Canoe for Open Water Coastal Paddling?

I’m looking for advice on the purchase of a new canoe. I am an experienced paddler competent in whitewater, difficult open water conditions, etc., but a first timer in saltwater.

I’m looking for a flexible boat that won’t break the bank ($1500 or less), that paddles both tandem and solo well and is light enough for me to manage myself. (I grew up carrying 85 pounders, so something around 55 - 60 pounds is really just fine.) Primarily the boat will be used daily without much gear relatively close to the shore off the Olympic Pennisula. I will probably get a spray deck for the boat/and/or flotation for additional insurance, but would love to get a boat that handles well in waves even without the extra coverage.

Ideally, I’d like to have the option of using it on weeklong (but not extended) trips in both flatwater and class 1-2 whitewater (as whitewater is not really my passion).

One of my main pet peeves about canoes are the molded seats - I love my bent shaft paddle which requires I get closer to one edge than these seats generally allow so a cane, webbed, or adjustable position (right to left) molded seat is what I require.

Thanks in advance for your help!

what if you capsize?

Re: what if you capsize?
Obviously there is more of a risk of capsize in a open water situation, although the area in the Strait of Juan de Fuca where I will be paddling is fairly sheltered, I wouldn’t be paddling far from shore (I have no open crossings in mind), and the I’ve never actually seen it in really rough conditions, the weather is pretty mild. I’ve paddled much worse before elsewhere and I know my limitations. Obviously, I would take reasonable safety precautions - pfd, floatation/spray deck, radio, cell phone, drysuit, letting someone know when I would get back . . . I can right an unloaded capsized boat myself and get back in. My personal experience has been that if you know how to handle your boat, capsize in most conditions is highly unlikely. Anyway, if the conditions got too bad to be safe, I can paddle to shore and actually portage the boat home across the beach.

look for sgrant
SGrant posts on various canoe forums and is an experienced ocean canoeist from Vancouver.

My recommendation would be looking at Clippers canoes. The Tripper is all-round canoe that does well everywhere, including the ocean, and I think there are also specialized versions.

My guess is that most 17’ Tripper- and Prospector-type canoes would work for you, but I wouldn’t expect much from them solo.

Search sgrant’s posts on this forum, and search on-line for Western Canoeing & Kayaking or Clipper Canoes.

Good luck, P.

This is sure not something to take lightly. Your judgement, preparation and knowledge of the area will be as key or more so than boat selection.

Here is an article on big water paddling by Cliff Jacobsen:

As for canoes: You really need something under 17 ft. long to solo in those kinds of conditions I think. 17 or more and you’ll have a hard time keeping a manuverable boat tracking strait and too much trouble turning a hard tracking boat when you need to.

I’m sure no expert on this but will throw out some names. Maybe more knowledgable folks will chime in with correction strokes.

Bell Northstar

Souris River Quetico 16

Mad River Explorer

Swift Dumoine

Let us know how things progress and be careful.

Another Thought
Another thought is to post your questions to the Canadian Canoe Routes boards.

Some expedition oriented folks there. SGrant posts there as does our own kayakmedic who has coastal paddling knowledge.

What about being blown out to sea etc
A canoe has quite allot of windage. Exactly how far from shore will you be? Two conditions are show stoppers that strike realistic terror into expedition kayakers, and sail boaters

A sudden and dramatic blast of wind blowing you out to sea.

Two, a marked change in the wind against the tide creating repeated capsizes and preventing forward progress.

If you can deal with these proceed onward. Have you experienced these things and understand them by experience. I have, respect for the sea is a must. Then venture onward.

Mad river explorer 14 and Kruger
I use one. I’d skip the spray skirt and double up on really good floatation bags and tie them and strap them in well. Take a Five gallon bucket and replace the handle with strong rope and use that as a bailer and a Sea anchor of sorts. Bring your normal size bleach bottle bailer and your sponge and wear you PFD. I’d skip using any seat at all and just glue padding to the floor and use a kneeling thwart. the other best chioce for rough stuff would be a saddle.

i know others who use the Kruger decked canoe and really do well with it, but you won’t fing a used one for less than $2000 I think.

sounds like a lot of fun!
and do i have just the boat for you!

don’t bother looking any further than a 16’ prospector. a Clipper (probably common out there: made in Vancouver) would fit the bill well.

enough size and depth for seaworthiness. efficiency of design (sharp entry, arch bottom, modest beam) for speed. good rocker for maneuverability.

symmetry for multi purpose uses. paddles every bit as well solo, very fun that way. playful.

