Solo Canoe vs. Tandem Kayak for Single Parent

Would I be better off with a solo canoe or a tandem, shared cockpit kayak?

Pertinent information:

I fluctuate between 130-140 lbs, 5’ 4”.

child is approximately 5 years old and ~40 lbs now.

They have a rare disease that affects joints and their back so I will most likely always be paddling solo and hauling their weight +. They walk, talk, dance, sing, swim, etc. on their own.

Need large dry bin or space for larger dry bag. Has to fit cooler with two 16oz, wide mouth mason jars & ice pack along with other normal day trip stuff.

Day trips only.

Smaller inland lakes and slow moving rivers are all I’ll ever be using it for. Possibly along shores of Great Lakes.

The child needs the support of a kayak seat so I would need to be able to have a kayak seat retro fitted to secure into a solo canoe.

Would be beneficial if a service dog could fit in, in the future, as well.

I have a mini van with a hitch but would like to not have to haul a trailer and could ideally just roof rack the vessel. But I need to be able to get the boat down, and back up on my own. I’m not weak but I don’t weight lift either. I would like to be able to take it with tent camping where I haul my bike and their bike chair trailer (weehoo chair) on the hitch.

I have experience with both canoeing and solo kayaking. I have owned and preferred kayaking but have never done a solo canoe. We both just love to be on the water and they said they’re read, so I’m ready to accommodate in any way to get us out and me back out there.

Recommendations for brands and models greatly appreciated as well. NO inflatable.

Without considering your budget I would tend to recommend a smaller, light weight tandem canoe with you paddling with a kayak paddle. Perhaps a Northstar Northwind 16 or a B16. Potential probles is budget as these start at ~$3,300. Weights are around 40 + 42 pounds so fairly easy to car top. If you can go that way you might be able to talk to the folks at Northstar about custom seat locations to suit your needs.

If you can find a used Mad River Malecite that could suit you as well. Swift & Wenonah have options as well.

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A 16 - 17 ft canoe will give you the capacity and flexibility you’re looking for. Seats with backs are available for hanging canoe seats; others can be installed on the floor for extra stability, which can be welcome with an “energetic” dog. If you go with an aramid or an aramid composite hull, weight should come in 30-40 lbs. … good for single-handed loading.
Either a solo or tandem could work in most conditions. I think I’d lean toward a tandem with passenger and gear in front and you in the stern for reasonable weight distribution. With a solo, you may find that weight is needed in front and behind you; that may or may not be ideal for your intended use.

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Not sure why you’re so down on inflatables. I just got a Sea Eagle Explorer 380X. It’s super comfortable for my wife and I. The boat was $1200 with the pro carbon package so like a third of the canoe price quoted above and most likely much more stable. You might be better off with the fast track though. The upgraded seats offer a lot of back support with the high back which is probably more supportive than a canoe seat as well. All in all a great package and relatively light at like 35 pounds. The Sea Eagle is super durable and rated for class 4 whitewater with obstructions such as rocks.

I too would suggest a light weight tandem. However, you might want to find a local paddling group first as they could potentially provide valuable local info a the chance to try out a few boat options. If you live in South Carolina. There are several meetup groups. I would let you try both my solo and tandem canoes. I find as I age that I really like using a trailer to load.


Where are you located? Asking because it might be useful for you to be able to attend one of the canoe and/or kayak group get togethers at which you could try out a variety of crafts to get a feeling for what could work for you. And often at these events there are folks offering good used boats for sale. And you may want to look for paddler’s groups in your area and see if there are events where others might loan you a boat (many of us avid paddlers have extra boats and gear to loan). It would likely be safer for you and your child to have your first outings in a group situation anyway, so if any problems arise you have help with getting back on track. In my area there are outdoor sports groups that focus on aiding those with disabilities enjoy wilderness recreation and you might find organizations like that who would be happy to help you out in fitting up a good kit for the two of you.

I’m a little concerned about your mention of paddling the coastal Great Lakes. Those are rather serious waters to attempt for a novice paddler, particularly with a child who would be at risk in a capsize. Canoes are not the best craft for large windy open water spaces with strong currents and potentially rough waves. And sit on top kayaks are a wet ride, probably not what you want for your child (or yourself).

