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Pros and Cons of Aluminum Canoes

Aside from portability issues (i.e., weight) what are some pros and cons of owning an aluminun canoe?
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  • Options
    I'll bite.
    Cons:
    Heavy (compared to modern composites)
    Cold to the touch
    Noisy if you are fishing
    Sticks to rocks in rivers

    Pros:
    Lasts forever even if stored outdoors
    Economical
    Relatively high initial stability

    Jim
  • Agree
    The great virtue of aluminum canoes is that you can leave them out in the sun, snow, and every other kind of weather for years with no damage. Most plastics and composites should be stored under cover to protect them from UV exposure.

    Used aluminum canoes are also relatively inexpensive.

    Disadvantages are that they're noisy, cold in cold water, and heavy. They will stick to rocks instead of sliding over them.



  • theft a bigger problem these days
    The price of aluminum has made aluminum canoes a target for scrappers.

    Aluminum can be made quieter and more comfy by putting foam or light rubber pads on the floor. Also, pipe insulation on the gunwales helps.
  • DONK !
    I rest my case.
  • Pros and cons
    Agree with above but also (and I am talking about Grummans and Alumacrafts only - don't have much experience with stuff like the Beaver Super Aluminum racers or anything like that)
    Pros:
    Carry big loads without a lot of degradation in handling -partly because by many modern standards they don't handle that well light either.

    Don't draw much water

    Can be used as heat reflectors for a campfire when cold weather camping.

    Flat bottom makes a decent supper table at campsite.

    More flotation when swamped than many newer boats.

    Most dings can be repaired with a rubber mallet.

    Very good initial stability for kids and dogs.

    Due to the different tones produced when hit in different places, you can do a pretty good "drum circle" with one aluminum canoe and several drummers. Especially effective under bridges that produce echos.
    That's a good thing, right?

    Difficult for a thief to steal quietly.

    Cons:
    Don't ever "taco" one around a rock. You'll never get it right again - IF you can ever get it unstuck.

    Have to learn to stroke without touching your paddle to the gunwales (prys in particular) or you'll have to revarnish your paddle shafts every other trip. And you'll never sneak up on wildlife, or anything else, until you learn to paddle that way.

    Makes a mess of the paint on a roof if you car top and load clumsily.

    Weight makes them easy to load clumsily.

    Nicks in keel wear out straps quickly.
  • Con: shiny in sunshine
    Wear your sunglasses.

    And they are slow. Heavy and darned slow.
  • Options
    there is cons to owning one?
    I am looking for one for a beater boat. I love em.
  • Options
    More Thoughts
    -- Last Updated: Apr-17-10 8:35 AM EST --

    I used my 17 foot Grumman as my Quetico tripper for over 30 years. PJC has an excellent list, but here are some more.

    Pros:
    - You don't have to stake an aluminum canoe down in a wind storm.
    - They serve as an excellent source of loud noise to help scare bears out of camp.
    - They are the very definition of flat bottom hull. Any 6" wave you have to pay attention to rolling with the exaggerated motion of the canoe. It's a darn good abs workout keeping you nose over your bellybutton out paddling in quartering waves. And that rocking feeling will last for hours and maybe days after you are done canoeing.
    - I'd much rather trust my fate in a forest fire to being underneath an overturned aluminum canoe floating in the water than in a canoe that would melt or burn away.
    - An aluminum canoe is sure to announce your arrival at the landing after every portage. Kind of comforting to your friends in composites that are already at the next portage 2 miles down at the end of the next lake.
    - You are sitting high in the stern throne in one of these babies. The seats are at least 11" off the bottom. An if you need a more commanding view, just sit yourself down on the stern deckplate, but you'll need a traditional length paddle to reach the water. Darn near stand up paddling.
    - Lost the portage? Not to worry. The multitude of aluminum canoes passing before you will have clearly left their mark. Just look for the aluminum streaks on the rocks. Who needs a map!

