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Hornbeck boat design diagram

Boat Design

It can feel challenging to decide on which boat is best for you. A boat’s design directly impacts how it handles on the water. A boat that is built for speed allows you to paddle fast with less effort, whereas a boat built for maneuverability makes turns quickly and easily. Understanding the different design elements will help you narrow down your options and make a more informed decision. The most apparent characteristics of our different models are length, beam, and profile, but understanding terms like tracking and initial stability are also important. Below, we have a brief description of these characteristics as well as a list of terminology to help you compare the options, so you may get that perfect fit. 

Basic Characteristics


The distance from the stern to the bow; this measurement has a big impact on performance. With everything else the same, the longer a boat is, the faster it moves, the better it tracks in a straight line, and the more weight it can carry. The trade off is with maneuverability, a longer boat has more difficulty making tight turns or responding as quickly as some paddling conditions demand. That doesn’t mean a longer boat will be hard to steer, it just might not be the best choice for things like whitewater or a meandering river. For most uses, you may find that the efficiency gained in tracking will outweigh any extra effort necessary for steering.


The width measured at the widest part of the boat. When fully loaded, a boats waterline should be 5-7” below the top of the gunwale. The displacement that is created at this point tells a lot about the boat's performance. A narrow boat tends to be faster but less stable, whereas a wider boat provides more stability at the expense of some efficiency.


The depth of the boat measured in three places; the bow, stern and center. The affects of this are subtle. Increasing the depth can provide more carrying capacity, and add free board, allowing the boat to handle waves and wind better. However, making a boat too deep can make the boat heavier, less responsive in wind, and more uncomfortable to paddle. Here is where offering multiple profile options sets Hornbeck Boats apart from other boat manufacturers


A boat’s overall shape or design starting from the bow. If the boat reaches fullness quickly it will provide more carrying capacity and stability. If the boat’s fullness is reached slowly, the boat has been designed for speed; resulting in less capacity and stability.

hornbeck boats capacity comparison


A boat is designed to be either symmetrical, meaning the shapes of both halves are identical with the widest point being at the center; or asymmetrical, meaning a longer narrower bow and a shorter, more blunt stern. The widest point on a asymmetrical Boat is behind the center. All of our boats are symmetrical with the exception of our performance fleet. A symmetrical design provides the best balance of performance and carrying capacity; while an asymmetrical design reduces drag allowing the boat to go faster, but reduces overall capacity.


hornbeck boats design diagram

Beam: The width of the boat at its widest point.

Belly: The bottom of the boat.

Bow: The front end of the boat.

Capacity: The maximum possible weight (including the paddler, all gear, and additional passengers) the boat is designed for

Draft: The vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull.

Deck: Panels attached to the inwales at the bow and stern ends of the boat.

Flotation: Buoyant material set into the ends (or the seat in our case) of a boat to make it float if flipped.

Free board: Distance between the gunwale and waterline at the lowest point.

Foot-brace: A bar against which a paddler braces his or her feet. Foot-braces help the paddler engage their lower body, leading to a more efficient stroke.

Fullness: Shape of boat determined by how quickly the hull widens. A full boat widens sooner and stays wide longer.

Gunwales: (aka gunnels) The top finished edges of a boat. Also referred to as rails.

Hull: Frame or body of the boat.

Initial/Primary Stability: Steadiness when upright and paddled under calm conditions. What paddlers typically “feel” upon first getting into a boat.

Inwale: Inside top finished edge of a boat.

Keel Line: Center line of the boat running from bow to stern along the belly of the boat.

Outwale: The outside top finished edge of a boat.

Profile: The distance from the top of the gunnels to the bottom of the boat when measured at the beam (sometimes called center depth, as opposed to the depth at the ends of the boat).

Rails: The gunwales (gunnels) of a boat.

Rocker: Indicates curvature of the keel line.

Secondary/Final stability: The resistance to capsizing in wind, waves or lean. What it really takes to flip over the boat

Stems: Finished edge/piece in the bow and stern ends of a boat.

Stern: The rear end of the boat.

Thwarts: Crossbars toward the bow and stern of the boat. Structurally maintains the boat’s shape.

