Pros and Cons of Aluminum Canoes

I have never disagreed with any of your
posts, and have taken your advice and help on many occassions, but I have to disagree with you on this one.

I have a Wenonah, Jensen 17 ultralight, a ultralight Comp Cruiser, a J-190, and a Savage river carbon kevlar Susquehanna, as well as some plastic and royalex canoes, so please hear me out.

Two years ago, while we were camping down in the Everglades area of Florida, our daughter, son-in law and our two grandchildren came down for a weeks vacation. they wanted us to take them on a day wilderness canoe trip, and we just had our two kayaks and our Jensen with us, so I rented two aluminum canoes, from the Everglades NP.

I wish I could remember their makes, but I don’t, but they were one sweet boat.

I am guessing that they only weighed about 50 pounds, since I had no problem mounting them on the top of the cap of my pick up truck.

They paddled very nicely, and were well built, and each one held two adults and a child.

When we returned them I was talking to a ranger and told him how much I liked the boat, and he said that they were just about industructable, and that was the reason they used them for the rental fleet.

I have no idea what they cost, but if it was my very first canoe, I wouldn’t mind having one at all.



Is it true
That you can cook (fry egg, bake bread) in aluminum canoes if you leave them out in the sun? I hear they get hot.

On one of my first ww trips the aluminum canoe got stuck in a rapid (by it’s painter, long sad story). We got it back the next day, but it had some rips in the hull. Do rx hulls rip? Ya, I suppose they do. But the rip isn’t going to cut your arm off.


The most important point of all . . .
Those aluminum canoes help young boy scouts fall in love with paddling!

Ah, the fond memories of those old Grumman clunkers . . . happy memories of sweet summer days at camp. I can close my eyes and bring them to mind - the sights and smells of the sun, the woods, the docks and the water . . . and the boats. Those memories often come back to me as I put my modern boats into the water. All of it beginning with those aluminum Grumman canoes.

And without those childhood experiences in clunker canoes, most adult paddlers who now paddle “good boats” wouldn’t be paddlers at all, and in turn there would be virtually no reason for those who make “good boats” to even be in the business. That’s why ALL of us would be in a very different situation, a much worse situation, if aluminum canoes didn’t make it easy for folks to get their first exposure to canoeing. Nowadays, there are cheap plastic boats too (which I think are worse), but for most of us who’ve “been around for a while”, aluminum is what first got us on the water.


– Last Updated: Feb-19-16 12:19 PM EST –

I have a nice Royalex canoe as my primary. It is the perfect family canoe. But, I also have an aluminum one, too. The Royalex one I keep at my home, as it was more expensive. The aluminum I picked up for a song and a dance. I don't mind keeping it at the lake where I have a membership, as the elements won't hurt it and it isn't a valuable target. It is great if we have guests and want to take everyone out. We can bring the royalex and have two canoes and kayaks and have a nice day at the beach and on the water. But, what I really like is if I have an hour and a half of solitude, down time, which is usually either in the morning or evening, then I can just head over to the lake by myself and I am floating in 15 minutes (including the drive time). In fact, if I keep my paddle and life preserver in my car and I stop on the way home from work, etc. Since I go early or late, it is usually not too hot and I can just go out and relax. The Royalex canoe is easier to paddle solo, but the aluminum one isn't really that much of a problem on a lake. I get some quiet time (except for the noisy aluminum) and, as long as I have some bug spray, I can make a quick excursion and recharge and maximize my time. I wouldn't bother if I had to put it on the vehicle roof and transport it from home by myself, and if I only had about an hour. The kayak would work for this, nicely, but again I have to transport it. And, I can bring my well-behaved retriever with me in the canoe. She has never tipped it and the two of us can enjoy. I will admit that I am concerned someone will steal it for scrap aluminum, though. And, since I learned how to canoe with an aluminum one, I can revisit my childhood. There are little down sides to owning an aluminum canoe. I would not get rid of the Royalex one, though.

I love my 17 foot Grumman canoes. I have been using one since age fifteen and am pretty good with it. I have two and they handle nice. They will carry a lot of gear. Have taken them on extended trips that did not involve portaging. I will not abuse them by using them for anything over class III whitewater. I think some commenters have overstated the noise factor “con”; with experience you can manuever noiselessly. I have fished from my canoes and watched much wildlife over the last fifty years. Unless you need a canoe for a very special purpose- long portages or serious whitewatter- the “cons” are not worth considering.

