Grumman vs ABS

I want to buy a new tandem canoe in the near future. For a mid price boat, all the books say royalex is best (more streamlined shape, etc.) For some reason I’m considering buying a 17’ Grumman in the light gauge .040 with a weight of 67#. I know you can’t mold aluminum into as sleek a shape as ABS and it’s noisy. I’m intrigued by the fact that Grumman owners are so fanatical about their boats. I would be paddling on creeks and small rivers in the South (no rocks or rapids). Maybe their is something about the airplane heritage and metal and rivets that guys (and gals) are attracted to. The ABS competition is a 16’ Old Town Penobscot which could be kept in a garage. Any advice about which boat to buy would be appreciated. Demos are out as pretty much everything down here is kayaks. Thanks

From a fellow Grumman-Lover,…

– Last Updated: Feb-14-08 7:00 PM EST –

...I have to admit, the Penobscot is a better boat. I've never paddled a Penobscot, but they are well-liked by some very knowlegable paddlers here.

The biggest difference, performance-wise, between a "good" general-purpose canoe like a Penobscot and a Grumman is that the Grumman has a very flat bottom, and that's not so good for overall handling. A bit of a rounded bottom is much better for most purposes, though it will "feel" a little more tippy at first. Oh yeah, the "other biggest difference" between a Grumman and a better boat is that the Grumman has a keel. A keel isn't good for much unless all you do is paddle wide-open lakes. A keel makes many of the the maneuvers which "make a canoe a canoe" much harder to do. Of course, it also makes going in a straight line easier for beginners. In your case, paddling on those little creeks, I'd recommend a boat with no keel for sure.

Aluminum also hangs up on rocks. Royalex does not. Hit a rock with a Grumman and you are likely to end up sitting on the floor in front of the seat, you stop so fast. Not only does Royalex not stick to rocks, it flexes a bit so if you get high-centered, you can usually work your way free (that's really the only time this amount of little flexibility can be considered a "good" thing). This bit of flex also helps in forcing a boat over logs, so again, it might be helpful in your anticipated paddling situations.

I've only paddled standard Grummans, and the heavy-duty shoe-keeled model which was originally intended for river use. I'm sure the light-duty version dents more easily, but whether that's a problem I can't say. It probably depends on how much the boat bangs into things. If you DO get a Grumman, the shoe-keeled model should be easier to manuever on small creeks than their other models.

Grumman-lovers do love their boats though, and part of the reason is that they are without question the highest-quality aluminum canoes made. I ran into a guy a few years ago who had an aluminum canoe which had all manner of paint blotches on it, and no nametags. I told him that it looked like a Grumman to me. He said yes it was, and that he left it looking so crappy with paint "so no one would recognize it as such and steal it".

Lifetime boat
It may not be the best at anything but it does serve the purpose and it has a lifetime guarantee against puncture. I have a 15’ lightweight .040 thickness model which i’ve had for 14 years now. It’s a good fishing craft which is what i usually use it for.

This boat will outlive me and be passed onto my grandson someday. I know a lot of people are not into aluminum but this boat will last my lifetime and beyond. It is what it is.

That’s a good point
Not everyone needs a canoe that “performs” well if it gets them where they need to go. There’s also a lot to be said for a boat that doesn’t need its long-term storage location to be out of the sun. For some people, that’s a big advantage.

Grumman Canoes
Millions of us learned to paddle at Scout Camp in a Grumman. Thousands of those same canoes are still being used at the same Scout Camps by the third generation of paddlers. Many have been in service for 50 years now. There are no ABS canoes that can make that statement.

There are drawbacks to aluminum and there are strengths that no other canoe has.

As to paddling traits, the keel can be a disadvantage in flowing water, it also is the first thing to rub against the bottom and in many instances protects the hull from contact. The hull does dent and tend to stick to submerged rocks upon impact. It will also scrape along rocks that can cut thru an inexpensive plastic or fiberglass hull.

The hull shape of a Grumman is not as efficient as a well made composite canoe, and is less efficient than the Penobscot, but going with the current on a creek or slow river, there is very little difference. The Grumman will easily out turn the Penobscot, even with the bulb or T keel. It has much more rocker. It does have a more flattened bottom profile giving it more initial stability and less final stability than the Penobscot. But it is not an easy canoe to capsize. There are many photos of Boy Scouts standing on the gunwales in an attempt to capsize a heavy Grumman in Canoeing Merit Badge class.

One of the biggest advantages to the Grumman is the lack of care needed. It can sit in the hot sun all summer, the cold snow all winter, and not deteriorate like an ABS or composite hull. UV and heat kill plastics, not aluminum.

Aluminum is hot in the summer, and cold in the winter since it is such a good conductor of heat. But some outdoor carpet in the bottom of the hull, and some padding on the seats can cure that.

It is a good investment, 50 year old Grummans sell for far more than the orginal price, and chances are you will recover your investment when you sell.

If it feels like the right move, buy the Grumman. If your paddling experiences show you that another type of canoe is better, you can trade up or keep the Grumman like lots of people as the “beater” canoe to lend to friends and use when the water is low and you don’t want to scrape up your “good” canoe.


Not a canoeist but
I’m with you on the mechanical appearance of aluminum and rivets plus the recollection of childhood memories and dreams of owning one…which I never did.

