Outrigger canoe

The outrigger is a kind of canoe presenting one or more lateral support floats  called outriggers, which are secured to one or both sides of the main hull. Canoes of smaller sizes often use a single outrigger on the port side, while larger canoes may use a single-outrigger, double-outrigger, or double-hull style. The sailing canoes are illustrative of the Polynesian boating history and they still compete all over the Polynesian, and Micronesian islands and New-Zealand.

As they use an outrigger or double-hull style, it greatly improves the stability of the canoe, but it loses its efficiency relative to making a single-hull canoe wider. Comparing them to other types of canoes, outrigger canoes are very fast, yet are also apt to be paddled and sailed in rougher water. However the technique that should be used for paddling them is very different from kayaking or rowing. The paddle, or blade is single sided, and it features either a straight or a double-bend shaft. A skilful paddler will only paddle on one side, using a technique called a J-stroke to keep an even keel.

The name of the outrigger float is “the ama” in several Polynesian and Micronesian languages. The pieces of wood connecting the ama to the main hull (or the two hulls in a double-hull canoe) are called tiako in Hawaiian and kiato in Māori and in Micronesian languages, they call them aka.

History of outrigger canoes

Outrigger canoes are believed to come from the Austronesian peoples (Filipino, Malay, Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian) of Southeast Asia. They developed them for sea travel. They also used these type of boats during the Austronesian migration period to travel eastward to Polynesia and New Zealand and westward across the Indian Ocean , all the way to Madagascar. Even nowadays these Austronesian peoples travel and go fishing by outrigger canoes.

When Magellan’s ships first happened to meet the Chamorros of the Mariana Islands in 1521, Antonio Pigafetta logged that the Chamorros’ sailboats were far superior to Magellan’s in rapidity and steerage.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society owns two double-hull sailing canoes, and sails them between the picturesque islands of the Pacific using the old Polynesian methods of navigation without any special equipment.

The technology has carried on into the modern age. Outrigger canoes can be used for fishing or transporting goods, and in the Philippines, outrigger canoes are often equipped with petrol engines.

Modern sport application

Outrigger canoe racing is a popular canoeing sport, with countless clubs all around the world. Outrigger Canoe Racing is the State sport of Hawaii and it also became a popular interschool sport. In the summer in Hawaii whole families participate in regattas with age groups from 6 to adult.

The main races in Hawai’i include a 69-km men’s race  and the same distance for women but by a different itinerary.

Two-person outrigger canoes (or OC2) are the most popular ones for sport use; single-person outrigger canoes (or OC1) are also widely used at different sport events.   Two and four-person outrigger canoes might also be used, and two six-person outrigger canoes are sometimes secured together like a catamaran and this way they turn into a twelve-person double canoe.

Modern two-person outrigger canoes hulls and amas are regularly made from fiber glass. However some canoes are produced of more traditional materials such as the trunks of very old koa trees. Even these days these canoes are widely used.

Modern single-person outrigger canoes hulls and amas are usually produced of fiber glass, carbon fiber reinforced plastic, and/or Kevlar in order to make canoes strong and still light.  Outrigger canoes are often equipped with rudders which can be operated with foot pedals.  It’s a modern development since the old time versions do not have a rudder. Outrigger canoes regularly use aluminium riggers with snap buttons and large wing nuts in order to be able to mount and dismount the canoe as fast as possible.