Outrigger Sailing Canoe[Building & Buying Guide]

An outrigger canoe, just like the conventional canoe, has a very narrow hull.

You are probably wondering how such a canoe can withstand the strong winds and waves in the high seas.

The answer is the outrigger. This is a structure comprising of a pair of floats extended out of the side of the canoe using strong beams.

Think of them as being similar to the training wheels on a bike, which prevent a young beginning cycler from tipping over.

So why did the Polynesians not simply build large boats for long-distance travel much like the Vikings did?

The narrow hull of a canoe allows it to travel very fast through water, especially chopping through high waves. The light-weight of the canoe adds more speed to the vessel.

For the Polynesians to cut short their extended journey, speed was a must.

The outriggers helped them keep the boat steady even at these high speeds.

Today, outriggers can be propelled using paddles, engines and sails.

Fun Fact: More than half of the Earth’s surface was primarily explored, discovered and settled using outrigger canoes.

An outrigger varies in length from twelve feet to more than 100 feet.

If you're new, you can check out the differences between a kayak and canoe for an understanding on what makes them different.

Now you know what an Outrigger canoe is, let’s move on to a more exciting topic:

How to build your own outrigger canoe

There are several ways to build your own boat when it comes to outrigger plans. You can get free canoe plans on the Internet and use them to build your own boat.

The first thing is to get your materials right. You will need:

·        A lot of plywood is required,depending on the size of the outrigger you want to build. Luan plywood is the best.

·        Some mahogany wood

·        Fiberglass

·        One and a half gallons of Epoxy

·        A gallon of Tite bond or any other water proof wood glue (epoxy can be used as a substitute).

Step 1: Make a huge work table and build the deck

Oh yes, you have to construct a working table on which to build the canoe. You can simply put a large piece of wood, or a number of long planks supported by triangular struts to form stable legs for the table. It is easy to set up and bring down.

Once you have a stable work table (or bench), it’s time to build your first piece – the deck.

Using the free canoe plans you downloaded from the Internet, cut out the deck of the outrigger. The deck should be made of think wood, since it takes up a lot of point-load from your feet. The bottom of the hull does not take as much weight.

Step 2: Add on the Bulkheads

Using the plans once more cut out the bulkheads from your planks of wood and glue them to the bottom of your deck. Before you glue on the bulkheads, make sure all holes for other parts of the outrigger have been cut out. You should have holes for the mast if you want an outrigger that has sails.

The bulkheads should be centered properly along the length of the deck for improved stability. The bulkheads should have some allowance when cut some you can properly fit other parts of the full structure later on. It is easier to sand off extra dimensions, than having to use unsafe add-ons when parts do not fit well together.

Step 3: Build and Install the internal parts

Build and install the backing plates, mast box and centerboard box that form the foundation of all hardware that will be added to the deck later on. You should do this before you glue on the sides and seal the hull.

1)     The Mast box – Layer out some plywood and then shape them to fit your mast. You need to add a lot more plywood to the mast box if you plan to have a freestanding mast on the canoe. The plywood layers must be properly sealed shut to prevent water from welling into the mast box should the outrigger capsize.

2)     The Centerboard - This is of less importance than the mast box; simply design a good slope and then build it.

The mast box and centerboard should be supported by thick bulkheads at both ends. They should be of one half or three quarter marine ply in thickness. Add a support between the front bulkhead of the centerboard and the rear bulkhead of the mast box. This serves to spread out the rotating force that is placed on the mast box by the mast.

You can add on some foam to aid in flotation of the canoe, before you seal it.

Step 4: Seal the sides

The sides of your outrigger canoe should have a very slight slope, making it easy to add on the sides. If you have followed your free canoe plans properly, you will have a slight curve (camber);make small adjustments to make sure the boat is properly balanced and then glue on the sides.

Butt joints used to glue the plywood together may now be very strong, so you should use fiberglass tape of one and a half inch thickness to make the joints stronger.

Step 5: Seal the bottom

This stage needs careful implementation; the bottom of the canoe has a strange shape when compared to other parts of the boat, and it is easy to leave cracks along the bottom if you do not cut in properly.