Grumman vs ABS
One thing I forgot to mention. I still have my aluminum pole from the 70’s. Would it be possible to stand up in a Penobscot and pole? I know you can in a Grumman. The Sylvester family put out a book on poling and as I recall quite a few of the canoes featured in the book were Grummans. Pat

I have a Beletz pole also. I think you
could pole a 16’ Penobscot, but the 17 would be better, and neither would be my first choice. I had an OT Tripper that was a wonderful poling boat, except for its weight.

Actually, aluminum CAN be pressed
into fast shape, as shown by boats made for marathon racing down in Texas where (one guesses) the “aluminum” class is hotly contested.

Welded aluminum
The Beaver Canoe was a handmade marathon racing aluminum hull that was essentially an 18 Jensen in aluminum. Very light, very fast. But handmade and much more expensive than a riveted Grumman.

With the newer welding equipment it is possible to weld the thin skins for a hull and the shaping of aluminum has progresssed way past what was available in the late 40’s when the Grumman equipment was designed.

Those Texas Water Safari guys are like religious zealots in their pursuit of speed in their race; the boats used in that race are not used in many other places. Typically much longer and narrower than allowed by the rules in USCA or ACA races.


Something to consider
about alum. vs. royalex…if you want to see wildlife, royalex is much quieter…not in the paddling part, but when you are moving gear, putting down paddles, etc…almost no noise whereas aluminum can be very loud with even the slightest contact with any gear. It also doesn’t feel as cold in cold weather/water.

Manuverability and poling
I don’t know the Grumman but the Penobscot is not an easy turning boat.

It’s also low on initial stability which might make it feel pretty tender when you are standing.

Personaly I’d prefer the Penobscot but for what you are asking the Grumman might be better.

As mentioned above…
They are real boogers at sticking to submerged rocks. Also expect that beautiful finish with all those rivets to be ugly as heck if you paddle it down rocky creeks. Speaking from experience on that. It’s painful to see those long scratch/dents get created. Especially knowing they wont go away with a little heat from the sun.

I once bought 3 of these aluminum beauties from a wilderness camp I worked at in GA for a rediculous price of $130 for all three. What a buy that was.

A creek with no rocks is a pretty rare thing.

If I were taking a boat in a creek I definitely would not want a Grumman. I have one. It was my first canoe. Or should I say the first canoe I paddled. It was my dads, but I have it now.

It’s over 30 years old and I know that no Royalex boat would last that long. The things are durable.

But it sits in my backyard. I can’t think of any time I’d rather use it than my MR Explorer. The Grumman paddles like a bathtub and if it’s windy forget it. The high front and back catch the breeze like a sail, but usually blow you the wrong way.

The only reason I haven’t sold it is because I like to have an extra for boatless friends who might want to join me on a paddling trip (But they get the Grumman, heheheh).

On the river you can hear the aluminum boats way before you can see them, so your opportunities to see wildlife on your trips will be minimal.

I, too, started in a 17’ Grumman
Lately, I have been paddling Royalex and Kevlar, but break the Grumman out a few times a year. they all have their place.

I try to take it out when the water is up, or when I’m repairing one of the other boats. Everyone gets a kick out of the thunderous sound when running rapids. It’s a classic!

Recall the ABS boat Grumman briefly
marketed? Late 70s I think. Saw only one “in the flesh.”

Aluminum, Royalex,Kevlar, and Graphite
Like most of the posters herein I started my canoeing experience in a seventeen foot Grumman Aluminum Canoe. As soon as I could afford fiberglass or Kevlar I moved up the line. Still can’t afford a Graphite but would get one if I could afford it.

Aluminum canoes are the lowest level of canoeing experience. If you are paddling in a hot climate an aluminum canoe will fry your body. I have seen people with severe second degree burns from paddling all day in high heat in a Grumman canoe. They are also cold to paddle in low temperatures. You get what you pay for. For a family canoe which can take abuse, is difficult to tip over, and takes very little upkeep the Grumman will fit the bill. The Penobscot 17 is a stable canoe with a proven history for all around use. A couple of other choices to consider are the We no nah Boundary Waters 17 which is also a stable canoe with capacity, and the Nova Prospector 17. These canoes come in Royalex, Kevlar, and Graphite models which seriously effect the prices. Royalex has a built in insulating effect and increased floatation. Kevlar is lighter and very rugged for river use. Graphite is your lightest type canoe, but you pay for it. Those doing lots of portaging find them useful.

With all that can be said for AL, it’s
a very hot boat. I actually burnt my hand on mine.

Rare boat indeed
I have never seen their ABS experiment, but did paddle the 18’ orange/red fiberglass Grumman. It was very well built, good efficient hull that was similar to an 18 Sundowner, but very heavy for fiberglass and way overpriced.

While Grumman aerospace owned the boatworks, the technology was available to build canoes from some very exotic materials. Maybe out there somewhere is a titanium honycomb canoe hull??


i have one
I bought a royalex green grumman a few years ago. Its from '79 and has solid aluminum gunnels - we had to patch a small spot as a previous owner used it for whitewater and it looked like a tear. It also has aluminum keel strips. I only used it once but it feels different (tender) from our of same year 15ft aluminum grumman. I was going to sell it as we kayak mostly but it is still a nice canoe and sturdily built for those who are afraid of our extra kayaks. Our newer tub coleman has a wavy hull but the grumman royalex looks perfect!