First canoe: the good, bad, and ugly

My wife and I are “Lily dipper” skill level kayakers (took the first class at Sweetwater, can do self and assisted rescues, wet exits, basic strokes, etc)with Impex 16’ class sea kayaks which are gross overkill for most of where we go.

I have a chronic lower back condtion that limits the amount of time I can be in the ‘yak without pain.

I’ve tried just about every seating configuration I can think of that will fit in my boat (Diamante) to get around it, with limited success.

I have considered going back to some form of SOT boat for myself, as our Hobies didn’t beat me up like the SINK boat does. Carol is OK with her Montauk.

I just came across a couple of late model used canoes for a pretty low price. Haven’t seen them as yet, but they are 15’ and 16.5’ respectively.

Hull material unknown at this time.

Question: Is there any particular hull design, material, or feature that you should just avoid like the plague no matter HOW low the price, or good the condition of the canoe?

Same question for the paddles.

Our intended use would be for quiet sheltered water areas, most of which have pretty low water level at this time due to our drought situation.

I know this is asking for either:

  1. TOO much information, and/or
  2. To start a range war between the proponents of various boats.

    I intend neither, but am honestly looking to come up with a canoe style which is:
  3. Not TOO heavy (subjective, and inversely related to cost, I know)
  4. Equipped with reasonably comfortable seats, including the option to kneel, if possible.
  5. Not an absolute “slug” in the water.

    So, some general “get this and avoid that because” type of info would be appreciated.

    The canoe will probably never replace the 'yaks completely, as we like to do some open water paddling on the Indian and Banana rivers, and the weather can jump you out there sometimes. I don’t have any confidence in being able to right and reboard a canoe in deep water.




Sounds like

– Last Updated: May-04-07 2:34 PM EST –

you already have some idea of the tradeoffs. Weight becomes an issue if you're cartopping, especially if you already have back trouble.

Aluminum has the great virtue of being able to sit outside for decades without major deterioration. Aluminum canoes are cold in cold water, noisy, and stick to rocks. Not my first choice.
Polyethylene will handle a lot of abuse, but poly canoes are heavy for their size. Fine if you live near the water or have help loading & unloading, but not the best for cartopping.
Royalex is the material of choice for river & whitewater canoes. It's lighter and stiffer than polyethylene while still having excellent impact resistance.
The lightest and generally highest-performance canoes will be composite contruction.

I probably would not buy an aluminum or poly canoe over 15' if I was cartopping it. I'd be wary of a canoe with a very wide, flat bottom, because the great initial stability can hide interesting behavior as the gunnel nears the water. I'd be wary of a beamy canoe if I was planning on soloing it. I wouldn't buy a heavily rockered river boat if I were planning on paddling mostly flatwater, or vice versa. Molded contoured seats limit your seating options, such as soloing reversed in the bow seat, but are usually easily replaced. Kneeling thwarts and center seats can be added for more versatility. There's a wide variety of add-on seat cushions and backs available. Some folks here with back problems have found happiness in solo canoes with added backbands and footbraces.

The post above pretty much
covers it all.

For the paddling that you describe, if it was me, my preference would be for a kevlar boat first, fiberglass second, royalex third and polyethelyne(plastic) last.

They also cost in that order to with the kevlar being the mos expensive and the plastic the least.

Normally they are weighted in the same order with the kevlar the lightest and the plastic the heaviest.

With all that said, the plastic is the toughest, but if you like your boat you will take care of whatever it is made out of.

I didn’t include aluminum in the gang since they are pretty cold in the colder weather and I also didn’t include a wood stripper.

Let us know what you get, and good luck.



Solo canoe?
If your wife likes her kayak get yourself a nice solo canoe. Something 13’ to 17’ long and 26" to 32" wide with a bench seat so you can kneel and sit as comfort dictates.

Do a search on solos and check the buyers guides and reviews to get an idea of what there is.

Good Luck,


Paddle the canoes in question. If you like the way it handles and feels, isn’t too heavy for you to manage and the price is what you are willing to pay it really doesn’t matter what others think.

If it works for you, go out and enjoy the boat.

So true
If we all liked the same things it would be a dull world.

If you are handy
They have some great solo canoe plans available on the internet. I would recommend the Merlin or 38 special from Northwest canoe shop. Mine is light, does great in wind(compared to a comp-cruiser.) And handles bass boat wakes with a flick of the hips!. Cost would be below royalex if you rip your own strips out of planks.


Denver NC

Thanks to all for the tips!
Carol and I went out for about 2.5 hours on Saturday, with out of boat breaks about every 50 minutes or so.

That went a LONG way towards relieving the worst pain, but such breaks aren’t always possible on any given trip.

We saw a Nordkapp boat set up in a way that might just work for me.

The owner had glued together 2" thick blocks of Minicell foam building forward from the bulkhead behind the seat.

The foremost block came right up against the back of the seat base, and extended up to flush with the top of the coaming, with the top edge rounded off.

That looks very much like something I could do with my Diamante, and it should really support the critical area of my back, and not move around as I get in and out of the boat.

Now to find a good (read: relatively inexpensive) source for thick Minicell!


If no local source