Introduction: How to Row a Canoe for Fishing or Excercise, the Cheap, Fast Row Boat

About: airplane nut since forever, rower since high school, aircraft mechanic since '94, Pastor, father of four

Want to make your canoe a fast rowboat? canoes are cheap , I got mine for $150 from, the double ended shape of a canoe is excellent for rowing, and you won't sacrifice the ability to paddle your canoe when you want to. If you look at early rowing shells they closely resemble canoes, so the shape is right for speed.
The idea of folding gate hinge out riggers is one I saw in a small boating magazine called 'messing about in boats' (MAIB), I just adapted it to a Coleman canoe. It can be done to any small boat that is rowable, however you don't want your oarlocks more than 4 feet apart, for ease of rowing. (I have read some people say up to 5' is ok, not for me though)
I have been rowing my Coleman canoes for 5 years now, the pictures of the red canoe are from the second canoe I modified, the first (green ) was returned to my dad as it was his. He just paddles the canoe now and the extra hardware and outriggers don't interfere at all, in fact he doesn't even notice they are there.
As I have the canoe set up here it is intended for at least one passenger in the back, otherwise you will need almost as much ballast as you weigh, as your weight is ahead of the center of the boat. For easier handling and speed you want the stern of the boat to be an inch or two deeper than the bow, otherwise the boat tends to 'spin out' without constant attention. My wife and kids make perfect ballast, and when she wants she paddles for speed or exercise.
I traded a 15' canoe I bought that same day for the 17' canoe, both canoes were found on CL. (

Step 1: Parts and Tools Needed

A canoe or small row boat, sail boat, kayak, etc.
-a pair of oars, I made mine myself from a 2X4" ripped in half and some scrap plywood epoxied together, or you can buy those lousy ones from the store.
-a pair of oarlocks, for fishing look for the kind that have a pin through the oar shaft so you can just let go when you get a hit, I got regular old U shaped ones on eBay.
-a pair of oarlock sockets, "T" shaped. (another source for these boaty parts is
-Two gate hinges, you want a spread of about 4' between oarlocks, I got 10" gate hinges from home depot, you want the kind with a long tapered end and a rectangular end.
-six bolts, sized to fit the holes in the gate hinge.
-nuts and washers for the bolts
-aluminum angle or 1" square tubing long enough to reach from the center thwart to the back of the front seat twice. If you have a wood or fiberglass canoe a nice varnished piece of wood to match the rails would work and blend in better. (this is to keep the rail from flexing)
-four bolts with nuts and washers to secure the oarlock sockets to the gate hinges.

:a power drill and drill bits

Step 2: You May Want a Tape Measure

With the canoe upright on the ground, sit on the front seat facing aft, slide aft until the edge of your seat is on the aft edge of the seat. (so your thighs aren't on the seat).
Holding that position, lay an oar, broom, paddle, etc. across the canoe rail holding it by the handle, sit up straight and hold your elbow straight, with the oar parallel to the aft edge of your seat (90 degrees to the keel of the canoe) and horizontal to the ground, mark the canoe rail. find the center line of the oar shaft, this is the center line for the out riggers and oarlocks.
Another way to do this step, on a normal rowing boat (for a normal sized rower) you want the oarlocks 14" from the aft edge of the seat, you also will want the foot brace about 4' from the seat, and your seat at least 8" above your heels. (the older you get the higher you will want that seat)

Step 3: Reinforcing the Rail for the Outrigger

On my Coleman canoes the rail is an aluminum channel that is way to flexible to properly support the outriggers. I borrowed my dads Coleman canoe for 7 years until spring of "08 when he asked for it back. I had modified this canoe to row nearly the same way and I actually like how his turned out better.
On my dads 15' Coleman I added 1" square aluminum tubing to the outside of the rail, this tubing was bolted at the center carry thwart bolt and at the forward seat bolts. The end was hammered flat to not interfere with paddling. The tubing length is extra long as you can see on the pictures, I only needed them to reach from the carry thwart to the seat support bolts closest to the oarlocks, next time I do this I will only put as much tubing on the boat as it needs. Put any bolt heads on the outside of the boat, and nuts on the inside, for the same reason.
On my 17' Coleman I used AL angle to do the same thing, not quite as elegant, and in hindsight I should have done it like my dads canoe. As you can see in the picture the seat bracket bolts anchor one end of the AL angle, and the center carry thwart bolt secures the other end.

