canoe recommendation newbie

I’ve a read a little and people recommend a lot of different canoes to people. Stuff like you’ll want a canoe made of aluminum or plastic or fiberglass or wood because it is easier to take care of or is lighter or weathers better.

I want to spend as little as possible so I have decided to get a canoe off craigslist. I plan to canoe a few times a year on the nearby, shallow, slow, lots of people nearby, Harpeth river from Franklin TN to Pegram or Kingston Springs area. Total trip could possibly be 10-15 miles.

I have a dog, two kids, me and my wife. Total of about 700 lbs which would include clothes and a cooler with food and water.

If the canoe gets a hole or tips over we are not going to die. We’ll just float or walk to the side of the river and get out. So, IMO I don’t need anything speacial. I’m not out to win awards for best looking canoe or fastest or best handling. I just need something for all of us to enjoy a day together a few times a year.

Does the cheapest canoe I can find work or do I really need to be looking for something special?

Should I be looking for a long or short canoe?

Thanks in advance for any replies.

longer canoe will distribute the load
better. Put 700 lbs in a smaller canoe and it will displace more water; read sink deeper.

17 foot ought to fit your needs. That is a lot of weight you are putting in the boat.

Rather than running to Dicks and buying a stackable boat like the Pelican, try the classifieds here and look for something like a Discovery or a Penobscot. You do far better buying a used quality boat rather than a new poorly designed one.

big boat
You need a large volume canoe. You will be carrying a large cargo, and kids and dogs are often unpredictable, so you want a boat that offers a lot of stability in addition to carrying capacity.

That much weight will sink the boat in the water some, so you don’t want a real shallow tandem canoe. You want a canoe that will maintain adequate “freeboard” (the amount of the canoe’s side that will extend upward free of the water) when loaded, so that a minor lean or a wave won’t swamp you.

A Royalex hull probably makes the most sense. You might consider a 17+’ aluminum boat if one came your way at a good price, but aluminum tends to stick on rocks that Royalex slides right over. If you found a good composite (fiberglass or fiberglass and Kevlar) boat that fit your needs at a good price, you might also consider it.

You probably do want at least a 17 foot canoe. The only shorter tandems that I am familiar with that might provide enough volume and stability are the Mad River Explorer 16 (at about 16.5’ in composite and 16’ in Royalex) or the Dagger Legend 16’ (now the Mad River Legend 16) each of which have a lot of volume for their length.

I used to paddle Class III whitewater with my wife and two daughters in a Dagger Legend 16. No cooler or dog, but I have no doubt that I could have jammed them in and the Legend could have handled it.

bigger is better

– Last Updated: Jun-25-09 12:23 PM EST –

Your basic plan is solid. Used is the way for most people to start to paddle a while until you've paddled some and see if you need something specialized. Definitely go with 17 ft at least. An Old Town Discovery 169 is versatile, got size and capacity if your children are small, is frequently available. If you see an interesting ad on a boat you're unfamiliar with, check out the specs. Or put a quick note here mentioning the boat and inquiring should it be OK for 2 adults, 2 children, dog, 700 lbs. Wish I could have done that 30 yers ago. You'll enjoy your trips a lot more with plenty of excess weight rated capacity. A lot of maximum weight figures are maximum for not sinking and are way over the optimum enjoyable load. Both prior posts are right on target.

Old Town for example lists 1100 lbs for its 16 ft canoe, 1400 for its 17 foot. With a 700 pound load, definitely go for 17 ft. If you're at 3/4 max rating, that's usually too much.


Thanks for the replies.

