In general, what canoes are good for tandem paddling on Class II rivers?

I was asking already about a Malecite but it occurs to me that I should take a step back and ask the forum more generally for advice on newer models that might be good options for us.

To explain, I grew up paddling rivers like the James and Maury and Shenandoah in Virginia with my dad in a 16’ Mad River Explorer. Eventually I became a whitewater guide on the New and the Gauley. Owing to some hectic career moves, I basically had to stop paddling for the last couple of decades, however. Now things are setting down and I want to take my kid paddling on similar kinds of rivers – mostly class II and maybe low-water class III kind of rivers.

As I browse the forum, it seems that there have been technological developments in the past decade or so that have enhanced the set of options. In other words, there may be better boats available than the kinds I grew up with.

If you were me and starting from scratch, what kinds of boats (brands, models, etc.) would you be eyeing to get back into paddling?

Forget the technological advances. Resin technology and vacuum infusion make boats lighter and more expensive and for your use, irrelevant. The advances can be game changers for the flatwater world with lake to lake portages

For rivers you want some rocker like in Prospector designs but study each carefully. Esquif makes several in their Prospecteur line that is especially agile on rivers. Nova Craft makes another. Wenonah makes one but I am leery of it with Wenonahs straight line racing heritage.
Swift makes one too

Esquif uses T formex considered the new Royalex as does Wenonah. Nova Craft used Tuff Stuff. Swift for some reason uses Kevlar ( they make excellent flatwater boats but for your use might not be good)

River designs often are hard to handle on lakes as they have more or less symmetrical rocker and the Prospectors in general were made to carry expedition loads.

Any way I hope I have given you a start


Another one to add to the list if you are shopping new is Northstar’s B16 in IXP. On the other hand, I think that we have got past most of the overpricing of used Roylax & R-Lite boats. Those 16’ MR Explorers are good up to III+ & in some cases IV-. I spent a lot of time on the Lower Yough in one.

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It is really difficult to answer your question without knowing specifically the exact nature of the rivers you would like to paddle. As a former raft guide on big whitewater rivers in West Virginia, I suspect most of what I am about to say is already familiar to you.

Class II water covers so much ground it is hard to make general recommendations on specific boat designs. That is true when considering individual rapids that are rated Class II. It is especially true when considering whole rivers that are regarded as Class II.

Class II rapids very from quite tight and technical (but not pushy) to relatively wide-open where only a modest amount of maneuvering is required to miss some rocks and find the best path over a ledge drop or two. A “Class II river” might be a stream with mostly Class II riffles and one relatively short and straightforward Class II drop. Or it might involve a half mile or longer stretch of continuous Class II action in which constant maneuvering is required and the ability to catch smaller eddies to rest or bail becomes essential. A boat that works for one sort of Class II may not be very good at all for another type.

I started paddling canoes in the 1960s and started paddling whitewater in open boats sometime back in the 1970s. I would agree with Kim in that new technologies have had little impact on hull designs suitable for whitewater. In my opinion, there are far fewer good choices of whitewater canoe designs now than in the 1990s.

I personally would try to find a dedicated whitewater boat for paddling any type of technical Class II whitewater and anything approaching what would be considered a modern Class III. For less demanding Class I and Class II streams a general purpose boat with reasonable depth and maneuverability such as a Prospector or Mad River Explorer might be perfectly suitable. If I were you I would look around for an old Royalex tandem hull made by Dagger or Mohawk and see if you can find one in decent condition.

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Thanks to all for the advice so far. It sounds like some of the boats I knew from my youth are still good options today.

For a little more clarity on the kinds of rapids I’m anticipating, it would be rapids like:
Balcony Falls on the James
The Rockbridge Baths section of the Maury (not Devil’s Kitchen)
Compton Rapids on the South Fork of the Shenandoah
Nantahala Falls at low summer levels

In other words, not overly technical, no super tight turns, mostly navigating drop-pool systems with rapids that require one or two modest moves to avoid a big rock or a circulating wave that could fill up the boat. And plenty of more modest rapids as well.

I am very familiar with Nantahala Falls. I know the Maury, Shenandoah, and James only from photos, videos, and second-hand reports.

I wouldn’t have any hesitation running a canoe like a 16’ Prospector or Mad River Explorer through Nantahla Falls. I would still likely prefer a full-on whitewater design but I paddle whitewater canoes on Class I water and moving flat water so I am rather biased towards maneuverability over efficiency.

I would still look around for a used Royalex canoe although they are getting harder to find. Tandems did not tend to get worn out as quickly or to the extent that solo playboats did so you might find a decent one if you can afford to be patient. I would look for something in the 14-16.5’ range depending on your size and that of your son and whether you intend to carry a load.

Some old, venerable models to look for would include the Dagger Legend 15 and 16, Caper, Caption, and Dimension (the Legends and the Caption were later molded in Royalex by Mad River), maybe a Mad River ME if the two of you are light (the ME gets a bit wet with a heavier tandem team but is still a fun boat), Mohawk XL15 or Probe 14, Blue Hole OCA or Starburst, Old Town Tripper or Appalachian, or a 15 or 16 foot Royalex Prospector which were made by a number of makers.

If you are forced to buy new you might consider Nova Craft’s Prospector 16 (or possibly 15) in TuffStuff composite or their Moise. The Moise is basically a copy of the Blue Hole Starburst. A big boat at 16 1/2’ but very whitewater capable and reasonably efficient. Other considerations would be some of the Esquif boats in T-formex, specifically the Vertige X, Canyon or possibly the smaller Pocket Canyon. You might also conceivably find a used example of one of those Esquif models in Royalex.

