Best beginner canoe?

-- Last Updated: Jul-22-09 11:01 PM EST --

I've been canoeing 2-3 times but it's something I really enjoy and want to do more. I've been looking to buy a used canoe because they're cheaper, or maybe buying a new one if it's on the cheaper side. My main concern is stability. I don't care much for speed or manageability right now as I do for it to feel comfortable and not feel like it will turn over so easy. I know all canoes turn over but I'm hoping there are some that feel a little more stable than others, especially since I'm just starting out and want to learn more about it. I've found a used Mad River 16' Explorer Royalex for $450 that I liked but I've read the reviews about it not feeling very stable so I'm worried about that. I also heard that Coleman canoes feel the most stable out of most canoes out there, but I heard they were really heavy. There's a used Coleman for $225. So I'm mainly wondering what's the best canoe for the cheapest price (hopefully less than $500) that will feel the most stable in the water. I would prefer it not to be too heavy, but I could deal. Thanks in advance for the help. Oh, I should probably add I'll be using it on slow rivers/streams, maybe a few calm lakes/ponds. I don't foresee ever using it on whitewater.

Edit: I would be using this tandem. I don't feel comfortable enough yet going out by myself and doubt I ever would. The max weight I would be using it for would be 2 people max, maybe a kid, but highly doubtful. A small icechest, if at all. Maybe light camping gear much more into the future but not something i'm really planning for. Basically just 2 adults and some drinks/lunch. I've been looking at the Old Town Sport 14 (they sell it at Sam's) and the Pelican Canoes they sell at Dick's Sporting Goods. Those seem to be the only "new" ones I've been able to afford. I can't spend a 1000 bucks right now and it seems all the good ones cost that much unless it's used. I don't know if Pelican are any good. I heard OT were good and that one at Sam's is a great price and seems nice. I figure later in life when I get better at paddling and all that I can buy a better canoe to last a lifetime and hopefully I'll have the 1000 to do it. ;)

When I went to look at the Mad River, it had wood around the top and wooden seats suspended by wooden pieces. The seats were wooden webbed seats that reminded me of really old lawn furniture. Other than the top rail needing to be sanded down and oiled it looked like it was in pretty good shape. I was concerned about the seats being secure since they're wood and look a little gray. They might look a little better once I oil it up but it seems like the boat is pretty old. That might not matter but I figure I'd throw that out there.

Thanks for the help!

screw the reviews
buy the Mad River Explorer. Seems the guys who buy them, have them for life. I’d trash the coleman, but some peabrained rabid nazi trailer trash usually gets upset, accuses the rest of us of being elitist and what not.

mad river
mad river. Colemans are kinda junky. You could look for an aluminium canoe too. They are stable, but slow, and somewhat heavy compared to composites.

Do you want a solo boat or tandem?

Get the Explorer
no question about it. Good price and it’s a canoe you can keep for life. Not tippy, will carry a lot of stuff and, frankly the Coleman is not much of a canoe in design, or construction.

I assume you’re planning to paddle tandem…if you want to go solo get a true solo boat. If that’s your direction a bit more info would be helpful to suggest specific boats…height, weight, how much gear you wish to carry, how heavy a boat are you comfortable moving?

Stability is really not an issue.
No manufacturer is dumb enough to market a general purpose canoe that feels and/or is wildly unstable. By pursuing a phony issue, you may get stuck with a water pig.

And I think the MR Explorer is kind of a water pig.

MRC Explorer
The MRC Explorer is not a sleek thoroughbred racer, as Gary points out, put it is a good multipurpose canoe and would suit you well. That is a good price if it is in good shape.

The Explorer, like many MRC boats, has a shallow V hull bottom. This may feel a tad unstable to the newcomer, because the boat tends to want to tip over a little onto the “flat” of the hull bottom, but it is really a very stable canoe. The shallow V gives it a little directional stability. It will carry a prodigious load, and is short enough to be able to turn reasonably well. It is a bit wide to paddle solo, but not prohibitively so.

In fact, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better beginner tandem canoe for that price.

Another Vote For the Mad River
Have owned a few in my lifetime and have the 15’ Explorer now. Even if you have to replace the seats and gunnels in a year or two, that’s a good price. As for the stability, the Explorer is very stable. It has a shallow-V hull, so the movement to either side will allow the boat to rest on either side of that V, if that makes sense. Have never flipped an Explorer in thousands of miles paddling 4 different models of it. Have paddled a Coleman twice and flipped one on one of those two times. That flat bottom feels, and is stable right up to the time it flips you without warning. Plus, the Colemans and Pelicans weigh more. As for the “Reviews,” there have been about 6 or so “Explorers,” so you may read some reviews about a different hull from the one for sale. I think you should go for that Mad River if it’s in halfway decent shape! WW

Agree. buy the MR. I 've seen a couple
of them paddled tandem in some choppy conditions and they did great.

When you get secure paddling, try poling.

Wenonah Adirondack
In my opinion, paddles efficiently for a wide 16 footer.

Good point about the little
uncertainty in resting stability in a markedly V-bottomed canoe. Not a problem, but might spook some newbies.

Here’s the “if”

– Last Updated: Jul-23-09 12:15 PM EST –

IF the Explorer's hull is in good shape and the gunwales are not badly damaged or rotted, that would be a good deal. Don't sweat the seats too much - they are easily replaced or repaired. As you noticed, there ain't much to them (as is typical for that style of seat) but the design is good for all-around paddling.

