What Is the Gunwale on a Canoe?

Canoeing is a popular water activity that has been enjoyed for centuries. Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or a beginner, understanding the different parts of a canoe is essential.

One of the most important parts of a canoe is the gunwale. In this article, we will explore what the gunwale on a canoe is and its importance in the overall structure and function of this watercraft.


The gunwale (pronounced “gunnel”) is the top edge or side of a canoe that runs from bow to stern. It serves as both an aesthetic and functional component of the canoe.


There are two types of gunwales: inwales and outwales. The inwale is located on the inside of the canoe and serves as reinforcement for the upper edge. The outwale, on the other hand, is located on the outside of the canoe and serves primarily as an aesthetic element.


Inwales are typically made from hardwood such as ash or cherry wood. They run along both sides of the canoe’s interior and serve to reinforce it, making it more rigid and durable. They also provide additional support for seats, thwarts, and other structural components that may be attached to them.


Outwales are usually made from aluminum or vinyl material for durability against harsh weather conditions. They give an elegant look to canoes by covering up screws or nails used in attaching other parts like seats.


The gunwale plays an important role in maintaining stability while paddling through rough waters. It provides an additional surface area for paddlers to rest their arms while maneuvering through rapids or choppy water conditions. The gunwale also helps distribute weight evenly throughout the boat, which is crucial to maintaining balance.


Maintaining the gunwale is essential to the longevity of the canoe. Regular cleaning and inspection are necessary to ensure that it remains in good condition.

For wooden gunwales, a coat of varnish or oil should be applied periodically to protect them from water damage and rot. Aluminum or vinyl gunwales require less maintenance, but should still be checked for any signs of wear and tear.


In conclusion, the gunwale is an essential component of a canoe that serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose. Understanding its importance and role in maintaining stability and balance while paddling can help make your canoeing experience more enjoyable. With proper maintenance, your canoe’s gunwale can last for many years to come.

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Daniel Bennet