How To Sleep In Your Canoe | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
A man stretched out and ready to sleep in a canoe. Photo by Tim Carstens

Make your canoe as cozy as your bed at home.

What makes the best bed on a canoe trip? Some will say a thick inflatable pad in a tent. Others swear by swinging a hammock, but I’ve canoe camped for many years, and tried it all. I sleep best in my canoe.

Nothing beats pulling up on shore, laying a pad and sleeping bag in the bottom of my boat and crawling in. I can level and prop the canoe on any ground—be it sloped, rocky, or muddy. If it’s buggy, I drape mosquito netting over the boat. If it’s rainy, I string up a tarp. Cozy.

If what I have written here makes you want to curl up in a canoe cradle on your next trip, let me point out the number one problem you’ll have to deal with. Unless you are very skinny it’s going to be a tight fit under the yoke and thwarts. This problem is easily solved, however, if you have a quick-release method to remove the lumber.

I call the first the wing nut method. Simply remove the factory lock nuts that come on the bolts holding the yoke and thwart to the gunwales and replace them with wing nuts. Wing nuts are readily available in hardware stores everywhere.

To open up the boat for sleeping, simply spin the wing nuts off and tap out the wooden parts. If the original bolt holes through the thwart are too tight, drill them slightly larger so there is more play to allow it to drop out easily.

The downside this method is that in the morning you need to find the wing nuts and then you’ll have to stand on your head to see what’s going on under there. It is finicky work at the best of times. I stood on my head for years and finally dreamt up a better way.

I call the better set up the wire lock pin method.

Here’s how to make it work.

First, remove the factory hardware on the yoke and thwarts connection to the gunwale. Second, bolt two right angles of aluminum under the gunwale so that they snug up on either side of the thwart or yoke. Third, drill a 5/16” hole horizontally through the angles and wood. Finally, insert a wire lock pin. When you push the pins in it will securely connect the ends of the yoke or thwart to the right angles and thus to the gunwale. When you pull it out the wood comes loose and your bed is made.

You may be able to find suitable pre-made right angles at hardware stores, but I made my own. They are 11/2” long, and I cut them off a stalk of one inch aluminum angle, sold in hardware stores in 3’ lengths. A hacksaw or a carbide saw blade cuts the aluminum like butter. Be sure to wear safety glasses when doing this. I then sanded smooth any sharp edges. As for the 1/4” x 2-1/2" wire lock pins, they are typically used in holding implements for tractors. I bought mine at a farm supply store.

The only tricky part of the installation is drilling the 5/16” hole for the wire lock pin straight through the center of both angles and the thwart or yoke. It helps to clamp everything tightly as you drill 

Burt Kornegay is a retired wilderness outfitter/guide and owner of Slickrock Expeditions in Cullowhee, NC.


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