    Cons:
    - When traveling in a group of composite canoes, you will either be exerting much more energy to pace with the group or you will be barely noticeable on the horizon.
    - An aluminum canoe over ones head while portaging is an echo chamber. Kind of an early warning system for mosquitoes, but the source of unearthly screeches and scratches going through brush... kind of like amplified fingernail scratching on a blackboard.
    - A beastly burden when portaging uphill or longer than a quarter mile.



  • Good summary
    A couple of excellent summaries.

    I would add, as has been alluded to, that aluminum might be a decent environmental choice, as even though it is energy intensive to produce, it is completely and fully recyclable. Recyclable only if it is damaged beyond repair, though. With careful use, I expect one could last hundreds of years. I believe Royalex is much more toxic to produce and when it gives up the ghost (much shorter life, as it is soft) not much can be done with it.

  • Sportspal 16'
    I bought a used 16 ft Sportspal for certain rivers that love to scratch the gelcoat off my We-No-Na Spirit. Paid $300 for it and actually enjoy using it. The inside is lined with some kind of insulation to keep it quiet and it only weighs about 58-60 lbs. I also don't mind loaning it out because I'm not worried about anyone scratching it. It's not perfect but it serves a use for me.
  • They make an excellent outdoor
    washtub, planter for a raised garden, compost container (wont melt!) and lobster cooker.

    I used to have a 15 foot Grumman and we travelled many Quetico miles in it. Somehow. It didnt change but we did.
  • One more pro
    Our horses like the sound it makes when they kick it.
  • Rentals.
    They are rented in the park near me..

    Pro.. You can hear them coming.
    Con.. You can hear them coming.
  • Options
    Good point
    Good point about being recyclable.

    There are few choices for aluminum canoes.
    The manufacturing process seems to have a limitation in shaping them, though Grumman canoes look okay.
    If the seats have flotation foam built into them, kneeling becomes impossible.
  • Benefits?
    They paddle so horribly that they really are only useful for rentals and unskilled entry paddlers who will not be portaging. Yeah, they are also way heavy, but they do have an advantage over any other material.

    When the thing starts to leak at the rivets, just cut it up and feed it to the Golden Goat. You'll get enough quarters back to buy another!
  • An advantage of aluminun canoes
    -- Last Updated: Apr-20-10 7:59 PM EST --

    (sorry about the lame spelling of aluminum in title)

    My late Aunt and Uncle took my cousins and me on a two week Adirondack adventure in the mid 50's. We camped at Racquet Lake and paddled there as well as about 6 other lakes. Our canoe on those ventures was a huge 18-20' Grumman. All that has been said about demerits is true and I'll add that they can get very hot in strong sun. However, there is one attribute that no other canoe material can match.

    When my cousins hit high school they lost interest in canoe camping. My aunt and uncle changed their focus from canoe camping to weekend sailing and bought a sailboat. The grumman was relegated (abandoned) to the back yard for 40 years, gradually becoming overgrown with weeds and brush, finally so overgrown it was hidden from view.

    When they sold their home (NY) to live near their daughter (CA) in their old age, they cut the abandoned grumman out of the brush, cleaned it, buffed it up with a power polishing machine and sold it for more than they had paid for it many years ago.

  • Not Horrible
    I wouldn't consider "not horrible" a glowing endorsement, but I have found the shape of Grumman's to be not too bad, really. They are indeed worse than many other boats, but far better than Coleman/Pelican canoes, and for someone not in a hurry who likes a bit of initial stability, they do just fine.

    In fact, I bet 90% of people who canoe occasionally wouldn't notice that they are going a bit slower than they might, or not turning quite as fast.

    I like the aluminum canoe for what it is. When I can pick up a used kevlar boat and refurbish it for less than aluminum price, I won't own one. However, I would much rather go on a canoe trip in a Grumman than not go in something better.
  • pc
    Pros:
    makes a great ice chest for family parties. The aluminum will get really cold when you toss in ice and fill with beer.

    Cheap: You can get a used one for about 200 bucks.
    Can smash the hell out of them and pound them out with a hammer.