– Last Updated: Jun-25-09 5:34 PM EST –

Here is what we weigh:
golden retriever 70
kids 180
wife 120
me 210
stuff maybe 50 lbs

I was looking at the following

sears fiberglass 17' $125

sears ram-x 17' $275

mohawk 17' $150

alaskan ivory wood 17' $650

I would like to get an aluminum because of the maintenance and wear factor. It seems they are out of my price range.I really like the sound of this $750 1964 grumman

grumman eagle 17' $350

aluminum OUACHITA 17' $375

Lowline Aluminum Canoe 17' $400

grumman 17' $350

coleman 17' $250

We-No-Nah Sundowner kevlar 18' $700

old towne discovery 17' $275

We won't be canoeing unless the water is warm and calm enough to swim in. This river really isn't much of a river it is more of a narrow shallow slow stream.

If it were me,
I’d offer the guy $100 cash for the Mohawk.

It looks beat all to hell, but I think its a vastly better design than any of the other boats.


Go with the Old Town 17 Disco
I have an OT Disco 158 that is 17+ years old and still going strong. That boat has one really tough hide. When you look at rental boat fleets you see lots of Discos. There is a reason for that, they are almost indestructable! Heavy, yes but they are the Abrams tank of the canoe world.

Heck, I even set mine up for solo use and it will get used tomorrow for a trip. I love that boat!

That will be 2 cents, please.


I see a lot of aluminum around here for the rentals, but also a lot of plastic canoes. I guess if they are tough enough for rental they would work good for me. I think I’m staying away from fiberglass and kevlar.

In fact I think I am going to try and find a 2-3 hundred dollar nice grumman aluminum because my wife didn’t like the idea of having the canoe in the garage. I think they are capable of carrying less weight than the plastic ones, but we can leave the dog at home.

Aluminum might be annoying
if your shallow streams are rocky. Aluminum tends to find and stick to rocks…the screeching does not hurt the hull but its hard on your ears.

I tend a fleet of forty year old Grummans. Aside from the styrofoam floatation deteriorating and floating away the boats are all sound.

A few of the boats needed to be retired due to popping rivets and seams but drill a few holes and they are a good compost bin.

I choke when I look at the prices of those aluminum craft. Makes me feel old, which I am. I bought my first canoe, a Grumman for a hundred and change in 1969.

They can haul a load easily in the situations you will be in.

Plus with enough help and a big enough campfire they are great lobster cookers for a crowd.

you will be hauling a large load …

– Last Updated: Jun-26-09 1:06 AM EST –

..... you will want a large volumn canoe . A big , long , deep and stable canoe (and that means a bit extra weight for the canoe itself) .

We have two Old Town canoes , one is an Expedition 16'-9" (linear polyethelene) , the other is an Acadia 16'-10" (1984 Royalex) . Both are high volumn canoes that can easily handle 700 lbs. ... it wouldn't hurt to go bigger yet , but definately no smaller !!

The Old Town Expedition 169 is basically the same canoe as the O.T.Discovery 169 , but has a slightly more arched haul and is sold by Basspro Shops exclusively .

You have 3 BassPro Shops (Outdoor World) in TN. ... might want to call them to see if they have the Expedition in stock ($ 700.) .

If you could find a nice Old Town Tripper 172 (17'-2") , that's better yet ... the Discovery 169 and Expedition 169 are very much like the famous Tripper models , just not quite . Our Expedition 169 is really more like an expedition class canoe than a recreation class , (the Tripper "is" an expedition class canoe) .

Things to consider about aluminum canoes , they get hot when it's hot out , cold when it's cold , makes lots of noise , stick well to rocks , dent , leak at rivits , most have keels (center seam) a neg. in my view for rivers (flowing waters) , rocky waters and shallows , and they don't have a laminated core floatation as do the Old Towns mentioned .

I started paddling old 1950's -60's Grummans , they worked , but ...

Another thing is the older aluminum canoes were made of heavier guage alum. which I believe is not the case with newer alum. canoes ... at least the old Grummans could be beat to death (read look like an auto wreck) and you still felt they would float (read livery rentals) .

