Help me select a watercraft, please.


I would like to get out on the water. But, not sure what type of boat I need.

Short personal history. I am 6’5" and 300 pounds. Not very fat , just big. I broke my back a few years ago in a auto crash. As a result, I can’t stand up for very long or sit on a seat without back support. My back needs strengthened and I think paddling should do the trick.

I enjoy the outdoors and camp every chance I get. What I would like to do is take a boat around some of the lakes in colorado or elsewhere and fish and camp. I don’t plan or want to do any whitewater. I can camp for several days with 50# of gear.

I think a canoe would fit my needs best, except for the seating arrangement. Sit in-side kayaks look like they are for the young. The sit on-top kayaks look alot better to me. I have been looking at the Mad River website and really like the Synergy 14 Kayak. However, I am not sure about the cargo capacity and they are discontinued.

My questions are - Is there a seat with a back available to be put into a canoe? Would single paddling a canoe or double paddling a kayak be easier on my back? For my purposes and limitations, canoe with different seat or kayak?

Thanks in advance for any advice. There is no place around here to try out different boats. So, I will get some advice then make a purchase.

Thanks again,


I have felt your pain for years.
The most comfortable seat I have found is in Wilderness Systems Tarpon series SOT.The 160 will handle your size.The new Tarpons are dry rides and the Phase 3 seat is outstanding.

SOT are easy to get on and off of.Their main drawback is weight. With a bad back,you do not want to lift one.Best way around that is a trailer or a bed extender rack if you have a P/U.

seat backs
Someone will disagree but seat backs have little to do with your back hurting while paddling. Seat backs are for resting, not paddling. I would say canoe for someone in your position. It will allow infinitely more positions to lessen the back pain, and lugging gear is simplified. There are tons of good entry solo canoes. Someone will have specifics.

Ryan L.

Related Advice Comes First
You say you want to choose a boat based on people’s recommendations, then buy it without trying it. I can understand why you feel that way, but since you are talking about fitting the boat to the condition of your back, I think you should do SOMETHING to help decide what works best for your back even if you can’t try out boats. It would be a shame to buy a boat and then find that your back doesn’t like it. I’m thinking at the very least, you might try to duplicate the seating positions of canoes versus kayaks with whatever materials you can make use of. Of course, trying boats would be that much better. Would it be possible to rent a few different boats to get an idea what you are getting into?

Here’s another thing you might not have thought of. I don’t know if it will work this way for you, but there are lots and lots of people who’s backs give them problems when sitting in a low kayak seat with their legs out in front of them, AND there are lots and lots of people who have trouble sitting in back-less canoe seats for the same reason, but very few people have back problems when KNEELING in a canoe. If you can kneel, with your feet under the seat and your butt on the front edge of the seat, this MIGHT be your ticket to more-comfortable boating. Of course, your knees and ankles will need a break now and then, but that can be done either by sitting OR by staying put but extending just one leg in front of you at a time.

There are probably other things to consider, but I thought that might be worth mentioning, since hardly anything is more debilitating than an injured back. Most other injuries are a lot easier to put-up with or compensate for, but I think you want to “get it right” when you choose your boat in this case.

I agree with…
everything you said. I think one key to lessening the impact on one’s back while paddling is to be able to change positions frequently. Kneeling to sitting. Feet out front with legs almost straight, then knees bent in normal seating position. Being able to get in and out as easily as possible. Leaning back on a seat back, then sitting more straight up.

To do all that, I think you need a canoe. Kayaks don’t give you as many position options. Seat backs may not do all that much for a bad back, but they do allow for changing sitting positions from straight up to leaning back. But you really need a rigid seat back. I made my own, but you can order one for cane type bench seats from Old Town or Piragis Northwoods, among other places.

For a guy the size you are, you’ll need one of the larger solo canoes. If you can afford it, you should be able to get one of the Kevlar type solos that will still weigh less than 40 pounds and make it easier on your back to handle, no matter how you transport it.


– Last Updated: Jun-03-11 9:15 AM EST –

Have you looked at the Adventure series from Mad River? I saw those at a show and seemed like an interesting kayak-canoe hybrid crossover.

Bad back is tough, my wife has some nerve issues with her back so we test drove a few different boats to be sure it worked with her back. Even if you have to drive a ways away to a smaller paddle shop that offers demos it would be worth the trip.

We have a WS Pamlico 135T tandem with those Phase 3 seats mentioned by earlier poster and it's been fine on her back. Our tandem can also be paddled solo too plus has some of the easy access with the big cockpit but best kept in more sheltered waters.

The WS Commander is another cross-over yak that might be of interest.

As far as loading/unloading goes it can be done but you'll have to come up with a system of only lifting one side of the kayak at a time. I do all the loading/unloading our our tandem (70lbs) onto the our pickup using the tailgate. There are various things that rack companies make to assist plus kayak wheels might help. There are times I do have to lift the boat myself to do short moves around but I use my shoulder to carry load.

I would look hard at a solo canoe. You can kneel or sit and with a simple web seat it is easy to strap on a seat with a back rest.

Not to be argumentative, but I have
owned 2 solo canoes, one with a tractor seat,and one with a specialty seat; a tandem canoe with bench seats, a sea kayak, a rec kayak, and 4 (yes 4) SOT. Three of the SOT were Tarpons as is the one I still have.

For a large person with back issues, the one that gives you the most freedom of movement and ease of entering and exiting is a SOT.In no other boat can you hang your legs off the side and stretch.

As a qualifier,I was losing the use of my legs because of lower back issues until some nasty surgery arrested the problem in December.My abs are in pretty good shape and that does not prevent excruciating back pain. I am 6’5" and weigh 225, down from 242.

i cant believe
That your core couldn’t make your back stop hurting.

