New to Canoeing, but not to the Water

Hi All,

I am a novice when it comes to canoeing, but I have years experience with recreational kayaking. I am in no way a “hardcore” paddler. I usually take the kayak out 10-15 times a year on either flat water or Class I-II rivers.

I have a family member that is giving me their old (maybe ancient) Grumman 17’ aluminum canoe. I know that it is old and heavy, but I am really looking forward to taking it out on the lakes every now and then.

I have some questions for those who have experience with these old canoes.

  1. How practical is it to use this canoe for solo paddling? I am talking a few hours out fishing on the lake or a 8-12 mile float trip on a Class I-II river?

  2. How deep does the water need to be? I don’t mind dragging here and there, but I have heard horror stories of people having to drag their canoes for miles in some of the shallow Ozarks rivers. I am a pretty big guy (about 250 pounds).

    Any information or tips that anyone can give me would be appreciated. I know that doing is the best way to learn, but I want to be prepared a bit for the first time I take this canoe out this spring.

    Thanks in advance for your help, time and answers.


Quick Reply
1. A 17-foot Grumman is not “practical” for solo paddling, but there are those who do it. Solo paddling with a single-blade paddle is something that takes a long time to learn. With a double-blade paddle it’s easy, but in this boat you won’t have lighting-fast control.

Solo paddling is best done either from the bow seat facing backward or from an extra seat or kneeling thwart closer to center. The Grumman has a thwart immediately behind the front seat, so the first option is out. There is no center seat or kneeling thwart, but drop-in seats can be purchased or made by you.

I’m not too shabby as a solo paddler, but a 17-foot Grumman would be one of my last choices for solo paddling in any kind of whitewater. If I had to solo-paddle a full-size tandem in whitewater I’d want one with some substantial rocker, like one of the Prospector models, etc.

2. The water need not be deep. If you are properly situated near the center of the boat, the boat will probably float in 2 inches of water, and would certainly avoid any scraping if the water were 3 inches deep. Of course, water that shallow is never uniformly suitable and you will get some scrapes. Also, when aluminum scrapes, it grabs tight and stops you in your tracks. Anyway, horror stories of long drags usually come about from launching into unknown conditions, or an inability to recognize the deeper or slightly-deeper slots compared to the adjacent shallow flats.

As to other tips, as already stated, solo paddling a canoe, especially a tandem canoe, isn’t a get-in-the-boat and go proposition. If you are serious about this stuff I’d recommend reading Bill Mason’s “Path of the Paddle” and/or watching the “Path of the Paddle” videos, or reading “Paddle Your Own Canoe”, by the McGuffins.

Thank you
Thank you so much for the information. I figured this canoe would not really do too well on the river when I am alone. I will just start out with it on one of the small lakes in my area and learn it.

At the worst, I am in hopes that it will make a decent smaller lake (30-100 acre) fishing craft, and a canoe for my 21 year old son and myself to take down the river.

I will just use my kayak for the river trips for the time being.

Thank you for the book/video titles. I will definitely look into them.

Thanks again,


I’ve paddled rented Grumman’s …
… solo (single blade) on smooth water Florida rivers and they handled rather well. I kneeled off (or sat on) a stack of four rectangular PFD cushions just behind the center thwart.

The canoe could be pivoted with a modestly aggressive heel, but that takes some experience to do. It was also very easy to stand up to paddle or pole through the shallower areas.

I grew up with a 1950 Grumman in Maine and will always have a fondness for them.

back in the 1960s most whitewater open boaters paddled aluminum tandems. They held up better than wood and canvas boats, and solo canoes were not to be had.

But for river paddling, an aluminum canoe with a shoe keel is much preferred to the T keel which has a fin directed downward into the water. A keel is necessary on aluminum canoes since they are made from 2 halves joined together along the keel line. The keel holds the halves together.

In the likely event that your canoe has the more common T keel I would avoid paddling it in real shallow water. Apart from the tendency of aluminum to grab onto rocks that Eric mentioned, the T keels can really dig into soft river bottoms in an unpleasant way.

For what its worth -
I would not say that aluminum is more durable than wood canvas. One and aluminum boats get badly banged up its toast. Goes to the dump. A WC boat that gets banged up is completely repairable - a few ribs, come planking, a new canvas, and you are good to go.

This is what he meant by that

– Last Updated: Mar-07-14 6:52 PM EST –

Consider the first, most-obvious example: the rental boat. Rental boats routinely get dragged across gravel or paved launch ramps and parking lots, often while loaded with camping gear. Most boats get dragged 50 feet or more as often as not. A wood/canvas canoe would be in need of repair after the very first time it was dragged that way, while aluminum canoes start needing repair after several years of such abuse. You are correct that a wooden boat, at least in theory, can always be restored to original condition (I say "in theory" because surely there comes a degree of damage or an age of advanced deterioration where it's no longer worth the trouble), but for a lot of the most common types of impact and abuse, aluminum will come off a lot less worse for wear than wood/canvas. And for severe impacts or wraps, even a bent aluminum boat can likely still be used even if it must be stomped or hammered back into a shape that looks something like a canoe, but a wood/canvas boat in the same situation can't be used until it's rebuilt. One of Bill Mason's videos shows a wood/canvas boat being ripped into kindling as it drifts downriver, but an aluminum boat in the same situation likely would have gotten banged up, and likely pinned, but probably not entirely destroyed. An example similar to that happened in our Boy Scout troop on a Class II rapid. The stern of an aluminum canoe got wrapped so that it ended up being shaped like a fish hook. After considerable hammering (using boulders from the river bed as giant hammers), the hull was was straight enough to be serviceable and the boat made it through the rest of the trip without any issues. A wood/canvas canoe in that same situation would have ended up missing the rear four feet of its total length. In that case, it could have been restored by a skilled builder, but it couldn't have carried two people and their gear for the remaining portion of the trip the way the aluminum canoe did.

Don’t Know Where In The Ozarks…
…you live, but we have a get together twice a year. Good place to meet new paddlers, try other boats, etc. As for the Grumman, anything can be soloed, but if you could rig up a seat close to center it will work better. I’ve seen lots of folks (Including myself) solo aluminum canoes on the river. Here’s a link to the Rendezvous. And if you can paddle during the week (I work weekends), you could possibly paddle with us?

Spot on, GBG
Aluminum canoes were still in somewhat regular whitewater use in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Stomping out dents or bashing them with rocks were not uncommon sights.

I don’t recall ever seeing a wood-canvas canoe in 34 years of whitewater paddling. The whitewater paddlers were transitioning from aluminum or heavy fiberglass in the 70’s to Royalex, and now to polyethylene. Nor have I ever seen a wood-canvas canoe in a river outfitter’s rental fleet.

The fin keel on an aluminum canoe is not really that much deeper than a shoe keel. I have a one inch wooden keel on my wood-fiberglass OT OTCA, and it never bothered me at all on lakes or black water rivers. You just have to be careful to stay away from shallow rocky water. I put a metal bang strip along it’s entire length.

You can also heel the keel of a Grumman or OTCA out of the water by paddling so-called Canadian style from the middle.

Thank you everyone
I really appreciate all of the replies. I am amazed at the willingness to help a new guy so quickly. The rivers that I float are really very mild. I will be getting the Grumman next week and will hopefully take it out on a small 20-30 acre lake just to get a feel for it and go from there.

I have multiple paddles that I will try out with it too. I am most comfortable with a kayak paddle, but I also have “traditional” canoe paddles (both wood and aluminum/plastic).


You are in my neck of the woods.
I live outside of Willow Springs. I am most familiar with the Jack’s Fork River, but have floated on the Current River and the North Fork River. I have a degree in photography and actually did some work for the previous owners of Twin Bridges (and a friend of mine used to drive the shuttles for them in the summer).

I will definitely see what I can do about making the Rendezvous. I usually hit the river for the first time before the end of March.


It will teach you to paddle

– Last Updated: Mar-08-14 4:52 PM EST –

Many boats ago, shortly after getting married I bought a 17' Grumman, the "lightweight" thin skin model. I taught myself how to paddle it solo, and it also carried me and my wife, two small kids and a dog, plus all of our gear on several Adirondack camping trips. I learned a lot from that boat with my relatively heavy straight shaft wood paddle. I learned about trim and kneeling closer to the center than the fixed seats would allow. I learned the J stroke paddling tandem years ago in scouts, but taught myself about many other subtle variations for efficient directional control in my own Grumman before I knew any such names existed as pitch and Canadian and Indian and northwoods and many others. I experimented on whatever stroke seemed to work for the conditions I was in.

I remember some tough control times on big lakes with strong winds and big waves teaching me much in that boat, and I even stayed over extra nights on a couple of occasions, unable to get back in the weather. Fortunately I tend to overestimate my stay time so my wife did not worry too much.

That canoe is big enough and with a flat bottom that it does not have much draft; just a few inches of water to clear the keel is enough even when loaded. But if there is any small current, or wind, in shallows, you may not get enough depth with your paddle to have much directional or speed control to overcome current and wind.

