Best low maintenance canoes and kayaks for rentals

Dear Forum,

Last year we have added tubes, and shuttle to our Stoney Creek location on the Cacapon River (one of the cleanest and most scenic rivers on the east coast, we have heard!) and this year we are trying to build up a more viable seasonal business with additional services.

We are looking to add rental canoes and kayak rentals and trips.

What do you recommend that is
a) relatively easy to find (including used)
b) great value
c) highly durable
d) can withstand some rocks

Any tips on if any manufactures offer discounts if you buy a couple are welcome too, but we are likely to try to shop “slightly used”


Aluminum was the standard for years, now plastic.
I used to spend time on that river almost 50 years ago while a student at the U of Md.

Absolute lowest maintenance for canoes is aluminum which can be stored outdoors all year without damage. Eventually they may start leaking at the rivets but that is relatively easily fixed.

But I wouldn’t call aluminum the best. The boats are noisy, cold in the Winter, hot in the Summer, and tend to hang up on rocks very easily.

Polyethylene is the standard for lower cost kayaks and works very well. Thermoformed polyethylene canoes are relatively low cost and low maintenance as are rotomolded, three-layer polyethylene canoes. Most canoe outfitters these days use three-layer rotomolded PE canoes.

Do you recommend any particular make/models?

Or any ones to avoid?

Polyethylene boats will degrade in the presence of UV light. Even though they can take some abuse and rock hits, they may not be the best investment for a rental fleet. Most tourists would probably not like the idea of aluminum boats.

The best answer may be to look at what other boat liveries use and ask around.

Manufacturers do give discounts for boats bought to be used as rentals. However orders for rental fleets usually go to the manufacturers in the fall for delivery over the winter or in early spring. Also, stock levels are still very low due to the combination of huge demand and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. I would be surprised if you could order any significant number of boats now and get them before the season was over. Same goes for paddles, pfds and anything else you would need.

Used boats present a different set of issues as you are not likely to find a “set” of similar or identical boats in significant numbers for a rental fleet. Used kayaks and canoes are also in high demand right now, so finding anything is difficult. If you do find some promising boats, inspect them carefully for broken or missing parts (check the sterns on plastic kayaks especially for evidence of dragging). For kayaks you’ll want to look for “one size fits all” types - either sit on tops or sit ins with large cockpit openings. Tandem kayaks are a good option as well.

I ran across a website that might be helpful in providing wholesale packages for kayaks and canoes.
I ended up there on one of those website rabbit hole journeys but might be a place to consider both the supply and advice.

If it is day trips, heavy is OK (royalex, fiberglass) but if you are taking about renting for multi-day trips and/or stuff involving portages, you need to have some Kevlar or carbon/Kevlar in the fleet.

I would recommend finding a way to sell insurance, particularly on the more expensive boats.

Buying used in this market will be tough, plus you will end up with a hodge podge of brands and colors. I would want my fleet to have some consistency, or intentional variety (options for solo, ultra light, big groups, etc)

The canoe livery at the head of the Itchnetucky River, FL are using some 50 year old aluminum Grumman canoes.

The canoe outfitter at the Suwannee River Music Park, Live Oak, FL, has a similar well experienced aluminum fleet.

If I was putting a rental fleet together for the Cacapon I would go 80% kayaks and 20% canoes. I think this is a pretty current trend. I’ve rented a number of canoes and what I don’t like about the polycanoes is that they get badly warped/oil canned. The aluminum canoes actually hold up better. For simplicity and self rescue I would look at sit on tops for kayaks. For a novice user they are safer and I think will hold up better for rental use. Sit on tops do tend to be heavy so you’ll need good river access to use them effectively. They may also require more space on a boat trailer. I would reach out to manufacturers- they are likely to give you a price break on multiple boats. Don’t go cheap on the pfds- if you get comfortable fully adjustable pfds your customers are more likely to wear them. The ACA could be a great resource for you- insurance, training staff etc.

I am not familiar with the location - can you provide a description of type of water? White water versus calm? How fast current flows? Etc.

The Cacapon is mostly calm water. It has some rapids and boulders sticking on the bends, but very family friendly/safe.
The water levels vary greatly, and the lower the water the slower it is
Most of the river is walkable 3-6 feet deep, with the exception of rapids where current might be too strong/too uncomfortable to be able to stay on your feet.
The 2.5 mile stretch we use tubes on for takes 3-5 hours depending on wind and river conditions in the summer.

For kayaks, I would use sit on top style kayaks (for an article on the basics of the different categories of kayaks, check out issue #10 at California Kayaker Magazine - South West's source for paddlesports information).

Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 and Malibu 2XL are popular in rental locations around here. They have flexible seating options, usable by 1 person (usually a bigger person), 2 people, or 3 people (usually 2 adults and small kid, or 3 smaller people). And they are made to stack when stored, saving space. Pretty rugged.

As said, as a rental location, you should be able to buy kayaks and canoes and gear at wholesale. I would find out who the rep is for the major lines (Johnson Outdoors, Confluence Outdoors, etc.). Each of these carries full lines of products (kayaks, canoes, and gear) so that you can buy all at wholesale.