A must is that you be sure to purchase the "best" PFD's you can for your kids and yourselves ... do not skimp on the PFD's , modern designs and fits are top of the list criteria here (and wear them when paddling even if you aren't concerned what happens when flipping/capsizing) !! ... enough said

I think I’d jump at the 17’ grumman or the Ouachita, ESPECIALLY if you are storing it outside. If you can store it inside, the Old Town Discovery is a very good choice … IF it was stored inside by the current owners and it doesn’t show any dammage particularly sun damage.

outside storage
Since there is no way to store a canoe indoors I think I am either going to be stuck tarping it or just buying aluminum. I’m not the tarping type which is why I’m pretty sure I’m going aluminum.

used canoe, pfds
I’m looking more for a $300 or so used canoe. So that pretty much eliminates all new canoes.

We already have PFD’s and I think they are required in Tennessee. Like I said the Harpeth on a sunny day when there were no storms the day before is a slow, shallow, narrow river that really is not very dangerous. We swim in it w/o life jackets all of the time.

No worries on the Harpeth
did the loop near the park area last year and it was basically just moving water.

Sounds like any big, flat-bottomed, heavy canoe will do what you want. 17 foot long, 3 foot wide or similar to get plenty of volume and good stability. Go cheap and resell if you don’t like it, rinse and repeat until you get something that’s a keeper.


but consider …

– Last Updated: Jun-27-09 12:50 AM EST –

..... once you have a canoe , you most likely will be taking on more challenging waters as time passes ... deeper , quicker , farther from shore , etc. ... good to begin with best habbits and practices regarding PFD's , a few saftey essentials , etc. ... that way you are better prepaired to not take off into more challeging waters some day out of the clear blue without reasonable gear ... good habbits are easy to make (in the beginning), bad habbits are tough to break (afterwards) , just saying !!

Since there are kids to consider , and it's a good idea for adults as well ... why don't you put on those PFD's and take a jump into the water over your head somewhere ... not joking , this will give you a better idea of how well those PFD's work on the individual ... will they try to choke you to death because they slipped up around the neck or over the head some ... a PFD that does not fit properly can be a bad thing when needed to do it's job .

We’ve been going to the lake every other weekend or so for the last few years and tube or jet ski. So, we are not new to the water. I never wear a pfd on a power boat, but my kids do. We always wear them on a tube or jetski.

I lived in Idaho and I remember tubing down the Snake river w/o a life jacket. Heck, from what I remember some of the irrigation canals up there were bigger than the Harpeth river.

I’m pretty sure pfd’s are required for canoes, but like I said the Harpeth is a slow narrow shallow river. My kids and I go swimming there w/o life jackets. They swim several times a week and I used to swim and play water polo in college.

I bought one

– Last Updated: Jun-27-09 12:23 PM EST –

I bought a canoe this morning. It is a used 16' merrimack fiberglass. It is beaten up, but the previous owner says it floats just fine and doesn't leak. I like to tinker so this one will give me something to do in my spare time.

I think it is a 1987 model but not quite sure if it is a souhegan or something else. 36" wide and 12" tall. I think it will meake a fine canoe to beat up on.

Merrimacks are classy boats
If that one’s in good shape, it should look great with a little TLC. Enjoy!

Another one will be great!;-)…
Nice!..give it a try…here’s my(& others) $.01,

16 footers are terrific tandems for two…if you can swing it, your kids will love you forever if you get them one of their own…or one for your wife and one of the little ones.


Thanks for all the help

– Last Updated: Jul-04-09 6:38 PM EST –

The canoe I bought needed some fixing. The wood needed to be clean and some parts sanded. One of the ends was pretty rotten and it need to all be coated with varnish.

I bought some west epoxy and finished the wood. I made a new end piece. I even got the hull looking pretty good.



We went on a 2.5 hour trip on the harpeth river today and it was fun. We saw a couple water snakes and tipped over.

I definately would only recommend plastic or aluminum canoes on this river. I cringed every time we hit rock which was a lot. It's all good now because when we got home I repaired the scratches, but my next canoe will probably be royalex, definately without a keel.

Thanks for the advice and the help!