Help with picking a canoe

I’m sure this comes up a lot ;-).

Quick background on paddlers, I’ve got a few years experience kayaking in the pacific ocean in a touring kayak, nothing major (no surf paddling for example). My wife has a couple of years of about the same kayak experience. Due to various curcumstances we both got rid or our kayaks (way before we got married).

We’re looking for a canoe, mostly because we want to bring our dog and she’d probably not be very comfy in a kayak. We both live in Ohio now, and we’ll be paddling lakes and gentle rivers, basic recreation. We don’t fish, although we both do some photography so I guess something with decent primary stability would be good. But of course I’d like to avoid a really porky slow canoe.

I’d like something that can be stored outside without much worry, makes me lean towards a aluminum canoe, but most of those that I’ve looked for I think are a bit wide (~38"). I could build a shelter if necessary, so this isn’t a breaking point.

We’d like something that could carry an extra person, between the two of us were about 350# (most of that me :wink: and of course some extra carrying capacity would be very nice. I’m guessing 15-17’ should handle that nicely.

One thing I’d really like is the ability to adjust seating positions. As I weigh at least 100# more than the wife, it might be useful to adjust how the canoe sits.

At this point we’re open to just about anything, I would like to keep the weight around 75# or less (which doesn’t appear to be much of a problem) and if it’s gonna cost too much more than a grand, I’d probably buy a cedar strip kit and build one (I’ve built a few boats in my time).

I think the above covers the usual questions. My main concern is that there are soo many brands out there, and I have very little knowledge of the quality. I’d like to end up with a good canoe at a reasonable price without buying a pile of junk :wink:


I would suggest you look at Wenonah
The Spirit II with a sliding bow seat is a 17 foot boat that in Royalex weighs in at around 68 pounds (maybe a pound or so more with the optional seat and sells for around $1200 new. There are several used ones around.

Wenonah has other suitable boats also and Old Town has a couple that might do for you. I am not sure if OT offers the sliding bow seat.

I am sure you will get lots of other advice.


– Last Updated: May-16-06 12:01 PM EST –

Thanks for the tip, I had looked at wenonah a bit and didn't realize they had an adjustable seat. One more to add to the candidate list.

One thing that I thought odd was that they didn't list weight capacity, and all they say about it is very 'weasely'.. claiming you should load the hull with the intended weight..etc..etc.. is not necessarily possible before you buy it. I'm sure that decision was driven by lawyers or marketers, either way I don't like it much.

Unless you are toting machinery
Like chain saws and other weighty stuff, you can pack plenty (three people) and gear in the typical 17 foot Wenonah… Normally if capacity is listed, its performance weight loads not maximum. Even the typical 15 foot solo canoe will carry (albeit not at top performance) 600 lbs. Now I am not much interested in fishing six hundred pounds out if I flip but thats another story.

But we dont know if you need a tripping boat(and for how long) or one you can stand in to fish comfortably or just what you want to do with it.

Bell has a number of canoes and they do list weight at six inch freeboard (which is the margin of safety you are looking for), They will install a third seat and bow slider.


– Last Updated: May-16-06 1:22 PM EST –

The thing I find odd about skipping carrying capacity entirely is that they expect that stating '2 people' is a suitable substitute.. is that 2 100# ballerina's or 2 400# linebackers? There's a big difference.

As I stated previously, we're not fishing.. perhaps some picture taking and it'll be day trips max.. of course who knows what might happen in the future.. I do have lightweight backpacking gear so should be able to do overnight or more with 100# of gear for both of us..

I'm off to look at Bell now ;-)

Vist the Bell Wbsite first, and then…
… use that info to help you with Wenonah’s info. I think they typically tell you how much weight makes each model settle two inches into the water, and how much weight makes it settle four inches into the water (two- and four-inch waterlines). For example, if you find that a particular Bell canoe settles four inches into the water with a 350-pound load, a canoe from any other manufacturer with similar dimensions and a similar hull shape will settle to approximately the same depth when carrying that same load. Someone might want to nit-pick this idea, but being perfectly accurate in your assessment is not necessary in this case, because of the canoe you buy has a waterline that’s one-half inch higher or lower than you’d get with a particular model of Bell canoe, it won’t matter.

