Advice on buying a new canoe… not a typical situation

I have used these forums extensively as well as other sites on the internet to read about different people’s questions about buying a new boat. Despite that, I haven’t found anyone in my similar situation so I’m throwing a new question into the new boat decision matrix.

Some background. I have canoed casually over the years but probably not more than 20 times. My good friend is a water sports junky, a kayaker and a former whitewater guide so through him, I have spent a fair amount of time in a boat and in and around a river. I was a Boy Scout and learned canoe techniques on a large lake in western PA when I was 10 or 11. Most recently, pre-kids, I did an annual river trip with that same buddy down various western PA rivers, mostly the Clarion, usually in the summer when water levels are low and there is nothing bigger than Class II. It’s just a fun float trip where there is more beer consumed than paddle strokes. I haven’t been since my kids were born who are now 3 and 5 years old. I had them both out on a rented canoe on the lake near my house last year and they really enjoyed it. They are now getting old enough to be able to handle longer trips and so I’m looking to buy a boat. The other wrinkle is that I’m recently divorced so most of the time it will be me and two kids in the boat, i.e. I’ll be the only paddler. I still plan on doing the annual float trip, but getting on a river requires a shuttle which is an added expense, time sink and hassle, especially with 2 toddlers, so most of my time will be on lakes until they get older.

I’ve done a lot of research on the best type of boat and have come to a fork in the road. Add to that the inventory locally on Craigslist or eBay and I’m limited in what I can buy. I decided against aluminum because of the various reasons that have been discussed on this site. I am focusing on Royalex boats because they offer a good mix of durability and affordability.

Ideally, I think I would like a Mad River Explorer 16 because it seems to provide the best compromise, but there aren’t any for sale locally. I put a bid in on a Duck Hunter on eBay but it’s not local so I can’t go see it or paddle it. There is a Mad River Tahoe 16 that caught my attention but these boats were only made from 98-01 (why?) and are 38” at the widest, so very beamy. I’m also looking at a Wenonah Adirondack which is also 16’. I tried the Addie and like how it paddled, both solo and tandem, but I’m concerned about its capacity plus the bow seat seemed a little narrow, not that I would ever be using it, but down the road it could be an issue. The Tahoe at 38” also has another inch of depth vs the Addie, so it’s a true “tub” and I would never want for capacity with 2 kids and gear. But I haven’t gotten it on the water and I’m not sure how good or bad it paddles.

My question is then, which is the better option. Not so much, Tahoe vs Explorer vs Adirondack, but more so a comparison between a sleeker, better paddling boat with maybe less capacity that is probably better on lakes and can handle small rapids on a river, or more of tub-like boat that has capacity but maybe weaker handling and requires more effort to paddle?

My particular concern is fitting 2 kids and gear in the Adirondack. I think I would buy it if I was convinced it would be adequate.

I can’t comment on those canoes, but there may be another option to consider. Roughly ten years ago I used to see a guy with two kids paddling one of the large lightweight Kevlar Wenonah solo canoes, may have been a Vagabond but not 100 percent sure of that. We were talking at the boat ramp one day and he told me that before having kids he used the canoe on 1-2 week long trips. Since having kids he was no longer tripping but still liked to paddle. He had removed the thwarts and added two seats for the kids. If your skill level and budget work this may be a viable option.

The Tahoe is an exquisite turning boat… But it is a bathtub…Years ago Bob Foote and Karen knight paddled one in a FreeStyle demonstration.
But they paddled it a little differently… Side by side in the middle… they had a wide seat…

What the Tahoe won’t do is cruise fast… Its got a block coeffieient that is pretty high… Its good on rivers. Not so much lakes. One of the most popular boats in the 16 foot range is the Old Town Penobscot which is a good compromise boat

There is an Explorer in Kevlar in central PA. But understandably it would not be your choice for rocks…

My two cents:
Quite a few years ago I had the choice between a Adirondack and a Penobscot and paddled them both. I liked the way the Penobscot handled much better than the Adirondack and bought a used (like new) one.
Another canoe you might like is the Wenonah Jensen 17. We like it so much we have two of them. One we use as our beater canoe for class I and mild class II rivers and the other for lakes and smooth rivers

Well RoyalT you didn’t mention how much you weigh but unless you are 275-300 or more almost any small tandem will have plenty of capacity since you are basically looking for a solo that can handle a load including kids. I can’t see whee you’d want a “tub” since it would lessen your enjoyment which would also lessen the kids enjoyment plus you need to avoid dangerous rivers if you are carrying kids anyway.

