What Is a Gunwale on a Canoe?

Canoeing is a popular outdoor activity that involves paddling a small boat through water. One important part of a canoe that many people may not be familiar with is the gunwale. In this article, we will explore what a gunwale is and its importance in canoeing.

What Is a Gunwale?

The gunwale (pronounced “gunnel”) is the upper edge of the canoe’s side where the hull and the deck meet. It runs along the entire length of the canoe and provides structural support to the boat. The gunwale is usually made of wood or synthetic materials like aluminum or plastic.

The Importance of Gunwales

The gunwales play an important role in keeping the canoe upright and stable while on water. They help to distribute weight evenly across the boat, making it easier to maneuver through different water conditions. They also provide a surface for attaching various accessories like seats, thwarts, and handles.

Types of Gunwales

There are two main types of gunwales: inwales and outwales. Inwales are located on the inside of the canoe and provide attachment points for seats, thwarts, and other accessories. Outwales, on the other hand, are located on the outside of the canoe and provide additional structural support.

Wooden Gunwales

Wooden gunwales were traditionally used in canoes because they are strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. They are usually made from hardwoods like ash or cherry and require regular maintenance to keep them in good condition.

Aluminum Gunwales

Aluminum gunwales are lightweight and low-maintenance compared to wooden ones. They are often used in recreational canoes because they can withstand rough water conditions without getting damaged.

Plastic Gunwales

Plastic gunwales are the most affordable and low-maintenance option. They are made of high-density polyethylene and are often used in entry-level canoes.


In conclusion, the gunwale is an essential part of any canoe. It provides structural support, distributes weight evenly, and serves as an attachment point for accessories. Understanding the different types of gunwales available can help you choose the right canoe for your needs and preferences.

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Daniel Bennet