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What Is an Outrigger Canoe?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

An outrigger canoe is a type of boat that features a main hull in the form of a canoe and an outrigger that extends from the main hull for stability. An outrigger features arms with a float attached at the end. The float can vary in size and is usually much smaller than the main hull, though an outrigger canoe can feature a float that is just as long and wide as the main hull. Some versions of this craft feature more than one outrigger, and crafts that feature just one outrigger usually have the outrigger structure on the port, or left, side.

The extra stability provided by the outrigger on an outrigger canoe allows the craft to be operated in choppy or unsteady waters, and it makes traveling at higher speeds much easier. Canoes fitted with a sail are more likely to feature an outrigger than canoes without sails that are generally operated on flat, calm water. For even more stability, an outrigger canoe may feature a second hull that is the same size and structure as the main hull. The two hulls work as outriggers for each other; this style is sometimes known as a catamaran and it is ideal for fast speeds on open water.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Since the outrigger canoe features extra weight and drag, the paddling technique one will employ to propel the craft forward will vary from the more traditional strokes used on normal canoes. If the canoe features a sail, the operator will need to learn how to effectively and safely propel the craft forward taking advantage of both the sail and the support of the outrigger. Some canoes may feature outriggers on both sides of the main hull, though this is less common and not usually necessary if the canoe is being used with a sail.

Racing has become popular with outrigger canoes, and the models used for racing are exceptionally lightweight and often very narrow to cut down on drag. Traditionally, however, the boats were used for transport on open water that was often choppy. The outrigger provided extra stability, especially when the craft was loaded down with a significant amount of weight. These crafts were often used to transport several people, so the outrigger provided extra security against capsizing in rough conditions. The maneuverability of the craft was an added benefit, and larger ships would not be able to transport people to the places an outrigger canoe could reach.

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