I do agree that a tandem canoe is likely your best option. Ones light enough for you to self load are going to be costly unless you can locate a good deal on a used one. I also agree that you should not discount inflatables. Not all of them are slow cheap “pool toys” – the high pressure floor technologies have made them much more functional and they have a lot of versatility including being able to move the seats around. Also you won’t have to worry about roof racking or trailering an inflatable since it will ride in the vehicle in a duffel bag.


In my opinion you have a very special case going on for your needs and it might be tough to get it all off the shelf and may require a little DIY customizing. A couple years ago I knew next to nothing other than I wanted to get on our local river and inland lakes much like you do. A tandem canoe is what I found used for not much money so that’s where I started. In the end I’m quite happy where I landed converting the tandem to a solo with room for a dog or child or just a lot of gear. I’m going to also recommend a canoe.

First is boat weight. It doesn’t sound like you will be jumping lake to lake hiking trails and toting the boat overhead. So once in the water the weight of the boat won’t matter a lot. The weight will play a big part getting the canoe from where you keep it to the car you will haul it with and then on and off the car and to the waters edge along with all the stuff you want to bring along. Moving it alone on the ground is pretty easy with a cheap kayak folding dolly wheel setup you can get on Amazon for under 50 bucks. They work great even though they are made for a kayak hull. I added some loops of rope to make hooking it around a larger boat easier and use two hook cam straps rather than one. I put it on at our put in spot and then load the canoe with coolers paddles and everything we will need for a day on the water. Then I put her 10’ rec-kayak on top and roll the whole thing 100 yards down a ramp to the water without any help.
That leaves getting the thing on top of the car and off. I’m an older guy that pretty strong and I’m sure I could do it if I had to. My canoe weighs 80#. But I wasn’t about to find out the hard way what problem I might have. There are dozens of ways people have figured out how to make loading easier and I figured out a method that was safe and worked for me. A trailer works great but it has a lot of down sides also. I’m sure you can see what they would be.

I will also advise against Great Lake paddling living on the Great Lakes I do understand the attraction and there are evenings when it is like glass and to paddle around close to shore and close to put in would likely be fine. Anything more than that would be pushing it as situations change quickly on all bodies of water and the lakes can really catch you off guard.

I will also suggest additional capsize flotation added to the canoe even though you may think you will ever need it. Again I added my own DIY version of air bags and they offer a lot of peace of mind knowing how much easier it is to right and bail the boat with them in there.

My budget didn’t allow for the super lightweight solo pack canoe of my dreams. To get started on a budget I would suggest 14-15 foot tandem and rework it to be a solo with a special seat for your daughter. I liked my seat back design for my comfort placing it in the perfect trim location and for your daughter I would do something like you are thinking placing her in front of you in a lower version of a seat back seat. You will have to decide if you want her facing you or not and maybe design it with the option of both.

I will also suggest using an extra long double bladed paddle. The extra length will help with drips and that could be a real problem with her close in front of you.

I won’t post a lot of photos but if you want to see my build information and canoe tips I will link my thread on what I did. I did a lot of 2 steps forward 1 step back and the thread points out what I did and what I redid.


Consider your child’s growth and how long you might expect to keep the boat before you either outgrow it or your child wants their own.

I took my 6 year old, 40 lb. boy out for the first time in a rented Old Town Twin Heron. That turned out to be a good choice. It’s a short 13.5’ tandem sit-in kayak with a single large cockpit opening for two that gives it an open, somewhat canoe-like feel. The cockpit design is dog-friendly, unlike most sit-in kayaks. It has what Old Town calls an “auto trim hull” design to allow a single paddler to use it from the rear seat. I guess it worked because trim was fine, it wasn’t bow high, it tracked well, and he was comfortable in it. I would recommend it, but it’s 63 lbs. and you’d need a helper to get it on and off of the minivan. My wife & I have a minivan and know what that’s like.

My next thought was an ultralight composite pack canoe, either a tandem or a long solo converted with two custom-positioned seats. That could get you under 40 lbs. with two kayak seats, perhaps even 35, which might make unassisted van top transport workable, albeit at a price. Due to the weight imbalance, you might ride bow high in a stock tandem, and you might outgrow a converted solo. Given that paddling will be all new for your child, it might be wise to wait a couple of years to see how it goes before spending a lot.

It’s a shame that you won’t consider inflatables, because you have a perfect use case for a recreational/touring IK. I bought an Aquaglide Chelan 140 last year for similar use with a similar sized child. The main downside is that it’s slower than a typical hard shell rec boat, but unless you have distance objectives or are trying to keep up with others, that shouldn’t matter. It’s also more affected by wind than most hard shell kayaks, and you have to dry it out before putting it back in the bag. The upsides are that it’s super stable, the drop stitch floor is great for dogs and makes the boat easy to step in and out of, self-rescues are easy, the seats are all-day comfortable, it weighs 35 lbs, it comes in a backpack with room for other paddling stuff, and it’s trivial to set up.

If not a pure inflatable, then look at hybrid folding/inflatable kayaks. There aren’t many options left in the US, but there is Pakboats and Neris.

If you live close to Dunham’s or Dick’s sporting goods store go in and try out sitting in all the different models/styles.To save some money try buying a used one on one of the many local buy/sell FB sites.Stay safe, happy paddling🛶

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Go to Power & Paddle Store in Candor, NY, or contact them. They have a “test pond” on which you can try out all types of their kayaks. They provide you with PFDs at their pond. Send them your post & await their reply. We love our Hobie Kayaks. They are open on top. Have 2 to 3 sealed storage areas. You can paddle, peddle or sail them. Go to to view them. A tandem is heavier than a solo kayak, so you may need a helper to lift it onto/off of your car. We tried out a tandem with our aussie’s sitting up front. In the solo kayak, our aussies sits in behind us (having no seat, just a pfd cushion to sit on).


Having spent much time paddling both canoes and kayaks with small children and big dogs aboard, I strongly recommend going with a double kayak. Your center of gravity will be lower, which will make a big difference in maintaining stability. Your child (and dog if aboard) will certainly be prone to moving around, with sometimes unpredictable shifts that can be destabilizing. The partial deck and lower center of gravity make a kayak much more suitable for your situation than a canoe for carrying a child and dog.

Further, I recommend going with a double kayak that has an open cockpit. You need to have easy and immediate access to your child (and pet?) when (not if) they start moving around or having difficulty. This is best achieved by one open cockpit, as opposed to dual cockpit kayaks; with dual cockpits your access to your child will be greatly constrained. The open cockpit kayak will also handle the gear you reference, and a dry bin or large dry bag is a good way to handle this. An open cockpit double kayak will have ample side decks, which will keep you dryer and also help stow your additional gear.

Consider carefully the choice of PFD for your child - be certain that the PFD you choose is comfortable to wear, and with its own buoyancy with bring your child upright and able to breathe without aspirating water. Pet PFDs are also important.

Before committing, I urge you to conduct trials with different boats loaded with what you intend to carry and see how it feels. Ask around in your paddling community, or check out a rental.

The boat you choose will almost certainly be heavy to load on a roof-top. Several devices are available that can help load a kayak onto the roof racks with rollers; small carts are available that can help transport the kayak from the car to the water. Test several of these and see which are easiest for you to manage with your gear and child. I wouldn’t give up on using a trailer for the kayak if you find it challenging to load it on roof racks.

Best of luck with this - your child is certainly lucky to have a parent who will paddle with her child and dog - even with the challenges my bet is you will find it a wonderful experience.


My word this advice is overwhelmingly wonderful!

Luckily, or sadly depending on how you look at it, I am privileged that a disability/medically complex charity is willing to supply what we want with what they referenced, “anything under $5,000 is reasonable and quickly approved.”

And the idea of custom seat locations and kayak paddle for myself is kind of tripping my mind but also making me super hopeful and excited. Thank you!

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Such great advice, especially with the accommodations for the future service dog.

Thank you!!!

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I don’t know why I never thought of a local paddle group. So thank you tremendously for this simple yet super effective advice.

I know my area has them in several locations so I have some communicating to do.

Thank you!

I said this to another commenter, but seriously thank you so big for so gently and kindly recommending reaching out to a local paddle group and borrowing some different options with the child to test out.
It seems to obvious but alas was missed.

As for your concern about the Great Lakes, I appreciate the gentleness in expressing those as well. I lived for paddling the glassy shores on those random summer evenings… even if it was less than a handful a year. And although I am aware I’m realistically, dreaming, I still dream to take my child out and let them experience at least one sunset paddle along the shores. Their mortality has taught me everything is worth waiting for even if it’s a one off of something as simple as a sunset paddle on the shores of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, or even Lake Superior.

Because of your eloquence with your words, my willingness to consider inflatables is opening up.

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Your thoroughness is so appreciated and I cannot thank you enough for just the time you put into responding.

