Canoe! Canoe! Canoe! It's just fun to say.
April 6, 2012 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Let's say that I'm looking to buy a serviceable used canoe on the cheap. How should I go about it?

So I just went on a canoe trip with my fiance and we both absolutely loved it. So much so that we're talking about buying a canoe so that we can go again without having to rent/borrow a boat in the future. We don't have a lot of money and our needs in terms of a canoe aren't really demanding, so we're thinking that buying a used canoe would be a good idea. Where should we look and what should we look for?

Requirements, such as they are:
  • Not aluminum. The noise is super unpleasant to me and really ruins the experience of gliding silently through nature.
  • Probably going to be used mainly for day trips and camping trips on relatively calm water (think lakes and bayous). It would be nice if we could eventually take it out on some rivers in years to come, but we live in Louisiana right now where water is mostly a flat, slow-moving thing. We would want something that we could transport some gear in though, and something that could be portaged if necessary.
  • We're both relatively new to canoeing, though we've each done a few trips in the past and immensely enjoyed our recent two-nighter out at Lake Fausse Pointe. Our paddling skills aren't super but they're steadily improving. Something relatively stable and straight-tracking would be nice.
  • Cheaper is obviously better. We're not sure where to look for cheap canoes other than Craigslist, although that's certainly a start. What kind of price range should we be looking at for a serviceable used canoe? Nevermind paddles and lifejackets for now. Assuming we're willing to be patient and keep our eyes open for great deals, where are those deals most likely to be found?
  • What should we be looking for in a canoe in terms of features, construction, and condition? What should we be on the lookout for when inspecting a potential buy in order to tell if it's going to do the job?
  • What else am I not considering that I ought to be considering? We already have transport for the canoe figured out, and we're willing to figure out lifejackets, paddles, and other accessories separately if need be. We have a place to store the canoe.
Help me out, hivemind! I just know there's a canoe in my future, if I can just find it!

Bonus question: where are some great places to check out in the Louisiana area once we have our canoe and are ready to go exploring?
posted by Scientist to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about Louisiana, so I googled...

Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club

Lafayette Paddle Club

Seems like those clubs might be good places to get info on used canoes.
posted by gen at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2012

We bought our beater canoe used from a local livery - cheap - nice battered old Old Town Discovery made of something like kevlar - it's heavy but quiet, handles well and we didn't care how scratched up it got when our kids were learning to handle it. Look for local rental places that might be selling off older boats.
posted by leslies at 3:56 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Old Town sells secons at their factory store in Maine.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2012

posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:02 PM on April 6, 2012

Best answer: Check out places that rent canoes - they often sell off their rentals after a couple of years. Talking to them might also give you leads on local sources for used boats, or information about which local retailers sell off their demonstrator boats at the end of the model year.

Fibreglass or other composite materials are a good choice, for both sturdiness and weight reduction. Fibreglass canoes are also simple to repair - fibreglass kits are available at any auto supply shop, and if necessary you can do use one to do emergency repairs in the field.

With canoes and kayaks, the amount of drag you experience while paddling is linked to the length of the boat - longer boats tend to have less drag. So don't be afraid to look at canoes that are longer than you think you might want; for 2 people and some gear, you'd be looking at something at least in the 16- to 18-foot range. Shorter, wider canoes are good for fishing and recreation... but if you want to do some tripping, choose length.

Lifejackets - PFDs - are often an afterthought during the boat-purchasing process, and they absolutely shouldn't be. A good PFD ought to be the FIRST thing you buy, even before you get your own boat. Spend your money on something that's specifically designed for paddling - there'll be extra room for arm movement, and you'll be much happier and much more comfortable wearing it. It cannot save your ass if you're not wearing it. You can economize elsewhere, but don't be tempted to cheap out on your PFD - it's your most important piece of equipment. Choose your PFD as if your life depends on it; someday it just might.

Related safety equipment should include a throw bag or two (50' of floating rope cleverly packaged in a bag you can toss so that it unravels as it goes - remember to hang on to the end!); one waterproof flashlight per person, plus a spare; a signalling device such as the pea-less whistle that should come with any quality PFD, plus a spare; and a bailing device (a pump is nice, plus a spare item such as a big sponge). Actually, every safety device is in the "Plus a spare" category - one for each person, plus one for the boat. You'll also need a spare paddle; you might cheap out on a collapsible one if you're just paddling around for the afternoon, but if you're tripping, get one you'd be comfortable paddling for the rest of the trip if you broke your primary one right after breakfast on Day One - otherwise your trip could easily descend into abject suckage. (Ask me how I know. Fuck.)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 4:58 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are both very lightweight, you can get a 16-footer minimum. 16.5 or 17 is better. Forget about 14-15 feet. Big mistake - not safe for 2. You can find fibreglass canoes on Craigslist for $300-$500 (in Canada). Once the weather is nice, they are snapped up overnight, though (here, obviously). 70 pounds or so, so definitely portageable. Lighter is nice, but you have to pay for that. Get the kind of seat you like. At that price you won't get adjustable lattice benches, but at least get benches. The tractor seats are horrible after a little while and can't adjust them easily with a wedge of foam. (Unless you are one of those people who love the tractor seats.) Ideally it won't have been cracked anywhere (repairs are obvious). Since you are lake/flatwater paddling, you'll get a fairly flat bottom boat, which is all you'll be offered in that price range and in fiberglass. A river boat is round, tippy to start, and more expensive.
posted by Listener at 4:58 PM on April 6, 2012

I have the Old Town Discovery 169 and cannot say enough good things about it. Plenty of space for two (have done three plus gear in a pinch), and incredibly buoyant. Had two big guys, tent, packs, gear, water cans, and a week of supplies. Jam-packed loaded. Asshole in a motoryacht swamped us. The canoe was full of water, had maybe three inches of freeboard (from the water to the gunwale), and still the thing wouldn't sink. Big enough to be smooth and stable, but light enough that I can launch it and get it on and off the roof rack by myself. When I was shopping for a canoe, I started talking to the rental shops. Couple of them weren't even selling, but they both said "Old Town, forget about the rest." That was enough for me.
posted by xedrik at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2012

Here's one.
posted by Listener at 5:03 PM on April 6, 2012

Also, get good lifejackets (now usually called PFDs - personal flotation devices) that are comfortable so you actually wear them. Old ones can lose their ability to support you because people sit on them and squash the material. Best to be safe, and comfortable.
posted by Listener at 5:11 PM on April 6, 2012

I haven't bought a used canoe (yet), but I fantasize about it frequently, and thus keep an eye on the local craigslist.

In my area, $300 or less for a used canoe with no significant damage is pretty much a steal. Scratches on the bottom are not significant damage. Leaks, broken seats or thwarts, large dents, or major oilcanning would count as significant damage in my eyes.

Spend some time on the websites of major manufacturers (Old Town, Mad River, Wenonah) getting to know the different shapes and sizes of canoes. That way you will know what you are looking at right away when a craigslist ad pops up; it's good to know what you want and pounce when you see it. For flat water you want something with "moderate" rocker at most. If you come across an Old Town Discovery 169 or Camper in your price range, go for it. Other models may be great, too, but those are the ones I'm familiar with that I think would be good for your uses.

When you go to buy the canoe, try picking it up between the two of you before sealing the deal. If I'm portaging a canoe with one other person, I find my half of an empty 80 lb. canoe very tiring to carry. I wouldn't want to carry much more weight than that. The only way you can figure out your limits is by trying it out.