When I looked at the reviews of the Adirondack on this forum there sure are lots of varied opinions. To be honest I think you want a boat with at least a little rocker versus a straight keel Adirondack since a boat with some rocker will be more friendly on rivers or in waves on lakes.

Side comment to semdoug’s point is that my Swift Shearwater would handle your needs beautifully if your total load is below 320…it’s a big friendly efficient solo. But maybe more relevant I think a boat like a Royalex Bell Morningstar or a Penobscot 16 would work nicely for you…an Explorer seems big unless you are quite a very big guy. The Penobscot 16 has a straight keel but still handles in a friendly way in the conditions you would paddle. If you expand your search range you might find more good options. I do see a nice looking Malecite on Ann Arbor craigslist for under $1k. I think there is a nice looking Royalex Wenonah Heron too.

Thanks for all the great responses! I’m 190 so if I’m with a buddy instead of my kids, we’d be pushing 400 lbs. I like the tub for the stability and capacity. I’ve read the Explorer and Duck Hunter which in 17 is a Revelation hull, need some moving water to really shine but that they are just ok on flat water because of the rocker. My mix may be 50/50 or more towards lakes so I’m not sure how big a negative “just ok” will be or if it would be something I could live with.

I like the boat suggestions so far, the problem is, none are for sale locally, in western PA. I was leaning towards a Penobscot because I’ve read a lot of great things from owners but I can’t find a used one.

Another option is take all this info and patiently wait for the right boat. But I’m impatient. I want to get on the water soon!

I’m going to throw out a suggestion that may make you (and many of the dedicated canoe folks) cringe, but I will offer reasons for it. It may be ugly and clunky and heavy but the funky plastic Mad River Adventure 16 has some characteristics that might suit this stage of your life (lake and river outings with two toddlers). One of them is that these can often be found cheap – my ex and I picked one up (right here in SW Pennsylvania) for $400, including two paddles and a Minnkota trolling motor and I have seen them for as little as $300 around here. The Adventure is relatively narrow at under 34" which makes it easier for kids to “help” with paddling. It’s also fine for minor whitewater (we used to take it on class 1 to 3 streams like the Red Moshannon and Red Bank), has 3 seats and can be paddled from the stern by an adult with a few kids in it if you add a little ballast to the bow (jugs of water work). The molded plastic gunwales are easy for kids to climb over too. In a way, the design is almost the illicit offspring of a canoe and a tandem sit on top kayak.

Once the kids get bigger you would probably want to trade up to something more sophisticated for more ambitious tripping and performance. At that point you could probably sell it for what you paid for it. But these goofy looking plastic “canoes” are actually kind of fun. The ex had two “normal” canoes, an OT Guide 147 and an older Wenonah 17 that we often used on the Susquehanna and its various feeders. But we rented an MR Adventure 16 while camping in the Everglades and were surprised at how enjoyable it was both in the inland canals and the coastal waterways. Not all that nimble but it certainly tracked and moved along well enough. Decided to get one as a “beater” for rocky streams. Because it was several inches narrower abeam than the other two conventional canoes, we found we could easily paddle it with kayak paddles, a 230 in the bow and a 240 in the stern. Eventually we ended up using it more often than the other two canoes. It does have limitations – for one thing you cannot easily kneel to paddle due to the molded in seats. And at 84 pounds it is a beast, but a fold up cart took care of that.

Anyway, as a cheap option (and if you would not be embarrassed to be seen in it) it could be a good boat for taking the kids out for a few years. Hey, give them a bunch of Sharpie pens and let them decorate it! And that would give you time to narrow down your choices and scout for a good deal for a higher-end, more traditional canoe.

The bigger boats are heavier so just make sure you’re ok with lifting and loading so you don’t hesitate to use the boat.

Maybe this one?

There are also two Dagger Reflection 16’s in the Cleveland area that look to be in good shape at good prices and people seem to like them based on the reviews on this site. I suggest that you negotiate the price before making the drive.

I haven’t paddled a Tahoe or an Adirondack so I won’t comment on them. Neither the Royalex MRC Explorer nor the Revelation have much in the way of rocker. The Explorer is no speed demon on flat water since it is a bit beamy with a gunwale width of 35"+, but it is a pretty good all-around boat for tripping, flat water and river use. I think it would suit your needs pretty well The footprint of the Explorer is pretty symmetrical and it has only one center thwart/yoke, which can be advantages for your proposed use for reasons I will get into later. The 17’ Revelation is quite beamy with a gunwale width of 37". That could be an issue since you will essentially be paddling this boat solo. I would probably look elsewhere.

