Canoe Stability

Ok here it goes. I’ve been canoeing 5 to ten times before this spring. We decided to buy one. We want a family canoe that we can use around small lakes and calm streams. We are not going for week long trips or running rapids. Must be stable. Not to interested in being extremely nimble but stable is a must for the first adventure in to canoeing.

Did the research and selected a Mad River Adventure 14. Not to big, tuff, good beginner canoe. It is heavy but I was told this adds to the primary stability. Comments on the choice are welcome.

We (me and two 12 year olds) took it out this weekend to a pond near us. The wind was blowing a fair amount. We did OK for the first time I think. I was nervous about tipping it however. We never came close but we were constantly having to “balance” it. It made me nervous enough that I would be very worried about taking it into a moving stream. Even though we have PFD I still would not want to dump the kids in moving water.

Here are the questions.

  1. Is this normal for first time canoe experince and will it get better in time.
  2. Is there a way to make the canoe much more stable. I’ve seen the outriggers and do they help?
  3. Can you point me to a good beginners guide to canoeing.

Time in the canoe helps, outriggers

– Last Updated: Apr-21-07 11:47 AM EST –

work, but tend to be a bit expensive. Haven't looked at canoe books in a long time. Very basic are the Red Cross and Boy Scout canoe phamlets, easily obtainable and with some good information.

Myself, I find a 14 footer a bit on the small side for more than two persons, even children the age of yours. Weight affects stability more in the way its placed than in the material of the canoe. Length, width, and design of the canoe are much more important factors.

A couple points

– Last Updated: Apr-21-07 1:26 PM EST –

Most recreational and general-purpose canoes are really quite stable, but they often "seem" a little tippy since the seats are high, relative to the width of the boat, and every little movement you makes cause the boat to tip one way or the other. That's something you'll get used to, and it will stop bothering you. You may want to learn to paddle from a kneeling position, assuming your boat has conventional seats which allow you to do that (molded-in seats don't work for kneeling). Kneeling is a lot more stable, lets you use more of your body to power the paddle, and allows a greater variety of paddle strokes if your skill level advances to that point.

I'm not familiar with the boat you have, and haven't taken the trouble to look up its measurements, but a 14-foot canoe is going to be a bit on the small side for two people or one adult and two kids. A longer boat would feel a lot more stable, even if it might be a couple inches narrower. Time on the water will teach you a lot, and if you get the chance to try out any other canoes after you are pretty familiar with the one you have, that will help too.

I've seen basic canoeing books at Barnes and Noble at times, so I bet if you went to their website and searched for 'canoe' or 'canoeing' you'd find some choices. For more comprehensive advice, Bill Mason's "Path of the Paddle", and Gary and Joanie McGuffin's "Paddle Your Own Canoe" are both excellent books.

One Other Safety Factor…
…to consider is water temperature.

If you live in an area where you get cold water in the spring, early summer or late fall, be very cautious - cold water can disable you, or even kill, very quickly. Children are especially at risk, since they have a high surface area-to-weight ratio and therefore lose body heat more quickly. A good rule of thumb is the “swimming test” - if you wouldn’t want to swim in water of that temperature, you want to give cold water survival some serious thought.

Re stability - others have noted that you’ll get more comfortable as you get more time on the water under your belt. It also helps enormously, especially if things get rough, to keep your weight as low in the canoe as possible - kneeling can make a big difference.

Take it easy at first, watch your weather, and err on the side of caution, and you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Making canoe more stable
Since you have bought the canoe, I won’t get into choices/advantages/ disadvantages of canoes. What you have can work and if you use it frequently you will probably move to longer canoes in the future

My first advice is to pay attention to water temp and protective measures for immersion in cold water. Everything else is small stuff compared to protecting life.

The second piece of advice is to lower center of gravity by kneeling.

The third bit of advise is to consider having a double blade paddle to use if strong wind comes up or for failure of the front motor.


primary stability
is governed more by hull shape than by weight. Whoever sold you that boat really had a line. Weight does displace more water and make the canoe marginallly lower in the water, but its hull shape that rules.

The Adventure 14 is royalex and 56 lbs and has web seats.

The Adventure 16 is that rotomolded thing with the molded seats. Heavy 81 lbs.

Give yourself some practice time, be safe. If you indeed have the 14 it has what is called a shallow arch hull. Its not quite as stable when you get in as a flat bottom, but more importantly it is MORE stable when it starts rolling if you have waves.

Pin that salesman up by the ears.

Clue: It only has 2 seats
That canoe was clearly designed for only two people. You are dangerously overloaded with 3 people.

14 feet long is very short for a tandem (canoe for 2), let alone for 3 people. An adult and two twelve year olds in a MR Adventure 14 is not safe – no way. Danger.