There is a outfitter on the Ichetucknee river that uses some 50 year old Grumman aluminum canoes. They slide them down the steps to the water. They slide the boat halfway out over the water at the dock and sit on the stern. Then they have the client step out to the bow in the cantilevered boat. Once loaded they lower it into the water.

I got a Mad River. I don’t think it would survive that treatment long. said:
Unless you need a canoe for a very special purpose- long portages or serious whitewatter- the “cons” are not worth considering.

That may be true for you, but even though there’s a soft spot in my heart for Grummans, the fact that they are rather slow and ponderous is a “con” that, for me, goes beyond the “special purposes” that you named.

Con- after paddling a well designed hull, you realize they are only slightly more maneuverable than a barge. They work well for ponds and floating lazily down wide rivers, but really wear you out in waves and twisty streams or rivers

I remember the ads by “other” canoe manufacturers back in the day (1970’s) that stated you don’t want a “Boom-Alum” canoe because they are too noisy for fishing. Bought one anyway because of the durability. Caught LOTS of fish out of that old 17’ Grumman, plied many WW rivers and BIG lakes and never had a problem. You have to keep in mind that most of your outdoor experiences are dependent upon attitude, and not whether your equipment is “the best” on someone else’s evaluation chart.

They are pretty maneuverable and for years were a staple among Maine WW trippers. Heeled over a bit they turn even better.
Its the weight… the weight. The noise … the hot surface to cook your arse on The cold surface to freeze your feet on

We actually used one as a lobster cooker for a large group once

Its amazing to see a post from 2010 coming back to life. Its good to see that we’ve outlived some of the “boat snobbery” that afflicted our sport up till perhaps the mid-90s has passed and, to be fair, had passed by 2010 as well. For a while there it used to be pretty bad. The price differences between decent glass boats, Sawyers for example, and boats that normal young working folks could reasonably afford was great.

But I 'd like to add that I think the weight objections that are invariably made against aluminum canoes can be a little overdone. Yes, admittedly aluminum canoes are on the heavy side, They’re not kevlar and they come out heavier that good fiberglass lay-ups - but not most of the “chopper gun” glass that was price competitive with Grummans back when many of us were young. Later, when Royalex came out it wasn’t that much lighter either. Most standard production wood and canvas canoes were about the same weight as standard Grummans, required much more maintenance, were as expensive as the best fiberglass boats, and tended to gain weight after being on the water for a while.

I dug out a couple old catalogs for comparison. A Royalex 2010 Mad River Reflection 17 with vinyl gunwales is listed at 72 lbs. A 17’ Bell Alaskan (Royalex) was advertised as also being 72 lbs. A Grumman 17’ standard is advertised at 75 lbs. I could probably dig out more, but I think the point is pretty much made. If you can portage a 72 lb. royalex boat the chances are you can train yourself to carry a 75 lb aluminum boat. (Though if you try to put that aluminum center thwart of a Grumman on your shoulder, don’t expect to get far before it starts “digging in”. You really need a good yoke to carry anything that heavy very far.)

Its just hard to make the finer compound curves for rockered, flaired, or tumblehome hulls in mass production aluminum boats. Those more sophisticated designs really open up up a whole new world to designers and make more specialized hulls possible. Grummans can even glide well - when you finally get a half ton trainload of camping stuff rolling, it’ll glide for quite a while.

I still have my Grumman, of course, and try to get it out on the water every year (usually for the use of kids who want to try their hand at it) but it hasn’t been what I use most in almost twenty years now. But aluminum has its place and its own unique virtues. Paddling an aluminum boat is nothing to be ashamed of. A canoe, any canoe (or kayak) , is a key to a kingdom of nature immersement, camping, journeying, fishing, exploring… There’s a LOT more that brings us to paddling than the kinetics of moving almost magically on water that refined hulls excel at. An aluminum canoe works fine for most of what most of us paddle for and can even do a passably respectable job of the kinetics with practice.

nice post pjc, you nailed it with “An aluminum canoe works fine for most of what most of us paddle for and can even do a passably respectable job of the kinetics with practice”

Except for us who spend most of our trips on lake to lake trips. That old Alu that we hauled in the BWCA for 44 portages when we were 24 almost killed us in Quetico at 49 years. Snobbery has nothing to do with it… Its old age plain and simple.
Our home canoe area was for many years Algonquin Provincial Park… You never see alu canoes in the livery. At one time in the sixties and seventies you might… Fewer material options then

