Swift Shearwater vs. Bell Magic???

Just curious what opinions there are out there comparing these two boats.

They are both about the same length, but I realize they are fairly different in their volume, width, etc, and probably a bit in their application. Shearwater appearing to be perhaps more of a downriver boat than a lake boat.

I am going to make my own assessment. I have a Magic now and am making a trade of another boat for a used Shearwater that I want to try out. I will keep whichever I like better. I also have an Osprey that is a great boat. So the Shearwater is promising given the Osprey’s attributes.

I have my gut feeling on the two boats. Figure that the Shearwater is probably higher volume, more maneuverable, more stable, more seaworthy and better suited for rivers. It is probably better for kneeling and may be a bigger fit than I prefer.

I figure the Magic is probably the faster and better tracking boat, but less suited for kneeling and less maneuverable.

that’s just my guess.


spot on

– Last Updated: Jun-30-09 10:58 PM EST –

or at least pretty darn close in your assessment. IIRC I thought the Shearwater paddled like a big Osprey, but I didn't spend very much time in one, although I've logged plenty of miles in an Osprey, so I think the general impression is reasonably close. The Osprey was designed as a general-purpose boat. Swift advertised it as suitable for 50% moving water and 50% flat water, which to me means it works fine on both. The Shearwater was advertised as a boat that was big enough for folks who were more comfortable in a tandem. In a Canoe&Kayak magazine test, back when they actually tested the boats instead of repeating the specs and the manufacturer's writeups, the Shearwater was considered very seaworthy.

The Magic is, as you said, faster and tracks better. It is also great in wind and waves. I'm a flat/open water paddler and it is the perfect boat for me.

IMHO, all three boats are suitable for kneeling. All three are also very seaworthy. But, as you said, the Osprey and Shearwater would be better than the Magic when you need some maneuverability, and the Magic tracks better and gives you a bit more speed.

You have some great boats to choose from!

Shearwater is pretty seaworthy
it can handle three foot waves adequately. I have a friend who has paddled with me in his Shearwater for many miles including on large lakes with aforementioned waves.

Its way too big a boat for me… No way can I get a vertical paddle plant unless I heel it over and paddle semi Canadian Style.

Its a good boat for a 225 lb person going out for a couple of weeks in shoulder season with all sorts of weather. It performs fine with a load of about 325 lb.

You can always fiddle with seats.

Agree w/ all above
All 3 assessments above line up with my experiences with these two very different canoes. Quite coincidentally I’ve owned them both. I had a Shearwater but ditched it (I sold it for reasons unrelated to its performance – as per our in person conversation at the WPASCR). I now have a Magic, but don’t have many miles on it yet. My use for these two canoes was/is as a solo north country lake tripper. Comparing these two is a classic example of how two canoes can be somewhat similar on paper, but worlds apart in reality.

For this conversation I’ll just throw in that the Shearwater can be a bear in the wind when running empty, she likes - even wants - a belly full of gear in windy situations. A set of partial or full covers would no doubt be helpful in defusing the effects of the wind on those sail-like interior sides.

Wesd has both
and puts 95% of his mileage on the Magic. I’ve paddled his Shearwater and can appreciate it’s purpose, though if I never planned on a month long Yukon River trip I don’t believe I’d ever have a use for one.


Just a quick comment on the Magic
Someday I’ll get to paddle a Shearwater I hope!

But as to the manuverability of the Magic, I took my new to me Magic for it’s first paddle a few weeks back and ended up in a narrow twisting brook for an hour or so.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to manuver the Magic in there. A little lean was all it needed to turn quite nicely. Of course that was carrying minimal gear. It will be interesting to see how it does with a load.


I would agree that the Magic is actually fairly maneuverable. Not what I would call loose and playful and will not spin on a dime, but is surprisingly maneuverable for a boat of this niche. Much more so than the Wenonah Prism and Advantage which are all I have to compare it to.

Funny thing that you mention Wes…it is his old Magic that I bought. I had asked him about the Shearwater as well and he pretty much told me the same.

I think that the Magic probably will be better for me. I will have both it and a Yellowstone solo so I would think speed and tracking is going to be more important to me for this boat. I also like the slender fit of the Bell boats. But…who knows. I may love the Shearwater! Sounds like a great boat.


Wes is my main paddling man
We spend every September in the boundary waters doing 9 day wilderness trips. I can assure you that you picked up a well cared for Magic with a lot of good karma behind it.

We have a Shearwater
I bought it for my husband Hopsing. At the time, I was in a kayak, and we wanted to go paddle-in camping. We figured we could load the Shearwater with most of the gear for both of us. As it turned out, I quickly switched to a Swift Osprey canoe, which I love paddling, BTW. They both are great boats for paddle-in camping, and carry a ton of gear. Not the fastest, but easy to maneuver, on flat or moving water.

Hop has paddled the Shearwater in some rough water on Kinzua Reservoir, and it’s pretty stable with a big load. I’ve paddled it too, empty. It does get blown around in the wind when empty. Hop sits in it and paddles; I kneel in it.

It’s not the fastest boat, but it works great for us for trips in the Adirondacks…and Hopsing does not pack light with all his kitchen stuff.

Hello Matt
You have pretty much got the comparison nailed down. As Pyker said, I get the vast majority of miles in the Magic. However, when a multiple day river trip is the plan, the Shearwater is the choice. For certain as Arkay says, the boat is completely different with a load. It cruises better and is much less effected by wind.

There’s a chance we’ll be doing a long trip on the Green River in Utah next year, I’ll take the Shearwater on that one.

Best of luck with the Magic, a fine craft with loads of good trip miles on it. I’m headed out this morning with my “new” one for 5 days at Lake Chautauqua. Visiting old friends and putting on some miles.

I’ve owned them both in the past and for me and my preferences I really prefer the Shearwater. Magic is faster and less affected by wind for sure. Shearwater is just such a luxurious boat…it can handle all conditions well, it cruises very nicely with low effort and decent speed (better than a Wildfire for example) and the boat is so maneuverable…if you slide the seat forward, get up on your knees and lean it - it spins on a dime comfortably with the rear 5 feet or so of the boat clear out of the water. I often had a dog with me so the space and sliding seat were great. The Magic just never hit my bottons although lots of people seem to love it and it sure is gorgeous.