Alabama Small Boats, Inc.

Alabama Small Boats
Street address: 

2370 Hwy. 52
Helena, AL 35080

Monday: 10:00am - 6:00pm; Tuesday - Thursday: 10:00am - 7:00pm; Friday & Saturday: 10:00am - 8:00pm; Closed: Sunday

2370 Hwy. 52
Helena, AL 35080

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33.283554, -86.883099

Canoe the Cahaba River: 2.5-hr. and 5-hr. trips suitable for all ages. Guided kayak trips—details on website. All types boating equipment.

Choosing a Canoe

Before discussing the different types of canoes, you should think about the aspects of the canoe, such as materials, Length, width, and the rocker of the canoe.  This will help you understand what you need to look FOR WHILE CHOOSING THE CANOE THAT WILL best FIT YOUR NEEDS.  

MATERIALS - When shopping for a canoe, you will run across a wide range of different prices.  Price is dictated solely by the material that the canoe is made of and how much material was used to make it.  Alabama Small Boats carries materials that have passed the durability test of the local waterways, which are extra hard on equipment due to the shallow nature of the streams and rivers in the northern half of the state of Alabama. One fact to note concerning the different materials of canoes is - YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Inferior materials such as high-density polyethylene are cheaper for a reason. Superior materials such as royalex are more expensive for a reason.  

Polyethylene - As a material for canoe Fabrication, Rotomolded polyethylene has come a long way over the last several years.  Both new material formulation, and new molding techniques have resulted in several competitive models being offered with polyethylene as the basic material.  In comparison to Royalex, these boats tend to be substantially heavier and lack some of the design and repairability features that are readily available with Royalex. 

Rotomolded polyethylene is currently the most economical canoe material available that will hold up to the elements.  As with any fabrication technology, improvements are bound to continue as polymer technology and molding technologies are developed. 

WARNING - You should watch out for high-density polyethylene as it is an inferior material.  Alabama Small Boats does not carry any high-density polyethylene. This material is much more comparable to "milk-jug" plastic. it is proven not to hold up to the elements, cannot be repaired, does not hold its form, and is much heavier than rotomolded polyethylene. Coleman, Pelican, Waterquest, and other such canoe manufactures are the ones to watch out for on the market. The bottom line is this; canoes made of high-density do not paddle well because of design, and more importantly they will not last long.

ROYALEX - A big step up from rotomolded polyethylene is Royalex. Royalex canoes are as durable in practice, more rigid, much lighter in weight, and are more repairable. 

This material fosters better designs than are possible with polyethylene.  Royalex canoes can deliver good efficiency and handling and is actually the most ideal material for the Southeastern United States' rivers because of the shallow nature of the streams. In fact, most whitewater canes are made of Royalex. 

Finding a Royalex design that is great for touring on lakes takes some looking.  They are a little heavy when you get into the 17-18 foot range and you may want to look at composite canoes if you are paddling on lakes most of the time.  There are a couple of boats that are designed for lakes in the Southeast. 

Alabama Small  Boats also has Kevlar and wooden canoes in stock.

Length - When you are choosing the length of your canoe you should, again, take a look at what you are going to be doing with the canoe most of the time.   If you are going to be paddling short day trips with one other person and a limited amount of gear, you will need to look in the 14-15 foot range; unless you are looking for a whitewater canoe which is covered below.  a 14-15 foot canoe will give you enough room for just that, so if you think that you are going to want room for a third seat or some camping, hunting, or fishing gear, you will want to step up into the 16-17 foot range.  If you are going to be needing more room for gear or maybe you want to outfit your boat to hold mom, dad, kids, and gear, you will need to look in the 17-19 foot range.  The most sold length at Alabama small boats is 16 feet. 

     There a several exceptions to these general length suggestions, such as solo paddling, paddling with 2 small people, paddling with 1 small and 1 large person, paddling on white water rivers, among several other things that you should take into consideration when trying to decide which length canoe is going to serve you best.  You should always try before you buy, which is the motto at Alabama Small Boats. 

WIdth or Beam - the best width or beam for your application is going to be determined by how much primary stability you want, verses secondary stability.  Primary stability is what you feel when you first get into a boat and sit down.  How stable the boat feels initially is the primary stability.  Secondary stability is described as the point that you hit when you lean the canoe on edge and it hits a wall of resistance to capsizing. A boat with more secondary stability is typically more performance oriented. It will respond better to paddle strokes and braces, especially in wind, weather, or rough conditions.  Whereas a canoe with more primary stability will be a better fit for someone who is fishing, hunting, or will be carrying children or dogs moving around in the canoe. A boat that has more secondary stability will also usually have more rocker.

Rocker - rocker is described as the bowing of the bottom of the boat from the bow to the stern.  A canoe that has more rocker, like a white water canoe for example, will maneuver better than it will track.  Therefore, you would not want to use a boat that was made for white water on flat water.  You will want to get a boat that has little or no rocker if you are going to be on slow moving rivers and lakes most of the time.  If you are looking for a good mix for paddling on class 1-2 white water and a little bit of lake paddling, you may want to look for something with 1-4 inches of rocker.  a boat that has 2-4 inches of rocker will also be very good if you ever wanted to paddle a tandem (two person) canoe solo (by yourself) as the rocker will move the pivot point more toward the middle of the canoe. This will break the bow and stern loose allowing someone to maneuver the canoe more easily.  Another advantage to a boat that has a little rocker is that it actually stabilizes when you load the boat down below the rocker. This will bring the waterline lower on the boat while dropping the bow and stern below the rocker. 

