Most novice canoe enthusiasts do not bother with a thorough research about canoes and other essential gear needed for safe and enjoyable trips. They go out to the store, buy an reasonably priced canoe and a paddle and consider it done. Any seasoned paddler will tell you that there are more components than that. Yes, you can start with just 2 main items, but there are so many other essential parts to make your adventure more comfortable.
We made a list of necessary and recommended gear elements to consider before setting out on the water.
Canoe: there are two types of canoes. One is used for whitewater; another is adapted for calm waters or racing. Some canoes are for one person, while others are created to fit three paddlers. You need to decide what will you use your canoe for, will you travel alone or will you want to put your friends and family in it with you. Talk to the sales representative and definitely discuss your level of expertise.
Paddle: your canoe will not be functional without a paddle. Buy a good one, and buy more than one. Every canoe enthusiast should have an additional paddle attached to his canoe for any emergency situation.
Personal Floating Device: PFD can save your life, so don't joke with it. There are many canoeists who don't have any vests with them, but that's nothing to be proud of. It is not allowed to get on the water without it in many parks, and rightfully so. You won't be able to rent a canoe without it. You should have enough of PFDs for everybody in your canoe.
Float Bags: they are mandatory only for whitewater vessels. They tie to the anterior and posterior to prevent canoe from sinking in case you flip.
Helmet: just like float bags, helmets are required only for whitewater canoeing.
Drysuit, Wetsuit, Paddle Jacket and Pants: all of those items are totally optional and would only be recommended for winter canoeing. Most people don't own or use them for warm summer days.
Water Booties or Sandals: they add a great deal of comfort, but are not required. We advise to have a pair unless you are sure that the bottom of the river is completely sandy (see Top 9 Water Shoes to Protect Your Feet).
Throwable Floatation Device: these are required by a coast guard for vessels longer than 16 feet, not for canoes or kayaks. But it might be a good idea to have one with you just in case. You can save a life if you'll spot somebody in trouble.
Rope Bag: carry one with you. You never know when a friend or a stranger might need help.
Knife: every real outdoorsman should always carry one with him. You never know when you'll get entangled in a rope or get pinned under the canoe.
Dry Bag: keep your snacks, camera, dry towels, and clothes dry. Just make sure to attach it inside of the canoe (see Guide to the Best Dry Bag 2018).
Sunscreen: unless you want to get completely scorched, bring sunscreen along any time you get on the water.