Help with choosing a family boat

I’m looking to get some basic help in choosing an appropriate family boat. This includes a decision between kayak and canoe.

Our family consists of two adults and two children (ages 1.5 and 5.5). We live in the mountains and could see using this on rivers and lakes, but I’d really love to have a boat to take down to the shore and use in the intercoastal waterways and salt marshes.

We recently went down to Collier-Seminole State Park and rented a 16’ Mad Rivers Adventure Canoe. Lot’s of slow brackish water and the boat worked great. The kids fit comfortably and the boat rode well, though you could feel the wind push it around. I didn’t get the sense of the tip-ability that is expressed by many in the reviews, but it was well loaded and it seems that helps with stability.

We’ve also done some canoeing on the French Broad (albeit some time back and before children), up to class two/three rapids. I could see doing something like this, in whatever craft we choose.

We had kayaked the day before in some Mangrove estuaries in a tandem Hobie Oddessy and that was a blast too - but having all 4 of us in there was pushing the boats limits. Also, I couldn’t see being able to take gear in the that boat - but could possibly see a slightly larger sit on to (2’) working out.

With regards to my limited experience with the MadRiverCanoe, I liked the size and carrying capacity, loved the potential durability (I’m sure these rentals got knocked around a fair bit) and the weight didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.

From a wish list perspective:

I’d like to take the boat out into protected waters, e.g. Ten Thousand Islands, but not true open water, as well as the following:

Salt Marshes


Mangrove Estuaries

Intercoastal waterways

I’d like the option to be able to paddle this myself, from a center seat type position - though this isn’t the first criteria.

In comparison to the MadRiverCanoe, if there’s a similar boat with additional stability, (e.g. harder chine) then that might be a bit better (any feedback on what the Destiny is like from this perspective?).

So… obviously, I’m having issues if I can’t even decide between a canoe and kayak. Any help/pointers/recommendations are GREATLY appreciated.




– Last Updated: Mar-03-09 9:03 AM EST –

With two children, my family of 4 enjoyed many paddles and felt the canoe we had was stable and roomy, but very efficient as well. We had the Wenonah Sundowner 17 and the Spirit is probably as good or better.

You don’t have a lot of choice
with two adults and two children short of two tandem kayaks or one decent size canoe.

As one who paddles both canoes and kayaks and has a fleet of both, if it was me and I was not going to be paddling in large open areas such as the open Gulf, I would opt for a canoe.

It is also going to be a little hard to find a canoe big enough for all of you and one that can be easily paddled solo.

I am hoping that Bill Miller from up north chimes in here since he is one of the many knowledgeable canoe gurus here, but if not take a look at a wenonah Jensen 18 or a Minn II.

We are paddling in the mangroves at present and have our two solo kayaks plus our Jensen 17

We love the canoe in protected waters, but always use the kayaks out in the big waters.

Good luck and don’t jump to anything without first trying some.

It sounds like you are from the NC mountains, and if so we live there also and have a bunch of different boats you are welcome to try on Lake James when we get home.



canoe/kayak draft
Many thanks to both of you for the replies. I’ll check out the recommend boats. Your offer to paddle some of the boats around on lake James is very generous - thank you.

From a durability perspective is one of the options better than others. I know, especially for first boat it will probably get knocked around pretty good.

How’s the draft of a canoe compare to a Kayak. I noticed some pretty shallow waters when touring around the mangroves. Does the canoe offer a similar draft to a kayak? Obviously it’s load related, but I am curious for a similar weight - which would ride lower?


I’d suggest
a royalex canoe to lighten the weight. Mad River, Wenonah, Bell, Nova Craft all make excellent canoes in the 16’-17’ length. I paddle a Wenonah Adirondak (3 seater) for family trips.

The canoe/kayak question boils down to preference. Kayaks are usually heavier for the length boat.

For that crew and
WW as well, look at the Mad River Explorer 16. They are very much an all-purpose boat, if a bit heavy. For solo paddling you simply paddle it backwards.


Wenonah Champlain
Those kids will get bigger, after all.

Started with a canoe
When our kids were small we paddled a 17ft canoe which was perfect for us at that time. Now 18 years later we separated into separate kayaks. To each his own!

speaking of…

Probably similar, but a lot depends on.
each boats weight and the load you are carrying.

It is like trying to compare apples to oranges !



Consider an Old Town Tripper
Although heavy and not very speedy, an OT tripper is a great multipurpose, stable, high capacity, and durable canoe. It could easily carry 2 adults and 2 kids, would be a comfortable (but not fast) ride in the swamps, can handle whitewater rivers, etc. It will be more affected by the wind than smaller, lower profile canoes, but I’ve found it a nice stable non-threatening canoe for taking novice paddlers, including friends with kids, out on both river and swamp paddles.

A Spring of demo-days…
Get to as many demo-days as possible…try both one and then two tandem canoes…just my $.01 guess, but I think you’ll like the two tandem-thing. Maybe not in the plans right now, but 2 canoes…one new and the other a used…can go a long way. You’ll be surprised at the condition of some of the used tandems being sold just cause they’re more than a couple years old…and have cosmetic + a few hull scratches…that both can be fixed.

Quite a few carbon/kevlar boats have excellent draft…

Kayaks are nice as well though…canoes are simply a little slower but dryer.


17’ Spirit II
For four people and good stability, i consider 17’ the minimum length. A high volume 16’ like an Old Town Camper or Wenonah Kingfisher will do while the kids are little, but that one extra foot gives more breathing room. Just enough to keep from being whacked by the errant paddle, or smacked by a fishing pole on the backcast.