Trim(boat): The difference in the draft at the bow from that at the stern of a boat, and also side to side, when a boat is loaded. A properly trimmed boat will sit dead level in the water.

Trim(wood):How a boat's edges are finished or decorated (ex. the beautiful oil rubbed black cherry gunwales on our boats are often called trim)

Tracking: The ease with which a boat can be paddled along a straight line.

Waterline: The place to which water comes on the hull of the boat when it is set in the water.

Yoke: A strong crossbar at the balance point of the boat designed for carrying the boat on the shoulders. Often includes two yoke pads for more comfort.


The Pack Boat

Simply put, a pack boat is a small open topped canoe, with a kayak style seat. The user sits on the floor of the craft, increasing stability, and allowing for the use of a double bladed paddle. Our pack boats are incredibly stable in open water and variable conditions, while also maneuvering well in tight spaces. They are typically much lighter than kayaks, or other manufacturer's canoes, making them easier to load on a car and/or carry between bodies of water. They are easy to get in and out of and they offer superior comfort on the water, with space for the user to stretch and readjust freely.

pack boat description

Components of the Hornbeck Difference 

hornbeck difference

A lot of thought goes into every model we offer. When creating a design, we have a set of goals that guide us:
Light Weight
a boat that is easy to put on and off the car or carry on that long distance portage.
no feature will add unnecessary weight or cost
able to hold up under challenging conditions and repeated use
ability to perform well in a variety of conditions with a variety of people

Our Hull

Our approach to building boats makes each one unique. We use 15 to 20 pieces of Kevlar for each boat, depending on its size. Each hull is built by hand, a layer at a time, which allows us to increase stiffness and strength where needed. We don't use a heavy gel coat. The fabric is saturated with polyester resin during construction, which creates a hull that is durable and highly resistant to delamination. Building our boats this way allows the beauty of the composite material to show through. Much like the leather of a designer hand bag, each boat has its own patterns and characteristics, making every Hornbeck Boat one of a kind.

Our Hull Materials

Our boat hulls are made from one of four materials which are bonded into resins (as described above). The outer and inner layers "skins" can be changed by the owner’s request, for a custom appearance. The middle structure/layer and support pieces are always made of Kevlar, due to its superior impact and abrasion resistance. While there are technical differences between materials, the weight and overall strength of each is similar. So, when determining which material to us as a skin, it is mostly a matter of looks

kevlar logo-white.png

We use official Kevlar® produced by Dupont, generically called an aramid. This fabric has most impact and abrasion resistant. The color is yellow and will darken over time with UV exposure. Scratches are subtle.
Stiffer than Kevlar®, but also more brittle. More easily tooled and finished. Will remain the same color (black) over time. Scratches are more visible.
A combination of Kevlar® and carbon fiber. A best both worlds situation. Will slightly darken over time but continue to have a "green" appearance. Scratch visibility similar to carbon fiber.

Kevlar fabric
Carbon Fabric
Matrix Fabric

The Trim

Hudson Valley, NY Black cherry is used in the gunwales and thwarts of all models. Cherry resists rot and mildew while having a good strength to weight ratio. Only 30% of all cherry harvested makes the grade for the full length pieces used on our boats.  All wood is attached using stainless steel screws and fittings. The wood has been oiled with Corey's Amazing Tung Oil. It is a non-toxic, non-flammable, sustainable finish that contains Tung oil, organic Brazilian Gum Rosin, and food grade Citrus oil. This offers superior water and rot resistance while giving the wood a silky smooth luster. We recommend reapplying this blend regularly (aprox. twice a year) to have your wood last and look beautiful for years to come.

Hornbeck Boats Cherry Gunwale

The Seat
 Our seats serve a dual purpose. The soft, durable polyethylene foam is carved to fit a range of people and curved to perfectly match the angle of the backrest. This foam is bolted to the hull so that it also provides a high level of flotation. All weighing just over a pound.

Hornbeck boats foam seat

Foot braces

 Light weight. Durable. Easily adjustable in or out of the water (aprox 10" of adjustment). Standard in all models. We measure and install foot braces when you pick up your boat so the fit is perfect. Can be positioned with the intent of multiple users.

Hornbeck boats foot pegs
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