For the southeastern United States, especially in the hilly country, Alabama Small Boats recommends that you get a boat with a little bit of rocker.  The overwhelming majority of paddling done in our region is on rivers. A canoe with moderate rocker have the ability to negotiate a few easy rapid now and then.  You should note that you do sacrifice a little primary stability when you increase your rocker, but there is always some trade off when choosing canoes. 


When choosing a canoe you will first have to decide what you are going to be using the canoe for most of the time.  Will you be using it for river touring, lake touring, recreational day trips, do you want more performance, camping ability, fishing ability, hunting ability, do you paddle all white water, OR are there other special needs in your case?

River Touring Canoe -

While Touring canoes are versatile crafts that paddle well on rivers, they excel in calmer waters. The focus differs for River Touring canoes. These models excel in fast rivers, but can also be paddled in lakes.

River Touring canoes often have significant rocker (at least 2") to improve maneuvering in fast waters. This also helps soften the effects of crossing sharp eddylines where currents might tug at a canoe as it travels through them.

They also have generous flair and depth. This creates canoes with great buoyancy to tackle challenging whitewater confidently and also makes these canoes extremely forgiving when leaned to their gunwales.

These are stable, maneuverable and seaworthy canoes that handle furious waters easily and are little bothered by external upsetting forces.

Lake Touring Canoe -

Lake Touring hulls have medium lengths (typically 16'-17'), and are generous in width and depth (usually 34" to 36" wide with a 13" to 14" center depth. They should have shallow arched bottoms and only an inch or two of rocker. These aspects make good touring hulls track well, travel easily, and carry a fair load. They also should blend good initial stability with good final stability for safety on most waves. 

A caution, though: "Touring" is a nice label often given to canoes not deserving of it. No aluminum hulls and precious few plastic ones truly are touring canoes.

Recreational Canoe -

Designed for those who use their canoe as a means to an end. Folks who enjoy photography, bird-watching, fishing and hunting enjoy a solid, stable canoe for peace of mind. These hulls are shorter (16' or less), wide (over 36"), have full bottoms for a solid "foot print" in the water, and maybe some rocker in the ends. They're made for paddlers who seldom go long distances, carry much gear, or face large waves. If deep enough (at least 13") and lightly loaded, they can run rapids as they maneuver well, but they're not for serious froth. Their goals are steadiness on calm water, and easy control by typical paddlers. Due to their relaxed use, many builders ignore how these canoes paddle.

Performance Canoe -

These deliver easy speed and long glide, with significant capacity when needed. Performance hulls are generally longer, a bit slimmer than other canoes (33"- 35" wide), and not overly deep. For best performance they should have little rocker, and arched bottoms for responsive safety.

Although performance designs don't strictly require skilled paddlers, they will perform best in experienced hands, and will be enjoyed most by those people.

Expedition Canoe -

These are the largest canoes, generally excelling in at least two dimensions, of which length should be one. They haul more weight than other designs, and do it safely on vast lakes, big rivers, and tidal waters where waves can be massive.

Since they are long, good expedition models draw less water to perform much better loaded than shorter designs.

Specialty Canoe -

Marathon Canoes are made to race on flat water. They are very fast but demand highly-skilled paddlers and have little capacity. Recreational Racing and Cruising Canoes are similar but less extreme. Reasonably-skilled paddlers often deeply enjoy these hulls for sightseeing, touring, and even for long trips if the load is moderate.

White Water Canoes -

White Water canoes are usually canoes that are fully outfitted with saddles, thigh straps, foot pegs, lashing, and floatation bags for the displacement of water.  White water canoes ususally have a lot of rocker (9-15") and are horrible on flatwater as they want to turn all of the time.  These are the boats to get if you are interested in paddling challenging white water all of the time. 

Conclusion -

From this article and the comparative graphs, pick a category or two. "Touring" should usually be included, but pick an added, or different, category as follows:
    1. For easier control and steadiness, pick "Recreation."

 2. For higher agility and dryness on rough water, pick "River Touring."

 3. For more speed and glide, loaded or empty, pick "Performance."

 4. For greater volume and seaworthiness, pick        "Expedition."

5. If you are looking for a white water canoe or another type of specialty canoe, you should try to test paddle them whenever it is possible.

Within a category or two, investigate those canoes. Test them too, if practical. Not all canoes are right for you just because they fit your chosen category. Don't get too caught up on specs when comparing canoes. A lot more can go on with a good canoe design beyond the normal reference numbers you read about. By picking a category or two, you'll save time finding the right canoe for you.

When looking at canoes, you should always take into consideration that you are getting exactly what you pay for when it comes to materials and if it is cheap it is cheap.  Stay away from the cheaper boats out there because they are junk.

You should always try boats before you buy them whenever possible.  Everyone is different and not everyone will need the same boat. 

Happy paddling!!

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