    CONS: Make a great lightning rod!
    When bashed into rocks the zillons of rivots pop and the boat will leak a lot. Some rivers out where i live you are not allowed to bring an aluminum because of the rocks and consequnces.
    Cold feet and feel. The metal is nice and cold in the mornings and you cant sleep in your boat like other ones...very cold.
  • Actually
    I believe the sound is closer to BOING.

    Just sayin'
  • I have never disagreed with any of your
    posts, and have taken your advice and help on many occassions, but I have to disagree with you on this one.

    I have a Wenonah, Jensen 17 ultralight, a ultralight Comp Cruiser, a J-190, and a Savage river carbon kevlar Susquehanna, as well as some plastic and royalex canoes, so please hear me out.

    Two years ago, while we were camping down in the Everglades area of Florida, our daughter, son-in law and our two grandchildren came down for a weeks vacation. they wanted us to take them on a day wilderness canoe trip, and we just had our two kayaks and our Jensen with us, so I rented two aluminum canoes, from the Everglades NP.
    I wish I could remember their makes, but I don't, but they were one sweet boat.
    I am guessing that they only weighed about 50 pounds, since I had no problem mounting them on the top of the cap of my pick up truck.
    They paddled very nicely, and were well built, and each one held two adults and a child.
    When we returned them I was talking to a ranger and told him how much I liked the boat, and he said that they were just about industructable, and that was the reason they used them for the rental fleet.
    I have no idea what they cost, but if it was my very first canoe, I wouldn't mind having one at all.

    Cheers,
    JackL
  • Is it true
    That you can cook (fry egg, bake bread) in aluminum canoes if you leave them out in the sun? I hear they get hot.

    On one of my first ww trips the aluminum canoe got stuck in a rapid (by it's painter, long sad story). We got it back the next day, but it had some rips in the hull. Do rx hulls rip? Ya, I suppose they do. But the rip isn't going to cut your arm off.

    ~~Chip
  • The most important point of all . . .
    Those aluminum canoes help young boy scouts fall in love with paddling!

    Ah, the fond memories of those old Grumman clunkers . . . happy memories of sweet summer days at camp. I can close my eyes and bring them to mind - the sights and smells of the sun, the woods, the docks and the water . . . and the boats. Those memories often come back to me as I put my modern boats into the water. All of it beginning with those aluminum Grumman canoes.
  • Yes!
    And without those childhood experiences in clunker canoes, most adult paddlers who now paddle "good boats" wouldn't be paddlers at all, and in turn there would be virtually no reason for those who make "good boats" to even be in the business. That's why ALL of us would be in a very different situation, a much worse situation, if aluminum canoes didn't make it easy for folks to get their first exposure to canoeing. Nowadays, there are cheap plastic boats too (which I think are worse), but for most of us who've "been around for a while", aluminum is what first got us on the water.
  • Versatility
    -- Last Updated: Feb-19-16 12:19 PM EST --

    I have a nice Royalex canoe as my primary. It is the perfect family canoe. But, I also have an aluminum one, too. The Royalex one I keep at my home, as it was more expensive. The aluminum I picked up for a song and a dance. I don't mind keeping it at the lake where I have a membership, as the elements won't hurt it and it isn't a valuable target. It is great if we have guests and want to take everyone out. We can bring the royalex and have two canoes and kayaks and have a nice day at the beach and on the water. But, what I really like is if I have an hour and a half of solitude, down time, which is usually either in the morning or evening, then I can just head over to the lake by myself and I am floating in 15 minutes (including the drive time). In fact, if I keep my paddle and life preserver in my car and I stop on the way home from work, etc. Since I go early or late, it is usually not too hot and I can just go out and relax. The Royalex canoe is easier to paddle solo, but the aluminum one isn't really that much of a problem on a lake. I get some quiet time (except for the noisy aluminum) and, as long as I have some bug spray, I can make a quick excursion and recharge and maximize my time. I wouldn't bother if I had to put it on the vehicle roof and transport it from home by myself, and if I only had about an hour. The kayak would work for this, nicely, but again I have to transport it. And, I can bring my well-behaved retriever with me in the canoe. She has never tipped it and the two of us can enjoy. I will admit that I am concerned someone will steal it for scrap aluminum, though. And, since I learned how to canoe with an aluminum one, I can revisit my childhood. There are little down sides to owning an aluminum canoe. I would not get rid of the Royalex one, though.

