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a review template?

-- Last Updated: Oct-08-12 9:02 PM EST --

Perhaps if we standardized the reviewer format the results would be more useful. Here’s an example for an entry level boat that has already been reviewed by many. Focus not on the boat but the criteria. What do you think? Would this help the review process? Right now the process is wide open and so are the results but it does make for interesting reading and interpretation.

BOAT MODEL: Mad River Adventurer 16” Canoe, The boat being reviewed had a traditional stern, rather than a modified square back which is currently being made. (Include manufacturer, model name, length, type, design changes, and lay up)

BEST USAGE: tandem daytrips on winding rivers, ponds and small lakes. (Where should it go?)

STABILITY: The boat’s moderately rounded bottom and higher than average seat heights may make the boat feel tippy initially. When leaned, the boat remained stable due to its flared sides. (Initial and secondary stability)

TURNING: The boat turns well when boat lean is applied. (How difficult is it to turn?)
TRACKING: The Adventurer has grooves on bottom to assist with tracking but the use of correction strokes in the stern is consistently necessary to keep the boat headed straight. (What do you need to do to go straight?)

DURABILITY: the polyethylene is bomber. While the plastic is prone to dimpling and scratches, it is very tough. This boat is made to withstand abuse and last. (How much maintenance is required? How much abuse can it take?)

VALUE: marketed as an entry level boat, the hull design and low initial stability may make it more suitable for intermediate paddlers than true novices, who want a less tippy feeling canoe. Getting one in good or new condition for $600 or less would be an exceptional value. (WHAT'S A GOOD PRICE?)

DRAWBACKS: The boat is difficult to carry and load on a car. The handles on the ends are prone to twisting and failure. The lack of thwarts and built in seats make it difficult to portage and kneel in. The polyethylene is heavy and prone to warping when portage wheels and straps are attached, exposed to extreme heat, or stored on its bottom . The boat may feel tippy to novice boaters.

ASSETS: cup holders, seat backs, ability to turn and track, versatility, almost maintenance free, entry level canoe prices

OVERALL IMPRESSION: a durable versatile canoe that may feel tippy to some novice paddlers

REVIEWER INFO: days paddling the model reviewed: 10-15 x on winding streams, large and small lakes and class II whitewater. EXPERIENCE LEVEL: 1,000 + days paddling.


  • perhaps as an option
    I can see having a list of suggested observations for people wanting to post reviews to refer to, but I don't think it needs to go so far as being a formal template.

  • Missing information
    Bio information on the reviewer (paddling skills and experience, usage, etc.). Personal statements like "I found it ..." Your format is one a paddling magazine could use, not someone who is reporting on their experience.
  • Who cares ....
    -- Last Updated: Oct-09-12 12:35 AM EST --

    Your list of wants and desires is greatly different than mine.

    Tracking ... stability ..... really?

    ESTJ perhaps?

  • so educate me seadart....
    what do you look for in a boat? I thought about a more generic term like "handling".
  • I think some of that info is
    already included: i.e.,

    EXPERIENCE LEVEL: 1,000 + days paddling.

    but I agree more information on the reviewer would be useful. For example SEX, WEIGHT and HEIGHT.
  • I disagree Seadart..
    The original OP's categories represent a reasonable 1st attempt at describing the performance of a hypothetical craft. (To me) They do not read at all like a list of "wants and desires". The OP asks for suggestions on how to improve his idea.

    I agree with the OP that a standardized or recommended form for reviews might make it easier to compare craft. However since the reviews would still be written by individuals with different experiences and interests, they would remain subjective. Moreover I think requiring reviewers to follow a certain 'recipe' in writing a report would probably reduce the number of submissions considerably. Probably this would be a bad thing, though others might disagree.
  • Very good idea
    For more specialized boats, I'd be interested in additional feedback (e.g. ease of boofing, surfing, cartwheeling, etc.).
  • 3 types of reviewers
    There are basically three types of reviewers:

    Super-enthusiastic newbies. They are just so happy to be in a kayak that everything is great. And they have no experience, have paddled only "their" boat and don't know what is important. They rate 10 out of 10 always.

    Just bought a new boat. Paid a lot of money and not willing to admit that it is anything but the perfect boat. They rate 10 out of 10 always.

    The experienced paddlers who just go paddle. They don't post reviews.
  • not quite, obviously
    Since reviews with scores of less than 10 do exist, there must be at least one other type of reviewer. I suggest that these reviews are from people who, themselves, have read and appreciated the reviews, and, who wish to contribute to the system.

    When reading reviews, you learn to read between the lines, to detect unwarranted bias. You look for preponderance of opinion from multiple reviewers. You look for the most negative reviews, to identify areas that may warrant more attention in your research...

