First Canoe Buying Advice

Hello All,

I am looking to purchase my first canoe.
I have done a bunch of searching, but can’t quite seem to find the answer or the threads are old back when royalex was an option.
Here is what I am looking to do with the canoe.

  1. Paddle solo, perhaps take some overnight trips.
  2. Paddle tandem with my wife.
  3. Paddle Solo with wife and 1 year old daughter in boat.
  4. paddle with just daughter and I as she gets a bit older.

Live in Michigan and looking to paddle rivers and lakes/ponds around the state. Possibly some mild whitewater when the little one gets older.

I have some paddling experience but not much and have never owned a boat.
Also interested in doing some poling.

As for budget I am thinking ~$1000-1500. I was looking at the old town discovery 158 or the novacraft prospector 15/16 @ right around $1000. Not sure if they are the right options .

Thanks for helping point me in the right direction, and let me know if I provide additional info that would be helpful.


Both are reasonable choices but will be heavy. Both are good tandems but may not be the best as solos especially if you are a smaller person. Classifieds has a Kevlar Explorer for same at an exceptional price in Ohio. If you are in Southern Michigan consider connection with the Lansing Oar And Paddle Club (LOAPC). Good folks and we do quite a few Recreational trips.

May I suggest a used tandem canoe around 16 feet. Buy one made of fiberglass or kevlar and it will be lighter and travel better.

Avoid plastic boats, names you have never heard of, and short canoes.
There is no perfect canoe. You may sell yours and trade up or trade sideways. A used canoe is easy to get the money back.

I have paddled large tandem boats solo for years. It is not that hard.

I agree with ppine that a general purpose canoe around 16 feet should work well. A 15 would be OK if you and your wife are small to medium size.

It would be good to know how much you weigh and how much your whole family weighs together (the lightest and heaviest load for the canoe) so we don’t recommend anything too small or too big.

Do you know how heavy of a boat you’d be comfortable lifting and loading? That can make a real difference in how much you use the boat.

Prospectors are versatile. A 15 would be relatively slow and some folks get frustrated trying to make them go straight. Solo you might get blown around on windy days. But great for rivers with moving water. Fine choice if the tradeoffs are acceptable for you. You can often find Royalex Old Town Campers used and that would be perfect for everything but whitewater (OK for very mild whitewater) if the 59 pound weight is OK for you. The flat bottom makes them very stable and they paddle quite efficiently. You can often find clean used ones for $800-1000.

I’m almost as new to canoeing as you and been away from boating for a good while, but getting back into it with my first canoe this coming spring and summer. Living in a similar climate to you I’m also more than ready to take advantage of some of the nice spring weather with an eye on the still cold water temps.

I have been thinking about a canoe for very much the same things you are interested in minus a one year old and my primary usage will be as a solo as she is getting a kayak in a couple weeks, but we will paddle tandem some, and when not I will be packing most of the gear.

An opportunity came along for a used deal from a neighbor on his OT guide 147 so I grabbed it. After I got it home I started understanding just how heavy a 3 layer poly tandem canoe is at 14’7” let alone 16’.

I stared really looking at what I want to do and the type of usage I will be giving it. I have no desire to hoist it overhead and tote it around obstacles thru the woods. I can lift it and get it on the car myself at about 80 lbs but it is not fun and nothing I want to do at the end of a long day on a river or fishing an inland lake. I bought an inexpensive canoe/kayak dolly that straps around the middle and it works great for moving the boat even filled with all our gear ready to go in the water. I figured out a way to make loading it on the car pretty easy. There are a lot of ways and do some searching and see what is best for you.

In my case and my usage the difference of 30 lbs in weight of the empty boat now didn’t make much of a difference. For others with different desires 30 lbs would be a massive difference.

These boats really mean different things to different people and the designs cross over in a lot of areas.

Be safe and plan ahead when and where to include the baby. Cya on the water.

@rival51 Thanks for the heads up on the classifieds going to go take a look at that kevlar explorer.

@TomL I am about 200lbs all together we would be about 350lbs with the little one growing fairly rapidly of course.
I am not sure how much I would be comfortable loading since I have never had to do it but lifting over 100lbs of weights overhead is not an issue.

@bud16415 I saw a few of your loading pics, like the creativity. I can definitely see a lighter weight canoe being beneficial. Especially if I ever come across an unexpected portage when solo.

Yes if there is the element of unexpected in your plans and going solo overnight will also involve packing your gear on foot as well as the canoe weight of it all will factor in.

For myself I will always try and understand all the conditions I can ahead of time and I don’t think I would be doing any multi-day trips alone anyway.

Sounds like in your case the cost for the lesser weight may well be the way to go.

As your little one gets bigger in a year or two you can look at adding some kind of removable 3rd seat in the center.

You will want something that can be paddled backwards when solo and with a bow seat that won’t seemed too cramped for your wife when going tandem. That was the biggest problem I saw with the OT guide 147. Both of us said we couldn’t picture being in that seat very long and being comfortable. From what I can see is when they add that extra couple feet in length they can make that bow seat location a little roomier. That’s mainly the reason I got rid of that seat and switched to kayak paddles and added the second seat as a bench for the times we will just take one boat.

A 15 would handle your loads pretty easily and you should be fine with boats around 60 pounds or so. So either a 15 or 16 should work and I’d still lean towards a 16. I haven’t paddled a Nova Craft P15 but if you can test paddle it and you like it that could be a good boat and the price point is attractive. I still think a used Royalex Old Town Camper would be a hood choice if you can find one used…you might have to drive a few hours to get one (there’s one on craigslist in Grand Rapids I think but the asking price is way too high).

For Michigan rivers, and eventually whitewater (Pine and Pere Marquette), I would highly recommend a 16 foot, Royalex canoe. Royalex went out in 2013, so find one from before that year. I own two 16 foot Old Town Penobscots from the late '90s, and I’ve used them heavily. They can take a beating, they will glide over rocks, and they come in at 59 pounds. I would highly recommend. BTW, on Old Towns, the last two numbers of the hull ID are the year of manufacture.