Prospector vs ___ - design question

Hi There – First Post – Newbie type question:

Why are the Prospector canoes sold by many manufacturers marketed as being for the experienced paddler?

I have paddled canoes very casually on a random basis since childhood and am comfortable on the water. However, I recently have been trying to learn as much as possible about different strokes, touring, etc. with the hope of getting a canoe before the end of the year.

Part of me says to simply purchase a used Mad River Explorer or similar boat, which I see for sale regularly on Craigslist. However, I really like the lines of the Prospector canoes that I see from different companies as well as some of the wood / canvas models.

I would like to purchase the “right” boat first-time around, i.e. one that will be something I can use immediately with pleasure and yet get greater performance out of as my skills develop. Would a Prospector design be good for this or would I be better off starting with a less “refined” design and graduating to a Prospector later?

(pertinent details: 16 foot tandem that would be paddled solo approximately 50% of the time almost exclusively in coastal estuaries.)

Thank you very much for your feedback.

I’ve never heard of that

– Last Updated: Jul-26-12 4:28 PM EST –

Prospectors being for experienced paddler, that is. I'd put a couple of completely new paddlers in my Novacraft Prospector 16 without a moment's hesitation. They are very capable, versatile and forgiving boats.

probably marketing
’cuz they want you to buy something else first.Something fat and flat most likely. Just go for it, nothing radical in the design, just has some rocker, varying between brands, and whatever Prospector you got, I can’t imagine not getting used to it pretty quickly.

stern rocker

– Last Updated: Jul-27-12 11:15 AM EST –

Most, but not all? Prospectors have ~ 3" of rocker at bow and stern, hence tend to yaw away from the stern paddler's stroke when he, it is usually a he, erroneously carries the blade behind his body.

Symmetrical in shear, rocker and hull form and usually over cheeked, Prospector is not a sophisticated design, just a bog slow but workable river tripper/freighter that has developed quite a following due to a complimentary movie that didn't actually feature it.

So it goes!

. . . Am I correct in thinking a different design (other than the Prospector) would be better if the canoe were going to be used plus 90% of the time on flatwater and slow rivers . . . camping trips and fishing?


Almost every maker produces a “Prospector” canoe but they vary quite a bit in length and rocker and few are really true to the lines of the original Chestnut Prospector.

The generic “Prospector” design does seem to have some traditionalist appeal that sort of defies logic, probably largely due to the films and books of Bill Mason that Charlie alludes to.

I am not particularly crazy about the “Prospector” design, but I agree with Brian that they are forgiving and I personally feel that the Nova Craft Prospector is the best one I have paddled. They are better river boats than flat water boats. They have rather high recurved ends that catch a lot of wind and they don’t manage to put a lot of their overall length in the water, so they tend to paddle like boats much shorter than their specified length, i.e, quick to turn but slow. But they are stable and dry in waves, and nimble for their size.

The Mad River Explorer design is no speed demon either, but frankly if most of your paddling will be done on flat water or easy rivers I think you might be better off with it.

Prospector is a general category,
not a specific boat. Not sure what qualifies as a “sophisticated” design. I have owned one so called prospector. It was the best white water river tripping boat I ever owned. Some of the prospectors have rounded hulls and a lot of rocker and poor initial stability unless heavily loaded. When loaded they are absolutely wonderful white water canoes in my humble opinion. Guess I’m sort of a blue collar paddler.

I agree
with all of the above. And I’ll just add that I’ve also heard them described as a canoe for experienced paddlers, but mainly because they are designed for white water river tripping which is usually the perview of experienced paddlers. That design entails plenty of rocker and good deal of freeboard, which means that it doesn’t track particularly straight without a good solid j-stroke and gets tossed around in the wind. So, they are a little more challenging to paddle on flatwater than your average recreational canoe.

I think that for paddling coastal estuaries, a Prospector design would not be ideal. It wouldn’t be terrible, since Prospectors are fairly sea-kindly, and aren’t as slow as full-up WW playboats. But I think you’d prefer more of a dedicated flatwater design with low rocker and less freeboard.