  • Options
    But the presupposition is that the reviewer has the ability to judge what those things really mean. And it's very relative -- a sea kayaker moving to a shorter boat might find it very easy to turn whereas a whitewater guy moving to the same boat may find that it tracks hard. There is no way to really fix a rating system that is open to the masses...

    Best I can tell, the only use of it at all is for eliminating boats with poor ratings. If it has several low ratings, there's a high probability it's a pig.

    Mythbusters proved you can indeed polish a turd, but is it something you really want to do?

  • Paddler is the wild card
    -- Last Updated: Oct-09-12 5:13 PM EST --

    I can get into a bunch of boats that anyone newer would call tippy, even considering rated for my size in terms of volume, and wonder what the heck anyone is complaining about. That is because I expect a boat to be wobbly on flat water but find itself a solid secondary resting point. For new paddlers, they generally don't know where that point is let alone trust it. They tend to relate an active hull on flat water to an unnerving issue were the water to get lumpy, not understanding yet that it is these conditions that the boat is likely settle down.

    Ease of turning is another tough one. And by the way, the term should be edging more than leaning. But a boat may turn snappily when it goes to an edge that a more experienced paddler will normally take, but sit there like a big old raft if it is not taken over that far by a newer and more unsure paddler.

    I can see organizing the aspects of boat behavior to make reviews easier to read. But I doubt that there will ever be a way to balance the responses of two very different groups of paddlers. One is the unknowing enthusiasm of newer paddlers for boats that they love of day one but may find boring as heck just three months later when they start figuring out how to use them. The other is longer term paddlers who are looking for very specific performance attributes that newer paddlers would find disagreeable at least, maybe daunting.

    The above is why I haven't tried posting any reviews... my profile says what we have and if someone wants to ask us about any of those boats, they can email us.

  • Options
    A very good reason for...
    ... any review 'template' to also include a part where the reviewer lists their skill level... 'beginner', 'intermediate', 'advanced', or perhaps 'years paddling' instead.

    I'm sure some reviewers will mis-rate/misrepresent themselves, but anything's better than having no info on that at all (which is what most reviews are currently like).

  • Side-note comment
    Nearly every time the topic of reviews comes up, at least one person will say that many of the 10/10 ratings are by people who spent a bunch of money on a boat and need to justify it by proclaiming it to be terrific, or are somehow trying to avoid facing the fact that it isn't. Well, I don't buy that notion at all. I think it's almost always the result of a high level of enthusiasm combined with a low level of experience. Most of us have been in that situation at some point, even if we don't write boat reviews. Could anyone REALLY feel make themselves feel better about a buying a mediocre boat simply by telling the world that the thing they bought is wonderful? Come off it. The whole reason they want to tell the world is because of their enthusiasm, not their feelings of inadequacy or guilt.
  • Options
    simple skill level names mean nothing
    But if I saw someone say they've been paddling in some area with say 15kt winds and 4 foot wind waves and some other boats tended to do XXXX but this boat tended to do YYYY when say taking a broach wave hit then I'd have something to work with. One has to be someone specific about both what conditions they are used to, what they hoped for vs got and ideally how that compared to some other boats (which maybe the read has tried).
  • Options
    Who determines validity of skill set?
    I don't think that people intentionally misstate their skill set. I do think that many people don't really realize their limitations or the limitations of the skill set that they possess.

    Someone who has many hours on the water but has it in lakes or on flat conditions may not be the person to judge how worthy a boat is for someone that is looking for a boat that has certain characteristics.

    I've reviewed many incidents where the paddler in question is considered to be experienced and an 'intermediate' paddler. Upon examination, it's easily determined that they didn't have the skills to cope with the rough conditions or other scenario's that led to them being rescued and written about in the paper, magazine etc.

    Where this comes into play in reviews, I don't lend much credibility to a reviewer who is new, just bought a boat or won't use it in similar conditions that I would, to say nothing of similar physical characteristics.

    Similarly, I generally chuck reviews that give the lowest score...unless there are a lot of them.
  • Options
    so do conditions, as stated by many ppl
    Can you imagine the tall tales?

    "I was in 15 foot waves, with 50 knot winds!!!"

    And then you woke up. =]

  • Options
    but still way better than "intermediate". We all know that after just one week we are intermediate and maybe never advanced (cuz then you gotta prove it) ;)
  • Options
    Even that is complex
    I'm an expert at Class II, Intermediate with Class III and total Nivice at Class IV. I am a novice in sea kayaks, but fairly adept at paddling rec boats and SOTs on lakes and slow moving water.

    Even so, I've only paddled a couple of whitewater boats, so I can tell you some things, but I can't compare them to others very well -- even with my expert hat on. But, I can tell you many of the weaknesses of certain boats in certain conditions. When the guy with a keel on his rec boat jumps into the squirrelly outwash from a Class II+ rapid, I can often predict the outcome -- he will flip upstream as he gets into the current...

    So, am I qualified to rate boats? I can't even answer that...