Yarnellboat says not to expect much from this type of boat solo, but i have to vehemently disagree. i’ve paddled mine solo for 2 weeks on technical ww river trip and it’s beauty.

Bill Mason used to solo his for great long trips on lake Superior in all kinds of conditions. with a spray skirt even better. lots of good spray skirts available for them too.

same boat takes you on a week long trip with a buddy with equal aplomb. however you will need to master good corrective and turning strokes with your bentshaft paddle or switch to a straight shaft.

you sound highly competent to judge conditions and your own skill. enjoy.

am a Mad River Explorer 16" fan

– Last Updated: Mar-24-05 10:30 PM EST –

myself. Find the Jensen styled boats mentionned by others too, too, too everything. Lots of open canoeists paddle the "chuck" here and spray skirts are sometimes used I understand. I haven't done enough canoeing on the ocean but it is a dream of mine. Enjoy.

re: blown out to sea
There is really no need to be any more than 100-150 feet away from shore. The area I’m paddling I’ve rarely even seen “whitecaps” (which is more than I can say for many lakes I’ve been on!). The wind is really fairly minimal near the shore. It is also the type of situation where I will be paddling the same stretch nearly every day so obviously in the beginning even after doing my homework, I would err on the conservative side. A year from now, I will know very specifically when and where I need to exercise caution. I’ve thought about carrying a battery powered motor in case of such extreme circumtances as being blown where I don’t want to be, but I’m still investigating the risk factor and whether this would really be prudent.

re: mad river and kruger
It’s kind of sad to think that you even need to mention WEARNING your pfd as a requirement . . . but if I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve seen it!

Knowledge and Backup Motor
Ask around with local paddlers/paddling clubs and outfitters/shops to learn as much as you can about the water you plan to paddle. Be really conservative, particularly at first, but don’t let familiarity breed complacency. You might just be lucky several times, then get cocky and leave yourself vulnerable to nature’s whims. What kind of tidal currents do you have there?

Not trying to be a worry wort, honest. I’ve only been around the Strait of Jaun de Fuca a couple of times. Once it was beautiful and calm. Once it was scary as hell as a fall storm roared in. The big ferry didn’t even seem like enough boat.

To my mind an electric motor is fine for fishing calm inland waters if you like, but I wouldn’t depend on a motor of any kind in a paddling craft to bail me out of trouble. Seems more likely to be a destraction during a jam and maybe lend false security that might lure you into conditions or judgements that get you into trouble.

Re: a suitable Canoe for Open Water

– Last Updated: Mar-26-05 7:08 AM EST –

IMO should be a boat that is easy to paddle at a decent speed, and
doesn't loose much of that speed when paddled in and even against
wind and waves. (High speed is irrelevant, as you will be fighting
the wind more than the wave resistance of the canoe...) It should
track well enough in ALL wind an wave directions, behave predictable
in all kind of wave situations, is maneuverable enough to deal with
odd waves that you want to avoid (especially important if you don't
use a spray cover, as I do). For me the best _tandem_ design to meet
those conditions, that was also a good _solo- canoe was the Swift
Quetico 15'10''. Unfortunately, they stopped making them before I
was able to buy one :-(
For only tandem paddling, I think the Swift Winisk would be my first
choice. I paddle(d) Jensen designs (Jensen 18 and Whisper) on open
water a lot, but I do not consider them to be the most suited and
seaworthy designs for open water paddling. If you want a more
all-around canoe, that will also do well on some whitewater, than
the Bell NorthStar or Swift Kipawa will do fine, although my
preference is the Kipawa (that I own and use a lot on open water),
because it seemed a bit faster in waves than the NorthStar.

