beginner canoe for family

I’m looking for any suggestions on models and mfg’s of a good stable canoe for beginners. My wife, myself and our 5 year old son want something to go out on the water paddle around. We don’t necessarily have any destinations but will probably take it on local lakes and possibly some rivers(although most of them are pretty shallow). I’ve looked at Dicks sporting goods and have found quest canoes but have seen other reviews that are not good. I’m now looking at a 14 ft old town osprey but wander if it is too short. any ideas?

Canoe buying help…click on this link:
I also think a 17 foot tandem canoe would fit your needs better than the 14 foot Oldtown, but that’s just my opinion.

Click on this link:

This document should help you through the process of searching for a boat. You can use this for new or used boats, at a paddling shop or not. It was originally developed and distributed by the Paddlin’ Shop in Madison, WI. When you ask someone what canoe you should buy, these are some of the questions they should ask and the answer they will need to help you find the boat that’s right for you.

There are about 24 questions/criteria to fill out, a then a ten point system to “test paddling”, followed by a table to log your impression of each boat you test paddle based on a list of criteria. The document is just 5 pages long.

I have found this a very helpful way for newbies to begin their boat shopping experience.

You might also benefit from reading:

I put together these two documents because I was getting so many questions like the one above about which boat a new paddler should buy. There are a lot of issues involved in the boat buying process. These documents help to identify some of those issues and hopefully simplify the process somewhat.



Where will you go . . .
Stable is always nice, but some folks also like fast, and some prefer maneuverable. Eric is right about the Spirit 2 for an all-rounder. Something like a 17’ Prospector makes a good all-rounder too, a little more river-oriented, though.

You might consider renting and trying friends’ canoes for a while to determine how much stability you want (as sometimes you sacrifice speed/efficiency for stability).

14’ canoes aren’t great for much, mostly just sold at a low price. Some exceptions, of course.

Might Also Try Wenonah’s Solo Plus
a light duty tandem that apparently works well as a solo and has the center seat for the 5 year old when all 3 go. Lots of flexibility. At about 16’ 6" its close to the 17’ many have suggested, and comes in a variety of weights and materials. Might ring Wenonah for a dealer near you that may have one to try.

14’ is definitely too short
have to agree previous posts - 16’ or 17’ would be much better. Also have to agree with Eric that the Sprit II is a great family boat - I have one. Get the sliding bow seat and you will be able to have some fun paddles with your son in a couple of years.

Spirit II
My wife and I have a Spirit II and love it. It will do all you ask and much more. Best of all is that you won’t need to “upgrade” unless your needs change. It’s really a great canoe.


Weight? Cost?
Even though I, too, supported the Spirit 2, there are many other great canoes.

If price is a strong concern, used is great. Also, some of the polyethylene boats, while heavy, are quite reasonable. If weight is an issue, it will cost more, so used is a good bet. There are other threads on this, but here are a few more good ones:

Mad River Explorer, duck hunter

Novacraft Haida, Prospector, Tripper

Wenonah Sundowner

Bell Seliga Tripper

Clipper Ranger 17’, Prospector, Sea Clipper, Tripper

Souris River Quetico

When you find something used, ask on this board and certainly someone will comment.

Well, the Solo Plus wouldn’t handle
me, my wife, and my grandson, but it might suffice for a small couple. I soloed one, and it was pretty settled down into the water, even for solo paddling. Tracked well, but reluctant to turn.

Rent or borrow first
and try different models and lengths before you buy. Also, keep an eye out for used boats. My family started out canoeing all piled in one boat, but shortly we all had our on boats. Separate boats go a long way toward marital bliss.

Weight can sometimes turn into a major factor for how much you will actually use the boat. It would be a shame to buy a boat that you later sometimes avoid using because it’s a pain in the butt to handle.

So I suggest that you be honest with yourself about how much weight you can easily handle and make sure that you pick up and lift any canoe that you might buy (or just go lift a few at a dealer) to get a feel for how easily you can handle it.

You can often get a used boat that’s fiberglass or kevlar for same price as a new Royalex boat that’s likely to be noticeably heavier.

If you’re young and strong you may be fine with any canoe, otherwise the closer it is to 50 pounds or less the better and if it approaches 70 pounds it’s getting kind of heavy for many people to handle.

Your wife will also appreciate a lighter boat any time she helps lift or carry it.

The Bell Morningstar is a nice all around family boat and even in Royalex is under 60 pounds. Boats with shallow arch hull designs are more stable than shallow vee hulls and still perform just as well or better.

Tandem, yes. Family, usually not.

HERE’S a recommendation you won’t

– Last Updated: Jan-25-09 2:44 PM EST –

get on this board.

except for just this once.

If the water gets cold where you are, get a Grumman 18. Yeah, an ugly, huge old aluminum clunk. It is stable as all get out, not so heavy it can't be loaded solo, and tough enough that once you get it past the pavement you can drag it around instead of carrying it. When you drop it off the cartop and punch a hole in it, just patch it with epoxy and keep on. a couple of paddlers can put on some serious miles with it, you just don't want to be out solo when the wind gets up unless you want to go downwind. For fishing trips upstream, get a motor mount, a 2hp Honda will get it up on a plane. A 5 hp is kind of scary, I wouldn't try that again.

It will serve as a guest boat for generations, after you buy something nice like everyone else is going to recommend. My four kids grew up in a Grumman, the oldest daughter has it now. Story and pics at:

For a family you want at LEAST 16 ft, I'd go 17 ft or more. If you get something fairly narrow be careful of sitting on a type III pfd on top of the seat. The two times I've gone over in flat water in a canoe involved the bow paddler with a higher center of gravity than usual due to sitting on a cushion. Those incidences were both in an Old Town Penobscot, which is fairly narrow. (nobody mentiond and Old Town Tripper, I've never paddled one but looks like it would make a good family boat, maybe a bit heavy?)

The Wenonah Sundowner someone mentioned is a great choice. I bought one because I wanted something with more width and freeboard than my Mohawk Jensen for use in the winter. I lowered the front seat a bit so my wife feels more secure when we go out in a bit of chop.

If you don't see what you're looking for on Pnet, try craigshelper.

welcome to a whole new world.


Newcomers to canoeing may not be
able to tell differences between canoes they “demo.” I would rather see them settle on a family canoe with an unquestioned reputation, like the Spirit II. Almost every boat (14) I’ve bought in 35 years, I’ve had to buy without trying it out first, either because I couldn’t fit in the boat without outfitting it, or because I was buying the boat prior to seeing it. By reading reviews, or talking to users, or just by learning to judge hulls, I’ve never made a mistake.

To demo boats in a reliable and valid way requires prior skill, and demo boats that are properly set up.

Solo Plus & Spirit worlds apart, not 6"
The slightly shorter length of the Solo Plus compared to the Spirit II does not begin to cover the differences. The Solo Plus is much narrower and lower volume. It tandems ok on calm water and with experienced light paddlers. It is not a good boat for beginners looking for a stable boat.

The 16 Aurora is much more stable than the 16’6" Solo Plus, and i don’t often recommend it over the Spirit for families.


Thank you for your input!
Thank all of you for your valuable input! Based on what most of you recommended I’m going for the Spirit II! I’m excited!


Excellent choice

– Last Updated: Jan-25-09 4:24 PM EST –

It was our first family canoe after a ton of research. It's a great canoe. Congrats.