  • Yeah - the problem with skill levels
    They mean very little unless everyone agrees to rate themselves against a common set of actual skills. Pick the ACA or the BCU sea kayaking, or canoe, or whitewater skill sets - just as long as it is consistent. But many flat water paddlers spend years managing to evade any of this stuff. So they are intermediate based on butt time, not in terms of handling difficult situations on the water...

    This comes up in discussion of skill level in paddler profiles too. There is just no good way to get by this one with the necessary common understanding on a board like this.
  • There is theory and research
    Google "dissonance theory". For example, there is research that shows that when people buy a new car they read literature afterward that supports their purchase. It is a perfectly reasonable and a long supported idea in psychology that people avoid dissonant cognitions (I bought this expensive boat and it paddles like shit). So it is not just enthusiasm that results in 10's.
  • Options
    I bet with boats it correlates to the price paid.

    $300 I can be honest about a crappy boat
    $500 I have to have something positive to say
    $800+ It's better than any other boat on the planet!
    $2000+ I't better than sex

    If $500 is a lot of money to the buyer, the scale moves down accordingly.
  • Options
    or maybe you link the two...
    ...i.e. define skill level by conditions handled/"worst conditions you still feel comfortable in."

    You list skill levels and define what it means to be in that skill level.

  • Options
    My point exactly
    Reviews are only as good as the reviewer. That goes for any sort of review.

    It is complex. I'm a class IV WW a complete novice surf kayaker and a skilled (though crazy to many) sea kayaker. What I review is going to biased by the conditions under which I test a boat and a whole host of other factors.
  • Here's what I base it on.
    -- Last Updated: Oct-09-12 6:42 PM EST --

    I based that statement on my own experience, since I really don't think I'm all that strange in my level of enthusiasm for small boats. When my only boat was a 12-foot aluminum Jon boat, I thought it was a fantastic vessel for traveling on ponds and small rivers. I thought it was quite fast and efficient because going 8 feet per stroke seemed like really good progress (it's easy to mark progress in a rowboat since you can always see the swirls where the oar blades were). Further, I could easily outpace my brother in his tandem canoe when his paddling partner was a kid. If asked to rate the boat, I would have rated it really high for all the uses I put it to, including traveling several miles at a time. I DID know that it performed poorly in choppy conditions, but that was it. I noticed that it bogged down with a load of camping gear, but didn't know that this was the boat's fault. By the way, I paid nothing for the boat.

    Eventually I got a 12-foot rowboat that was roughly based on a "good" design that's been around for more than a hundred years. Now I was getting 22 feet per stroke with a fast cadence (I only checked this one time, just to compare it to the old boat since the improvement was so marked, by counting strokes for an extended distance measured by GPS), and quite a bit more than that with a moderate cadence, and suddenly I realized that the old Jon boat was pretty slow AND inefficient. Not only that, the new boat made almost no sound, so it was then that I realized that the prolonged sloshing sound coming from the bow of the Jon boat with every stroke was something I didn't have to put up with. Finally, when loaded with camping gear, the new boat didn't slow down dramatically in spite of a high exertion rate on my part like the Jon boat did, so I finally figured out that having a tiny boat become a pig when loaded wasn't unavoidable. At this point, if someone had asked me to rate the Jon boat I'd have said it's fine for fishing and hunting, especially if you don't have to go far, but crappy for long-distance travel, especially with a load.

    I wasn't able to accurately rate the Jon boat UNTIL I had something better to compare it to. I enjoyed it perfectly well for years. I was doing fun things I simply couldn't do without a boat, so the boat seemed great. I just didn't know what I didn't know. For a person in that situation, I really don't think that's such an unusual way to interpret things.

  • Hey
    Wait a minute I have not reviewed the last boat I bought. But I have only paddled it 22 times since June is that enough?
  • No
    You need at least 23. -:)
  • my boat is best and thus
    reviewing a boat is a subjective process. Indeed, it is going to depend a lot on the reviewer, their experience level, and the paddling conditions they encounter. What I’m trying to figure out is: how to make the reviews better on the website? I’m not suggesting we force a format on anyone. I think that while there is some good info scattered amongst the reviews, it’s a bit frustrating to find it.

    There’s lots of ways to go about buying a boat. The salesman at the store can recommend one. You can ask a friend or well respected paddler and get what works for them. You can go into it totally blind and say “what the heck” it either works for me or I’ll just resell it and call it a learning experience. You can buy the latest greatest thing just because it is the latest greatest thing. You can buy it purely on the reputation of the manufacturer. You can demo a bunch of similar boats and end up buyng the cheapest one. Or you can buy a boat because it has a cool paisley design on the hull and a pretty metal fleck deck. I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of all of the above when it comes to buying boats at one time or another.

