What is an Outrigger Canoe?

Canoeing is a fairly common activity that takes place around the globe. What’s interesting is that there are many different kinds of canoes out there, one of which is known as an outrigger canoe. In fact, you might have even seen one if you’ve ever wandered on areas by the river or the ocean.

An outrigger canoe is basically just like a normal canoe with buoyancy supports attached to either one or both sides. These supports are fixed parallel to the boat’s main hull. There are two kinds of outrigger canoes; single outrigger canoe and double outrigger canoe. Outriggers work to improve the boat’s stability.

Are Outriggers Necessary?

Outriggers are not really necessary, per se, but you can get a lot of benefits by attaching one to your boat. The primary reason for attaching an outrigger to the canoe is to improve stability and provide the canoe with extra buoyancy.

Apart from stabilizing boats and watercraft, outriggers also make it easy for the canoer to stand up in the canoe. Similarly, they make it easy to get in or out of the canoe without flipping it over.

One thing to note here is that fishing outriggers serve a different purpose; they’re not for stabilization; rather, they’re for fishing on the side of the boat.

Brief History of the Outrigger Canoe

For centuries, a lot of people in the Pacific islands have been making use of outrigger canoes. Since these people are situated on islands with a lot of trees around them, they quickly discovered that they could make a small boat using a tree trunk. Once they had their boat, they realized they needed something for better steering, improved stability, and more speed, which is where outriggers came into being.

As the years went by, outrigger canoes became an essential watercraft for local fishing and sea travel in the Pacific. Today, outrigger canoeing has facilitated a strong water sports culture in places like Hawaii. Similarly, in Southeast Asia, these canoes, also referred to as bankas, are still the most used watercraft for both water-based tourism activities and for traveling from one island to the other.


Modern outrigger canoes are not slightly different from those used in old times. This is primarily because of the differences in the purposes they serve and the material used to make them. In olden times, canoes were made from trees – usually from the trunks of the Koa tree. Plus, ancient canoes were designed such that the canoer could sail it or paddle it. Modern canoes are mostly made using glass-reinforced plastic. The material used today helps to keep the canoe afloat longer than those made out of Koa trees. In addition, modern canoes are used primarily for racing and sometimes for fishing, while back then, outrigger canoes were used for everything ranging from transportation of goods and people and fishing to searching for new habitable areas.

What Angle Should Outriggers Be?

To make the most out of outriggers, you need to ensure they are set up correctly. They should be set up such that the ends are at the correct height. People often make the mistake of attaching the outrigger either too high or too low, which negatively affects the stability or buoyancy. Ideally, the ends of the poles should be roughly 4-5 meters above the water level. In other words, the optimal angle for your outrigger should be 30-40 degrees from the horizontal.

How Much do Outriggers Cost?

Ultimately, it will be up to you to negotiate the price of the outrigger with the installer. Generally, they may cost you around $60-250, but the price depends on various factors like the type of outrigger system, the boat location, model, make, etc.

Types of Outriggers

Generally, you can fit outriggers on any style and type of canoe ranging from semi v-hull canoes to flat bottom canoes. However, outriggers are only of two types – single and double. While they do seem pretty self-explanatory, we have expanded on the two types below:


As you might have guessed by the name, a single outrigger is one that is fitted with only one outrigger. This single outrigger is attached to the boat’s main hull, usually on the left side. However, it can also be on the right. The primary purpose of single outriggers is to improve the stability of the canoe.

In single outriggers, the paddler is always positioned on the opposite side of the outrigger. This is to prevent the canoe from capsizing.

Apart from providing lateral stability, single outriggers also allowed fishermen to work with nets. However, single outriggers have really gone out of use except from some areas like the Philippines. This is because of how cheap fiberglass boats are and how scarce suitable timber has now become.

outrigger canoe


Again, as you might have guessed, double outriggers refer to canoes with outriggers on both sides of the canoe. They are the most commonly used watercraft in the coastal islands of Southeast Asia. These canoes are quite easy to spot because of the two outrigger floats latched across the vessel’s main hull.

Compared to single outriggers, double outriggers are bigger in size. However, you can still divide double outriggers based on their size. Smaller double outriggers are usually used for local fishing. In Southeast Asia, many fishermen use small double outriggers because they are efficient on the water, cheap to build, and light.

On the other hand, bigger outriggers are used for multiple purposes. Primarily, they are used for medium-scale fishing, water-based tourism activities, and trading. For instance, tour operators on islands like Palawan in the Philippines use double outriggers for carrying tourists from one point to the other because of how sturdy and cheap they are.

Similarly, medium-scale fishing activities, which make up a big part of the economies in many Southeast Asian countries, also use large double outriggers for their multi-day fishing trips. This is because fishing is easier with double outrigger boats, and a larger vessel means they can store a large amount of catch.


Outrigger canoeing is quite a common activity in many countries, and you might even have come across an outrigger canoe if you’ve taken part in tourist activities on the coast of islands like in the Philippines. So, what exactly is an outrigger canoe? To sum it all up, outrigger canoes basically have buoyancy supports attached to them for better buoyancy and improved stability. Plus, these supports can either be on one side or on both, depending on whether the canoe is a single or double outrigger canoe. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what outrigger canoes are!

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