What to look for in a family canoe

-- Last Updated: Jul-09-12 10:38 PM EST --

I am thinking about getting a canoe so I could go out on very mellow lakes and canals with my wife and 5 year old daughter. I don't see us doing much more then a lazy afternoon paddle. I am kind of hoping this could be a gateway to kayaking in the future for them, when my daughter gets older.

We are probably going to try renting a few times at first to see how it goes.

They seem interested in the idea, I doubt they are going to want to go more than a few times a year -- so I want to keep this on the cheap side as I would rather kayak if it is just me.

I plan to buy use and in no real rush to buy. What should I be looking for in a used canoe for my purposes?

What would be a good overall example in new boat be? I was looking at some of the Old Towns that had molded seats but then read on another thread that these boats are way to heavy. I really have no clue what I should be looking at...


If you weren’t scrimping and were
buying new, I would suggest a Wenonah Aurora or Spirit II in their Tufweave layup. Stable, easy paddling, easy to load and unload, durable, good resale value.

In used boats you could watch for one of those, or maybe a Penobscot 17 or a Mad River Reflection 17, but you’ll have to be patient watching the used market. And remember, stability is nice, but if you paddle kneeling (as we always did with young kids in the boat), you can get by with faster, less stable boats.

“Way too heavy”

– Last Updated: Jul-09-12 11:13 PM EST –

I was one of the people on another thread saying that Old Towns with molded seats are terribly heavy. Well, it's true - they ARE heavy. However, keep in mind that that discussion dealt with the needs of a woman, "not particularly strong", who wanted to paddle the canoe solo and be able to transport it by herself. While it's always nice to get something lighter (and you certainly can, even for a good price, if you are patient and keep watching for bargains), the aspect of weight with a low-end Old Town won't be as severe a problem for a paddling couple as for a single, small person. Given a choice between heavy weight and something lighter, you'll still like the lighter boat more (and are likely to use it more), but at least in your situation, a heavy boat wouldn't be totally un-usable as would have been the case for the person in that other discussion.

On that note, I'll add something to g2d's comment about kneeling. If you are comfortable kneeling in a canoe, and a lot of people are, standard seats (wood-frame with woven filler material of either cane or webbing) are the way to go. Old Town's molded seats are no good at all for kneeling. Also, if you are new at this, kneeling probably sounds uncomfortable, but for a lot of people it's quite a bit more comfortable and easy on the body (especially the back) than sitting. It's CERTAINLY better for boat control.

Are rental canoes readily available on the waters you want to paddle? If so, you’d probably be better off just to rent, given that you only plan to go a few times a year with the family and would otherwise rather use a kayak. The only reason I could see to buy a canoe for just a few paddles a year would be if rentals weren’t available or if the rental canoes that WERE available were all aluminums and you wanted something that was a little more pleasant and efficient to paddle.

But if you’re still serious about buying one, I agree with the other advice you’ve already been given.

I wonder how much weight could have
been pared off my erstwhile 81 pound Old Town Tripper by replacing the molded seats… Maybe four pounds?

You think it’s just the seats?

– Last Updated: Jul-10-12 8:16 AM EST –

You know better than to assume the seats are the sole cause of the problem. Old Town puts those seats in cheap, heavy boats, and the boat in the previous discussion, referred to the by original poster, was an extreme example of that. When it comes to OTHER Old Town models with molded plastic seats, do you know of any that can be classified as "light"? In any case, I thought it was appropriate to point out the difference between potential use-ability of the boats asked about in this thread and the other, since the boat in question need not be ruled out as a possible choice in this case.

Here’s a Mohawk Intrepid 16 in York
I just saw this one this morning. I’ll bet you could get him down a little on the price too. This boat would be fine for what you’re talking about. And if you wanted out, you could sell and not really lose money.


I second
the rental idea. If your family takes to the canoeing and wants to do more, than you can look into buying a canoe. I think something like the Old Town Discovery would be very suitable, and you can get a used one, in decent condition, for $3-400. To find out what to look for in a canoe, read some of the article in “Guidelines” section of pnet. Also, don’t worry too much about seats. Seats are just bolted in and they are very easy to change. http://www.edscanoe.com/ has inexpensive replacements. There’s probably other places on the web too. Good luck.

