and don't store things on or in it. Also, don't forget to clean and stow your lines, lifejackets, paddles, skirts and covers properly!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Great info on storage....also recommend for more info, section on Canoe Care on Kettle River Canoes website,, for great plans for sawhorses for canoe storage....and Wood Canoe Builders Guild website for section on Canoe Care,