family canoe advice please!

Canoes are dying out in CA
Honestly you don’t see many canoes in California, most people go with kayaks, since they can be used on our enormous, easily accessed coastline. Lakes and gentle rivers in California are not that abundant except for a small slice of the state.

The Load

– Last Updated: Feb-27-13 5:54 PM EST –

The issues with your potential load have more to do with the number of moving entities, 5, not the weight. A larger than average hull is indicated for that reason.

Because both adults are compact, tumblehome in the sides extending towards the stems would help both adults employing vertical shafts during forward strokes.

A third seat installed at the third thwart position will allow both kids to sit, hopefully the pup will stay put on a pad on the other side of the center thwart.

And, you mention weight, twice. Of course 60 lbs is not a lightweight canoe. For a real lightweight, say 35-45 lbs, a top end composite is indicated. These are not inexpensive

Used Bell NorthWinds, and NorthWoods should be under consideration, 45-55 lbs depending on lamination and trim.

Swift's newish Keewaydin 17 has the most tumblehome available after the Bells and can be had in the 35# range due to infused lamination and integral rail system.

For more stability several builders have 17 ft Prospectors all of which should have tumblehome. I'm uninterested in Prospector design variation, but Swift's will be the lightest.

Others much more knowledgeable than I have weighed in on boat choices, so I’ll stick to something else that’s bugging me. If you’re limited to a sixty pound boat you’re pretty limited. Why not invest in a skeleton to take the weight off the camper shell? That would be advantageous for a number of reasons.

Preventing scratches and dings
I would never again put skid plates on a canoe, particularly not on a lake canoe. Ugly. Expensive. Heavy. Unnecessary.

Sometimes you can’t avoid banging into things on the water, but that mainly happens in rivers and moving currents. Lake boats can last for centuries.

The way to avoid scratching and dinging an expensive composite canoe near shore or on land is to avoid touching land or other solid objects. You don’t ram your boat up on shores or drag it along the ground. Canoeing is a WATER sport. You get wet. You enter and exit your canoe from the WATER if there is not a convenient, non-scratchy way to do so from land. When carrying a canoe, you put it down into, and pick it up from, the water. That way, its finish can last for decades.

Here is a video showing wet entry and pickup of a canoe in a tripping and portaging context, but the same concepts apply when you are just moving your canoe between your Hummer and your local day trip boat ramp.

Yes for the skidplates…and a thin layr
of foam will please the dog immensely as well as preserving the interior hull. You Wanna go big…20’+ tandem. The added volume will make for a happier crew…

especially with the whole family wanting the dog to come along. Skidplates do add to less glide but the more beachings with an idea to do something, a nature walk or just to relieve themselves…or stretch, the happier daytrip it usually is…


Ultralight Kevlar Spirit II
The Spirit II will fill your needs better than any other hull mentioned. The Ultralight layup is not as fragile as others make it out to be. I’ve put thousands of race miles on Ultra-light Kevlar Wenonahs from 16’ solos to a 23’ Minnesota IV. Landings during races are not made cautiously. Most are made at speed. None of my canoes has suffered damage requiring more than an epoxy putty repair to fill in a chipped bow. Paddle reasonably and it will last as long as you are able to paddle. I still have a 1983 Spirit that has taken me and 4 kids fishing and camping, has been raced dozens of times and run into rocks at full race speed and survived it all.

Try to find one with sliding seats bow and stern, a laminated, padded yoke; and aluminum trim. You can add seats for the youngest, or just let them sit on the cooler and hand out the drinks.

The Kingfisher is extra stable, large volume and wider at the paddling stations than the Spirit II.

At your weight load, you don’t need its volume.

The Minnesota II is fast, narrow, and reasonably stable. It is big to load and store. It will overhang your truck cap 10’ even with an 8’ box.

The Champlain is a big Spirit II.

The Itasca is really big. Nice paddling and very stable with a big load. Even in UL Kevlar it will stretch your 50# limit.


above math is off
We have a Wenonah Odyssey…18.5 feet and a truck cap with an eight foot box. The racks are all on the cap. Divide 10.5 by two and you have 5 feet not eight.

Still a consideration when parking and backing into spaces and on the highway.

However with that length the boat tends to torque when empty; meaning that time all the kids and the dog didn’t go. It can then be a handful and to some not all that stable.

For the type of tripping you do, 17 foot general purpose boat like the Spirit II would be fine.

If you can I would take a little BC road trip. You can try a Clipper and under NAFTA there is no duty. You can bring one home to California from Canada without penalty.

Thanks for all the suggestions and comments. I think my first move is to try to find something used and cheap locally (anything 17 ft+ under 60 ls that looks like it’ll float maybe?) and see how that goes. Of course I probably will fail to find anything. But I WILL look, and I am less picky if I’m not paying new prices.