    The boats that I end up keeping and paddling over and over again are the ones that meet my needs and paddling style. I left comfort out of the review but that is something that’s a big factor also as I get older. I do think boats are designed for a particular market. How well do they perform for their intended purpose? That’s what landed me on pnet originally, but didn’t really find the kind of info I was looking for.

    If entry level canoes and kayaks sold at discount and sporting goods stores get people out on the water, in boats that they can afford, and those folks are happy about it, then I think the manufacturer has succeeded. The boat deserves a ten if it has truly met its purpose. But the fact that people are on this board asking and looking for info tells me that they’re interested in finding out something more than what floats, is readily available, cheap, and possibly legal in some parts of Nevada.

    Comfort and durability are big with me. I like a boat I can sit in for most of the day and my butt doesn’t hurt. I like throwing my paddling gear around, paddling up onto shore, parking on rocks, dragging my boat etc. I learned a long time ago I’m not a composite kind a guy. That’s why I put durabllity in my review format but if I was going to do a lot of portaging I think I could learn to take care of my stuff and paddle a composite. In that case comfort overrules durability. I’m going to add “comfort” to my list.
    Many of the magazines are great at publishing specs on a select group of boats from companies that pay for ads in their publications. “Buyers Guides” don’t cut it for me. It’s the issue that hangs around the longest because it goes unread. We can do a better job because there are more of us and we actually paddle the boats we write about.
    What is important to you? If we were rating hotel rooms we could probably agree on some common criteria: cleanliness, helpfulness of staff, value, location etc. What floats your boat? Just water?
  • Entry level review critieria
    Your choices of what to include in the review are probably not what experienced paddlers who are going to worry about too much. Comfort for example is too dependent on your body shape. Most experienced paddlers quickly modify the seat and outfitting. Stability and tracking also experience dependent and function of paddler skill. Let people say what they want - diversity of data presentation is a very good tool for learning.

    The reviews here have worked pretty well for at least 13 years. Best to look at a boat and form your own opinion.
  • Options
    I rate this thread an 8
    comfortable, not tippy and is tracking pretty well.
  • Options
    overall a 3
    too loose, way too much stability, unmaneuverable pig
  • Options
    I give it a 10
    I spent time and effort on it, so it must be a 10.

    Validate my choices!!! =]

  • Very good statement Celia.
    The following is a word picture.
    Trying out a boat can be much like shopping for clothing.
    Because I am 5'2", I don't buy pants or shirts made for a 6' person with a 34" leg inseam (mine is 26"), and as I am of medium size, I would never buy shirts made for someone who is a size 3 or size 18.
    When buying a kayak, I focus on where I will use it, is the cockpit too cavernous or too small, can I edge it easily, is the seat comfortable, do I hit my hand on the side of the boat when taking a stroke, etc.
    As far as ratings, some are correct in noting many are rated a 10, but that could be due to them forgetting to change the rate. If not changed it automatically will give it a 10. Been there, done that and I apologize for that.
  • This doesn't fit internet conventions
    commonly accepted by most people. People who review products for a specific organization, often with some type of compensation (e.g., Backpack Gear Test) are prescribed specific things to talk about. Ordinary consumers post "more or less" whatever they want, with a few, but very few limitations. They may be given some general pointers (e.g. LL Bean), or boxes to check off, but they're free to structure the narrative part as they wish.

    Then it's up to the rest of us to make sense of each review and draw a conclusion from the bulk of them taken together. If "rear hatch leaks" shows up in 15 out of 20 reviews, it's a good possibility it's true. If only one person out of 30 claims the Loon 111 is too narrow, you know it's probably not. You have to read the reviews with discernment and compare the opinion offered with the level of knowledge and experience that is clear from big hints like "used three times on 50-acre pond." That's the reader's job.

    Some people write a lot. Some people write very little. That doesn't matter. It wouldn't be good to disallow those who choose to write less, or who don't feel like addressing each of 8 prescribed categories.

    Manufacturers and retailers have a role to play by providing all necessary information. How many of those clearly describe the hull design of a kayak? Very few, yet that's one of the first things I want to know. One of the most comprehensive and helpful websites is Frontenac Outfitters in Ontario.
  • I haven't read it, yet, but it's a 10 :)
  • simplify
    How long have you owned the boat?

    How many times have you paddled it?

    What is your experience level?

    The rest we should be able to figure out by ourselves.
  • Options
    simple test
    Have a tippy check box. Is this boat tippy? If they answer this question without mentioning primary and secondary stability you have a good evaluation on the evaluator before you read it. Maybe a turny question also just to be sure.
  • What's a tippy boat for one may not be
    tippy for another.
    I have a Vector 14, find it very stable, but when a much taller person than I took it for a ride you could see it was tippy for him. It was humorous to me, as he tried to find his point of balance, as he bragged about how much he had paddled SOT's. This narrower boat was not for him or he padded his experience on the water.
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