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Good advice. Thanks to everyone for the details.

On a related note, I’m interested in taking this information to start searching for boats, probably used (but maybe new).

The tricky thing is that other than Craigslist, I’m not sure where to look for used boats. Where do you guys look?

I think pblanc is spot on with his advice, I guess if I were going new/higher performance and tandem I’d look at esquif boats- cutting edge materials and modern whitewater design- maybe a canyon model but I’m thinking they make something even more aggressive in a tandem that can still handle big water, I’ll throw one wrinkle at ya, take a look at soar inflatables- narrow inflatable set up canoe style, this might be appealling to you as an old raft guide but you will definately give up some speed on the flats. Who did you guide for? I videoed for Rivermen, GE, and WWI out of a red c1 in the mid 80s to early 90s. Now I just hang out with Rob of WV Adventures and poach the occasional shuttle. If you decide to crash surprise at 3’ in a tandem let me know, been awhile since I filmed any carnage. SYOTR

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as far as where to look, you might try Mostly higher end solo canoes/c1s but forum up and tell them what you are looking for, odds are good someone started in a tandem canoe and then progressed to a solo boat and has just what you are looking for in their garage. Clubs are good as well, Coastals, Monocacy, Tririvers-
surely somebody has an old tandem bluehole, oldtown, whitesell, Mohawk, or Mad River they want to part with, the knees get old and the boats seem to get heavier

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Lots of boats on Facebook marketplace too.

Malecite is a fine boat and some experienced paddlers still look for them. It’s on the “sporty” end meaning quite efficient but not quite as stable as more family oriented boats. Malecite has a shallow vee hull which carves turns gracefully whereas more modern boats like Northstar Polaris or Northwind 16 have shallow arch hulls which give a little more primary stability and sort of skid on top of the water.

I like some of the recommendations for you like B16 in IXP or MR Explorer since you plan to paddle in fast water with rocks with a kid so you need a tough boat with generous size/capacity since your conditions have plenty of danger and you’re likely to hit rocks and go swimming. A 16 foot Prospector in a tough lay-up might be a good choice too.

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I mostly worked for smaller companies (Passages, Drift-a-Bit, other freelancing). My good friend ended up doing video for Rivermen, circa 1997. As for crashing Surprise at 3’, I’m afraid you’d only see me hugging the left riverbank if my kid is in the boat.

tintern2, I feel ya, you weren’t corporate: hoods in the woods trips, and drift a bit certainly lived up to their name, i miss that sense of river community where everybody had each others backs regardless of who you worked for
ahhh the glory days, just in case you get really bored social distancing, what was 20 years ago is now 30+

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Love the music. Nice to see an OC1 back then for a moment.

For up to Class II, long, deep canoes with some rocker. Especially if you are going overnight.
For Class II and up, then you need a specialized WW boat.

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As a brief update, this page gives some background on the disappearance of Royalex boats:

Royalex was initially developed by the Uniroyal Corporation, previously the United States Rubber Company, in the 1970s and it was only ever produced at a single manufacturing plant in Warsaw, Indiana.

Initially it was hoped that Royalex would have wide applications in the automotive industry and elsewhere, but other plastics that could be manufactured much more cheaply filled the roles for which Royalex had been envisioned. So ultimately, the sole application for Royalex was pretty much the construction of canoe hulls. Very few kayak hulls were made of Royalex.

Uniroyal was purchased by Michelin in 1990 and basically ceased to exist except in name. But Royalex production did continue in Warsaw. In 2000 Spartech purchased the plant and the right to manufacture Royalex. Most whitewater open boaters who had been very well acquainted with Royalex canoes felt that there was a distinct downturn in quality at this time, although it could have been due to factors other than the change in ownership, such as OHSA-mandated changes in the manufacturing process.

When PolyOne acquired Spartech in 2013 the handwriting was pretty much on the wall. Canoe manufacturers were stating to complain about quality control for Royalex production and more and more sheet was getting rejected according to some sources with which I am familiar. The engineers who had originally designed and manufactured the material were long gone, of course, and the machinery which had been in continuous use for some 40 years was probably in need of major retooling. No new applications for Royalex had emerged and production costs had not declined.

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In general, larger canoes with plenty of rocker. You do not want a keel. Having some flare in the hull is helpful. An arched bottom instead of flat bottom helps secondary stability and the ability to handle large waves. I like deep boats best, 14-15 inches, Tripping boats is the category for running rivers.

I have used aluminum, fiberglass, kevlar, royalex and wood and canvas boats to run rivers. All will work. al is tough but sticks on rocks. Fiberglass and kevlar boats can get crunched, but are not hard to repair. royalex is tough material but harder to repair, Wood boats are much tougher than people think.

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As an update, I ended up buying a 2004 Old Town Appalachian for about $700 yesterday. I found it on Facebook Marketplace.

Many thanks to everyone for the advice.

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Good luck with the new boat. If it is in decent shape I think the price is quite reasonable. The Appalachian has enough rocker, depth, and flare to handle just about any river you are likely to take it down.

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Just reminiscing: Once upon a time all of us used wood canvas or aluminum canoes. The alu Grummans did well in whitewater ( class 2 , never went over 2+) but gee they found every rock…screech. Of course it may have helped had we known there were shoe keels.
Did a small wrap of one in the middle of Chase Rapids on the Allagash… Permanently a little hogged for the rest of its life but did not leak

But we are thinking of paddling the Green River in Utah and with the heat I would just become fried bacon in a Grumman. That was another disadvantage… cooking yourself or freezing your feet.

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