• Happy Birthday, Ansel Adams (1902-84)! 📷🌄

How Do Wood/Canvas Canoes Get Waterlogged?

Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
Reaction score
Wood/canvas canoes can gain substantial weight on a trip because of waterlogging. Assuming no leaks, can the water penetrate from the outside through the paint and filler to get into the canvas and wood, or does the waterlogging happen only because of water (waves, slop, rain) getting inside the canoe?
I'm thinking it has to come from the inside. I haven't swamped one, or paddled in extensive rain so I've never noticed any weight gain. I don't leave mine outside anymore when temps are below freezing because common sense tells me that the expansion of any water in there will cause damage.

Edited to add: If water is coming from the outside then it must be a leak, maybe not a noticeable yet.
Last edited:
For the first ten years I was in the School Club, we ran several Chestnuts and Tremblays. They would start off the trip around 80 pounds, and finish at well over a hundred. The water did indeed come from the inside. Our canoes were well seasoned, and many of the chestnuts and tremblays were not finished on the exterior plank side, so any water that entered the canoe, and there was always lots, was sucked into the planking mostly, but often the ribs too. It would usually take a few days, but by the end of a 14 day trip, there was a very noticeable difference. I believe the canvas would become somewhat sodden too from the inside, as only the exterior is treated.

Paddling in the rain, wet entrances and exits, running lots of big rapids....all of these things contributed to constantly soaking the canoe.
Assuming it comes from the inside, one might be tempted to ask: why not seal everything on the inside as well?
I always either flip my boat over to remove even small amounts of water or wipe it out with a cloth, which dries and cleans it. Especially with a pristine boat like yours Glenn.
When my Chestnut Pal leaked at WCPP, it did gain some weight but I could still lift it without issue, but I doubt it ever became waterlogged. I made an effort to drain it at every portage, I used my sponge and tarp to help remove rain and wet entry water.

I don’t think a properly treated canvas will allow water to seep in from the outside. Keels and stem bands are the weakest spots on a wood canvas tripping canoe imo. Duct tape or some modern epoxy repair kit will help temporarily, but the rigors of the trail can be tough on them. I have never seen any wood canvas canoe varnished on the outside plank besides some pictures of Stewart River Canoes. Schuyler Thomson didn’t even treat the outside of the hull on canoes he restored or built, he said he never saw any difference from treated or non treated, he just left them natural.

I believe this 100 year old Chestnut was waterlogged at one point. It had some crude repairs to the old canvas and probably leaked for some time. The black wood is still good, just stained.

Wood can absorb water from humidity alone and no wooden canoe in regular use will ever remain completely sealed from water penetration. The weight gain during a long trip is just an unfortunate fact of life.

Last edited: