Newbie Family Canoe recommendation

I’m a newbie to the forum and canoeing.

I am looking at a used canoe for the family – myself, spouse and two kids aged 8 and 5. There is a slow brown river across the street from us. We are between two dams, but the river runs through wooded sections.

So, the canoe is for just paddling about, looking for river otters, muskrat, pretty views, but the rived is maybe 100’ at the widest and 30’ in some parts. It’s plenty deep enough all around.

I’ve been reading that I should look for a 17’ canoe, but I’m concerned about the turn radius. Could I get myself and spouse on the seats, and kids in the middle in a 15’ canoe? What about if one of the adults just wants to take one (or both) kids. Is a 17’ canoe too much for one adult to manage?

Two brands on craigslist near me are 17’ old town discovery and a 14’ fibreglass chief. Any reason to go with or stay away from either?

Thanks for any help!

Quick Advice

– Last Updated: Apr-18-09 7:22 PM EST –

This is a question that has come up a lot lately. I'd say do a search, but the search function doesn't work that well for me.

With two adults and two kids of those ages, even a 17-foot canoe won't seem like enough before you know it. For now, 17 feet is what you want, but eventually you would need something bigger or two boats, but let's just talk about right now. No one who asks this question wants to believe that a 15-footer is too small for what you want to do, but you will see once you start getting in the boat "for real".

You asked about "turning radius", but that shouldn't be a big deal. There are many different boat designs, some designed to go straight and some designed to turn and some that are in-between. Your first concern is enough room and load capacity for two adults and two kids. Next, any general-purpose, "family friendly" 17-foot canoe will turn well enough for what you describe. Finally, when you really get down to it, canoes don't just turn, they do all sorts of things like skid sideways or diagonally, or even spin on-center with or without going anywhere. How well the boat manages to go around obstacles will depend almost entirely on how well you learn to paddle it.

Of the two boats you found advertised, the Old Town Discovery is the only one that would work. The other one is just too short, and probably a total slug on the water if it happens to be wide enough to actually handle the proposed load. The Old Town Discovery isn't a "great" boat, but it will do the job. What it won't do that some more expensive (and harder to find used) boats will do is go as fast or be as easy to carry. It also has molded-in bench seats which are not the most comfortable in the world, and they don't allow kneeling (kneeling is a better paddling position than sitting if you get serious about this, but most likely it's a minor issue for you right now). It is a very tough boat, and you won't be able to hurt it.

One adult will not have "fun" getting an Old Town Discovery to and from the water. It is very heavy in the 17-foot version. I can't say whether it would be too much for you or just an inconvenience. Chances are you can manage it. A lighter boat would be easier, but a lighter boat will most likely cost more. Not knowing anything else, I'd suggest getting the 17-foot Discovery and upgrade to something else if your family "takes" to paddling.

A word to the wise - the kids will need to be comfy if they are going to want to do this with you, so you will need to make arrangements for them to sit on something other than buckets (too high) or boat cushions. Really short-legged folding chairs are popular for this.

A few more details

– Last Updated: Apr-18-09 7:36 PM EST –

Thank you. This reply was really helpful. OK. I won't doubt a 17' and will avoid the shorter ones.

Here's a bit more information, if it helps refine any answers a bit more.

The water is about 100' away, down a gentle slope, from where I can store the canoe. It's grass all the way down. I was thinking I could drag an 85 pound canoe that far (maybe it's worse coming up the slope, though, than going down). I suppose in the summer I might be able to keep it closer to the water, but the water does come up in heavy rains sometimes, so I'd have to secure it to something.

My wife wants me to get two tandem kayaks, but given that we've never even so much as rented anything for all four of us, I'm hesitant to invest anything right now, so my thought was to get a used canoe, and see how we take to it. If we really like it, then I can sell the canoe and move up, but I don't want the cost (or management headache) of expensive equipment without proof of our interest!

I'm thinking realistically we're likely to do 3-6 times on the water this summer, so a used canoe should be the best fit.

Thanks for the input. Any comments on dragging a canoe 100' over grass, or what lighter canoes I should look for than the one I mentioned, is appreciated. I did get an e-mail back from the person who listed it saying it's already sold, so I'm back to shopping.

Lot to choose from
A lightweight kevlar canoe can easily cost $2K + new so they tend to be well cared for and accordingly priced used. A lower priced canoe will most likely be on the heavy side. GBG’s post is right on. Best to find the canoe in your price range, then ask about it’s performance here. Good luck.


Please make sure everybody has a PFD and the kids have them on anywhere near the water. When you tip over - and you will - it will be just another fun event if everybody has their PFD on. If they don’t - it can go very wrong. Make sure the kids have their own paddles and let them flail at the water all they want. They will get bored pretty quick if all they do is sit in the bottom of the canoe. Just my two cents worth.

Once You’ve Got a Canoe You Like…
…it’s not a bad idea to keep it around even if you “…move on” to other craft. While we now spend most of our float-time in sea kayaks, we still have two canoes - a venerable but sweet-paddling Oneida 18, and a much lighter Bluewater Prospector. We use them occasionally for gully-hopping or camping, and it’s nice to have a spare boat for friends who like a day on the water once or twice a summer.

If your family “takes to it”, you’re in for a real treat - the time we spent paddling and camping with our daughters is amongst the best times of our lives, and both of 'em still love being out on the water or just outdoors. That’s gotta be one of the best gifts anyone can give their children…

That 17 foot Old town would be perfect

Keep in mind that they are heavy.

I have a bunch of canoes, and if it was me in your situation, that is the one I would get.



Thank you!

– Last Updated: Apr-19-09 9:39 AM EST –

Thank you, thank you, thank you. These are all really great responses. Thanks so much.

I posted a WTB in my local craigslist, and someone says they have a 17' old town camper. Looking on ePinions and some other places, seems like this might be a good fit for me.

Is there anything I should look at particularly when evaluating a used canoe? Reviews
Lots of Camper fans here…

Things to look for? Watch for any major deformations in the hull, twisted/broken gunwales, brittle outer skin - and just a good general looksee, whether it’s been cared for or not; does it look like it’s been beaten around or treated reasonably well? Abuse and neglect generally show, if you take the time to look carefully…

Make sure…
about the size. I noticed you mentioned it was a 17’ Camper. Does Old Towne make it in 17 as well? The one on their web site is 16’. There is one listed on the Pnet Classifieds as well…

UV exposure
You might ask how the boat has been stored. Continuous long-term UV exposure degrades some hull materials. This is sometimes apparent from looking at the hull and sometimes not.

If you buy a Royalex boat, look for so-called “cold cracks” near the gunnels. These are linear cracks that start at one of the screw holes or rivet holes used to secure the gunnel to the hull. They often look pretty innocent, but sometimes extend over time, like a crack in an automobile windshield, and can sometimes fatally weaken the hull.

If the boat has wooden gunnels, turn it over and look at the undersides of the wood on the inside and outside to look for signs of dry rot.