My take
I mostly agree with what’s been said. “Average” paddlers, which by sheer numbers constitute those we see in rental boats, wouldn’t do well in a Prospector at all, mostly because of all the flailing about that would be going on as they attempted to go straight. I think another thing to consider is that Prospectors can be better for solo paddling than a lot of other tandem designs, partly BECAUSE they are so responsive to turning strokes.

One thing I see stated fairly often is that Prospectors are slow. Well, “slow” is relative, and is not always what it seems. If a person is interested in top-notch efficiency and needs high cruising speeds, then yes, Prospectors are slow. In the real world though, and this time I’m talking about my paddling buddies (not paddle-flailing rental boaters), a Prospector can often be fast enough without making the paddler suffer. PJC paddles his Novacraft Prospector as fast as any of the other people on our trips want to go, and that includes quite a few solo-canoe paddlers I know from p-net. It never looks like he’s straining to maintain that speed either. Sure, it’d be easier to go that same speed in a “faster” boat, but there’s often not much reason to worry too much about that. Of course, PJC will be the first to tell you that a strong headwind isn’t much fun when paddling solo, but then, how many tandem canoes are easy to solo-paddle in a headwind? When it comes to maintaining a heading or getting back onto a proper heading in a strong wind from any direction, it’s probably a lot easier for a solo paddler to do so with a Prospector than with many other tandems, so I think that all-or-none answers may not apply. I’m not sure what I myself would choose if I were the original poster. I’ve been spoiled by solo canoes and really don’t care to test my limits in wind with any kind of tandem.

Flatwater boats
Similar paddling habitat here, lakes and slow rivers. I have an old Prospector and it is a neat boat. Fun to paddle at times.

I also have long boats with zero rocker and they get along fine on those same lakes and rivers.

If I had to choose one boat it wouldn’t be the Prospector, but it’s not as bad as paddling a solo with lots of rocker on flat water.


A Prospector is not a Prospector is not
Two years ago I did a lot of research on the original Chestnut Prospector and the modern canoes with that name. (All lost on the defunct

As I recall, there were more than 30 current models called Prospector, which varied widely in every possible dimension. The three current models I thought were closest in specs to Bill Mason’s 16’ Chestnut Prospector Fort were the 16’ Prospectors from Stewart River (wood/canvas), Nova Craft and Wenonah.

The Chestnut Prospector built its reputation basically as a tandem river tripper for heavy loads. Its rocker makes it much more of a river canoe than a lake or ocean canoe.

The Chestnut Prospector got its fame juiced by Bill Mason’s comment in his book that it was near the perfect canoe. Yet, a review of all his films shows him paddling a Chestnut Pal in most of the shots except for the heaviest whitewater runs.

Lots of solo Canadian trippers who are Chestnut fans voice a preference for the Pal, Chum or Bob’s Special over the Prospector for flatwater tripping.

The “Canadian style” paddlers who paddle Prospectors solo do so on a heel. That makes the boat highly susceptible to winds, which could be prevalent in some coastal areas.

Trade offs…
I like Prospectors, though I agree they’re not fast and can be a real handful in strong winds, particularly strong gusty winds. They’re so huge they act like a leaf floating on the water, especially when soloed without much load. If you were a river tripping guy, I’d be more enthusiastic about recommending a Prospector. (I also prefer the Nova Craft.)

But you mention estuaries. I haven’t paddled estuaries in many years, but I do recall they could be very windy, often shallow, places. So that could be a problem for you soloing a Prospector…

The other side of the coin though, the trade off, is that Prospectors handle waves splendidly and remain dry as a bone. I consider them very forgiving, safe, and, above all, outstandingly versatile boats. The lower volume, less rockered, choices take wind better but many are more likely to get swamped in big waves… so when is there wind on an estuary without big waves…well, eventually? What worries you more? Getting blown out to sea or into cliffs, or being swamped by big waves? Good judgement prevents both, of course, but in a worst case scenario what worries YOU more?

