Tandem Kayak or Canoe Recommendations - Mild Whitewater and Rivers/Lakes

I have been reading a lot about my options, and am starting to narrow down my choices, but wanted to seek advice from others. I would like to do more boating with my wife and 2 teenage daughters in Maryland and surrounding states. We’ve all done lots of flatwater canoeing, 1 trip of duckies on class 1 and 2 whitewater. Years ago, I did many class I and II whitewater canoe trips, learned kayak rolling in a pool, and did 1 whitewater kayak trip, but never really mastered the roll. (I think I could if I used nose plugs.) Our next trip will be a 3- 4 hour trip guided trip in kayaks at Harpers Ferry.

I weigh 190 and am 6’2 with size 13 feet that can be a tight fit in kayaks. The ladies weigh around 120.

Must haves: 1) Two person boat, 2) able to handle class II whitewater, maybe some IIIs, and maybe someday IV’s), and 3) would also like something that tracks okay on small lakes and rivers, 4) comfortable seats.

Not important: 1) Carrying capacity. We always do day trips and travel light. 2) Kayak vs canoe paddles. We are comfortable with both. 3) We will never be portaging these boats, but lower weight is still nice during transport.

At first, I thought I really wanted a sit-in kayak, but I only found two tandem river kayaks with small cockpits that accept neoprene skirts (Jackson Dynamic Duo and the Topo Duo). While they are both great whitewater boats, I’m concerned how those 12’ boats would handle on flat water. Also, I’m not sure if we would be able to roll it, and is a skirted boat that much better on whitewater if we can’t roll it?

I was really interested in the Old Town Dirigo Tandem Kayak b/c it was a rec boat with separate cockpits, but the cockpits are so big that you can only get spray skirts. I couldn’t find neoprene skirts that big.

So, I’m down to 2 general options: 1) Sit on Top Tandem Kayak or 2) regular canoe with float bags and kneeling pads.
I’m leaning toward the Crescent Splash II, 12′ 4″ L x 34" Wide x 14.5 H, 69 lbs.

For a regular canoe, I would like to try to get something used, but I’m not sure what length we should get, 14, 15, or 16?
Whether I buy new, or used, I want to get or convert to contoured seats with back support.

These are the local canoes available used:
*Several Old Town 147 Guide Canoes, 14 x 3.5 x 1.2, Polyethylene, Bottom: Shallow Arch, Sides: Straight with Chines, Rocker: Moderate
*Several Colemans (Polyethylene with aluminum frame) 13 and 15,
Several Old Town 16’s and some Mad River 16’s

Thank you in advance for anyone who can share some recommendations.

Running WW tandem you had better be a good team. I can’t speak to kayaks but I have done a moderate amount of WW in a Mad River Explorer 16’ (Lower Yough - Penna, Cherry, Cranbery, Middle Meadow WVA. some others). Some of that is listed as class 3 and some, once upon a time, was low class IV but maybe not now). The MR Explorer and similar canoes work for a good team. You do need to bag them and thigh straps are a good idea although we didn’t use them.

Don’t put back support in a canoe if you are running WW. Set up for kneeling.

Stay away for the Colemans unless you need a planter. I do recall seeing one wrapped in the rocks far left at double Haydraulic on the Lower Yough. I always did wonder how it got there.

I suggest that you rethink your criteria, mostly take class III and IV off of your current list. I am not trying to be hard on you, but my husband and I happened to not even try WW until we had some goodly time in long boats and conditions. I don’t agree with some of the old school WW attitudes about long boats because I had my roll there before I ever got into a WW boat, and found some of the latter to be pigs to roll. But I totally agree with the basic safety attitudes about paddling with someone who could handle an emergency. It does not sound as though you are that person right now, at least in moving water.

It sounds as though if you got a tandem kayak you would then want to leave to roll it with your daughter. Is either of the daughters on board with this idea? If they are not enthusiastic it’ll be quite difficult, tandem rolling when neither person has deep paddle skills in moving water can be challenging.

A canoe, or any boat that is good in higher level WW, will be quite rockered and maneuverable. So it’ll be highly unsatisfactory on flat water, will turn at the slightest breeze. Class II you have some wiggle room, higher than that the boat needs to be more specialized.

I looked at the Jackson boat, the first one you mentioned. It appears to be designed for one paddler in back who knows well what they are doing and basically a passenger in front. That does not seem to be a match for what you are talking about.

