What makes the best bed on a canoe trip? Some say a thick pad in a tent. Others swear by a hammock, but I’ve canoe camped for years, and I sleep best in my canoe. Nothing beats pulling up on shore, laying a pad and sleeping bag in the boat, and crawling in. I can level and prop the canoe on any ground—be it sloped, rocky, or muddy. If it’s buggy, I drape mosquito net over the boat, if it’s rainy, I string up a tarp.

If what I say here makes you want to try out a canoe cradle on your next trip, let me point out one problem you’ll have to deal with right off, unless you are very skinny; it’s going to be a tight fit under the thwarts. This problem is easily solved, however, if you have a quick-release method to take the thwarts out. Here are two I’ve come up with.

I call the first the wing nut Method. Simply remove the factory nuts that come on the bolts holding the thwart to the gunwales, and replace them with wing nuts, which are readily available at hardware stores. To open up the boat for sleeping, twist the wing nuts off and tap out the thwart. If the original bolt holes through the thwart are tight, drill them slightly larger. “The downside?” you ask. In the morning when you put the wing nuts back on, you’ll have to stand on your head to see what’s going on under there. I stood on my head for years, then thought of a better way.

I call it the Wire Lock Pin Method—WLPM for short. Here’s how to make it work.

1) Remove the factory hardware on the thwart/gunwale connection.

The pieces you will need

2) Bolt two right angles of aluminum under the gunwale so that they snug up on either side of the thwart.

3) Drill a 5/16” hole horizontally through the angles and the thwart.

The setup without yoke on yet

4) Insert a “wire lock pin.” When you push the pin in, it will securely connect the end of the thwart to the right angles and thus to the gunwale. When you pull it out, the thwart comes loose.

Once the thwart is connected by the wire lock pin

You may be able to buy suitable right angles, but I made my own. They are 1.5” long, and I cut them off a stalk of “1-inch aluminum angle,” sold in hardware stores in 3’ lengths. A hacksaw or a carbide saw blade cuts the aluminum like butter. Be sure to wear safety glasses when doing this. I also sanded smooth any sharp edges. As for the wire lock pins (¼” X 2-1/2”), they are typically used to hold implements to tractors. I bought mine at a farm supply store.

The only tricky part of the installation is drilling the 5/16’ hole for the wire lock pin straight through the center of both angles and the thwart. It helps to clamp everything tight.

In these photos, the extra holes you see in the gunwale are from the original factory bolts.

Burt Kornegay is a retired wilderness outfitter/guide and owner of Slickrock Expeditions, in Cullowhee, NC. 

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