Personally, I’m inclined to go with a Prospector and avoid paddling on days when its so windy they become a pain in the arse. I think of that as the safe approach, since I find that in strong winds they become difficult to manage long before they become impossible to manage. If a wind comes up unexpectedly, as happens sometimes, in a Prospector you’ll probably have to work (and it will be pretty hard work) to get to your landing, but you’ll get there unless its a real gale. If it is a real gale a Prospector will keep you afloat in waves till you get safely to some shore or other. (Hopefully on this side of the ocean and not on cliffs) I’ve never felt anywhere near in danger of having waves wash over my bow or stern and swamping me in a Prospector.

I have, however, gotten into big waves that threatened to do exactly that in lower volume, less rockered, sharp-bowed boats that can “knife” into waves. Lesson learned. Boats like that work well enough in strong winds to let you get into potential trouble with big waves, especially when running downwind on a large body of relatively shallow water (waves build faster in shallows, of course). If you go out to play in the wind and aren’t a little cognizant of that possibility, you can get into pretty serious trouble pretty fast.

But that’s just me. Other reasonable folks prefer the other trade off.

BTW, Was there a designer for the Chestnut Prospector? If so, who? Darned good designer, if there was… But for some reason I was thinking that the Chestnut Prospector was a design that “evolved” over the years by incremental tweaking.

Thank you
Thank you very much to everyone for the thoughtful replies. My learning curve is obviously steep and the responses to my questions are very helpful. I am more concerned about being swamped by big waves than being blown into the marsh (no cliffs around these parts). It sounds like my needs for a flat water boat would be better served by a canoe with less rocker. I am going to keep researching and learning and will report back periodically. Thank you again.

Original Chestnut Prospectors
"Prospector" was the general name for a family of Chestnut canoes in the post-fire period from 1922-1978. There were 12 different model names within the family (and 17 total hulls), ranging from 12’ in length and 50 lbs. to 18’ and 110 lbs.

For a complete Chestnut list, see here:

I would get the Explorer
If I was just going to get one canoe, I’d get an explorer. If I was getting more, I’d add an Old Town Penobscot and then a light straight kevlar tripper, and then a prospector.

But I have limited space so I have to get by with just three kayaks and no canoes yet.

Paddling into headwind
You’re so right that paddling a tandem solo into a headwind is a challenge. The trick I found is to move my paddling location forward of the midpoint so that the bow is weighted. That way the wind leecocks the unweighted stern and it is so much easier to paddle forward. In that case, I have to just hit n switch to steer because j-strokes don’t work too well from the front half of the canoe. Even then, turning IS still a mite tricky into a steady wind, especially when the wind wants to turn the boat one way and I want the go the other.

I have an original Chestnut Canoe Company Prospector, 17 ft. “Garry” model. It is deep, has a rounded hull, no keel, and has plenty of rocker. I may be wrong, I don’t have a catalogue handy to consult, but I believe Chestnut Canoe Company warned in their catalogue that Prospectors were designed for more experienced paddlers, so that may be where the stories come from.

I have over a dozen wood and canvas canoes, but the Prospector gets pulled off the rack and used more than the rest of the fleet combined. It is a very versatile canoe. Awesome tripper, tandem day paddler, solo canoe.

What wind?

Happy Prospector
I own and solo a Nova Craft 16’ Prospector. As others have mentioned, wind is an issue. If I’m going anywhere that it might blow I carry a long (275 cm)double blade paddle. If the wind pipes up I first go to hit-and-swithch with the single blade and when that becomes too difficult I break out the double blade and power to windward with the blades offset to minimize aerodynamic drag. The purist solo canoeists sneer, but I leave them behind quickly and don’t have to see that for very long.

It is a versatile, well-behaved canoe that I really enjoy paddling.


Of the boats I own, my 16’ NC prospector is the last boat that I would choose for tidal estuaries. Many years ago, I paddled some of those waters - and I recall wind and tides being the foremost challenges. I would look for a minimal-rockered and low-sheared boat with good secondary stability, like the Wenonah Escapade, or a flat-water solo…or a touring kayak.

If you’re not too big
The Mad River Malecite would be an excellent choice. It catches minimal wind, has enough flair, has good speed and is a good tandem/solo crossover. For where you’ll be I’d say ideally both paddlers would be 180 pounds or less.