I was wondering if a customizing was going to be necessary. Which is why I felt like here would be the best place to go with where I was at in my research, and here I find your thorough response.

The kayak hauler retrofitted to a canoe hauler makes me feel much more confident with a tandem canoe. So many, “I didn’t think of this option” in these thread responses have me smiling so big at this community. My child, although disabled, lives for helping and the best way I describe them is, “determined in their independence.” Quite a conundrum but with the hauler, being able to place everything in I think I can either let them ‘help’ in a way they feel successful. And when they’re tired at the end let them ride in with all the gear straight to the car. This hack will be so beneficial.

You can reference my other response about the Great Lakes paddling. In summation, I know I’m dreaming but with a child who has an all too real mortality, that one glassy night will be worth everything in my book. It’s all about experiences and once-in-an-all to short-lifetime is plenty for me. Ha The lakes caught me enough off guard as a solo kayaker that I wouldn’t dare risk this child’s life earlier than it already is.

Leading into the next piece of advice, relax my stability concerned heart and take 15 lbs of worry weight off of me!! Thank you! Again never considered adding DIY airbags but this is definitely going on the list for at least the beginning where the novice of the situation will definitely add energy and excitement to an already excitable age of child. They were great when we rented but the brevity and duration of the situation kept them stable, knowing my child though this dissipates fast and flies out the window when there isn’t an audience.

Also the lower version of a seat for her, chefs kiss! This is one of the reasons I was leaning harder towards an open cockpit tandem kayak. I needed her further down and away from the edge. I did ISR swim lessons because of living near so many waters and while I believe in her success of recovery I obviously want to avoid them having to recover at all costs. Knowing at some point it will be unavoidable. And the option for her facing me (or away from me)! Ugh my emotional heart is just exploding with joy at the thought of getting to see her face during the experience. And the drips, she got so mad at me when we tried kayaking together. So. Mad. Lol so this is glorious as well.

You kind sir have boosted my confidence ever so slightly so that I’m no longer in, “I’m completely out of my mind for trying to fulfill this silly whim of hers” territory. And for that I’m forever grateful.


Sadly, or luckily as I see it, she probably won’t ever have the shoulder mobility or core strength and vestibular system to paddle on her own or be in her own boat. I’m ENTIRELY ok with this. Haha
So with that, I’m mostly concerned about longevity. I’m hoping that with their growth I’ll get stronger by caring for them and paddling them around so it will be a gradual progression that I can acclimate slowly to.
If not, I guess I will become a weight lifter.

We rented an Old Town tandem open cockpit kayak the time I took her out and I know no more than that about it but it did suit us well but was HEAVY exactly as yours sounded as well, I definitely was concerned with having to shoulder that alone. And when it comes to purchasing and having someone else so generously offer to do the financing, I just want it be as thorough as I can before such a large ask.

Thank you for still offering inflatable considerations, and a hybrid! I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me when it comes to more research.

Grateful for your response and answer! Thank you.

Adding Power & Paddle store to my research list now. Thank you!
Love the idea of a test pond with her to try specifics out and not just what a rental has to offer as we did for each type of vessel in the past.

Cannot tell you how appreciative of your response I am.

Everything you mentioned about a tandem, open cockpit kayak is exactly why I was heavily leaning towards that as my option but as I mentioned it to more people in real life the crazier I felt with their expressions… although looking at it objectively, I’m horrible at reading expressions. Hahaha they probably would give me the same looks if I said I was leaning towards a canoe too.

You are not the first at recommending trialing and the many options out there to do it, it’s now at the top of my list.

Luckily I did ISR swim lessons for her since we live near so much water, it really wasn’t an option in my opinion to not teach her how to survive if falling in with all her clothes on. She loves her life vest brand but I’m definitely going to bring it with for all the trials instead of using what they offer to make sure it’s what she feels is best. She can communicate for herself so I better let her her when it comes to her comfort.

Your kind words about my parenting and choices are stored deep and will be truly cherished. Thank you.

As @rival51 says, Northstar’s B-16 and Northwind 16 are good options; they each come in at 41 lbs in the Blacklight hull. Yes, they’re more costly than big box brands, but I’d rather invest more up-front in a great boat than have to spend hundreds of dollars extra on a trailer or a load-assist rack.
Also, I’ve found that the Northstar people know what they’re doing and genuinely like to help. Once they understand your preferences and constraints, I’ll bet they’d be willing to suggest appropriate mods and do them right at their factory.