For local use (no highway), we would carry the canoe on a small car, probably with little red flags. Or with a goal post-style hitch receiver thingy on the pickup (the truck is ~ 22 ft long, 6.5’ bed so I guess I would reuse the little red flags). We’d carry it on the camper for long trips. The camper roof is about 14.5 ft long with crossbars 6 feet apart. So again, a red flag unless I hang it over the nose of the truck. I think I almost have to have the boat to figure this out.

But I’m sure we can transport anything (though we will certainly look ridiculous) with some planning.

We should be able to store just about any canoe by hanging it in the garage if…it’s not too heavy. :slight_smile:

MR Explorer vs. Wenonah Sprit II
I will use these two boats to illustrate three design aspects that are important to me. The Explorer is superior in all three aspects, in my opinion, but only because they are more conducive to my paddling style and favored waters. Other paddlers could reach opposite conclusions, but these design aspects are at least something to think about for a new buyer.

  1. Secondary stability – I like a canoe that has progressively increasing secondary stability all the way up to the point where the rail is buried. You need this kind of confidence in solid rail-burying secondary stability in white water – to peel into and out of eddies, to lean upstream, and to take waves sideways when you are cutting laterally across a turbulent river. The Explorer has this kind of secondary stability, and it has been a very popular and reliable canoe, both tandem and solo, for whitewater river running and whitewater river expeditions for 30 years.

    I am not an expert on Wenonahs, but most of the ones I have tried, possibly not including the Spirit II, do not have progressive-to-the-rail secondary stability. With their bubbled sides and tumblehomed gunwales, most of the ones I’ve paddled have a maximum secondary stability point about 3" or 4" from the rail, after which they go OOPS. This is consistent with their primary role as flat water cruising and racing canoes. I don’t think I have ever seen a serious whitewater tandem team in a Wenonah canoe.

  2. Seats – I like webbed seats (preferably with contoured front rails, a la the Conk seat), which allow me to kneel or sit. I am primarily a kneeler. The Explorer has webbed seats (or maybe cane). All the composite (but not Royalex) Wenonah Spirit II’s I have seen have tractor seats. Tractor seats, like tumblehomed sides, are consistent with flat water cruising and racing using a sit 'n switch paddling style. I prefer the kneeling and correction stroke paddling style, with occasional sit 'n switching, and therefore don’t like most tractor or bucket seats. (The exception is the Deal kneeling bucket seat on the Hemlock SRT.)

  3. Ability to Solo – There are five reasons why the Explorer, in my opinion, is a superior solo canoe than the Spirit II when paddled stern first (i.e., without installing a center seat). First, you can’t sit backwards in a bow tractor seat at all. Second, even if you could sit backwards in a Wenonah bow seat, the Spirit II has a thwart directly behind the bow seat, which I don’t like in any tandem. Third, the Explorer has a more symmetrical sheer line than the Spirit II, and hence should be able to handle waves better when paddled stern first. Fourth, the Explorer is simply more maneuverable for a solo paddler because it is a foot shorter. Fifth, the more solid secondary stability of the Explorer allows a solo paddler to bury the off-side rail with more confidence than a Spirit II in order to reach the water with cross strokes and braces.

    The Spirit II is likely faster than an Explorer on flat water, especially when paddled sit 'n switch. Many paddlers like tractor seats better than web or cane. Many paddlers like sit paddling more than kneel paddling. Many paddlers have no interest in burying a rail in order to turn. Many paddlers have no interest in paddling whitewater.

    Therefore, the three design aspects discussed above are more or less important, or can flip in importance, depending on what kind of water you paddle and what kind of paddling style you like to employ.

Another to toss in
I haven’t paddled it yet, but it looks very nice and you can get a light version.

Novacraft Cronje 17. 1000lb cap. 35" max beam. Looks like a great boat.

Just be sure to modify that load limit

– Last Updated: Mar-03-13 12:53 PM EST –

Some canoe companies have a method for calculating load capacity that is not even remotely realistic for most uses. Those that do so, including Old Town, Grumman, and apparently Nova Craft, invariably end up with a load rating of around half a ton for any 17-foot canoe. I think this usually is based on a freeboard of 6 inches, at which point the boat becomes quite a slug, can't tolerate anything but very small waves and must be kept nearly level at all times as well, and also has much-reduced stability (think how unstable a canoe is when it's almost swamped - one that's loaded to the point of being "halfway there" is well on its way toward that degree of stability).

The Bell Canoe website is still active, even though the company is kaput. A good way to estimate load capacity for any given model is to go to the Bell site, find a canoe with similar dimensions as the one in question, and see how deeply the Bell model sinks into the water at various loads. The comparison won't be perfect, but it will be close enough for any practical consideration.

Note that they DO provide the load at 6 inches of freeboard, but the information on loads resulting in 2-inch, 3-inch, and 4-inch waterlines (depth to which the canoe settles into the water) are far more informative, as well as being within what's actually a "useful" range of total load to carry. Why other canoe companies don't publish such specs is beyond me.

thanks for the warning about the weight capacities. That’s sort of interesting and kinda good to keep in mind!