MR Explorer

– Last Updated: Mar-25-05 11:07 AM EST –

Mine is a bear when soloing in the wind. Er.. maybe it's sail more than a bear but I don't like it when soloing open water.

Gale warning for the Strait today
OK, so much for how protected it is there always! Hmmm maybe a little more research could help.

Environment Canada Weather Forecast GALE WARNING

Marine Forecast issued for Juan de Fuca strait.

Issued: 4 AM PST Friday 25 March 2005 for the period ending 4 AM Saturday with an outlook for the following 24 hours.


The first in a series of vigorous frontal systems will approach the British Columbia coast today.

Winds are forecast to rise to strong to gale force southeasterlies over outer coastal waters this morning and spread to all but far northern and southern sections of the district by late this afternoon. Winds are expected to reach storm force southeasterlies near western Vancouver Island this afternoon and spread through central and most northern waters this evening.


Gale warning continued.

Winds light rising to southeast 15 to 20 near the west entrance this afternoon. Winds becoming easterly 10 to 15 with southeast 20 at the eastern entrance and southeast 25 to gales 35 at the western entrance this evening. Winds rising to southeast 30 to gales 40 at the entrances overnight. Periods of rain beginning late this evening.

Outlook. Winds shifting to moderate to strong westerlies

try $3000
ever since micked talked them up a few years ago the used market is almost as high as the new ones.

MR Freedom
Ive only had the chance for a few days on salt water, at the end of a river trip. This was my set up:

Mad River Freedom 16, one of the old ones, '91 I think. It is actually 15 ft 10 inches long. Paddled solo, from the front seat. Kind of heavy at 83 pounds. Had flotation and spray deck but didn’t use them after we were off the river. We had been out for two weeks and the food was mostly gone so had to use a barrel full of water to get it trimmed properly in headwinds. Used a take down kayak paddle exclusively when on the ocean.

Had one bad day of strong cold winds, white caps and scattered showers. Occasionally took a bit of water or spray over the bow.

Our furthest from shore was 10K or so but we did lots of island hopping to keep fairly close to something solid. Longest stretch of open water was about 4K, in that nasty headwind. My hands were so cramped I had a hard time releasing the paddle when we finally stopped for the day.


Solo and Tandem
I think the challenge is a canoe that will handle well in potentially rough water both solo and tandem. Any tandem I can think of that has good sea-keeping would be a pig solo, while even a large solo would not be very seaworthy tandem.

You have $1500. I would consider two boats.

  1. Solo - look for a used Mad River Monarch or Sawyer Loon - these are earlier Kruger version and while not as nice are much cheaper - while you’ll see them advertised higher the two Monarch sales I know of recently were each in the $1,000 range (mine was $1000 for a mint boat with sprayskirt and bent shaft paddle). These are great, conservative boats for the coast. Weight is about 50 lbs.
  2. Tandem - there are a number of reasonable cruising tandems that would work well tandem. I’d lean towards 17’ or 18’. You can find used ones modestly priced, and even new you can find them less than $1,000 in Royalex. There are a lot you can pick from. Ones I’m familiar with that would work well are:
  • Wenonah Champlain or Spirit II
  • Mad River Revelation
  • Old Town Tripper
  • Mohawk Nova 17 or Intrepid 17
  • weights should be about 70 lbs

    That would be my approach. I know you asked for one boat, but for the ocean, where I would want a conservative boat, I can’t think of another good solution to be conservative while tandem and not a pig solo.

OT Tripper?!
that boats a pig tandem never mind solo. personally, any of the above mentioned boats are huge for solo and would be a bear to maneuver. not to mention that the asymmetry (pardon my spelling) of some of them requires that you either install a kneeling thwart, pedastal or special seat to solo. at least the Tripper can be paddled “backward” (though there is no backwards on the hull) from the front seat for some comfort and versatility.

for all around versatility and multi uses as mentioned in your original posting, 16’, medium beam (35" max) symmetric boat with some rocker would do it all, with little compromise. test paddle a couple of these if possible and see for yourself.