The Dagger Revelation 16 is a very nice hull. Although it has a beam and length very close to that of the MRC Explorer, it seems to paddle a little more efficiently on slack water pools and it has a bit more effective rocker so it handles moving water pretty well. Payson Kennedy won the open boat class of a downriver race I participated in a few years ago on the Class II-III Nantahala River paddling a Dagger Reflection solo.

Weight-wise, I don’t think you will be overloading any of the boats mentioned so far. If you plan to be paddling a 16’ tandem canoe with two small kids who will probably not be able to contribute effectively to either propulsion or maneuvering, you need to give some thought about how you are going to do it. When my daughters were young, I took them out (individually) on Class II and III whitewater in a 14’ tandem canoe set up with a kneeling thwart placed just behind center. From this position, I could still get my paddle blade far enough forward of center to be able to place effective bow turning strokes. You could use the same approach in a 16’ tandem, installing a kneeling thwart behind the center yoke and having the kids on the bow and rear seat, with the lighter child in the back. Installing a kneeling thwart will limit somewhat your options for loading gear, though.

A better approach might be to paddle the tandem stern first sitting backward on the bow seat, placing the smaller kid on the stern seat in front, and the larger one on a folding chair behind. To do this would require your smaller kid to be able to squeeze their legs into the relatively small space between the stern seat and the stem, or you could install a slightly wider seat a bit further from the stern stem of the boat. This arrangement would probably place you far enough forward to be able to maneuver the canoe effectively by yourself, and you could keep an eye on both kids. Young kids are somewhat like large dogs. They are inclined to shift their weight to one side very quickly and unpredictably, and will likely do it to the same side simultaneously which can cause you to capsize if you are unprepared and do not react quickly. If you can see them both, you will be better able to react to such unannounced weight shifts. Here is where a canoe with a relatively symmetrical water footprint is good, since it doesn’t care if it is being paddled forward or “backward”. And a canoe with a single center thwart allows you more latitude in positioning a folding chair, gear, and kids.

There are three Explorers on the classifieds on this site and all are in Pennsylvania. The Kevlar one is $1200 and you might offer $1000 if it’s in good shape.

RoyalT you worried about the narrow bow seat in the Wenonah Adirondack. With small paddlers that is a big advantage, not a detriment. A sliding seat is ideal for kids. Push it far front so they can put their feet against the air tank and the gunwales are close in to their shoulders leading to an easier reach to the water and a better paddle stroke for the kid. Put a sling seat behind the bow seat and give the second kid a paddle also… Put some weight under them to trim the canoe and go have some fun. The Adironack will easily take the three of you and a weekends worth of camping gear. There is a figerglass Wenonah 16’ Fisherman in the classifieds on this website for $400. That hull became the Adirondack and the name Fisherman went onto a very wide 14’ canoe. Keep looking on Craigslist and go into upstate NY, Rochester, Buffalo, Ithaca. And Facebook marketplace, lots of boats come up there. I buy too many canoes that are just price too low and now have over a dozen bargains waiting for friends that want a canoe. Hope this helps, Bill

With 2 kids and wanting to paddle both lakes and rivers you couldn’t go wrong with an Old Town Tripper. It is heavy but very capable on the water. It is Royalex.

One for sale in the Norfolk area.

The Explorer is a good choice because it paddles decently solo if you flip it around and paddle from the front seat. Plenty of room for two small kids and if you go with your buddy, plenty of weight carrying capacity. If you move up to a longer tandems it might start to get harder to paddle solo. A few others you might want to look at are the WeNoNah Aurora and Solo Plus and the Nova Craft Bob Special and Nova Craft PAL

Thanks again to everyone for the advice. I ended up going a slightly different route and bought an Old Town Camper 16 Royalex on CL that was in good condition and came with an assortment of extras including paddles, jackets and seat backs. Its a good looking boat and is kind of a mix of the two I was considering. Its flat bottomed like the Adirondack with a similar beam of 36" but a little deeper so it has the capacity of MRC boats without the arched hull. I think its going to suit my needs nicely for the near term. If at some point I need something different, I’m sure I’ll be back for more advice!

I keep an old faded OT Camper at a lake for fishing. I mostly paddle it solo, sitting backwards in the front seat. I keep two large rocks in the bow to even the keel. It works fine for me.