Accessories: very basic PFDs can be had cheaply from sporting goods stores and large department stores if they don't come with the canoe. If you're comfortable around the water and don't plan on wearing your PFD constantly while paddling, you should be fine with whatever's cheapest and Coast Guard approved (probably a classic orange around-the-neck type II PFD). If you plan to wear the PFD while paddling, consider investing a little more shopping time and money in a really comfortable vest-style model.

Paddles should be the right length for you; if you don't get paddles of the right length with the boat, another $20 each should set you up just fine. The rule I learned is that when you stand the paddle right in front of you, blade touching the ground and shaft vertical, the handle should come at least up to your armpit but no higher than the top of your shoulder.

Get an extra paddle and PFD just because spares are good to have on board.

A hardware store should have floating nylon rope for the painter (bow line). Cut the bottom off a bleach bottle for a bailer.

For food and camping gear you may want to invest in a large roll-top dry bag or two (such as), but this is less of a concern on flat water than on white water.
posted by Orinda at 5:28 PM on April 6, 2012

Oh, and I meant to add that spring and summer are generally sellers' markets for canoes; better deals tend to come around in fall and winter. But I don't know that the price difference would be large enough in your market to be worth putting off your dream. Just be aware that if you see a good used canoe at a good price you may have competition in the bidding.
posted by Orinda at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2012

We're not sure where to look for cheap canoes other than Craigslist, although that's certainly a start. What kind of price range should we be looking at for a serviceable used canoe? . . . Assuming we're willing to be patient and keep our eyes open for great deals, where are those deals most likely to be found?

Craigslist is my go-to for used boats; it's where I found my kayak. I just glanced at the New Orleans craigslist listings and there wasn't much there in the way of canoes, though. As I say, $300 and below is a steal in my area; $450 - $600 for one of the ubiquitous Old Town Discoverys is perhaps a more typical offering price. What's a good price really depends on your local market. Is there a publication in your area devoted to classified ads, or a newspaper with a thriving classifieds section? Older folks who are less 'net-savvy may advertise their boats there. You might also get lucky by driving around areas near the water and spotting something leaned against a tree in somebody's yard with a for sale sign on it, but I wouldn't rely on this method to the extent of actually going out driving just to look for a canoe. As several other people have mentioned, outfitters will sometimes sell off well-used rental boats that still have some life in them, and canoe/paddling clubs may have their own message boards with gear for sale.
posted by Orinda at 5:49 PM on April 6, 2012

Response by poster: Wonderful advice, everyone. Thank you very, very much. You have taken this from what seemed like something of a pipe dream and made it seem like an eminently achievable goal, and I truly appreciate all your excellent suggestions. I think there may very well be a canoe in my future, and your advice shall be invaluable in the search.
posted by Scientist at 10:42 PM on April 6, 2012

Additional advice from a whitewater canoer:

Transporting the canoe: Get a kit like this. It protects your car from the canoe, and includes all the right straps for securing your boat. Primarily this means tying the bow and stern to the front and back of the car, and then looping straps across the middle of the boat. NRS (the site I linked to) makes great water gear too. Oh, and be sure to tie the boat down bow forward, it's good luck. (Oh you already figured out transport, well I'll leave this here for posterity)

Storing the boat: Your boat will spend the majority of its life in storage, so store it correctly. This video covers it well. Oh and if you're getting the boat out of storage after a long time, approach carefully because critters like to live inside of it. A good knock or two before flipping it over will wake things up.

PFDs: Please wear them when you're on the water. They're like seatbelts, by the time you need them, there won't be time to put them on. For flat-water they make PFDs with mesh backs to keep you cool.

Miscellaneous safety: Waterproof first aid kit. Duct tape. If you end up with a throw rope, always bring a pocket knife.

Happy paddling!
posted by Mercaptan at 8:59 AM on April 7, 2012

Response by poster: OK, so what happened is we ended up buying the canoe that we'd been borrowing! The owner hadn't been getting much use out of it and was happy to sell for a good price. We couldn't be happier. Thanks for all your advice.
posted by Scientist at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2012

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