The only craft that I can think of which would get you and your daughter(s) into the same boat in class II is either a proper WW canoe with a lot of rocker and the ability to bash into rocks, or a raft. I suspect you could find a used WW canoe to start with if you are willing to drive, I an fuzzy about where you find higher class WW unless you are in one of the inner corners of Maryland… A good raft that can handle the rocks etc isn’t cheap, it could cost more than two used hard shell WW boats.

Unless your daughters are deeply interested themselves in taking this on, I suspect you would be better off with getting a couple of used low end touring kayaks for cheap or a flat water canoe that could be paddled solo to use on flat water. If they love it and you have good WW nearby, you likely also have a place that can get them and you into some basic lessons to see where their interest lies before you invest in what could become lawn planters. And like husbands and wives, it is often better for someone to learn from a stranger when everything is new…

As far as whitewater, I am mainly interested in class I and II. I know that ideally flats vs rapids require different boats, but I was hoping I might be able to find a flat water rec boat that also performs “okay” up to Class II. Would the Splash II Sit on Top Kayak be at all viable in both settings? We would always go with an outfitter or a an organized group until we’ve proven we have the skills to go more independently.

as somebody that just got back from paddling 19 days in a ww kayak I didn’t get the memo about not being able to paddle flatwater in a ww boat . 8 of the 19 days were on flatwater, or against the current, or class I. I think a canoe like a mr explorer or old town tripper would serve you well. Do outfit with airbags if running ww. Since you won’t be rolling those boats only run what you are willing to swim. If you get really bitten by the ww bug you’ll end up getting a more specialized boat.

I looked at the Splash 2’s web page. “Full length keel” is never a good thing in moving water. It will make the boat very hard to turn and very easy to flip. The keel will get grabbed by cross currents, and if you hit a shallow rock, it’ll hang up and either dump you or cause a very sudden course change. If you’re set on a tandem sit-on-top look into a Liquid Logic Deuce Coupe. Super versatile boat.

For canoes, a Guide 147 won’t be good in whitewater, either. It’s a super wide boat meant for tooling around on flat water. The Colemans would be even worse - the keel would catch, and the aluminum frame would be likely to bend if you hit a rock. It also would pose an entrapment risk if the hull flexes away from the keelson and someone gets a foot caught under it.

Since you have past experience with class 1-2 canoe trips, if you decide you want a canoe, I’d say your best bet is to look for a used Dagger or Mad River Legend 15 or Legend 16, a 17’ Old Town Tripper, or a 16’ Prospector made by any number of companies including Esquif and Nova Craft. A 16’ Dagger Reflection would work, too, though it’d be less maneuverable than the Legend. Oh yeah, an older (early 2000s and before) Mad River Explorer would work ok as well. Pretty sure the newer Explorers that they still sell are not the same design at all and are basically rec boats similar to the Guide. None of these boats will go straight in flat water unless you know proper stern turning/correction strokes, but that’s also what makes them super fun in moving water.

Usually when people paddle Class I to Class II, the Class II stuff consists of shorter drops, and anything that might rate a Class III also would usually be just a short drop with a decent recovery area below. In cases like that, you really don’t need a very specialized boat, though one that maneuvers a little better than standard cruising fare would be nice, especially once you develop some better skills.

Just to put all this in perspective, real Class III whitewater that lasts for more than just a short drop will likely swamp a standard canoe with two people on board fairly quickly. Not many people run extended Class III in canoes except for highly experienced paddlers with fully bagged (float bags) boats. Those who run Class III and higher in canoes usually have very specialized boats, and of course the same is true for those who do so in kayaks.

I’ll echo the comment above about “comfy seats” and seat backs when it comes to canoes in whitewater. You really don’t want to be running whitewater sitting down in a canoe. Lots of people among the rental-boat crowd do it, but I watch lots of them flip for basically inexcusable reasons too. Even Class I stuff can often have obstacles which if you get the hull against them sideways, sitting down is a recipe for rolling the boat, but if you are kneeling, you will be able to stay upright and take a minute to think about how to get unstuck. I’ll add something else too, and that’s that a lot of people who have never tried kneeling and who’s knee’s haven’t seriously deteriorated due to advancing age have no idea how comfortable that position is for your lower back. I’m 59 and I kneel virtually 100 percent of the time, only switching to sitting for occasional, brief rest periods. Recent fishing outings have reminded me that I prefer kneeling for better casting too, and lately I’ve noticed that I typically fish from a kneeling position for about two to three hours nonstop before stretching my legs a bit. The only time I have ever had lower back discomfort while canoeing was in the old days (I was a young pup in college) when I used to sit. To set up your boat for kneeling, set the seat so it slopes downward toward the front by about an inch and make sure it’s high enough to get your feet underneath. Put a pad on the floor where your knees go. A lot of your weight will still be on your butt, which is why it’s easier than a lot of people initially think, but having your knees in contact with the floor changes how the boat feels and how you can control it. When kneeling, you won’t ever get the feeling you do when sitting, that the boat can simply roll right out from underneath your main point of contact - the seat.

Thank you to everyone for your advice. I saw the deuce coupe kayak today too. I think that or one of the canoes above might be my best bet, or if my daughters get into it, maybe one of each.

I would always kneel in whitewater, but thought some comfy seats might be nice in the flats, and really like the opportunity to switch between both during longer trips. I’ve used the Crazy Creek strap on canoe seats, and really liked them.

For now, I’m going to keep my eye out for something used, and am planning some trips, which should also provide some opportunities to visit boat stores. I found a beginner trip on the Yough with tandem hard shell sit on top kayaks. So, we can try out the SOT whitewater experience.

While I enjoyed all my prior WW canoe experiences, there were a few times we were worried that the boat might break from a pin. Even in mild I and IIs, which don’t really require float bags, will a center float bag help protect a swamped canoe from pinning?

@tdaniel The OPer did indicate that lack of ease in rolling was what had him thinking kayaks may not be the best way to go. It sounded more like rolling was desirable but may not be an easy thing to do than it was totally of the wish list. And it is unclear what kind of boat you had - if it was a creeker or something like the Green Boat it might tend to behave better going straight against a current than a river runner/play kayak. That is not the same as a boat that the OPer’s daughters may find encouraging to help manage on flat stuff. This appears to be an attempt to make multiple folks happy in their paddling experience, who may not share the same criteria as you have by yourself.

Thanks again to all. I think the point/question I was trying to make in my original post but didn’t explain well is that at first, I thought I wanted a double cockpit kayak with 2 true neoprene skirts bc that is the first type of boat I think of for ww, but that I think I should abandon that option b/c since I can barley roll myself and my partners have little interest in learning how, I will probably never be rolling a tandem kayak by myself. So, I’m assuming that our poor chance of ever rolling it, negates one of its key advantages. Choosing between a sit in kayak that will probably never get rolled, vs a canoe with float bags vs a sit on top kayak, I’m assuming, the last 2 will be easier to deal with after tipping.

B/c I’m considering 2 tandem boats for 4 family members, and I’m the only one with significant ww experience, I have to think harder about the 2nd boat, which will have 2 paddlers who are new to ww. I’m assuming, a sit on top will be more forgiving for them than the ww canoe. On our last duckie trip, the 2nd boat got stuck often.

I’m guessing that the Yough beginner trip is on the Middle. Enjoy , that’s pretty straight foward. Take your bikes up (or rent) and ride the trail as well. If the rest of the family is interested, you might get on a raft trip on the Lower.

What level of interest does the rest of the family have? I’m hoping that they are excited and not doing “FFF” (Forced Family Fun).

I agree with Guideboatguy’s thoughts on kneeling. I’m 66 and kneel as much as I can. Its far better for my back. Even when I sit I use my core muscles for support & work on keeping good posture.

Rest of the family is interested and enjoys boating, hiking, etc, but mainly wants to just jump in and go. We switched trip to Harpers Ferry instead. For this trip, the river will be very similar to our last duckie trip on the yough, but we were on our own last time, and 2nd boat kept getting stuck. This trip includes guides and instruction/lessons. So, no forced fun, but I am sneaking in some instruction on the side.

Look at the specs for the Swift Dumoine. It’s designed for tripping on rivers with a mix of lake and whitewater. It handles up to Class 3 without getting soaked. Float bags fit it well
Sometimes they come up used in Royalex and the weight is more friendly than an OT Tripoer or any poly canoe

They are also in Kevlar but that gets pricey.