Ryan L.

Thank you folks for the input.

The Synergy 16 mentioned does look like a fine boat.

Good point about not needing the backrest while paddling. While fishing or resting it would be absolutely required.

Since someone mentioned all the different positions of paddling/streching in a canoe, I am leaning more towards it. I am getting excited about maybe some longer trips and the need for more gear.

I have seen a few models with what I think you guys are calling tractor seats with a backrest. Also, I found a video of using a double paddle in a canoe. That would give me another option if the single didn’t work out. Of course, I am sure it would be in a narrow beam canoe. The video was solo paddling a double, backwards from the front seat. Not sure if you can turn tractor seat and backrest around while doing this.

For now, I think I will concentrate on finding the right model of canoe.

Anyway, thanks again for input. Hopefully I can be on the water within the month.

Ryan,look up arthritic stenosis.
Got nothing to do with abs.

I like canoes, but I gotta say you need to go try both first. A narrow canoe, like a solo to be paddled wirth a double paddle, is pretty tippy for a big guy sitting up high. You may find it great OR horrible. Go to a retailer when there is a demo day or hang out where kayakers and canoeists are and see if someone will let you try theirs. There is a watersports store here that has a demo try out and beginning paddling intro for about $50.

i believe you
It is a joke. Part of my crusade to stop people from saying that back pain can always be solved with the core. Obviously the back hurts because it is hurt. Not because you didn’t do enough plates. Good luck hopefully the worse is behind you.

Ryan L.

Epic V10 surf-ski

There is a seat back for canoes

And they also have a similar seat back for “tractor seat” (some canoes have molded plastic seat resembling a kayak seat). But people said already and I agree that seat back is good for resting (and motoring, and fishing and possibly sailing) - but not for paddling a canoe. In a kayak back rest is a must, and it is usually very low, only supporting your low back.

Can’t recommend any canoe - I’m on my way from kayak-only to part-time kayak and part-time canoe (due to age, laziness and want for a small outboard motor). However, I don’t think that paddling of any kind will help your back - all these activities involve uncomfortable seating (compared to house chair). Changing positions is important, and here canoe beats kayak, but I still doubt that you should spend a lot of time in it. You’d better think of some gym machinery.

re kayak
if u find a kayak shop that carrys native watercraft, u need to try a ultimate 14.5 solo, very comfortable;

also sit on tops, malibu x factor, ocean kayak big game prowler, are easier to get on and off, but they are heavier… wilderness tarpon 16… TEST paddle BEFORE u buy…

Another source for canoe back support
First, I do agree that kneeling takes an awful lot of stress of your back. However my bad knees mean that I sit most of the time. Take a look at the products from Chosen Valley Canoe Accessories I love his back bands! They sit just below my waist and provide support for my lower back without getting in the way of my paddling. Amazingly comfortable, and much better than the Crazy Creek and Wehnonah back rests I used to use.

Kevin Carr is the owner of the company, and he designs the products. His wife sews them, and the entire family works in the business. His products are absolutely top notch and worth every penny. He also has a line of gear for paddlers needing adaptations for upper or lower body limitations. If you give him a call, he can provide you with good information. He’ll custom fit products for you if needed. You can see his work at a number of canoe manufacturer’s, but he gets a nicer cut if you work with him directly.

No affiliation, just a very happy customer.


yeah, but no one ever said that

– Last Updated: Jun-07-11 2:37 PM EST –

you just acted like someone did when you read the phrase "physical therapy".

So, which is it today: a joke, or a crusade?

Let me ask you a question: when you type on the keyboard, can you do it with only the use of your fingers? No muscle movement of any other kind? Wait: you think your wrist and hand muscles may have moved?

you mean...muscles work TOGETHER?

Does this backrest stay

– Last Updated: Jun-07-11 3:45 PM EST –

or can you remove it for car topping? I've been looking at this backrest with interest but don't understand how it connects to the boat.

AGPatrol, I also have back issues and find the canoe more comfortable than any of the kayaks I have owned. Mostly because of the ability to sit or kneel, I can't be in the same position all day. I also find the canoe easier to get out of than a kayak. Maybe there is a shop near you that will let you rent for the day so you can try out different boats?

…and does it fold flat onto the seat?

– Last Updated: Jun-07-11 4:55 PM EST –

Answering to my own question - probably not. This is what I'm trying to find - a backrest that can be folded onto the seat, ideally - with webbing on backrest so that I could sit on folded backrest. Because we're talking about center seat for solo paddler, and the ability to walk along the boat is important. I can't imaging stepping over any of these backrests in raised position, that's why I was looking at that "Back Saver" by Northwest - it can be laid flat on the seat. Though, it looks on the photo they have rigid curved planks on top, and those would interfere with seating on folded backrest, hopefully it's possible to replace them with webbing.

Btw, people with back problems (and, I would say - any solo paddler) should pay very close attention to weight of his boat. You will have to cartop it, and/or portage. Unless it's a very short 12-13ft canoe AND made of kevlar, expect it to weigh 40-60 lbs, and this is a lot! 60 lbs backpack feels lighter than 45 lbs canoe, because of uncomfortably long and bulky mass. The cheapest boats are often the heaviest. There are various methods and gadgets to help cartop a boat, depending on the car, but I wouldn't like to handle anything heavier than 40 lbs. If you don't have a sore back yet, you will get it, or hernia, or both. One thing the OP should do IMMEDIATELY is to find a good canoe/kayak cart prior to taking the boat to water. He might not do any long portaging, but he'll have to bring it few hundred feet from car to water.