DIY: Canoe Lining Holes


A simple project that will make your canoe easier to line and track in moving water.

Cristi and I are lucky enough to have found a Royalex canoe a few years back before the Great Royalex Famine. Back then they were selling new for around $1000. Once Royalex became unavailable the prices shot up to over two grand. A replacement material for Royalex (T-Formex) is now available, but pricing is in the $2000 range.

Lucky for us we found our Albany before the prices shot sky high. The Albany is a 17’2″ Royalex river tripper. Ours was manufactured under contract by Mowhawk Canoe in the early 1990s and it’s built like a tank. I haven’t put it on the scale but I reckon it goes 80 pounds easy. I ran across the Albany at a used boat swap at Collinsville Canoe and Kayak in Collinsville, CT. It was priced at $450. I snapped it up.

The Reluctant Canoeist on his first ride in the Albany. French Broad River, NC.

Over the past couple years I’ve make a few modifications to set the Albany up as a wilderness river tripper. I added padding for knees while sitting and kneeling, put on a couple Kevlar skid plates, and installed a stern footbrace. One project that I had always wanted to do was install lining holes. Since we’re taking the Albany with us this summer on the road, and we hope to do some river tripping, now seemed like the right time to get the job done.

The idea behind lining holes is simple. If you are pulling a canoe upstream in rapids, or lowering it carefully downstream, it helps to have the connection point for your rope as close to the water as possible. If you tie the rope to the deck plate you’re likely to capsize the canoe when you give the lines a yank. That’s a bad day on a backcountry trip.

In the old days you would tie or splice a bridle that would pull from under the canoe, but it’s a hassle to tie and untie a bridle every time you want to line a rapid. A simpler solution has been popularized by outdoor writer and canoe guru, Cliff Jacobson.

Cliff’s approach is to drill some holes in your boat, just above the waterline, run a piece of PVC pipe through the boat, and epoxy the whole thing in place. This creates a bombproof, waterproof attachment point for lining ropes.

I followed Cliff’s instructions and completed the install in about an hour.  The old Albany is ready for action and a summer of river adventures. Here’s a pictorial rundown of the process:

My first step was to mark the height of the holes on the bow and stern of the canoe. I put the boat on a flat surface and used a square to measure the distance from the ground. I chose 11 inches from the ground, which put the holes a couple inches above the scum line that marked the normal waterline of the Albany.
A paper template helped me to eyeball the correct placement for the holes. Leave a good amount of material in front to the placement for the 1/2″ PVC pipe to insure a strong connection.
After marking one side, fold the paper template over and punch a hole through to the other side. This creates a template with a center fold that is positioned on the bow of the canoe, and two marked holes positioned in the same spot on either side of the canoe.
Center the template on the bow and tape it in place. Drill a pilot hole on each side of the bow with a 1/8″ drill bit.
Enlarge both holes with a 3/8″ bit.
I used a Dremel tool to carefully enlarge the holes until I could fit the 1/2″ PVC pipe through both sides of the boat. A round file was used for final fitting.
Carefully expand the holes until the PVC pipe fits though both holes across the bow. It should be a snug fit.
Mark the PVC pipe at the outside of the hull and trim the pipe so that it will fit flush.
Cliff’s instructions called for epoxy. I used a plastic bonder formula that is intended to bond PVC and ABS. I applied the bonder to the inside of the holes and to the PVC pipe. Once the pipe was in place I squeezed more bonder into any gaps between the hole in the hull and the pipe.
Adhesive was applied to both the hull and the pipe and the pipe was centered in the hull. With the tubing in place, I worked a bead of adhesive around the pipe on the inside of the hull to insure waterproofness.
A flat file helped to trim any excess tubing flush once the PVC pipe was bonded into the hull.
Once the adhesive was cured and the PVC was bonded in place, I used the Dremel tool to round the inside edges of the tubing so that it wouldn’t chafe on our lining ropes.
Never hurts to be careful. I decided to add a fillet of moldable epoxy putty to the inside of the canoe where the pipe meets the hull. This would provide additional strength and waterproofing.
Fillet of epoxy putty on the inside of hull. Yep, it’s not straight. Perfection is the enemy of good. Or done.
Completed lining holes after cleaning adhesive residue off outside of hull.

Lessons Learned
I’ll admit that I was in a bit of a rush to get this project wrapped up, so I wasn’t quite as meticulous as I might have been. I’m happy with the results, but there are three things I’ll do differently the next time I put lining holes in a canoe:

First off, I followed the instructions and didn’t use a large drill bit to open up the holes to a half inch. The concern is that a large bit will tear the vinyl on the canoe and make a mess. Unfortunately, if you use a 3/8″ bit, you have to do a lot of enlarging of the hole by hand or with a Dremel tool. It’s easy to get the holes off center when you do this, even if you think you’re being careful. Next time I’ll use a little bit larger bit for my second pass so that I’m better able to keep the holes centered when I expand them to full size.

Second, I made the mistake of mixing up all the adhesive in one shot. Not sure why I did this, since I know a larger pot of epoxy has a shorter working life. For whatever reason, I dumped it all at once, and I was rushing against the clock to get the second tube bonded into the canoe before my epoxy turned hard. Next time, two batches, one for each end.

Finally, I didn’t mask the outside of the hull before I bonded the PVC pipe in place. After I squeezed extra adhesive into the gaps around the tubing there was a fair amount of residue on the outside of the hull. This had to be scraped off and the final result was less than cosmetically perfect. Next time, masking tape.

Other than that, I’m happy to say that the whole project was pretty straightforward. It took me a little over an hour from start to finish and I’m pleased with the results. Looking forward to trying our new lining holes out this summer on the Bois Brule and Flambeau rivers Up North in Wisconsin and on the North Platte River this fall in Wyoming. Updates to follow.

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