Large Family Getting Started

My wife and I used to own Pungo 120s and loved them. Then, life happened and the kiddos started coming… Since then, we’ve acquired 4 of the little munchkins (ages 8, 8, 7, and 5).

Now, we are ready to get back on the water with cost being a real issue since the days of dual income without kids are long gone…

I’ve thought of a canoe, but not sure I want it long term. Besides they are heavy. I enjoy kayaks much more, but they don’t carry as many folks either.

We’ll do most of our paddling on a creek near the house with some small lake paddling as well. Minimal current.

So, with a family of six… What would you guys recommend to get us all on the water? A couple of sit on top kayaks? A canoe with a kayak? I’ve seen some very small “kayaks” called Wave at Academy for $100… Any good?

Cost is a major factor and, yes, I’m watching Craigslist, but just need to know what I’m watching for. :wink:


Kids not my strong suit so as many questions as anything I guess. But they may help.

First, do you envision everyone being on the water at the same time, or going to a shoreline to drop boats and subsets of the family being out at once? My impression is that the youngest in your listing will have more limited attention spans than the older ones, at least for a while. So you may find that the on-water time happens in clusters with you or your wife out and the other doing child care duty at the beach.

Based on limited experience doing safety at demo days, my guess is that you’ll find yourself chasing down the 8 yr olds who will be trying to get out and away while the younger one or two will stay closer to home base. In any case you and/or your wife need one boat that can scoot to corral a young explorer quickly. Kayak may be a better idea there.

As to the rest… your case really argues for at least one tandem canoe, for when you do get everyone together, both for capacity and a way to carry the youngest child if/when they get bored sooner than the rest. The 8 yr olds and maybe the 7 re old could be big enough to look for old school WW boat such as the Perception Whippit or a Dagger Piedra, which has some hull speed but also isn’t a barge for a small person. Most that you’d find are too old to want to bang into rocks with in real WW, but they have some speed and are sized for a smaller person. So if you went out in a flotilla they could keep up.

It would also be an excellent idea, if such a thing exists, to find a smaller and narrower canoe that the older kids could use as a tandem for now and a solo later so they learn to paddle both types of craft. But I really don’t know if that boat exists - someone who knows canoes better may.

There are child-sized boats in some of the kayak lines, but I don’t know how easy it’d be to find them at a cheap price.

hurray for big families!
Someone’s gotta pay for Medicare when we’re old, right?! I’ve got 5 lil’uns, so I know how it goes. We are a canoe family. But Mom doesn’t care to paddle and the two youngest are too little anyway, so she stays home/on shore with them. I take my three oldest (10, 8, 5) out in a 16ft canoe. We have an Esquif Avalon and it has worked out wonderfully well. Its also easy for me to solo when I want to paddle alone.

Here’s what I’ve learned - if we went the kayak route and all my kids had little kid-sized kayaks, we wouldn’t get very far and certainly not very fast. Being in the canoe means they can paddle when they want to and Dad paddles when they don’t. Maybe when they are older and the youngest are ready to come, we’ll supliment with a kayak or two. Or another canoe. Or they’ll get in a teenage funk and won’t want to paddle anymore and the big kids will stay home with Mom for a change. Guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

For your case, I would recommend either two canoes or a canoe and a kayak.

First boat should be a solid tandem canoe, either 16’ or 17’ - big enough to take two or three kids plus your gear (cooler, fishing stuff, whatever), but small enough for one adult to handle. Look for either Royalex or fiberglass (hand laid, not choppergun), and it won’t be too heavy or too expensive. Especially used. Poly is cheaper, but much heavier. And if you decide to go poly, stick with the triple layer stuff from Old Town, Mad River, or Nova Craft. Avoid Coleman or Pelican or Brand X with no reputable reviews anywhere. Kevlar is really light and is probably the best material for flat water paddling, but its also really expensive.

Second boat - if you go canoe, I’d recommend either a big solo, like Wenonah’s Solo Plus, or a small 15’ tandem. The idea is carry one adult and one or two of the smaller kids. And have a boat that’s easy to solo when you want to do that. If you go kayak, you’d either want a true tandem or one of those rec kayak’s with the big cockpit. Maybe a SOT with space for a kid. I don’t know SINKs or SOTs, so I’ll defer to others for that recommedo.

Big giant 18’ or 20’ canoe would work too, but it’d be a LOT harder to solo, and they are hard to come by on the used market (usually). It would be easier to transport than two boats, however. Another idea would be to make the second boat inflatible or folding if you don’t have a trailer or sufficient roof space for two boats.