I think if you look of the weight/waterline data on the Bell site for several different boats, you’ll get a quick idea of the rough overall size canoe you want. Maybe you’ll even choose a Bell, but I’m mainly suggesting you use their info as a general guideline for wieght capacities.

For those manufacturer’s who DO publish a “maximum load” for their canoes, rest assured that that load is “too much”. Loading the canoe to the point of having 6 inches of freeboard remaining (a common definition of maximum load) is not a reasonable thing to do - try it once and I bet you’ll agree.

Bell does nice with weights
I like the way Bell lists their boats’ capacities - telling you how deeply the boat sits with different loads and what the ‘optimum’ load range is. Much better than many other companies who only list 6" freeboard weights.

17 feet
The Wenonah is the only boat I know that has the sliding tractor seat. If you just want to do a permanent trim adjustment for two paddlers of very different sizes, it is not difficult to move a seat, but it does require drilling the gunnel for the new position.

I would recommend a 17 footer if you want to take the dog and some gear.

kinda leaning toward a 16’…
Ouch, drilling new holes is a bit drastic (but understandable I suppose).

I’m kinda leaning toward a 16’, our dog weighs in at a whopping 14#… and it seems like the Aurora might do nicely… of course I can’t move the seat on it, perhaps the 17’ will be better…

Lots to think about…

Storing Outside
You are correct about aluminum. Very durable when left out in the elements. Great for leaving at the lake, chained to a big tree.

If you know the canoe will be kept outdoors:

Go with royalex (or poly),

Vinyl gunnels survive longer than wood,

Wood thwarts and seats are OK, but look at webbing instead of cane seats.

Store in as much shade as possible (north side of garage, under deck, under aluminum canoe…).

Keep off the ground and the weeds cut (especially for wood gunnels)

Many people recommend applying a UV block spring and fall.

I am sure there are more tips to keeping a canoe beautiful as long as possible.

Fiberglass and Kevlar, keep inside.

– Last Updated: May-16-06 2:23 PM EST –

What you have to realize is that with two in a canoe...your J-Leans have to really, I mean REALLY be exaggerated. You'll do fine. You already appreciate the composite boats, but remember...particularly in a light boat that's under 17'...all it takes is for one person to be stiff in the hips when leaning to make things exciting, Not in the way you want. Boats....hmmm, I've seen some used Jensen 18s(Wenonah)!! out there...along with some Bells(Northwoods!!), Clipper Tripper, and MadRiver. ..but do yourself a favor, going with a 17'+ boat will be much more efficient and safe...imho $.01

Like I said
you will get lots of advice. I currently have a 15 foot Nova Craft Bob Special which has a weigh capacity of 800 pounds. It is a very nice canoe but at 15 feet, space (not capacity) might be an issue. i also have a 16’-2" Old Town Penobscot. The extra 14" adds considerable space over the Bob Special (OT rates the Penobscot at 900 pounds of capacity I believe). I would think a Penobscot in royalex (58 pounds) would handle your needs but the bow seat is not adjustable without driling and relocating.

can be moved. Swift and Bell both make sliding seats and you are not only restriced to the Wenonah tractor seat, which I am far from fond of as it restricts you to sitting. You can make your own sliding webbed or caned seat too on wooden sliders.

I disagree on six inches of freeboard. Most boats are only twelve or thirteen inches deep in the middle . Its not unreasonable. However you will find four inch water line specs too.

For a fun warm excercise on a suitable day, control capsize your boat then hand paddle it or paddle it normally with one or two inches of freeboard(wearing PFD of course). This crazy sounding antic will help you with balance should you ever ship water. It may help you reach shore safely. And water IS heavy!

As far as weight goes its more carrying capacity. Most likely the two 100 ballerinas and the two 400 lb linebackers will occupy similar cubic feet of space usable in a boat (obviously not the same) and its a matter of space for getting gear in.

Very important too is load distribution though your 14 lb dog will have less influence than my eighty lb one. The boat we use with her is eighteen feet and she has a tremendous influence when she heels it over empty(she likes to lie in a bilge and hang her head over the side). Its better with a hundred pounds of static gear.