Another "if"........If you can't find a better deal on any of the many models intended for "recreational use" by manufacturers such as Bell, Wenonah, Old Town, Nova Craft, (edit: Mad River,) and the like (sorry, I don't know them all). Those makers have info on their websites that will explain which are the "recreational" tandems. Some of those might feel a little tippy initially - but they are actually less likely to top over than the ones with flat bottoms.

Edit: But don't spend all your time looking at this point when something suitable is available to buy. Get yerself into a boat and on the water. Then, once you are familiar with it and if you wish, you can shop extensively for a particular boat once you know what you want./Edit.

I've been through a few used canoes over the last few years. $450 is not a bad price for a healthy hull of good design with little need for repair of the furniture. Gray wood is an indication of some lack of attention to maintenance. Could be only surface uv damage or could be seriously rotted or anywhere in between. You can probably determine that by close inspection. If not seriously rotted, you could oil the wood and use it 'til it breaks - then replace it with an aftermarket seat (a very easy project and not very expensive).

As I've said, I went through a few used boats before settling into what I now have (which are still mostly used boats). If you stay away from the Colemans and the Pelicans (and whatever else is built like them) you can't go far wrong. Buying used (carefully), you can usually recover most or all your money if you decide to sell. If that Explorer is in decently good shape, it would be a good place to start as it is a good "all-around" design (BTW - the Explorer is a popular stand-up poling boat and that means it is stable enough). But give it a little time on the water before you decide whether or not you like it.

Had a MR explorer for many
years and wish i had it still. Handled well tandem or solo including while fishing and occassionally it had a motor mounted on its side. Carried all the gear needed. Go for it go for it go for it.

Oh go have some coffee


– Last Updated: Jul-23-09 12:12 PM EST –

has probably put more first timers on the water than any other maker. Most folks that bought one have them for life, or until they wrap them around an obstacle.

They are not the Cadillac of canoes. But a sound investment. Makes no sense to pay more if your use projection is a few times per year. They are not speedsters, but that is not what you wanted. Tough as nails, maintenance free, great initial stability, multi purpose.

There is NO BEST beginner canoe.

There is NO BEST beginner canoe.

If you decide you need to upgrade someday, you can unload them for almost what you paid in 7 years.

I have an open offer to the guy that bought mine to buy it back anytime. He is the third owner, it will probably last a few more owners.

I agree with Zenrider on this…

“There is NO BEST beginner canoe.”


“If you decide you need to upgrade someday, you can unload them for almost what you paid in 7 years.”

…must be based on the assumption of some substantial inflation, unless the boat was bought used in the first place (as may be the case for most canoes).

Used Coleman and Pelican canoes - even in new condition - often go for around $250 in these parts. A certain poster here at has evidently even found a few of them for free. If you can find one around $250 or less (in near new condition) you won’t likely get burned. But understand that it won’t be representative of what the average canoe performs like. In other words - if you don’t like it, don’t assume that you don’t like canoes.

World’s best marketing ever for …
… a canoe that can’t be repaired …

“It’s maintenance free!”


Agree with all that.
Around here, new ones only go for $300. But seems NOBODY around here wants to sell their old canoes, even if they sink when launched!!

But free… I forgot that… I would vote for “free” as the best starter canoe.

thanks. :slight_smile:
The seats were actually in great shape… no torn parts or anything and they were a nice wood color. The grey part is around the top edge of the canoe (not sure proper terminology) and it actually might have to be replaced but I don’t know yet. It seems like it might be teak or something similiar but it is very grey. It’s odd to see how grey it is compared to how nice the seats look.

thank you :slight_smile:
gonna go pick it up in a few hours :slight_smile:

Grey gunwales

– Last Updated: Jul-23-09 5:05 PM EST –

The wooden rails around the top edge of the hull are called gunwales. Actually, there are 2 parts: an inside rail called the inwale, and an outside rail called the outwale. There are also probably triangular wooden pieces that fit on top of or between the inwales at the stems called deck plates.

The seat frames were probably varnished. That's why they still look OK. The gunwales are usually oiled because they get scraped easily and the varnish would wear off. Also, gunwales flex a lot and a varnish finish tends to crack. Wood gunwales need to be reoiled periodically and one of the prior owners probably neglected to do this.

The wooden gunwales are probably ash. If they are not badly dry-rotted they can quite possibly made to look good again. This requires sanding them until the grey is gone. If the grey is stubborn you can use a dilute solution of household bleach. Once you get them clean sand them fine and reoil them using a penetrating oil. Watco, Teak oil, Tung oil or Deks Olje are all options. Some people use a mixture of boiled linseed oil, mineral spirits and vinegar.

If most of the gunwale is sound, but sections are badly rotted, you could splice in new sections of gunwale using step or scarf joints. It is a bit difficult to find and transport pieces of straight grain ash 17+ feet long.

If you have cane seats that are years old, even if they look good, don't be suprised if the cane breaks the first few times you use the boat. Don't despair. Replacement seats are easy to get or you could convert the seat to a nylon webbing style seat by getting some 1 1/2" or 2" wide nylon tubular webbing and weaving it over the cane and around the seat frames using stainless steel wood screws and fininsh washers on the underside of the frame to secure the strips.