Suggested Kayak / Canoe to consider for a first time owner?
October 30, 2020 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I have access to a large lake that is usually used by people with their powerboats and pontoon boats and jet skis. I would like to get on the water more often and am looking to buy something that suits my needs that meets my snowflake requirements.

I don't have much experience with watersports, having paddled on kayaks and canoes for day trips maybe a total of on-water time of 30 hours in my life. I did some preliminary research and am overwhelmed with the options. Seeking your insights as to what to consider, specific models, etc. I am also fine with being told that what I want isn't possible.

I would like something in the kayak/canoe realm (e.g. something I don't have to dock or tow) that more or less hits these interests of mine:

- Stable enough to comfortably and safely use with a 4 year old, or another full sized adult.
- Something that can navigate a busy lake filled with people on their powerboats
- Speed and ability to carry large cargo isn't that important to me (though nice) - I just want to get on the water and enjoy it. It would be stored in a garage near the lake and probably used during weekends in the summer.

- I can paddle with it
- Bonus points if I can add a small motor to the thing for just general sight-seeing on the lake.
- I can do light fishing with (e.g. a few hours a day). I'm not an experienced fisherman, having only done fishing from the shore or a dock, but would really like to be able to travel on the lake to better sites.

I can carry on/in my crossover SUV.
I can easily launch from a public access beach or dock.

I see a wide range of cost on this - so I'm torn between getting something entry level that doesn't hit all the buttons and end up wanting to upgrade immediately, or spending too much and ending up hating it because it's a PITA to launch or use and being like oh god I just dropped $4k on this something I'm not using.

I know zero about the world of watersports, so not even clear what are good brands or where to start looking. In my light googling, the Old Town Sportsman motorized kayak seemed like a potentially good option but 1) it's not tandem, 2) seems difficult to transport. I'm also open to being told that this is too snowflakey and doesn't exist, but most can be addressed by a combo of option 1 and 2.
posted by Karaage to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've put in well over 1,500 km canoe tripping in my life (not that much really, but I would consider myself a advanced amateur paddler) and have taught both canoeing and kayaking to children of various ages at various summer day and sleep away camps. For a starter I'll say that I prefer to paddle a kayak on my own, and a canoe with other people.

Motor/No Motor:
The canoes that are designed for real motors (the ones with a flat stern) are not good for paddling, and as far as I've ever seen no one seriously puts a engine on a kayak unless they have gone to a full outrigger setup. There are little engines you can put on a canoe, but they are very little.

Canoe vs Kayak Considerations:
If you want to fish and occasionally take passengers you're going to need a canoe, or to become an a pretty advanced kayak paddler. [There is such a thing as a fishing kayak, I have no experience with these, so take my advice in that regard to mean lake/sea kayaks.] One can fish off a regular kayak, but one needs to be pretty much an expert with the kayak to do so, as they are much more sensitive to shifts in your weight and if you're going to be fighting a fish you're going to need to be moving your hips and legs automatically to counterbalance yourself without thinking about it.

Canoe vs Kayak general thoughts:
a) speed: kayaks are faster and will go further for the same amount of work. They are also more forgiving of unskilled paddlers when it comes to things like moving into the wind. They can also be equipped with a foot-peddle rudder for steering at which point someone whose never seen a kayak can do quite well within a hour or two of getting in.
b) passengers: a Kayak will take the number of people as specified on the label, one or two. With a canoe you can jam in extra people (especially if they are small children) in the middle. The canoe will still only have two seats. That said, you should only take as many children as you can manage when you are in the water, or else when you are in the water you are going to get some of them killed. 2 adults and 2 children would be the max, assuming one adult can wrangle both children and one adult knows how to self-rescue the boat.
c) cargo: A single person kayak can hold a lot less then a canoe, even a large single person sea kayak will only hold ~75% of a canoe's cargo. A two person sea kayak, on the other hand, will hold a shit-ton. If you want to keep your canoe cargo dry you need to provide bags or barrels in a canoe, whereas most kayaks will have some kind of waterproof storage area. That's to say it's waterproof the day you buy the kayak, and water resistant after the first time you use it and get sand in the seals. Either way it will certainly stop things floating away when the boat flips, unlike a canoe.
d) carrying it: canoes are generally much easier to carry over land, and even a heavy canoe can be carried on your shoulders with a little practice (aka the portage). Kayaks are a pain in the butt or impossible to carry alone, and one does not plan their day to involve a kayak portage if they can avoid it, but on the other hand you can get little dollies for one end of the kayak (wheels!) so if you're just carrying them from the car to the ramp it's not going to be a deal breaker.

Canoe considerations:
A) Material: Used to be I would have said get RoyalEx ABS. They were nearly indestructible. However it turns out that the plant that made that material got bought and don't make that material any more. There's apparently a very good replacement from Canada called TuffSuff exclusive to Nova Craft canoes. Sounds like it would be an amazing option, but you may not have them in your area yet. Next best for entry level is PE plastic, but it's going to be heavier and a little less able to take damage.
B) Does it have a keel or not. White water canoes will not. Flat water lake canoes could go either way. No kneel is more maneuverable, but also harder to keep going in a straight line. Generally someone with less experience paddling would want a boat with a keel.

