Family canoe buying guide
The first thing to consider with a family-sized canoe is the intended use for it. If the goal is to take camping trips, then ensure that there is sufficient space to pack gear along with paddlers, large and small. A canoe for day outings can be a bit smaller. A square-sterned canoe is best if the plan is to add a motor on the back.
Also consider the material of the canoe. Lightweight materials will make the canoe easier to portage and load on vehicles, while heavier canoes will be more durable and likely less expensive.
What is a good family canoe?
When shopping for a family-sized canoe, consider three S’s: seating, stability and storage. A good family canoe will seat everyone comfortably, store all the gear you need, and feel stable on the water.
Some family canoes come with an option to add a third seat in the middle, behind the yoke. This is a great idea, but not essential. Packs or cushions can serve as a seat. For smaller children, having them sit on the floor of the canoe will keep them low and the boat will be more stable overall.
Stability and storage capacity are two of the most important things to consider in a family canoe. A stable boat will provide peace of mind with a full canoe. Families with young children who may get restless in the boat will appreciate a forgiving design. Look for a wide, flat-bottomed canoe to provide stability.
Storage capacity is also important for a family-sized canoe. Even on day outings it is good to be able to carry a load of gear – snacks, toys and other items to make the day more enjoyable for everyone. When looking for canoes, look at the maximum weight capacity to better understand how much a canoe can handle. Ideally, the group weight (including gear) is not close to the maximum capacity.
Family canoes can be advertised as such, but other styles of canoes may be suitable. Canoes designed for hauling cargo or hunting will also be very stable and have a high capacity.
Canoe vs kayak for family
The clear advantage of owning a canoe over a kayak for a family is the space and relative openness of the canoe. It is easier to get in and out of a canoe compared to a kayak, and once in the boat, small children have more freedom to stretch out.
In the unlikely possibility of a capsize, there are less entrapment issues with a canoe. Kayaks for three or more paddlers do exist, but are rare. Family-sized canoes with three seats are more common, and ones with four seats do exist. Smaller children can also sit on the bottom of the canoe and canoe packs serve well as ready-made seats.
Most stable canoe for family
Look to the hull dimensions and design to indicate which canoe may be the most stable for a family. Wider boats with flat hulls will offer excellent initial stability. Pay attention to canoes claimed to have high initial stability; it is the term used to describe how the boat feels when it is resting. Canoes with high levels of initial stability won’t feel twitchy with every shift in weight. This is ideal for a family, especially children who are likely to want to move around while underway.
Examples of stable, wide-hulled boats include NovaCraft’s Haida, Sun Dolphin’s Mackinaw SS, and Esquif’s Adirondack. Many companies have a version of the Prospector design, a tried-and-true shape which balances stability and performance.