Most tandem canoes for 2 people are 16 feet long. Most canoes used to haul three people are 17 feet or longer.

My answers to your questions:

  1. Yes it’s normal to be a bit twitchy during a first canoe ride, but 3 people in that particular model boat is very overloaded and very unsafe – and yes, very tippy.

  2. You could add outriggers and they will add stability. But they are largely in the way and not needed at all if you have the properly sized boat. Again, a 14 foot canoe is way too short for you and your family. You don’t need outriggers - you need a properly sized boat.

  3. I recommend that everyone getting into canoeing read at least one book on paddling at the beginning and add other titles as time goes by. My recommendation for the first book to read on the topic is “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Joanie and Gary McGuffin.

    Sorry to sound so negative, but my advise would be to get a canoe large enough to safely carry you and your family. - Randall

No canoe is really stable
It sounds like you are just beginning, so paddle in water that is OK to swim in. This should be your first rule. The second rule is to always wear the PFD. Then don’t go out father from shore than you care to swim back.

Keep in mind that no canoe is really stable. YOU provide the stability. You can kneel with your butt against the seat to improve stability. You can sit or even lie in the bottom of the boat to improve stability.

Eventually you will learn that the most stability can be provided by bracing with your paddle in the water. If you are ready with a brace it is hard for a pasenger or a dog to flip the boat. They might fall out but you can keep the boat upright if you brace instead of grab the gunnels.

Spend a lot of time in the boat and you’ll get better. Flip the boat a few times and you’ll realize that is OK too. Don’t paddle ANY moving or cold water until you’ve been checked out by some experienced paddlers.

Answers and Questions
1 Yes, it gets better pretty quickly really. You’ll all feel more comfortable with time in the boat.

2. I’d stay away from the outriggers. They’ll slow your adjustment to the boat. I think they give false security. We used them for year when I was a kid. They might be OK for fishing on a pond, but you don’t want them for serious paddling on lakes or moving water.

3. The books mentioned are good. Also check out the “Guidelines” tab in the left column here on P-net. There are some good starter articles there.

Questions: Which Adventure 14 do you have? Molded seats, 75 lbs. 31" wide? --OR-- is it the royalex boat at 54 lbs. and 38 " width?

Unless I’m mistaken Mad River has called vastly different boats by the same name.

You’ve gotten some good advice above. Hull shape and width are the key to stability. The salesman was probably just trying to make the heavy weight of boat sound like a plus rather than a minus. You might be able to talk the retailer into credit toward another boat if you bought from a reputable place.

Something like an Old Town Camper or even a Wenonah Fisherman if you want to stick with a 14’ boat might work for you. But I agree with Arkay that you’d do well with a 16 footer. Twelve year olds move and grow quickly.

Do wear the pfds and do practice capsizing in a waist deep area of the pond when the water is warm enough. Have fun.

Books are good, but better would be
to take lessons from a certified canoe instructor and/or join a local canoe/kayak club, especially one oriented toward families. If neither is available, an instructional video may help.

i hope you & your boys can swim…
because imo…it could be a very twitchy ride. For the three of you, 17’6" boat would be my minimum length. Best of luck, but in all honesty…I’d try to go longer…


get on your knees for stability
And please make sure the person has a footrest to push with power. www.jj.canoe

www.jj.canoe ???
Whast is www.jj.canoe?

Mad River 14’ Adventure
Double checked my memory with a stop at the local Dick’s Sporting Goods. It is a shorter version of the 16’ Rotomolded canoe. Three seats molded in; no way to kneel but it has cup holders and attached seat backs.

The rounded bottom contour and the molded-in inverted keels add stiffness to the hull, but will make it a bit “lively” with regards to initial stability. That you will get used to with time in the boat.

Three people on the high seats with no gear on the bottom to lower the center of gravity would take even seasoned canoeists a bit of time to get used to the canoe. You didn’t tip, so you did fine.

Best advice i have is to keep your shoulders between the gunwales and concentrate on paddling in unison, smoothly and on opposite sides as much as possible.


Roto 14
When I paddled the new Adventure 14 I was greatly disappointed in the boat. I cannot believe how horrible it was on the water. It was extremely squirrely on the water, worse than some pro boats I’ve paddled. Because of the price and availability at big box stores I was really upset with Mad River building a canoe marketed to beginners which would probably turn them against canoeing the sport and not the canoe.

Now that you own one, I can only tell you to stick with it, you’ll master boat and body control because of your craft and when it is time to upgrade, you will appreciate a well designed hull that much more.

Or try to take it back, complaining
about the bill of goods it was sold under. Sometimes that works, sometimes not.