One of the great benefits of owning a composite canoe is its low maintenance requirements. That said, there are a few things to be aware of that will help keep your canoe in peak condition for a long time. I am providing links on this page that I found helpful in further explaining and visualizing the products and methods described below. (Links should not be considered an endorsement, recommendation, or guarantee on the part of Nighthawk Canoes. Nighthawk Canoes has no relationship to companies included in these links.)
Caring for your canoe includes:
Care for Wood Parts
Getting On and Off the Water
Correctly Attaching it to the Car
Storage: Your canoe should be stored upside down (so it sheds water) and off the ground. The simplest method is to set it on sawhorses set approximately 10 feet apart. A Nighthawk Canoe will not be damaged by rain, snow, or extreme cold, so there is no problem with outdoor storage. The canoe should be shaded in some way from direct sunlight, (store in garage, on the north side of a building, with a shade cover, or covered with a tarp). With a big enough garage and some pullies, a canoe can be hung from the ceiling so it is out of the way, and positioned to lower on top of your car for quick loading and unloading without even picking it up!
UV Protection: Ultraviolet light will gradually break down epoxy. Per the epoxy manufacturer: under intense, constant and direct exposure to sunlight, the epoxy will begin to discolor (become cloudy instead of clear) after about 6-7 months and will begin to weaken structurally after a little over a year. As mentioned above, please store your canoe out of direct sunlight. It is also highly recommended that two or three times a season, you clean and dry the hull, and then apply one coat of 303 Aerospace Protectant to the outside of the canoe. This process is fast and easy. Simply spray on and wipe off.
A UV damaged canoe is not beyond help, and it will take serious neglect before it is unsafe. If you store your canoe indoors or in a well shaded area, you may be able to get away with doing nothing at all. However, if you note discoloration, take it as a sign that better UV protection is needed. The canoe will look the best and last the longest if you do follow these simple precautions for UV protection.
Care For Wood: Periodically inspect wood parts and clean or re-varnish as needed. All wood parts are sealed and varnished before installation to minimize maintenance.
Getting on and off water: Nighthawk Canoes are strong, but not indestructible. The greatest wear on the canoe usually comes from loading and getting on and off the water. Keep in mind that the hull is very strong, but is designed to distribute its load over the entire area of the hull. Be very mindful of point pressure: concentrating the weight of a loaded canoe on a single point, like a rock.
To minimize wear on the canoe, do not drag it over the ground, even a little. Carry it, or float it. To get in and out of the canoe, make sure the canoe is entirely (or at least mostly) floating. The least stress is accomplished by using a "wet feet" method, where the canoe floats parallel to the shore, and you step into the water, and then into the canoe before paddling away. You may also load the canoe perpendicular to the shore; the "dry feet" method. One paddler holds the bow or stern of the canoe against the waterline, while the other paddler walks the length of the floating canoe to get to their seat. The first paddler then climbs in and pushes off. Using this method, it is important that the canoe still be floating when loaded... i.e. do not pull the canoe up on shore more than an inch or two. If the canoe is several feet up the shore when loading, this makes it much less stable and greatly increases point stress when getting in and out.
To get the canoe in the water, carry it to the waters edge. Then, set it down perpendicular to the shore with half of the canoe on shore and half in the water. Load any gear you are taking, then lift the shore end of the canoe slightly and walk towards the water until all of the canoe is floating. This prevents the canoe, especially a loaded canoe from being dragged against the ground.
These practices will keep the canoe in peak condition for the longest time. More info in links.
Attaching to the Car: It is important to have a system to attach the canoe to your vehicle. Almost any car, SUV, or truck can transport a canoe, but the mounting can be slightly different for every vehicle and canoe. It is vital for your safety, the canoe's safety and the safety of other motorists that the canoe be secure, even for short trips. You also need something to protect the gunwales from scratching the roof of the car and vice versa. I highly recommend using a quality roof rack system, though a foam block kit can be adequate if the canoe is properly secured. I recommend 3-4 tie downs. Two straps attach the canoe to the roof rack. These should be tight and do most of the work of securing the canoe. They should also be attached as close to the gunwales as possible on the roof rack (minimizes stress and pressure on the hull). The other straps connect the bow and stern (handle or seat) to your bumper to further stabilize the canoe. When the canoe is properly attached, you should not be able to lift either end and create a gap between the canoe and the car rack. If you try to shift the canoe gently side to side, it should move the car with it and not slide on the rack.
Be aware that not all tie downs are equally secure. Cam buckle straps seem to be the easiest for me to use. Ratchet straps are acceptable if you are extremely cautious to not over-tighten them. I have found some cam buckles to not be very secure, so make sure you get yours from a reputable canoe shop if you prefer that system.
A few other things to be aware of. You may attach straps to the bow or stern handle, or to the bow or stern seat, but not to the thwarts. I have a small car, and prefer to carry the canoe backwards (stern facing forwards) and slightly off center (more canoe hanging over the back of the car than the front). I attach the center straps, a strap from the front bumper to the stern handle (remember the canoe is backwards), and a strap from the rear bumper to the front seat. This is very secure and it helps with visibility to have a little less canoe at the front of the car.
Also be aware that the center strap/s do most of the work, and the bow and stern straps simply add stability. This is not an aluminum canoe, and if you over-tighten the bow and stern straps, you can deform the canoe. If you see the canoe deform, release the straps and try again. Leaving the canoe deformed for an extended period can cause permanent damage.
If you want help, do not hesitate to ask questions about car-topping when I deliver your canoe. See links for more info on attaching the canoe to a car.
Picking Up, Carrying, Setting Down: Two people can carry a canoe (one at each handle), but it is usually easier and safer if only one person carries the canoe, provided you know how to pick it up. The goal is to safely flip the canoe over so the yoke rests on your shoulders. This way, the weight is on your shoulders, and your hands simply stabilize the canoe.
To pick up the canoe, stand next to it, grab the yoke, lift it to your waist, then flip it over your head so the yoke rests on your shoulders. As you are lifting the canoe over your head, turn so you are facing the same direction as the canoe. Do not try to turn the canoe until it is stable on your shoulders. Grab the gunwales 12-18" ahead of the yoke and you should be able to keep the canoe in balance. Some people prefer to stabilize the canoe with one arm around the outside of the canoe. Since the canoe is so light, it should now be relatively easy to walk as far as you need to to move the canoe. Make turns slowly and leave extra room! Look at what is in front of you and remember it that it will be behind you for several steps before the canoe clears it. You may wish to carry the canoe with the front end slightly high, to improve visibility.
With the canoe on your shoulders, you can the slide it onto the car, or set it onto storage racks by setting it down and ducking out from under it. You may set it on the ground by reversing the steps above. If a person is carrying the canoe in this manner, DO NOT attempt to assist by holding the ends. Either have two people at the ends or one in the middle. Lifting an end when the canoe is balanced in the middle will disorient and likely hurt the person carrying the canoe.
If you are going to portage a canoe (move from one lake to another), unload it completely, carry it to the next lake, then reload and launch. You may consider ordering after-market yoke pads if you are going to portage more than once in your life. I find I don't need them just to walk from the car to the water. See links for more info on picking up, carrying and setting down.