If the craigslist deal of the century doesn’t materialize overnight, you could always rent. You could then try canoes and kayaks in different combos and really see what’s going to work best for you without a big money outlay.

Anyway, that’s my recommendation. And as a parting thought, canoes don’t have to be heavy. And there is no law against paddling a canoe with a double-bladed paddle - so you can have your canoe cake and eat it kayak-style too - if that suits you. Have fun; good luck.

Wow! Thanks for the great responses. The canoe/kayak combo is interesting… I’m just really struggling with my old memories of a tippy canoe. Not wanting to go through that with the kiddos.

I was also talking with someone who brought up the point that the sit on top kayaks are not for colder weather. Hadn’t thought of that even though it makes perfect sense. Now considering a sit in kayak (or two or three) with a large cockpit. Anyone doing this with success?

What about the kids’ interest?
How long would the 8 and 7 yr olds be interested in paddling in the same cockpit with you rather than in something that they can really paddle? At that age maybe not way long. Also, should you capsize it is often easier to get back in one the water in a tandem canoe with flotation than one of those bargy huge double cockpit kayaks. We’ve had people show up in rescue classes with those - more often than not they leave deciding to get a different boat.

As to the tippy part in canoes - the kids won’t find it near as tough as you, and even if they do what is wrong with an instructive capsize or two so that everyone learns how to handle it?

On tippy canoes…
Very reasonable concern. However, remember that there are many different canoe hull designs, some are more tippy than others. More specifically, those canoes have less initial stablity. For canoeing with kids, good initial stability is a desired characteristic and you should look for a flat-bottom or flattish shallow arc hull. Old Town Campers are something of a benchmark for wide, stable family canoes. The drawback is that “stable” canoes won’t be as fast or manueverable as those with more “lively” hulls. But that’s not usually a problem for the sort of paddling you do with young kids.

As far as SOTs being unsuitable for cool weather - to me that smacks of magazine photo steriotypes of guys with ripped abs wearing board shorts powering their SOT through azure waves in some tropical locale. Doesn’t matter if you are in a SINK or a SOT, in cold weather you’re going to need a wetsuit or drysuit or otherwise be prepared to get wet and/or wet exit. And with either, if a little water splashes in the boat, you’ll be sitting in it at least until you pump or sponge it out. Especially, if your SINK is a rec-type with a wide cockpit and no sprayskirt. At least with a canoe, if you take on a little water, you don’t have to sit in it.

My experiences as a mom of 4
As noted, I have 4 children. Lots older than yours though (30 to 19). However that means that I had them in boats for many, many years. We waited until the oldest was 3 to put him in a canoe since we didn’t own a canoe until then. #2 was in a canoe by age 6 months. # 3 and #4 were adopted as pre-schoolers, but they were in boats withint 6 months of coming to live with us.

I second the recommendations for a canoe. Don’t know why you think canoes are heavier than kayaks - for the same type of construction they are lighter since they are open. We mostly used Royalex boats, and our 17’ Penobscot (a great family boat, well loved for 20 years) weighed 65-70 pounds, depending on what we attached to it. I also would not call a Penobscot tippy. There are some boats that are, but there are a lot that aren’t. A nice 17’ canoe will hold two adults and 3 kids, maybe 4 for a short time as long as you don’t have lots of gear. A 16’ boat will hold one adult and 2-3 kids. I used a 16’ Mad River Explorer in kevlar for years, with a child in the stern seat turned backwards and me in the bow seat also turned backwards. I bought it used from a Boundary Waters outfitter for a good price, and I still use the boat tandem with my husband. It was on a number of Boundary Water trips with the kids.

If you get your kids used to canoes early, they won’t feel scared in them. In fact, you should let them jump over the side and tip them over. Show them how you get back in the boat afterwards (they’ll be much better at it than you!). Teach them river safety by going down small riffles while laying on their back, feet pointed downstream. They will have a blast. All kid trips will be short, or at least made up of short segments. Sandbars are wonderful things!

I always think of a big family canoe as an SUV or a mini-van. Might not be as sexy as a small car, but it is incredibly practical for children. BTW: The best toy a child can have around a river is a minnow net. Amazingly fun!


Got me reconsidering the canoe

You folks make some strong arguments for a canoe. Pam, thanks for the mention of a couple specific models you recommend. If I can’t one of these, what is the best way to determine the “tippiness” of a canoe? Sounds like I have more canoe research to do.

Keep the suggestions coming.