  • I love my 17 foot Grumman canoes. I have been using one since age fifteen and am pretty good with it. I have two and they handle nice. They will carry a lot of gear. Have taken them on extended trips that did not involve portaging. I will not abuse them by using them for anything over class III whitewater. I think some commenters have overstated the noise factor "con"; with experience you can manuever noiselessly. I have fished from my canoes and watched much wildlife over the last fifty years. Unless you need a canoe for a very special purpose- long portages or serious whitewatter- the "cons" are not worth considering.

  • There is a outfitter on the Ichetucknee river that uses some 50 year old Grumman aluminum canoes. They slide them down the steps to the water. They slide the boat halfway out over the water at the dock and sit on the stern. Then they have the client step out to the bow in the cantilevered boat. Once loaded they lower it into the water.

    I got a Mad River. I don't think it would survive that treatment long.

  • @gamblelawfirm@gmail.com said:
    Unless you need a canoe for a very special purpose- long portages or serious whitewatter- the "cons" are not worth considering.

    That may be true for you, but even though there's a soft spot in my heart for Grummans, the fact that they are rather slow and ponderous is a "con" that, for me, goes beyond the "special purposes" that you named.

  • Con- after paddling a well designed hull, you realize they are only slightly more maneuverable than a barge. They work well for ponds and floating lazily down wide rivers, but really wear you out in waves and twisty streams or rivers

  • I remember the ads by "other" canoe manufacturers back in the day (1970's) that stated you don't want a "Boom-Alum" canoe because they are too noisy for fishing. Bought one anyway because of the durability. Caught LOTS of fish out of that old 17' Grumman, plied many WW rivers and BIG lakes and never had a problem. You have to keep in mind that most of your outdoor experiences are dependent upon attitude, and not whether your equipment is "the best" on someone else's evaluation chart.

  • edited April 1

    They are pretty maneuverable and for years were a staple among Maine WW trippers. Heeled over a bit they turn even better.
    Its the weight.. the weight. The noise .. the hot surface to cook your arse on The cold surface to freeze your feet on

    We actually used one as a lobster cooker for a large group once

  • Its amazing to see a post from 2010 coming back to life. Its good to see that we've outlived some of the "boat snobbery" that afflicted our sport up till perhaps the mid-90s has passed and, to be fair, had passed by 2010 as well. For a while there it used to be pretty bad. The price differences between decent glass boats, Sawyers for example, and boats that normal young working folks could reasonably afford was great.

    But I 'd like to add that I think the weight objections that are invariably made against aluminum canoes can be a little overdone. Yes, admittedly aluminum canoes are on the heavy side, They're not kevlar and they come out heavier that good fiberglass lay-ups - but not most of the "chopper gun" glass that was price competitive with Grummans back when many of us were young. Later, when Royalex came out it wasn't that much lighter either. Most standard production wood and canvas canoes were about the same weight as standard Grummans, required much more maintenance, were as expensive as the best fiberglass boats, and tended to gain weight after being on the water for a while.

    I dug out a couple old catalogs for comparison. A Royalex 2010 Mad River Reflection 17 with vinyl gunwales is listed at 72 lbs. A 17' Bell Alaskan (Royalex) was advertised as also being 72 lbs. A Grumman 17' standard is advertised at 75 lbs. I could probably dig out more, but I think the point is pretty much made. If you can portage a 72 lb. royalex boat the chances are you can train yourself to carry a 75 lb aluminum boat. (Though if you try to put that aluminum center thwart of a Grumman on your shoulder, don't expect to get far before it starts "digging in". You really need a good yoke to carry anything that heavy very far.)

    Its just hard to make the finer compound curves for rockered, flaired, or tumblehome hulls in mass production aluminum boats. Those more sophisticated designs really open up up a whole new world to designers and make more specialized hulls possible. Grummans can even glide well - when you finally get a half ton trainload of camping stuff rolling, it'll glide for quite a while.