Oft Said, Rarely Heard
I’ve written this so often, I should just make it into a pdf:

Initially, if you can rent or borrow a canoe do it! The best use of your first $$$ are well fitted, comfortable PFDs. The next $$ use is decent, light weight paddles that are comfortable to use. Rental canoes are infinitely more tolerable in unstinky PFD’s and using paddles that are designed to actually propel a canoe.

If you decide canoeing is for you, you can go but the “right” canoe for you.

If not:

The PFDs are still useful if kayaks are your ultimate destiny. Good paddles can be sold for close to what you pay for them.

I agree
I already have two PFDs for my kayak, so I would just need one for my daughter.

I have given out the same advice to all of my casual kayaking friends. A few of them who thought they hated kayaking realized what they really hated was the cheap heavy paddles. A few bought their own paddles and are now content even in the typical rental kayaks around here – lots of Loons and Otters.

Of course none of them care about the PFD which ends up on the deck or as a seat. My attempts to get a comfortable one so they actually wear them are always in vain.

Probably Renting this Year
My plan was to try renting out this summer/fall to see if everyone likes it, while keeping my eye out for a good used deal or clearance sale in the fall.

Mostly I am just trying to learn more about canoes and enjoying the window shopping aspect of looking at them for now.

Rentals are available at enough places but on weekends it is frequently hard to get a boat during the summer and limited hours in the Spring and Fall. Plus the rates run about $15-$25 an hour to $40 to $60 for a half day. My thoughts were if they like it and I could get a canoe for under $500 it would be worth buying. If I am looking more around $1000 then I probably would just rent, unless I am willing to cut into my limited kayaking time and go solo in the canoe.

We have also been talking about getting a Black Lab which has been changing my mind a bit about going out solo in the canoe with the dog, which is not something I can do in my kayaks.

That looks nice to me and right in the price range I would like.

I am near Doylestown so that is a bit of trip for me but I will be in Hersey in a few weeks. Tempting…

Thanks for pointing it out!

Thanks for all the advice…
What started this was seeing the Old Town Discovery and Saranac canoes in stores and thinking that the price wasn’t that bad new.

I feel like I have some better info now to think about all of this as I browse craigslist when taking a break at work…

Thanks again!


– Last Updated: Jul-10-12 8:20 PM EST –

Unfortunately, less weight is usually more expensive.

But for my wife and I paying a bit more for less weight was well worth it. If getting the canoe on the car is a battle -- if the thought evokes a twinge of dread -- you're not going to do it as much, and you'll miss a lot of opportunities because "it isn't worth the effort".

Both of us are small, middle-aged, and we found that anything much above 60 pounds rapidly became less fun. That means a Royalex or composite boat instead of a poly one for most tandems.

We ended up with a Bell Morningstar RX, which turned out to be a great choice for day paddles wit 1-2 small adults and 1-2 70-pound dogs.

Be Careful Around Here :slight_smile:
We’ll have you talked into being a full time canoe family if given a chance.

You’ve got good advice. Lighter is better and if you use it and enjoy it together a canoe, even an expensive one is a bargain.

With your daughter at 5 you’ll want to stay flexible and be able to keep the trip length reasonable. Bring something to keep her out of the bilgewater and otherwise comfortable. Maybe even set up so she could nap.

You don’t say anything specific about size and weight of your family and that could impact canoe choice, but something 16 to 17 feet long and around 35 to 36" beam ought to be good. I’ll agree with g2d that a Wenonah Aurora or Spirit II are likely choices. Old town Camper, Mad River Explorer, Bell Morningstar or Northwind are some other specific boats that come to mind. Stable enough to start out in, but also responsive enough that they are fun to paddle.

Good luck and have fun!


– Last Updated: Jul-10-12 10:04 PM EST –

I am about 5'8" and weigh about 280 lbs these days (quitting smoking, desk job, marriage, kid, and love of food have all conspired to get me fat over the last 7 years). My normal weight would be 200-210 lbs and have been dropping a bit.

Wife is barely 5' and probably 110-120 is my guess.

Daughter is skinny.

Also the potential of a Black Lab as we are looking at puppies right now.

For some reason going out in the canoe just with the dog is seeming more appealing then taking the family. Probably because I know the black lab would love being out there and won't complain...

Ours have enjoyed the cane. The Lab, a great water dog, needed some training to reduce the tendency to launch whenever he saw a fish rise, but it was all fun. Staying dry is overrated…