Advice for a newby - family canoe

-- Last Updated: Jan-19-06 7:40 PM EST --

I'm in the final stages of shopping for a canoe to accomodate my family of 5 (Mom, Dad, 7 year old, and two 2 year old's). I have a lot of sea kayak experience and no canoe experience so I don't really know what to look for. We want a boat to haul all of us and some picnic (and maybe some camping gear later) across lakes safely. From advise we've received from a couple local canoe dealers, they have me looking at either the Wenonah Itasca @ 19' (kevlar), the Clipper Tripper @ 17.5' or the Sea Clipper @ 18.5' (fiberglass). Are there any significant pros or cons with these models? Are there other canoes I should seriously look at? How long should I get? Is 19' too long? We're willing to stretch our budget to get a strong, stable, and reasonably light boat that we'll like for years to come. We also looked at the Old Town Kineo but it's almost 90# and at 17' that seems pretty heavy! That's too much if my wife wanted to take the boys out alone.

Any help is greatly appreciated.

Family canoes
Well with a family of 5, it sounds like the canoes mentioned are in the right size range, though I would go for the Itasca from Wenonah, I certainly would no go smaller than 18’. I have a Wenonah Champlain, it is a big canoe, but with a family of 4 I would not want anything smaller. My kids are now 13 and 9, so I just picked up another tandem canoe, so we now will take two boats when we go out. At some point I will sell the Champlain and get a smaller tandem, but for now I enjoy having a bigger canoe. I would keep the resale in mind because at some point you will probably find having two canoes a good solution to paddling with older kids. Good luck and enjoy!

Get two boats!
I’d get a nice 16 or 17 foot propector type and a smaller pack type. You paddle the big canoe with the 7 year old in the front and the babes in the middle. Mom paddles the pack. Very soon the seven year old will need his own boat, so he or she can have the pack.

I’m if you don’t want to get two canoes, just have the 7 year paddle his kayak.

Mine all have their own boats, when they get tired you tow them. It’s good for both of you. My rule early on became that if they wanted a tow we were turning back. That limited my tow time to have the day trip. By 10 or 12 they don’t need or want a tow.

Have a ball

You need to build the BHC from
JEM. Big Honkin Canoe that Matt designed for me to carry a load like yours.

Itasca, Sea Clipper both excellent.
Both have enough rocker that you will recognize an ability to handle lake waves which is similar to a sea kayak. Both are designed to be used mostly with a load, so if you paddle them tandem and empty, wind can be a problem.

We used an 18.5 foot Moore Voyageur for family outings, and it was never too much boat.

Don’t worry about the stability issue. I don’t think you could buy any large non-racing canoe today which would lack the necessary secondary stability.

build a canoe! when?
Building a canoe would be great. I’ve always had a file full of kayak plans to build but with 2 y/o twins, a 7 y/o and a family that doesn’t like to sit for longer than an hour at a time it would pretty much be a 5 year project to build a canoe and I’d like to be on the water before then. Maybe after they’re in college?

re-sell value.
Is there good re-sell value in big 19’ canoes? If I spend the extra on kevlar I imagine that’ll help if we change our plans down the road and sell it - is that an appropiate assumption?

third seat?
I haven’t checked yet, but on the Itasca is there the ability to add a third seat to the middle for another paddler? If I can’t get one added then what can be used for a stable center seat for the older boy to start helping out? Is it suggested to have a middle seat?

How about the Minn III
from Wenonah? Made for three paddlers, I am sure you could put a 3 rd seat in the Itasca but it is fairly wide. Are you a big bloke? Maybe a non issue if you are a nuckle dragger like me. I am thinking two canoes could be a way to go.

Buy a plastic tote carrier box from
a discount store that is rectangular and about 12" or less from top to bottom. Glue(epoxy) a piece of outdoor carpeting or rubber sheet to the perimeter of the top. Place the plastic box upside down in the center of the canoe about 2’ behind the center thwart, and there your have your center seat. You can also glue a piece of foam to the new seat top for padding, if preferred. It can be moved around as needed to help trim the canoe, or for comfort. Puts some weight on the floor of the canoe for optimum balance. Can also hold some gear.

middle seats
Middle seats are really hard for kids to paddle from. The canoes that are being talked about are over or around 36" at the center. Most adults will have problems paddling at the center and keeping butts in the center.

Middle seats are really intendended for soloing larger asymmetrical canoes. Watching 7-13ish year old kids trying to paddle from middle seat, or even a front seat you can tell its uncomfortable. They want to start paddling, but it’s not much fun for them.

I have a Dagger Sojourn (14’9") solo canoe that I paddle, but plan on converting to a tandem for wee ones. I’ve only been married a month, so I have some time before that needs to happen.

I built a Folbot from a kit when
our kids were young, but the twins were something we didn’t have to deal with. Yow!

Bell Alaskan
I was in the same boat (ha) as you about a year ago. I have three kids (11,4,3) and wanted a canoe for the family to fish and goof around with at lakes and rivers. We looked at everything and was about to prchase a Wenonah Champlain and was talked into trying out a Bell Alaskan, both were Royalex for durability. We fell in love with the Alaskan, it turned extremely well and was decently fast. It is more of a river tripper but we use it on lakes as much if not more than we do on rivers with zero problems. We put the third seat in which helped out alot for our oldest, she can now paddle as well. The Alaskan is very seaworthy, we’ve been out when the wind kicks up two footers and have never felt at risk of capsizing. I feel it is a great platform to fish from and there is a ton of room for coolers etc.

The one draw back is that it is a pretty heavy canoe in Royalex (68lbs I believe, but every canoe in Royalex is pretty heavy, especially at these lengths.

I would give the Bell a shot, the canoe is finished immaculately.

Another piece of info please
I think you left out a key piece of information.

Is the canoe going to be kept near the water where you paddle? Or, are you going to have to put that big sucker on top of your car every time you or your wife want to go out canoeing?

Your wife may be a lot bigger and stronger than my wife; but I sure can’t imagine my wife and a seven year old kid getting a big canoe back on top of the car (tell me you have an SUV!!!) and getting it cinched down tightly. At least not more than once!!!

Make sure you have lots of span for long boat on luggage racks. I had to drill up into door frame and then use stainless screws that are a little too big but will really hold rack on to get extra span for rack. Front rack is near front windshield. Same with back. Then I used 2in cubes of wood that are hose clamped on under each corner of boat to keep it from moving in wind. All that said maybe you would need some kind of trailer, such as recycled power boat trailer with big tires to back canoe into water. Then you could leave gear in boat and back the whole big canoe into water. Place for everything with marked totes is so important. Congratulations on your family getting out on water! Sometimes there are friendly float down the river races where each person gets a t-shirt.

– Last Updated: Jan-29-06 4:01 PM EST –

...Five people in a canoe, all newbies huh...
20' minimum.....but IMHO you really should become a non-newbie by putting in as many hours in some royalex boat before you attempt 5... You can't escape the wind as fast in a canoe as in a yak...getting some practice...paddling in rough surf wouldn't hurt....