Canoe speed/efficiency

Hi. I am going on a flatwater, downriver trip with no portages. It will be easy - like car camping. I have ideas about the “perfect” canoe for this voyage. However, the canoes I have to choose from are: 16’ Royalex Explorer, 17’ Royalex Prospector, and 20’ Royalex XL Tripper. I am thinking I will go with the giant for comfort. However, I began wondering which boat would be fastest paddled by two medium-strength paddlers carrying about 250lbs of cargo (hauling our drinking water). I am contemplating lenght/width ratios and then also factoring in skin-friction/laminar flow . . . I am leaning toward the 17 fotter for efficiency . . . but I just don’t know. Thoughts? (This really is esoteric, so if you are busy, don’t worry too much!)

How about a shake-down comparison?
You have a tough question to answer. I’m not sure about the Explorer, but I know most Prospectors have quite a bit of rocker. Here are some points, about which I’m sure others will provide additional details/opinions.

Rocker: In general, the more rocker, the slower the boat. However, at slow or medium speeds, you won’t notice as much of an efficiency difference as compared to a less-rockered boat.

Length: Increasing the length increases the top speed, as well as the efficiency when at fairly high speeds (this has to due with “hull speed”, which is affected by the higher natural travel speed of waves having a longer wavelength). At moderate speeds, a shorter boat will often (probably most of the time) take noticibly less effort to propel, due to reduced wetted area (less drag). However, with a big gear load, a longer boat may be faster because it doesn’t sit so deep in the water, giving it less cross-sectional area. The longer boat will also float over shallow sandbars or rocks (depending on what your river offers) that the shorter boat will scrape over or get hung up on.

I’m guessing that for a moderate pace that can be maintained for a long time, carrying a big load, the best boat will be either the 17’ Prospector or the big 20-footer. Chances are the 16’ boat will be sluggish with a big load, unless of course you are going pretty slow.

The proof is in the pudding, so how about trying each boat out with a load? Use a GPS or time yourself over a known course. The tricky part is using the same paddling effort each time.

No one is ever too …

– Last Updated: Dec-31-05 6:14 AM EST –

busy to chime into a paddling discussion!

You wind me up, I talk paddling and never shut up !!!!

Under the river conditions that you stated, and as you sday there is no portaging, I would take the long boat.
No one is going to have to work too hard, and you can put whatever extra gear, water or if you are like my wife and me and pick up all kinds of artifacts, rocks, animal skulls, etc there will be plenty of room for them.
Just leave the old tires there for the river clean up folks.

Have a great trip,


I second the 20
footer.I used to teach boating at a summer camp, and one of the junior counselors and I would take out a 12 man canoe(7 seats,5 double, fore and aft solo) to go to the bar across the lake at night. Once we got rolling this 26’ wood canoe would really move along.

Haven’t you heard that bigger is better?
All things equal the 20 footer should be the fastest and most comfortable. If the 17 footer were not a Prospector I might lean in its favor for the speed thingy depending on actual load. But the reverse side of that argument is the 17 footer is a Prospector, which has more volume and therefore in reality is closer to the 20 footer in capacity and comfort. Hummm… The 17 is going to turn a lot faster due to length, but even more so, due to rocker. BUT losses glide, forward motion efficiency, … The 20 will be harder to turn harder, but be much more efficient on the straight. Your profile shows you are an intermediate paddler. If your partner is experienced as well you will have no problems reading the river far enough ahead to avoid most problems and have the abilities to pull, pry, ferry, back paddle, and so on the bigger canoe if needed. In this case the only advantage to the 17 is turning, but you state; flat, down river, no portage so there is really no advantage to this 17 over this 20 for this trip. In fact the 20 has the advantage.

I like either little boats for the experience of “wearing” the hull, the response and fun or big boats for the comfort, capacity, and efficiency. Intermediate boats are always a compromise and do fine, but are a bit boring too.

My advice; Take the limo and enjoy the comfort. (But if you are not really intermediate paddlers take the 17.)



Thank you all . . .
Good then, I am sold. I will take the 20’ cruise ship and ride in style.

You all made some good points, so thanks. I must agree that to really get a good sense, the boats need to be paddled. Maybe someday I will take them all on a trip and switch people around.

In any case, the big tripper really does handle better than might be expected, and if I had to update my profile, I might even say I am an experienced paddler (especially since I feel I can claim bonus experience by virtue of my Canadian citizenship . . . just jokes people, don’t bother jumping on that bandwagon!)

Anyway, thanks again for the input. If I ever see open water again I will let you know how the sea trials go.


Make sure rear paddler has footbrace. You could drill or epoxy a bracket for conduit or check

If your cargo will really weigh 250
and if the weight of both paddlers approaches 400, then the Tripper XL looks good.

However, does your gear REALLY weigh 250? How many days water will you carry? I carried about 40 pounds of water for two nights on the Dolores, and had way more than I needed.

My point is this. If your actual total weight is closer to 500 than to 650, the Prospector could be an easier, and less troublesome, boat to paddle. An underloaded Tripper XL could be a handful in strong wind. And unless you are really humping, moderate effort is rewarded by lower wetted area.

Winters (guru of canoe design) tested a “true” Mason-type Prospector in an issue of Kanawa, and found it to be VERY efficient and easy to paddle at moderate speeds.