The challenge comes in maintaining the symmetry of the curved bottom to fit properly with the sides of the hull. If there are any spaces left, use copious amounts of fiberglass to fill them.

Step 6: Build the outrigger

Get some stout beams of wood and lay them across the deck, taking into account the weight distribution of the structure. Attach the floaters to the ends. Use foam to add buoyancy to the floaters. The outrigger extends to the left side of the canoe or both sides for extra stability (double outrigger).

Step 7: Apply fiberglass to all surfaces of the hull

It is now time to add fiberglass to the outside of the canoe. Make sure that you apply coats of fiberglass to ensure a sleep finish to the boat. Make sure that you cut out any holes, before the fiberglass dries, and that you tuck in excess fiberglass into the hole to give the hole a clean look.

When you are through applying fiberglass to the boat, top it off with a layer of epoxy.

How do you apply a good layer of fiberglass? Follow these steps:

a)     Cover the surface with a thin layer of epoxy.

b)     Apply the fiberglass to the epoxy-covered surface.

c)      Add on more epoxy to the fiberglass until it is almost saturated. You can use a squeegee to make this step easier.

d)     Add on a layer of Dacron, which creates an uneven surface for the final layer of fiberglass to adhere to.

e)     Wait for the epoxy to dry and then remove the Dacron.

f)      Apply the final coat of epoxy.

NOTE:Always wear a mask when working with epoxy and fiberglass

Step 8: Make the sail

If you have an old sail lying around, then you are lucky; simply skip this step. However, if you must make one from scratch, follow these steps:

a)     Buy about 10 to 20 ounces of Dacron

b)     Estimate how much luff you want for you sail.

c)      Now sew the luff into the sail.Use the triangular shape of the sail to figure out how much to adjust the seams to get the perfect luff.

d)     Secure the sail using stainless steel eyelets.

That is all. Now you have a fully functional outrigger canoe and you can take it to the water for its maiden voyage.

For those who are not deft with their hands and can’t build an outrigger canoe, the option of buying one is still available.

If this is not enough, you can check out our step by step on how to build a wooden boat. Some of the boat plans are outrigger canoe templates to build from.

Buying an Outrigger Canoe

outrigger sailing canoes

There are several considerations to make when buying an outrigger boat:

·        Price - A primary consideration when it comes to buying any boat

·        Model - Do your due diligence and find out which are the best makes and models of outrigger canoes that fit your budget.

·        Single or double outrigger –This will depend on what kind of waters you will be sailing the outrigger on. A double outrigger is best for deep sea voyages.

·        Propulsion mode – decide whether you want to have an outrigger canoe propelled by an engine, sails or paddles. You can also have all three!

·        What size of canoe do you want– The most popular outrigger canoes are the OC 1, OC 2 and OC 6; these hold 1,2 and 6 people respectively.

Outrigger canoes have their origins in-Polynesia, were hugely popularized in Hawaii, and have grown to become well-loved sports or pastime boats all over the world.However, traditions going back to the origins of outrigger canoes are still observed to this day.

They are quirky, but you should follow them. Do not rock the boat - pun intended:

·        Despite the narrow shape of a canoe, you should never step over it; walk around it all the time.

·        Do not sit on the canoe when its on dry land; only do so when it is in the water.

·        When you store the canoe on land, make sure that the bow is turned towards the water.

·        Always have respect for the canoe like it was a family member.

·        Never swear or argue when you're on a canoe. This is believed to slow it down.

·        Always enter and exit the canoe from the left side and never the right side.

When you buy your outrigger canoe, make sure that the store gives you detailed instructions on how to assemble & dismantle it. It is easier to break it apart when transporting it from your home to the ocean, unless you actually live on a beach-front property.

In conclusion

Outrigger canoes are fun boats which can move through the water at exhilarating speeds. They are the perfect vessel for newbies, thanks to the canoe stabilizers. Originally used for subsistence fishing in the Polynesian islands, they are now used for fun and sport all over the world.

Now you too can own your own outrigger canoe. Download free canoe plans from the Internet and build your own, or spend some of your hard-earned savings and buy a ready-made model.

You will have the time of your life, whizzing past sluggish sail boats and winning all sailing competitions in your local community.