Old Town Poly vs. Grumman Aluminum

Old Town Discovery Sport 15 vs. Grumman Aluminum Square Stern 16’

Since I am asking about two square stern canoes, you might rightly suspect that my inquiry is not entirely about paddling. Since paddling is part of the equation, I hope it is okay to ask about the relative merits of these two canoes in this forum.

The intended use is in the tidal creeks and saltwater estuaries around my home. As I expect to use whichever I settle on year round and also to regularly carry binoculars and cameras, stability is high on the list of priorities. On the other hand, ease of paddling, when I want to sneak around silently to observe birds and other wildlife, or when my kicker quits, is not unimportant. In the area I will be canoeing, occasional encounters with oyster beds is part of the deal.

I have considerable experience kayaking in this area using poly kayaks. They seem to me to be a good compromise of “paddle-ability,” weight and durability. For that reason, I think the Old Town would do fine on surviving the environment. Of course, the Grumman aluminum canoes are legendary for their ruggedness. I am not really wild about the idea of aluminum but the Grumman is 40 pounds lighter than the Old Town. Since I usually go alone, the lighter canoe would be much easier to handle out of the water.

Any thoughts or input you have on the relative merits of the two canoes or the two very different construction materials would be appreciated.

I’d pick the Grumman

– Last Updated: Oct-27-13 10:11 AM EST –

Let me preface this by saying that I really don't like paddling aluminum canoes. BUT, I have used aluminum motorboats off and on all my life, and find aluminum to be perfectly satisfactory for that kind of use. You are basically looking for a motorboat.

1. I'd say that you are totally correct that the 113-pound weight of the Old Town model is something to consider. I'd call that weight a total deal-breaker. Every motorboat I've ever seen of such weight has been trailer-mounted, not car-topped or hand carried to the water. If you need to carry or drag that boat at all, the end result will be that you simply won't use it as much. Oh, and see the note below about how the hull holds its shape. For a Discovery canoe (more like a rowboat in this case) that's carried on a trailer right-side up, the bottom of the hull will eventually conform to the trailer pads on which it is carried. Aluminum boats can sit on trailers forever and still keep their original shape. For trailer carrying, the Old Town would need to be carried gunwales-down on cross bars, which is certainly an option.

As to the Grumman weighing 71 pounds, that's really heavy too, but at least it might be manageable for one-person carrying. If you can equip it with a removable carrying yoke, it will actually be pretty easy to carry. You "might" simply be able to put your back against the floor of the boat (using a boat cushion), but I think that center thwart might be in the way (I often carry a small aluminum Jon boat that way, and it weighs the same as that Grumman. Carrying it 100 yards or less isn't too bad at all).

For EITHER model, a set of wheels that clamps to the stern would be a great asset for getting the boat between your car and the water. I just can't imagine anyone using the Old Town model for solo use much at all, unless it's carried on a trailer.

2. The Old Town is a few inches wider than the Grumman, but I don't think that will matter, especially on your solo trips. The slightly longer length of the Grumman will tend to balance out that width difference, in terms of handling and load-carrying ability.

3. I have yet to see my first Old Town Discovery canoe that wasn't seriously warped on the bottom. Okay, I take that back. I've seen some brand-new ones that weren't warped, but they all end up that way within a few years. On a boat like this, which is even wider than a typical Discovery model, the warping would most likely be worse. People who like these boats aren't bothered by it, but speaking only for myself, I don't like hull materials that don't hold their shape. A warped, flexy boat won't perform nearly as well when pushed along at speed by an outboard motor either, though it might be preferable to aluminum if you accidentally ram rocks sometimes.

Oyster beds

– Last Updated: Oct-27-13 10:31 AM EST –

are not kind to poly. Not so much an issue at paddling speeds but motoring onto one is hard on plastic. You are aware of the lacerating qualities of them. With the Grumman at worst you have an hairraising noise!

You will have to be careful not to bang the boat. Its tricky to avoid that when viewing wildlife.. even the simplest of moves like to get the binocs out makes a noise.

Rental canoes I see in the Florida Everglades are aluminum( oyster bars to the max). Another downside of alu is of course you are riding in a saute pan.

There are a lot of OT poly boats here. The local livery uses Discos.. Most of them are not deformed but and this is a big but. Maine is forested and the boats are never in the sun unless on the water. Storing a poly boat on racks with two supports in the sun may be an issue.

Thank you!
Thank you, Guideboatguy! You gave me a lot of good info there.

I did not know about the issue with the Old Town hulls deforming. Having never had that problem with Perception, Necky or Wilderness Systems poly kayaks, I was pretty confident that the Old Town canoe would be fine. That issue would bother me a lot!

You also put something I had already thought about in a more realistic perspective. Because I will transport the canoe in a pickup with a bed extender and can generally back up right to the launch site, I COULD probably deal with the weight of the heavier canoe but, you are right, I probably WOULD not do so very often.

Thanks, again!

Now, let’s see if someone will make a persuasive case for the Old Town.

Thank You
Thanks, kayamedic!

You mostly make me feel better about the aluminum. I am not too concerned about scratches and scrapes but do not want big dents or lacerations.

Even though I was aware of the heat situation with aluminum, your quip about the sauté pan will come back to me many times in hot weather!