For years I took great care of that boat, never dragging it on ground or rocks, and never paddled whitewater. I still have that canoe to this day, protected and hanging from the rafters in my barn, but haven't paddled it in many years. It is still in practically perfect condition, no dents and only a couple of barely perceptible scratches.

Ok, ok,

– Last Updated: Mar-08-14 8:47 AM EST –

maybe I've over stated it. However, for experienced paddlers the venerable WC, such a joy to paddle, is a viable option and if when you refer to "whitewater" paddling you include canoe tripping on northern, even arctic, rivers then I can tell you the WC canoe is commonly used, even to this day. Just go to you tube and search for Keewaydin trip and you will see a host of paddlers on remote northern trips, including whitewater, in WC boats. Also see this But, you are correct, there is a durability advantage. You can learn to overcome it however.

Enjoy your boat
I agree it will teach you to paddle and serve your purposes well.

Many of us started out in aluminum boats
An aluminum canoe may not be elegant but they are serviceable and as close to maintenance free as canoes get.

You might find trying to paddle a 17’ Grumman with your kayak paddle a bit frustrating due to the beam (36+") and the height of the gunwales. You typically need a longer double-bladed paddle for a boat of this size.

If you really prefer a double-bladed paddle, Mohawk Paddle (not to be confused with Mohawk Canoe) makes a serviceable, durable, and relatively inexpensive 8’ and 9’ long double-bladed paddle for canoes:

The most significant obstacle that most kayakers have when they transition to single-bladed paddling is developing an effective correction stroke to maintain heading. The J stroke is the most common, but there are other options some of which have already been mentioned.

A 17’ Grumman will be a bit of a handful for a solo paddler if any wind comes up on the lake. On the river the sheer size and momentum of the boat will require you to plan any moves well in advance.

Hey rpg!
You said in another thread that your next canoe will be wood/canvas. Is the brand indicated in that link the one you will be getting? Have you chosen which model?

I hadn’t heard of that company before, and it was nice to see that they are doing what they do.

I am chuckling
for over a hundred years the wood canvas boat has been paddled on Maine rivers. It used to be that paddlers knew how to do field repairs too when and if they were needed.

Still is the choice for many using Maine rivers; almost none of them rock free and all having significant whitewater.

Back in the day and to some extent still true ( as half of the state does not have paved roads) the wood canvas canoe was the primary means of transport.

When we explored Tensnatee Creek
and the middle Chestatee in north Georgia, back in about 1976, I was concerned at first that “Brenda”, an attractive, slender, wasp-waisted gal, was going to solo the run in a 17 foot keeled Grumman.

But I soon saw that Brenda had dome a lot of ww in that boat, was an expert water-reader, and knew how to use her relatively limited strength well in advance to put that ungainy craft on the necessary lines.

That was the thing about Grummans and other long, heavy canoes. You had to know what the boat could do, what the river would want to do to it, and how to work a route that woud make boat and river work together. Because, unlike paddling a kayak or ww solo canoe, you can’t count on changing plans along the way.

This is the one thing that…
…I was concerned with. I am so used to a craft that is half the length, a third of the weight and can handle like a sports car.

I will definitely have to get used to “driving” the equivalent of a fifteen passenger van vs. a sports car. The one thing I am SO looking forward to though. It is being able to actually take a decent amount of gear for camping with me.

add some floatation for whitewater,
firmly secure inner tubes or old air mattresses in case you capsize.

All boats have limitations- soloin’ a grumman is a bit time consuming and a little awkward because of the width of the boat at the bow seat. Your more limited by the wind soloing a tandem on open bodies of water but there’s nothing wrong with going that route as long as you understand your limitations. I think your totally on the right track- with short paddles to begin with and by also noting the ability to haul camping gear as a real plus.

“Trimming” the boat becomes especially important when soloing. The grumman “eagle” was a nice boat to solo and the most nimble of their fleet.

At one time (in the early 80s) I used to press my luck by running ww in aluminum canoes. Mangled a couple in Maine- one on the roll dam section of the West Branch of the Penobscot and the other on Wassatoquoik stream. Someone with skills and a riveter can deal with the repairs so long as the boat hasn’t been wrapped. Once they wrap even a little bit they lose all their “glide”. They become “paddlin’ pigs” even after they bent back and the broken ribs are replaced. All in all, Grumman made very functional boats. If your gonna carry it by yourself then definately replace the center thwart with a padded yoke thwart otherwise you’ll rearrange your vertebrae and if your gonna do any kneeling use knee pads or a closed cell foam pad or you’ll pay the price later in life with knee issues.

Good luck, go have some fun!