Canoe Recommendations for Bird Studies

-- Last Updated: Dec-21-04 2:55 PM EST --

Some clarifications: The mainstay of our organization for years has been Grumman, some dating from the 1940's. These have been durable, but are noisy and cold. The OT Penobscot was purchased primarily for a common loon research project because of the volume it can handle. Three adults, electric motor, two car batteries, large cooler, banding supplies, personal gear, large net, paddles and then add in an unhappy 10-15lb. loon. This works great for its intended purpose because we usually have a lagre crew to lug the gear and boat. But, this boat is hard to maneuver through small stream channels in a cattail marsh and is too heavy for some staff to load on the roof of our 4WD vehicles. As pointed out below FG may be a better way to go since it can easily be repaired if damaged. Stability is important, speed is usually not critical. Most of the time it would be paddled tandem, but on occasion solo, so width may be an issue. Many (most?) of the paddlers are not very experienced and probably would want to sit in a center seat or front seat facing backwards rather than kneel.

I am looking for a canoe for conducting marsh bird studies to complement our OT Penobscot 17. I would like a shorter canoe 14-15' that can be paddled tandem or solo. I'm thinking Royalite/R-84 because it will be banged around by staff/seasonal staff/interns/volunteers over many years. Weight is the big issue. Our 17' weights about 63lbs. I would like something a lot lighter, but still fairly indestructable. The best I have found in Royalite 14-15 footers is about 55lbs. Is there anything out there in the 45-50lb. range?


banging around
What kind of wear/damage does the Penobscot experience? If you’re going to be running into typical soft marsh stuff – waterlogged trees, stumps, roots, mudbanks, etc. – I’d think a composite boat would be OK. That would give you a lot more options. But an “indestructible” 40- lb tandem is a tall order.

A Kevlar Wenonah Heron is 46 pounds.

You can save a lot of weight and get a more durable canoe for your purposes by avoiding Royalite and getting a canoe with a fiberglass layup with a protective gel coat surface finish.

Royalite’s only virtue is it’s ability to withstand impact, which is why it is the material of choics for whitewater canoes and kayaks. On the negative side, a Royalite boat is heavy, abrasions and cuts on its surface are hard to repair, will oil can and must have its hull design modified so that it is suitable for Royalite construction. All of the above make it a more sluggish boat than layed-up construction.

For exploring marshes and still water, you definitly should not get Royalite.

Take a look at Wenonah’s line. Their Tuffweave construlction is excellent.


You didn’t say what you will be carrying. I get close to birds by sliding off my sit-on-top kayak just for the fun of it. To photograph them I use a closed cockpit touring kayak with rudder. The cockpit helps to keep the camera dry and the rudder keeps the kayak heading where I want while I’m shooting.

Binocing birds from a canoe
This requires a non-jittery canoe … which requires a broad, flattish bottom profile. The best (most versatile and long-lasting) canoe to meet these specs would be a flexcore Wenonah Kingfisher. It’s big enough to accommodate multiple passengers and/or spotting scopes and camera gear. It’s light enough (low 50’s) and is super stable. Also, it’s fast enough and won’t gurgle a whole lot like a blunt nosed boat. What’s not to like but the price of acquisition? A distant second (due to being substantially less stable) would be a duralite Souris River Quetico 16 … very good for this application but not as roomy or stable as a Kingfisher. Flat bottom Royalex canoes will oilcan and wear off their exterior vinyl skin too quickly with use by inexperienced canoeists who will likely ram them into abrasive shores rather than “wetfoot” landings. As far as using it solo … use ballast at the opposite end and be patient … or, better yet, set it up for rowing by attaching sockets outside of the gunwales for fixed-pin oars. That’s the “killer prescription” for a versatile boat that almost anyone can handle because good paddling skills aren’t required. Rowing is much easier (a young child can do it within minutes) than paddling.

OK–Nova Craft
If you want something 50lbs, stable and tough. I would look at the Nova Craft Angler in Blue Steel.

50lbs, wide stable boat.

From looking at the profile image, it should have a high initial stability. The Blue Steel is a very tough layup.

So Many Choices

– Last Updated: Dec-21-04 4:30 PM EST –

I would reccomend the Wenonah Adirondack or the Kingfisher also, but you're looking for a 14-15' boat, correct? A couple I might suggest would be Mad River Winooski and Wenonah Fisherman. Both are in 14' range and are not bad to paddle for wide boats. Of the two, the Winooski would be my favorite. I don't think you need the royalex, Mad River and Wenonah both have very tough layups in 'glass and kevlar. If I'm not mistaken, the Winooski only comes in kevlar now. I also really like Wenonah's tuffweave('glass, nylon layup). Another thing about these two is they can be turned arround and soloed easily from the bow seat facing the stern (turned arround) with a bit of weight in front. Both bow and sterns on these two boats are only like 18" or so high, so you won't get blown about so badly in the wind. Here's a couple of links. WW

Being more into performance oriented boats I’m not ordinarily an aluminum canoe fan, but it’s hard to argue with their durability and longevity, especially in the hands of non-paddlers. Unlike all composite and plastic canoes that must be protected from UV exposure an aluminum boat can be stored outside for a lifetime and all that will happen is a little oxidation. In the end nothing lasts like an aluminum canoe. Period.

Marathon (the builder of Grumman canoes) has a 13’ tandem model that weighs in at just 50 lbs. They also introduced a solo aluminum canoe this year: the 129 Solo (12’9”). This new model weighs in at just 44 lbs.

I haven’t paddled either of these particular models, but like many folks I “grew up” with Grumman canoes and can attest to their toughness.

We are blessed to have many canoes in our family fleet, but we also own an old 14 foot aluminum canoe that lives outside next to our pond – we call it “the Pond Cow”. That poor old thing is now over 30 years old and still going strong. I can well imagine it will go at least another thirty years. A friend of ours (who nobody would mistake for a skilled paddler, is usually pretty much out of control and is known to bash up canoes) uses our old aluminum canoe several times a year to go river runnin’. Even he hasn’t hurt it (and that’s sayin’ something)! I don’t see how you could go wrong with one of these smaller Grummans for your stated use.

That being said, I’d also agree with Stap and Wildernessweb that the We-No-Nah Fisherman is a super stable canoe and with a modicum of care should serve the purpose well. I think I’d reinforce the stems before I put it in service to protect it against inexperienced paddlers who invariably “beach” canoes bow first. Any We-No-Nah dealer can put Kevlar scuff strips on for you at a minimal cost – or you can do it yourself.

…just my two cents worth – Good luck on your quest! RK

Thanks everyone!
Thanks everyone for the input. It will be thoroughly considered prior to our purchase.