The 17’Spirit is the center of my paddling world and the standard against which i compare all recreational and touring canoes.

Take Jack L up on his offer to try out boats in his fleet. He has a racing bias to his boat choices, and if you can keep his 17’Jensen upright with all four aboard, you won’t need to settle for a big heavy barge like a Tripper or 18 Grumman. There is a 17’ Sundowner at my daughters in Charlotte and Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman are nearby. The Jensen is the fastest 17’ canoe, the Sundowner a tad slower and more stable. The Spirit is a tad slower than the Sundowner and even more stable. But the Spirit is noticebly faster than that Mad River Adventurer you paddled and about 20# lighter in Royalex and much lighter in composit layups. The Sundowner is available in Royalex, the 17’Jensen only in composite.

The Adventurer is a good paddling canoe, the best of all the entry level plastic canoes. It is heavy. you probably did not have carry far or lift it overhead as a rental. It is hard to carry solo, that fixed center seat is right where a proper carrying yoke should be. And it is tough to fit for 4 unless two are small enough to fit on the center seat. Rigging a fourth seat is tough, in front of the stern paddler is the best option and a lot of drop-in and hanging seats don’t easily mount over the molded gunwales on the Adventurer. It will solo from that center seat and you can put a kid on each of the other seats and be well balanced as a trio. Let the kids paddler from the ends and you can maintain control from the center. It leaves your wife out, but she will get to paddle when the kids tire, and that will happen quickly.

This getting new people on the water and buying canoes is what we live for. You catch the same bug as us, and amass a fleet of your own and go paddling and make new friends.


Great Advice
Many thanks for all the input! There’s some great advice in the thread.

I definitely need to get out there and paddle a few more boats. I see that will greatly help with the decision process. The 17’+ advice is really relevant especially considering those kids are going to grow. I’ll need to keep that in mind.

I’ll keep my eyes open on Craig’s list and solicit feedback if something looks promising.

Thanks again!

I’m with plaidpaddler
We have a Spirit II and I think it will do most of what you ask well. Not so sure about the solo thing though. With your family and gear for a day trip or overnighter you will be able to float in about 5-6" of water, possibly less depending on weight. We use our canoe quite often on a smaller flatwater river and it turns quite well once you get the hang of it. Also, it is a stable boat that will give you a dry ride when the waves act up. Keep in mind, proper trim means a lot to this boats’ handling.


Canoe and kayak
When my family was young we had a canoe and it worked great. Get a canoe for the family and a smaller 12’-14’ kayak for solo use.

More stable with harder chine?!?
"…if there’s a similar boat with additional stability, (e.g. harder chine)"…

A harder chine does not directly contribute to stability. I have a hard-chined, flattish kayak that has very little initial or final stability, and another decked boat with little flatness, no chines, and excellent intitial and final stability.

Intitial and final stability depends on several design factors, no one of which is an automatic guarantee of stability, taken by itself.

This is an area where you either have to try the boat, or rely on reports by others who have tried it and are reliable reporters. I can “eyeball” boats and usually make a prediction about stability, but sometimes I’m really, really wrong.

Thoughts on this boat?
Any thoughts on this Craig’s list post for a Malacite Mad River Canoe - $950 (Arden NC). It’s 16’ 6", so a bit shy of 17’ (not sure how much a difference that makes). Also the price seems high (or at least higher than I was looking to pay for a first boat), but the reviews read well and it seems to cover the bases I’m looking for. (Actually, I’m concerned that it’s a little bit too nice - especially with young kids - how well does the Kevlar hold up?)

Beautiful craft in fine condition. The Malacite model is a true classic. Has three seats of woven rattan wicker and is a deep green color.

Length is 16.6 feet. Extremely light to carry/launch by one person, made of Kevlar by DuPont. Real ashwood gunwales , weighing only

40 pounds !! Glide your way into Spring and Summer, quiet as a whisper, in one amazing canoe ! Two nearly new paddles included.


oh that is nice

– Last Updated: Mar-13-09 6:28 PM EST –

but not big enough if the two adults are average size.
The malecite would be a great boat for solo/smaller person tandem. But with two kids and two adults it'll be maxed out. It would be great for one adult and two kids.

I started with a big heavy Old Town Poly canoe,,real stable, then got a fiberglass Sundowner 17 for two kids and two adults,,then the 120lb lab tried to get in and it got crowded. That was a great canoe.

You leave out the grown ups weights. Trying to get solo paddling out of a canoe that can carry two kids and another adult is pushing the envelope.

I loved the Sundowner 17 I had. Look around for ways to make the inside kid friendly, nonskid or glued on minicell so folks aren't slip sliding around on slippery plastic. You can also install low center seats on tandem canoes.

There's dozens of canoes that'll fit your needs.

The composite canoe will hold up fine,,it'll look like crap if it's well used,,so will the royalex boat. If someone is selling a composite kayak for under $1000 it's still cheaper than a new royalex one.

I was where you are
I picked the sundowner over the SpiritII figuring that I’d be paddling with two people more than the whole gang. It was a bit wobbly with two kids going from one side to another but one day I learned to appreaciate that when the dog swam across the river and tried to climb in,the canoe was controllable while leaning to the very edge and I pulled him in.

I don’t have anywhere the canoe experience of these guys but the Spirit II is an excellent big do everything canoe. My only experience with it is paddling in the S.F. Bay from Pt. Richmnond to Red Rock island in 1’ waves.