Written by   

Early French settlers of Louisiana quickly adopted the Carib Indian method of getting around in the shallow marsh and swamps. Waterways were the “roadways” of Louisiana and people depended upon an efficient method


of transportation. Boats with deep hull design drafting over 8″ would often result in “high and dry” conditions throughout most shallow waterways.


The pirogue, pronounced pee’ rogue was originally built from the bountiful cypress forests of early Louisiana. The word is derived from the Spanish, piragua.As the 19th and early 20th century building boom relied on the abundance of cypress, lumber mills quickly reduced the availability of this product to the extent that alternative (primarily pine) replaced the durable cypress materials. Eventually, plywood and fiberglass would replace lumber as boat-building material.

The basic pirogue is 12-16 feet long and pointed at both ends. Its bottom is concave and features flared sides. The fore half is slightly wider than the aft and appears more like an elongated teardrop. The draft is so shallow (4″) that many Cajuns say, “A pirogue can float on a heavy dew”!

Besides the maneuverability through the shallows, the small, flat-bottomed pirogues are light enough to be carried over levees and onto land where they can easily be turned over to drain. A 14-foot pirogue weighs as little as 39 pounds.

A single-bladed paddle is used in lieu of the typical double-bladed kayak type. Often you’ll find pirogues being maneuvered by a long “push pole” when more force is needed to push the boat forward through very shallow areas. The handler will usually stand in the small boat; a skill that takes some balancing practice.

Prices for wooden pirogues usually start at around $400 for a one-man model. Fiberglass models, more durable, but less classic are less expensive ranging from $200 for a 14-foot model to $400 for a 15-foot model.

There are a number of entities offering plans and instructions for building your own wooden pirogue. This often provides an opportunity for family projects with a real sense of pride and accomplishment upon the successful completion. Some of these project sites include Uncle John’s General Store,Gator Bayou BoatsApplegate Boatworks, and Paw Paw’s Pirogues.

Fairs and festivals around Louisiana often feature the works of pirogue builders. And if you ever attend an authentic Cajun wedding in South Louisiana, don’t be surprised to find a pirogue laden with iced-down beer or fresh boiled Louisiana seafood and Cajun culinary specialties!

There are a number of schools like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum in Madisonville which offer classes in boat building. If you’re visiting near the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain on the weekend of October 18th and 19th don’t miss Madisonville’s Wooden Boat Festival, where hundred’s of wooden boats from throughout the United States are featured. Lots of food and family activities are available and don’t forget your camera.