How to build a canoe outrigger

Written by tom king
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How to build a canoe outrigger
You can even use another canoe as the outrigger. (Canoes on Coniston water image by Kevin Eaves from

Canoes are long, narrow and tend to be unstable, especially in rough water, windy conditions or on choppy waters. The Polynesians, who built dugout canoes from trees had even more tipsy canoes and solved the problem with the invention of the outrigger. You can use the same ancient technology yourself to stabilise your own canoe, and it's not very hard to do.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 2 lengths of heavy PVC pipe, 1-1/4 inch diameter by 5 feet long.
  • 2 pieces PVC pipe, 1-1/4 inch diameter by 10 inches long
  • 1 piece PVC pipe, 1-1/4 inch diameter by 10 feet long
  • 1 piece PVC pipe, 1-inch diameter by 20 feet long
  • 2 PVC T's, 1-1/4 inch
  • 2 PVC adaptors joints, 1-1/4 inch to 1 inch diameter
  • 4 PVC pieces of PVC pipe, 1-1/4 inch by 2 inches long
  • 4 PVC elbows, 90 degree, 1-1/4 inch diameter
  • Two 1-inch PVC T's
  • 4 PVC end caps, 1-1/4 inch diameter
  • PVC cleaner
  • PVC cement
  • Knife
  • Hacksaw
  • Styrofoam swimming "noodle" with 1-inch hole in the centre, 8 feet long
  • Vegetable oil
  • Zip ties or duct tape

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Clean one end of each 5-foot-long 1-1/4 inch pipe section and glue a T joint there to one of the end holes--not the centre hole. Clean and glue a pipe cap to the other end of the pipes. Zip tie or duct tape the opposite end to top of the bow and stern thwarts--cross braces--so that the end with the T's extends over one side and not the other to form outrigger poles.

  2. 2

    Glue two 2-inch PVC pipe sections to the openend joints of the T's and point the centre joint hole straight down. Don't forget when gluing to always clean the surface first with pipe cleaner. Glue two 90-degree elbows to the end of the 4-inch sections with the open ends pointed toward each other.

  3. 3

    Measure the distance between the inside openings of the elbow joints between the outrigger poles. Cut down the 10-foot 1-1/4-inch pipe to fit there and glue it between the two elbow joints running parallel to the canoe.

  4. 4

    Glue two 10-inch 1-1/4 inch pipe sections to the T joints pointed straight down. Attach the remaining two 90-degree elbows to the bottom of the vertical pipes but do not glue them yet. Turn the elbows so the open ends face toward each other.

  5. 5

    Glue 2-inch-long 1-1/4-inch pipes to the lower elbows facing each other. Glue two reducer joints to the ends of the short pipes to reduce the pipe down to 1 inch. Measure between the joints and cut the 1-inch pipe to fit.

  6. 6

    Measure and cut the styrofoam noodle with the knife so it's 2 inches shorter than the 1-inch pipe. Grease the 1-inch pole with vegetable oil--petroleum-based oils can damage the styrofoam. Slide the pole inside the styrofoam noodle, clean the ends of the pole and glue the pipe and foam assembly between the open reducer joints

  7. 7

    Test the canoe with a full load. The canoe should ride level. If the canoe leans away from the outrigger, pull the lower elbow joints loose and cut off enough pipe to allow the canoe to ride level with the outrigger attached. When you're satisfied with the length, glue the lower elbows in place and your outrigger is finished.

Tips and warnings

  • Always clean the PVC pipe and joints with the purple pipe cleaner before you glue it in place.
  • To remove the outrigger, simply clip the zip ties or cut the duct tape.
  • A more permanent set-up can be built by U-bolting the PVC pipe to the thwart. Pad the pipe first and do not over-tighten to avoid cracking the pipe.

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