    I still have my Grumman, of course, and try to get it out on the water every year (usually for the use of kids who want to try their hand at it) but it hasn't been what I use most in almost twenty years now. But aluminum has its place and its own unique virtues. Paddling an aluminum boat is nothing to be ashamed of. A canoe, any canoe (or kayak) , is a key to a kingdom of nature immersement, camping, journeying, fishing, exploring... There's a LOT more that brings us to paddling than the kinetics of moving almost magically on water that refined hulls excel at. An aluminum canoe works fine for most of what most of us paddle for and can even do a passably respectable job of the kinetics with practice.

  • nice post pjc, you nailed it with "An aluminum canoe works fine for most of what most of us paddle for and can even do a passably respectable job of the kinetics with practice"

  • Except for us who spend most of our trips on lake to lake trips. That old Alu that we hauled in the BWCA for 44 portages when we were 24 almost killed us in Quetico at 49 years. Snobbery has nothing to do with it.. Its old age plain and simple.
    Our home canoe area was for many years Algonquin Provincial Park.. You never see alu canoes in the livery. At one time in the sixties and seventies you might.. Fewer material options then

  • PJCPJC
    edited April 4

    :) True enough, Kim. I bought my kevlar Bell precisely because at 49 I was planning a BWCA trip over a route that I carried a Grumman over at 24 - and I was simply too lazy to embark upon a weight training regime to make myself able to carry that load again. (Well, and by the age of 49 I was in a financial position to afford what I couldn't at 24.) Still, it has to be noted that for most of human history people of all ages have routinely carried 75 lb and heavier boats across exactly those same portages. You just take your time and take more breaks. It can still be done and those rest breaks on a portage trail can be rewarding also. That's when you see the wildlife. After all, we don't absolutely have to get our load to the Hudson Bay store before the guys from the Northwest company beat us to the highest bidders...

    Kayakmedic, if there's someone accusing you of being a boat snob, it isn't me... But remember when the phrase "Friends don't let friends paddle aluminum" was all the rage? Then someone would try to convince you to let go of two months wages for the newest royalex wonder that was a full 64 ounces lighter? Or a Sawyer or Jensen that after an afternoons paddling would get you to an imaginary finish line a half hour earlier... It really was a bit snobbish. All those were good boats, no doubt about it. All I'm saying is that aluminum has its value and a reasonable person might choose to use it on many occasions.

    Another downside, though... They have certain similarities to concentrating solar collectors designed to thoroughly sunburn legs. Friends really don't let friends paddle aluminum if your friends are nudists.

  • They make wonderful lobster cookers. We got 50 lobsters from the pound. Then had to keep them for an afternoon.. What better container than one of our aluminum canoes at camp to keep them alive? We buried them in sea water and rockweed
    And went paddling in other boats
    We totally brain farted as to how well an aluminum canoe can collect solar energy..We returned to cooked too slowly lobster aka barely dead.. This is not a good thing but our group was from the City so we lied and said thats the way we cook them before finishing them off in a big pot over a real fire.

    And prayed alot that we would not need immodium

    Boston AMC used to train in Grumman canoes for whitewater, Good impetus for not hitting rocks. The sound of a Grumman vs rock is something you will never forget.

  • Well, I do agree that it is possible for most people to have fun in a canoe, so long as it floats and they are not too demanding. I do have fond memories of aluminum canoes from years past, including my very first forays in canoes in the boy scouts back in the 1960s, my first trips to the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park, etc. But to tell the truth, these days I would probably prefer to just look at photos of aluminum canoes and wax nostalgic while I drink a beer.

    Apart from the weight, which I agree may be no more than a Royalex boat of comparable size, the thermal disadvantages, the limited number of hull shapes, etc, I never got used to the horrible screeching sound they made going over rocks, and for river use, I hated the tendency of the T-keels to dig into sandy river bottoms. The seats and yokes I generally found uncomfortable and difficult to change.

    I would choose an aluminum boat over a few alternatives. These would include Colemans and Pelicans and probably quite a few other single-layer polyethylene boats, as well as very heavy chopper gun fiberglass boats.

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