What about a Discovery 169?
I did find a Discovery 169 on Craigslist. Would that make a good first family canoe?

Everything I’ve read on-line about the 169 seems to indicate it might make a good canoe, but was curious what ya’ll thought. This thread has been very helpful. Thanks!

I have 4 too
Mine are all girls, ages 12, 11, 8 and 6. We are a kayak family.

We actually have 2 tandem sit inside kayaks with a 3rd seat (along with 3 solo SinKs and a paddleboard). The tandem I like the best is the Necky Manitou II. Up until the last year or so none of my girls were strong enough to paddle alone for any length of time. My nephews have been able to paddle on their own for a couple of years though, so I would consider that.


A fine choice
…in my opinion. Lots of families get started in Disco’s. Quite stable. Very tough. Will haul a big load. It won’t be the fastest thing on the lake, but it’ll be quite suitable for daytripping with kids. Disco’s are also very suitable for extended river tripping in mild whitewater, if that ever tickles your fancy.

A few things to consider:

Disco’s are made from polyethonlene - the good triple-layered kind. But they’re still heavy. Two person lift. Unless you are really, really strong. And even then, search on pnet for some articles on the best ways to lift heavy canoes.

Used Poly (and Royalex) canoes sometimes have twisted hulls, so double check that before you buy the boat. There’s a great thread on here from a week or two ago on how to use a string to check the straightness of a hull. Read that. Pnet has other good articles on the sort of damage you should look out for in used canoes.

Out of the box, most Disco’s have molded seats, which many find comfortable, but are not so comfy if you want to paddle the canoe backwards from the bow seat to trim better when solo or with kids. When I was paddling rental canoes, I used to just put a pad on top and was fine. But seats are real easy to change and/or adjust. Ed’s Canoe ( has nice seats for a pretty good price. Dri Ki Woodworking ( does parts for Old Town canoes. I think they have a few replacement seats on ebay in the $20 range.

Discovery really, really heavy
It is a stable, solid canoe but it is really, really heavy (did I mention it’s heavy?) I’m not a small woman and I can’t lift it on top of the car or take it off by myself, though I can solo carry the Penobscot 17 (though I admit that I don’t like it! Much prefer the Explorer for weight). With kids I really would recommend a boat that a single adult can handle so the other adult can handle the kids, especially with one only 2 years old.

If you’re a strong guy, you could manage it. Just be careful it hasn’t been abused too much. Scratches and even gouges aren’t a problem but ripples in the keel line are a problem.


The Verdict
Ok… So I found a canoe/kayak rental place that was selling several Disco 169 and a couple of Twin Otter Tandem Kayaks.

So, off the whole family went to the river to try them out. The Disco was very cool. I enjoyed it and enjoyed the carrying capacity of it. But, my wife (who has only paddled kayaks) just didn’t like paddling it at all. I tried several different ways of encouraging her with it, but her heart wasn’t in it.

The Twin Otters though she really enjoyed. We put an adult and 2 kiddos in each and there was plenty of room. I don’t think this solution will last forever, but works for now.

So in the end, we purchased two Twin Otters yesterday. Took them on the creek near the house last night and everyone had a great time. Looking forward to more adventures on the water in the coming months. The kids love the minnow nets as well - great idea!

Thanks for all the great ideas!

I suspect that it’ll only take next season before you are buying a couple of solos. For the small creek messing around stuff, keep an eye out for small paddler or even child sized used WW kayaks. You may see a bunch show up this fall as fleets sell of their older boats or paddlers kids’ outgrow their existing boats. You can always get the same price back for them if you buy cheap enough, and it’ll give you something for the older kids to be able to manage on their own when they want - which at 8 yrs old isn’t very far away.

the comment about SOTs is correct
It has nothing to do with stereotype, it just has to do with your exposure to wind and cold air. Even an open coaming on a closed deck kayak provides some warmth.

Glad you found a solution that works for you. Enjoy the water.

Sorry your wife didn’t like the canoe. :frowning: No tug of the inner Hiawatha to master the seminal watercraft of the North American wilderness? Bummer.

So what didn’t she like about the canoe? Did she paddle it alone or with you? Some people don’t like paddling tandem because they are sort of “trapped” with the other guy. People joke that tandems are “divorce boats.” Then again, if she paddled the Disco solo… 17’ of big capacity tripping canoe is a lot to handle, even for a physically large and experienced canoeist. Let alone a petite lady who doesn’t yet know a solid j-stroke (I assume). She might find a smaller canoe more agreeable.

Anyway, have fun in the Twin Otters.