People get into big trouble when they really pile on the gear and get that CG really high!

yeah, it’ll surely be interesting. We both have kayaking experience, and I’ve paddled tandem in canoes before… but as I’m sure we all know the CG is all different.

We’re planning on taking a trip or two with a local canoe livery, hopefully we’ll be able to try out at least a couple different sizes and get a feel for how we like it… Who knows, we may decide to get two kayaks and make the dog learn to site in a lap… not like she wouldn’t fit :wink:

Bell Morningstar
We bought a Bell Morningstar in January. We canoe

Florida rivers.

Our canoe is 15’5" in length

and we have an 11 pound dog.

We do only daily paddles with an ocassional


We like the way it sits in the water. I am 130lbs

and my DH is 240lbs.

We have no complaints at all and can highly recommend that brand and model. It is made of Royalex, 58 lbs.


17 feet revisited
My initial recommendation of a 17’ boat was based on the assumption that you had a “real” dog. (Just kidding). I paddle with a 95 lb lab and with a second paddler and some gear, we just do not fit well in a 16’ boat.

Your idea to test out several different boats is a good one. Good luck

real dogs :wink:
yeah, probably should have mentioned we’ve got a ‘mini dog’… easy portability and much smaller scat :wink:

I have a Penobscot 16. Paddle mainly with my son (9 yrs old) 68 lbs, me (155 lbs), and some times a dog (55 lbs). Most of the times it’s just the son and I and with me in the back and him up front, it trims out just fine for us. Even times with the dog, it’s fine, except when the dog decides to lean over the side, but we still stay up without tipping over. I like it that we can lean much further over with out tipping than in an OT Camper. We have tried sitting, with me in bow seat, him in stern and paddling with the stern as the bow. This trims out real nice, and may work as well for you.

My final Opinion (Maybe)
Everyone is right…go test paddle anything that looks good.

There really isnt one magic boat…there are alot that can fill your wants and needs . Remember to take your whole team. I know that sounds basic and dumb…

I think sometimes we get so hung up on specs and in the long run what really is important is what feels “right” to us. Sounds like 16 feet would do.

What works for me is what floats by on sale. Your trim “problem” can be resolved by a small weight at the bow end (all the way). A bag of wine. Forget Omer Stringer and his rock experiment. Dont look to your dog for help unless he/she is REALLY obedient.

I dont think you are looking to do freestyle with J leans in your boat but they are possible in a Wenonah Jensen design…the rail however MUST be down to the water.

Not sure where you are. I have an almost 16 foot Sawyer for sale. Its an older design dubbed the Pocket Rocket by Harry Roberts. Its fast and fun but no sliders.

OT Penobscot 16
I, too, have an Old Town Penobscot 16 which we really enjoy. For me, this is the last in a series of canoes. I previously had lower quality family barge type canoes, that were wider and had more initial stability. Personally, I’ve come to believe that initial stability is overated, even for photography and birding. Secondary stability is currently more important to us. Now, before you think that statement is nuts, let me put it this way. Can you and your spouse sit still long enough to use binoculars or camera? Generally, we’re talking seconds, not hours. So, our current theory is that a more responsive, faster boat gets us to where we want to use cameras or binoculars quicker, more efficiently, and with more pleasure. So, maybe don’t worry so much about having a really wide, stable boat like the OT Camper, and go for one that’s more fun like the Penobscot. Also, just another consideration, given that the OP mentioned aluminum. Aluminum boats are NOISY. Depending on what you want to photograph, it might have long vacated the scene by the time you get to it.

Also, as far as weight differentials and distribution goes, GF is probably 90lbs lighter than I am. She sits in front, I in back, with a heavy, large cooler in the middle and we’re trimmed out just fine. Even loading it with a fairly generous selection of camping gear doesn’t seem to phase it. It seems to me like you’d have to really work at it to increase the payload by more than about 100-150lbs by adding normal camping gear. (I’m guessing our norm camping load is half that amount.) Unlike a kayak, increases in normal, sane load weight over an average 2 person adult load in a canoe, (let’s say a generous 350-400lbs for 2 adults), are almost inconsequential assuming you’re not hauling transmissions or barbells or something. This is a long way of saying that carrying capacity in a 16’ canoe is just not something I worry about, and I’m kinda heavy.