Noise and the saute-pan effect
Aluminum can be noisy, but having spent so much of my life in aluminum fishing boats, it just comes naturally for me to avoid making the usual clunks and bangs. You can tell the difference between a seasoned aluminum boater and the average boater within the first five minutes on the water. Anyway, if you are within sight of wildlife, the critter already knows you are there, so unless you do something catastrophic like drop an oar, noises usually seem to be less important than your own movement. Little patches of carpet where you put your tackle box or Pelican case pretty-much eliminate incidental noise from handling things in the boat.

As to the saute-pan effect, I’ve never been in the deep south so I can’t speak to that. In the north, reflectivity of new aluminum is awful on a sunny day. Old aluminum boats on the other hand, or ones that are painted on the inside aren’t bad at all. As long as you keep a boat cushion on the seat, other aspects of the metal heating up have never bothered me much, but again, that’s the case in Wisconsin, maybe not where the OP lives.

Kayaks versus canoes

– Last Updated: Oct-27-13 10:50 AM EST –

Poly works great for kayaks, and also for the new, very tiny whitewater canoes (which look a lot more like kayaks than canoes), because the tubular or semi-tubular shape is self-reinforcing. When the same material occurs in the form of big, flat panels, it's not very stiff at all.

You probably already have this idea, but if there's a place that sells these boats nearby, find any of the Discovery models on the rack and push on the bottom of the hull with your hand. You'll get a pretty good idea how flexible the material is, and you may get a better feel for what degree of deformation might end up being permanent. Not everyone is fussy about such things (if everyone were fussy, these boat's wouldn't sell).

Saute Pan Effect
kayamedic may have coined a new term for suffering heat in an aluminum boat.

I believe the olive drab canoe I am considering is a light shade of OD inside and out. Not positive on that, though. However, in this area, at least for me, active outdoor stuff is done early morning or late evening several months of the year.

Kayak vs canoe
I have several poly kayaks and one old town canoe. Of similar ages and stored together on the same racks, kayaks on their side, canoe upside down. the kayaks all still have their shape, the canoe is seriously hogged. Sway backed like an old horse. Handles like a pig, but she is the queen of river clean up day. All the kayakers bring me things to carry. But yes the hull will deform. Without the full circle of deck and hull the canoe is under different stresses.

Sauté pane effect
You can’t get much further south than me and I have yet to feel this mythical effect. Aluminum is used for heat sinks because of their excellent transfer ability. My aluminum canoe has a light green primer on the floor and I paddle barefoot in the July and August with no problems. A canoe on land in the sun might be a different issue.

Good Point
Hey, pirateoverforty!

You are right, of course, about a canoe in water but you have to admit “Sauté Pan Effect” evokes a vivid mental picture of being in a shiny metal boat in the middle of a hundred degree day.

I just wanted to be sure kayamedic got credit for his descriptive turn of phrase.

Since you have an aluminum canoe, do you have any thoughts on the one I am considering?

Discovery 15 all the way
Dear gray dabbler,

I owned and sold the only Grumman square stern canoe worth owning, a mid 1970’s Sport boat. The rest of the Grumman’s are just bobtailed double ended canoes, narrow and built with far less sturdy construction than an older Sport boat.

I sold the Sport boat because it was like drift fishing in a beer can. If I dropped a 1/16th ounce jighead on the floor of the boat it sounded like a .22 rifle shot. The Grumman will be loud, far more loud than the Discovery.

The Discovery weighs exactly the same as the Sport Grumman but more than a bobtailed 16’ square stern. Pick up a used jet ski trailer for $ 250.00 - $ 300.00 off of Craigslist and you won’t care about the weight.

You will appreciate how much more quiet the Discovery is over an aluminum canoe. You will also appreciate the comfort level of the poly floor and insides during all seasons. It won’t get as cold nor as warm as the aluminum boat.

You needn’t worry much about wearing the polylink hull on oyster bars either. They’ll stop you cold before you get a chance to grind much of the hull away!

I’m a powerboater first and a paddler second and I’ve owned nothing but aluminum powerboats in 30 plus years of boating. They cost less than fiberglass and are more durable in the rocky places I run boats. I wouldn’t own an aluminum canoe even if it was gifted to me.


Tim Murphy

I was part of the cooking team
for forty lanlubbers mostly from NYC. We were doing a lobster bake…

Duh. Ahead of time we got the crustacean crowd and buried them in a Grumman out of the sun we thought and also put seaweed on top of them.

Some were cooked a tad too early. We had to talk fast as we put them in the pot at the actual correct cooking time "Yes…sometimes lobsters are red “(after waving it around to make it look somewhat alive”

Thankfully no one became ill.

Improvise, adapt, overcome
Dear kayamedic,

Good thinking with the wave around before dropping the lobsters in the boiling water.

Aluminum canoes can be useful and fun but like you learned they are crock pots for whatever is inside of them.

Polylink is probably the worst material for a long paddle with portages, but it’s hard to beat for knocking around. It sounds like the OP wants a knock around boat so I went with what I’ve used. I still own a Disco 13 Sport and will buy a 15 or 17 next year if I find the right deal.


Tim Murphy

I had the Disco 160K rowing canoe
It was a lot like the square stern ones old town made. It was a great rowing and sailing boat and lasted more than 12 years stored in the North Carolina sun before it was given away.

I now own an aluminum canoe and it is not as good of a row boat. So if I was rowing and motoring I’d get a true v hulled aluminum boat or another old town.

If I was paddling I’d get a better paddling canoe than either of them.