:slight_smile: True enough, Kim. I bought my kevlar Bell precisely because at 49 I was planning a BWCA trip over a route that I carried a Grumman over at 24 - and I was simply too lazy to embark upon a weight training regime to make myself able to carry that load again. (Well, and by the age of 49 I was in a financial position to afford what I couldn’t at 24.) Still, it has to be noted that for most of human history people of all ages have routinely carried 75 lb and heavier boats across exactly those same portages. You just take your time and take more breaks. It can still be done and those rest breaks on a portage trail can be rewarding also. That’s when you see the wildlife. After all, we don’t absolutely have to get our load to the Hudson Bay store before the guys from the Northwest company beat us to the highest bidders…

Kayakmedic, if there’s someone accusing you of being a boat snob, it isn’t me… But remember when the phrase “Friends don’t let friends paddle aluminum” was all the rage? Then someone would try to convince you to let go of two months wages for the newest royalex wonder that was a full 64 ounces lighter? Or a Sawyer or Jensen that after an afternoons paddling would get you to an imaginary finish line a half hour earlier… It really was a bit snobbish. All those were good boats, no doubt about it. All I’m saying is that aluminum has its value and a reasonable person might choose to use it on many occasions.

Another downside, though… They have certain similarities to concentrating solar collectors designed to thoroughly sunburn legs. Friends really don’t let friends paddle aluminum if your friends are nudists.

They make wonderful lobster cookers. We got 50 lobsters from the pound. Then had to keep them for an afternoon… What better container than one of our aluminum canoes at camp to keep them alive? We buried them in sea water and rockweed
And went paddling in other boats
We totally brain farted as to how well an aluminum canoe can collect solar energy…We returned to cooked too slowly lobster aka barely dead… This is not a good thing but our group was from the City so we lied and said thats the way we cook them before finishing them off in a big pot over a real fire.

And prayed alot that we would not need immodium

Boston AMC used to train in Grumman canoes for whitewater, Good impetus for not hitting rocks. The sound of a Grumman vs rock is something you will never forget.

Well, I do agree that it is possible for most people to have fun in a canoe, so long as it floats and they are not too demanding. I do have fond memories of aluminum canoes from years past, including my very first forays in canoes in the boy scouts back in the 1960s, my first trips to the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park, etc. But to tell the truth, these days I would probably prefer to just look at photos of aluminum canoes and wax nostalgic while I drink a beer.

Apart from the weight, which I agree may be no more than a Royalex boat of comparable size, the thermal disadvantages, the limited number of hull shapes, etc, I never got used to the horrible screeching sound they made going over rocks, and for river use, I hated the tendency of the T-keels to dig into sandy river bottoms. The seats and yokes I generally found uncomfortable and difficult to change.

I would choose an aluminum boat over a few alternatives. These would include Colemans and Pelicans and probably quite a few other single-layer polyethylene boats, as well as very heavy chopper gun fiberglass boats.

I posted a comment was.flaged.

I have to defend them. Growing up, my only experiences with canoes were plastic. They were heavy, fat, slow, and the only thing that kept them from folding under your weight was the (normally broken) aluminum gunnel. My became a kayaker. My first taste of canoe racing was in an alumacraft voyager. Modified for racing in aluminum division it was a completely different world of boat. I now have a 17’ lightweight Kevlar solo boat, but the aluminum tandem is probably just as fast (abet with 2 motors).

Aluminum canoes are a great gateway to the sport (especially of racing via aluminum classes)

yeah, aluminum not as bad as some have made out- paddled hundreds of miles (maybe even a thousand miles ) in aluminum canoes. Alumacrafts, grummans, michicrafts, smoker-craft, sea nymphs. Not the best for ww but somehow managed the Dead, East and West Branch (roll dam) in Maine, Okefenokee in Georgia, and Rock Castle Narrows in Kentucky. For me, the biggest draw back was portaging. The thwarts had no flex and were straight so they like to dig into the back of the neck. So yeah, they are a pain in the neck! but I got no problem with how they paddle. I would take a grumman eagle over many poly and some abs boats, especially for soloin’. After all, there ain’t no need for skid plates. You get to leave flashy aluminum streaks instead of yellow, green, or red streaks on the rocks. Often at liveries the aluminum boats are in better shape (less hogged out) than the poly shape shifters. I wish some places still rented aluminum.
Some people love boats. I get that. I love getting out and just paddlin’. So whatever gets you out and hooked is good with me. You can drink beer out of can, a bottle, or a plastic cup. The best beer is the one goin’ in my mouth . Paddlin’ an aluminum canoe is like drinkin’ beer straight from the keg!