Step 4: Critical Step!, Attaching the Outriggers

Turn your gate hinge so the hinge pin us up above the rail, the long side is resting flat across the top of the rail (or slightly up at the outer end) and the inner side of the hinge is flat with the inside of the rail. (on my canoe there is a lip on the inside so I put washers under the hinge to keep it square with the inside of the boat)
Now position your gate hinges so the center line on the rail matches the center line on the gate hinge, and drill three holes through the rail and reinforcing ( I held the hinge in place with c-clamps to keep it from moving while drilling) REMEMBER! the bolt heads and washers will have to clear any overhang on the outside of the rail. (not a problem if done like my dads boat with tubing on the outside)
start all three bolts before tightening them down, and double check that the outrigger sits flat or slightly up on the canoe rail. My canoe has plastic trim over the rail, this messed up my outrigger angle so I marked it and cut it as you can see in the picture, this was not a problem on my dads canoe from the late '70s.

Step 5: Attach the Oarlock Sockets

Now set the oarlock sockets upside down on the ends of the outriggers, you want them this way for proper clearance of the gate hinge pin on the oar shaft.
Drill through the holes in the oarlock socket into the outrigger end. REMEMBER!! You want enough meat around the outer bolt so it won't tear out. This should be at least the area of the washers being used plus a little.
Find a large drill bit that just fits into the now top of the oarlock socket and drill from the top down, through the outrigger, to allow the oarlock to extend down through.

Step 6: A Good Foot Brace (give Me a Place to Stand and I'll Move the Earth)

You will need a good solid place to brace your feet while rowing. In my canoe I use the lower leg of the "T" in the center thwart as the place to attach the foot brace. It is just another piece of the AL angle with a U-bolt to secure it to the pipe. You want the foot brace as wide a possible as in rough conditions spreading your feet out gives you more stability.
On my canoe I moved the center thwart forward about 6 inches to get the proper distance. I don't plan on carrying my canoe that often so if the aft end drags on the ground it won't kill me. I could have put a block in to make up the distance instead, but the area between the thwarts is for my two older kids so they need the extra room.
These gate hinges are amazingly strong, they flex very little, mostly up and down, not to much twisting, just a slight twist during each stroke, which just like a springy oar is returned at the end of the stroke. I rowed dories in high school and always wanted 9' 6" oars to get the proper effort, so when I made my own oars they ended up at 9' 7" not so much by design, just that was the length they ended up at. At that length I bump the ends of the handles on each return. Someday I'll have to post how I made them also.

Step 7: Oh My Aching Butt!

Since my canoe has cheap plastic seats I wanted some cushioning. I use a piece of closed cell foam (like a camping mattress) and wear a pair of padded cycling shorts. I have looked at gel paddling seat cushions and may still get one from fleabay someday, but not so far.

When braking (dragging both oars to stop quickly) the outriggers will rise up and pop the oar out of the oarlock socket, to fix this I bought two small pip pins and drilled holes to match through the hinge pin and outrigger hinge, this keeps the arms down and still allows a quick pin pull to allow the outrigger to be stowed for docking and car topping.

The LAST thing you want to happen, is to loose an oarlock overboard! I secure mine with small caribiner clips through the hole in the bottom of the oarlock in the pictures. Since then I have been using small bungee cords to do the same thing. There is a much more elegant way of securing them, it involves a short chain and a "toggle made of a wire loop, someday I will duplicate this and post the pictures.

The picture is of my dads canoe, my wife is paddling bow position, and mostly this picture shows how out of the way my first install is when not rowing. Due to the stiffness of the gate hinge bushings they don't tend to flop around, they still point toward the bottom when the canoe is turned over. Once they do wear in so that they flop during car topping, they could be secured with a bungee or the same pip pin that secures them in the rowing position. In another I'ble I show how I car top my canoe without much effort. Since I only lift one end at a time there are no he-man contortions at the boat ramp or beach.