Had Neil Young been singing about canoes, his famous lyric might have gone, “it’s better to burn out than to rot away.” The best way to keep your canoe in good shape is to paddle it regularly. And a little TLC goes a long way. Here are some simple ways to maintain your cottage canoe so it can keep on rockin’ for longer.

How to Maintain Your Cottage Canoe

1 Apply sunscreen

Just as we slather on sunscreen to protect ourselves from UV rays, we need to protect the canoe. Fiberglass-covered wood canoes should be protected with a high-quality marine-grade varnish with UV inhibitors. Inevitable scrapes and dings to painted canoes should be touched up regularly.

an blue upended canoe bow with maple leaves on wet decking
Here’s how to maintain your cottage canoe. | Photo: Paul German

2 Maintain wood gunwales

Severely weathered or abused wood will require 60-grit sandpaper, followed by 100 and then 220 for a silky finish. A random orbit sander is the ultimate tool for this job. If the wood has been covered with varnish or urethane, sanding off the old finish will be slow going.

Avoid using linseed oil—exposed to sun and water, it turns the wood black in just a few weeks. Instead use a marine-grade spar varnish or, better yet for ease of maintenance, any exterior oil finish such as Varathane’s Natural Oil Finish. It is effortless to apply, can be reapplied without sanding and should last for an entire season.

3 Touch up canvas

Many layers of paint are undesirable on a cedar canvas canoe—the flexibility of the wood and canvas is too much for the thick, brittle, painted-on coating, causing cracking right down to the canvas. When the urge to paint is too strong, only paint over the scratches. For bad scratches penetrating the paint, use model airplane glue and an old piece of denim or cotton bandana for a permanent and paintable patch.

4 Tighten hardware

Tighten all hardware such as wood screws, and the nuts and bolts holding thwarts, yokes and seats to prevent the hardware from wearing larger holes. Keep the tools in your trip repair kit.

Use it or lose it. |  Photo: Follow Me North Photography
Use it or lose it, but don’t forget to maintain your cottage canoe too. | Feature photo: Follow Me North Photography

5 Prepare for winter

Back off the screws in your wood gunwales on ABS canoes if they are to be stored near or below freezing temperatures. Royalex and T-Formex contracts and expands at a different rate than wood, which can result in cold cracks around the screws. Simply loosen all the inside gunwale screws. Remove deck plates.

6 Provide good storage

Keep your canoe dry and off the ground, gunwale-side down and shaded from UV. If you don’t have a boathouse or space to string it up in the garage, tarping is a good solution if you place some foam or small wood blocks on the overturned hull, allowing air and moisture to escape from under the tarp. Storing your canoe under some trees, such as birch, will stain your hull.

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Use it or lose it, but don’t forget to maintain your cottage canoe too. | Feature photo: Follow Me North Photography



  1. We just bought a new (to us) painted canvas canoe. We are taking it up to live permanently near 100 Mile House. We have a wee
    pack rat on our property and are concerned she might take an unhealthy interest in eating the canvas. Is that a possibility and if so what can we do to prevent it from happening?


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