Wenonah Seneca
I’ve had one for 3 years and my family and I love it. Too bad you’re in CA, I’d let you try it out. I have a 4 and 7 year old and a wife who packs too much. No problem, great boat. You won’t be disappointed with it. If I could I would post pictures that would make you believe. Good luck with it all!


Might wanna think about the height of

– Last Updated: Mar-07-13 10:58 AM EST –

the seat(s) for your kids. Going as low as possible...with the most comfortable(granted) is the way to go to preserve stability....will make the stability issue more mute....imho. I haven't been checking out the market lately...but years ago many of the stock "extra" seats were pretty high...just adding more if choices are between height and convenience, dropping in a seat from the gunwale just takes a little planning but makes for a lower, more efficient seat...stability-wise. The parts are out there for easy purchase.
Pics when purchased!...especially relating to camping in the canoe(or did I misinterpret that part;-))

There are some river estuaries in CA
and in OR that are suitable for canoes. From my experience on part of the Trinity, I could get my wife and grandchildren down OK. In OR one has the lower Rogue, the Umpqua, the Chetco. Plus some large lakes in both states.

Thing about kayaks is, you can’t put a family in one, and my kids would not have been ready for individual kayaks until they were at least eight. Not if they were going to be on the ocean or the easy parts of the Trinity.

For serious ocean paddling, kayaks are virtually essential. But damn, that water is cold! I’d rather walk the beach.

Yes! but not as much as you would think
I took the Supernova on a trip with a couple of other guys. I asked how we were traveling, light or heavy. They said heavy. Wow were we ever.

The Supernova is rated at 850lb… I think that is about 200 lb more than is truly feasible. I was loaded with me and gear to around 500lbs and I had no problems at all even in the class II+ stuff.

I stand by what I said re 6" freeboard

– Last Updated: Mar-07-13 10:41 AM EST –

A canoe loaded to have only six inches of freeboard is greatly overloaded according to any practical perspective. Sure, you can paddle it but it's a long way from being an enjoyable situation. When loaded to that degree, the boat has so much inertia that it can't rise up quickly enough to keep up with rising waves, and by the same token, any downward motion that develops at one end of the boat as a wave passes won't easily be brought to a stop by the boat's buoyancy. Both situations lead to very small waves easily overtopping the gunwales. However, a lightly loaded boat with very low sides could still ride up and over waves just fine, so it's not just the freeboard itself. The whole nature of the boat changes with that kind of load, and this problem is much more pronounced with with tandem canoes than with solo canoes.

Also, having so much of the hull underwater doesn't just mean bottoming-out on obstacles, it means creating any sideways motion of the boat takes enormous effort. Clearly sideslipping is no longer an option, but even pivoting requires the ends to side-slip and normal steering requires the stern to side-slip, so the boat becomes nothing but a freighter in terms of the things it can do. Putting that kind of load in a canoe is outside the realm of "paddling" and within the realm of "getting a job done". It's like the story I heard about a guy who couldn't get permission to drive a small tractor to his land on the end of a peninsula on Lake Wisconsin many years ago. He rigged a platform across two small rowboats and floated it there. They had about 4 inches of freeboard and therefore did the trip at dawn when the lake was like a mirror. That wasn't "boating", that was "working". Boating is fun, working is not.

As on other example, for a lightweight, not particularly powerful person like myself, even adding 50 or 60 pounds to my Odyssey 14 really "anchors" the stems in the water and turns it into a completely different kind of boat. I wouldn't enjoy trying to do strong maneuvers with that boat with anything remotely close to the "practical" load limit, let alone the load at 6 inches of freeboard.

I don't know for certain that Nova Craft uses six-inch freeboard as their definition of maximum load. I only assumed this to be true based on your statement that one of their full-size tandems is rated for 1,000 pounds. In any case, it occurs to me that this whole concept is purely academic for smaller people like the OP and her paddling partner. When Rena and I go car-camping, our whole load (the two of us plus all of our gear, which is far more than we'd ever try to fit in a boat) adds up to about half of this supposed 1,000-pound weight limit, while two larger paddlers with NO gear could easily equal that same weight.

Load ratings
Swift canoe has a very good rating system for each of their canoes.

just find the boat that’s most similar to what you’re looking for, click on it and on the left side you will find the specs, they list “industry standard” and “optimum” loads; the load the boat was designed to handle comfortably and still maintain peak performance.

Some of the numbers will surprise you.

Thanks guys…
Thanks for helping me with this y’all. I know it’s not exactly possible to pick out someone else’s canoe but this discussion is helpful!

Bilnik, you may own the only Seneca ever! :slight_smile: Does it paddle okay empty with only 2 adults?

We’ll keep the kids on the floor for now. When they’re older we can think about a third seat for paddling. We might be nice and get them a pad or something.

Might consider drop in seats.
Not too expensive and put the occupying butt fairly low in the boat I think.