Other Kayak considerations
Sit-on vs sit-in. I don't consider the things that look exactly like kayaks but don't cover your legs to be kayaks for what I'm sure is a very good reason. That said, they are 100% less likely to kill you if/when you tip over. That's not to say 'real' kayaks are likely to kill you, but it's POSSIBLE to get stuck in one if you if you get a 'real' kayak you'll need to be responsible for teaching yourself and anyone else who goes near it how to do a wet-exit. This also establishes a functional age cut off for a two person kayak. In a canoe you can keep your baby/toddler handy, within reach and in a PDF and you can save yourself and the kid if you go over. In a two person kayak the passenger will be out of reach and will need to get themselves out of the cockpit if the boat flips. Kids who are small enough to rotate in the cockpit and whose PDF may surface them inside the flipped boat are too small for 'real' kayaks. Kids with a panicky temperament are not suitable for a 'real' kayak at any age. On a related note it's a lot easier to shift around your sitting position in a canoe, and potentially just turn around to face the other person. Kayak seats are pretty much fixed and some children may have difficulty with that over longer periods. You can have a nap in the bottom of a canoe, not so much in a kayak.

Types of kayak (smallest to biggest)
A) Whitewater - good for that and not much else. Seats only 1.
B) Lake - these can be 'real' kayaks or sit-on-top, medium sized, capable of taking some limited lvl1-2 rapids in skilled hands, seats either 1 or 2 people. Can come with or without a rudder.
C) Sea kayaks - like lake kayaks except larger and with more thoughtfully implemented storage. Do not use in rapids. Seats either one or two. Usually comes with a rudder.

There are two general types of canoe (ignoring "war canoes", which are a different thing altogether).
A) Whitewater/Solo: Shorter, made of ABS. (You can get a Kevlar whitewater boat, but you need to be an expert to avoid holing it). The larger/2 person boats will often have a flater or nearly flat bottom, the better to slide over rocks.
B) Lake: Longer, usually has two usable seats (although purists will say you should only kneel in a canoe and just rest the edge of your butt on the seat) but also come in solo sizes. Comes in a variety of flavors, including ABS, fiberglass, Kevlar, aluminum, and various types of wood. Note: Comes with and without a keel. Will generally have a more rounded bottom to assist with the keel effect. Solo boats will tend to have a larger curve from front to back.

Note there is a lot of overlap between the two categories and both have a large range of size, many two person whitewater boats are perfectly suitable lake boats (minus the keel) because of course you need to be able to get from one set of rapids to another.

TLDR; with a four year old and a desire to go fishing I would suggest a PE canoe such as the Old Town Penobscot 164 Canoe (review) or if you're willing to spend a little more for something that will last generations go with the Nova Craft Prospector 16 TuffStuff/Ash Canoe, which you can feel free to drop off a 6 story building (review). The extra stiffness of the TuffStuff material will also give you better control should you decide to add a trolling motor.
posted by tiamat at 10:07 AM on October 30, 2020 [6 favorites]

Great advice above. I would absolutely get a kayak. A sit-on-top (SOT) kayak in particular. They are much easier to load/unload and paddle solo vs a canoe. If you like to bike, look into the Hobie kayaks that have a Mirage Drive. You can go incredibly fast while using just your legs for power. Hard to picture- so check out a few videos on YouTube. Makes it possible to cast a fishing rod while moving. $3-4k will get you into a super comfortable, stable kayak that you will be able to resell in a heartbeat if you change your mind.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 10:22 AM on October 30, 2020

Either way it will certainly stop things floating away when the boat flips, unlike a canoe.

A short chunk of rope and some carbines to clip to your dry bags solves this.

Young kids don't need much of a seat. I used a few layers of 2" XPS foam duct taped together sat on the bottom of our canoe for my daughter when she was young.

I want to throw out there the idea of a small boat which you may have dismissed because of weight. As an example I built this DIY 2 sheet skift. It weighs less than my canoe; is easier to portage than my canoe (though width is a problem on single tracks); is easier to cartop (though I did need to build a wider set of racks on my wife's SUV); is easier to tie down; and cost me about the same as new set of gunwales for my canoe. It can be rowed or used with an electric motor with equal easy. Good to fish from. Around here rowing isn't really considered a sporty activity but it is a workout none the less. Gets blown around by the wind when the wind is anything other than straight ahead or astern.
posted by Mitheral at 11:30 AM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Gets blown around by the wind less than a canoe when the wind is anything other than straight ahead or astern. Geez what a typing error.
posted by Mitheral at 12:19 PM on October 30, 2020

Thanks for the thoughts so far. Also wanted to welcome any opinions about inflatables? I just came across the sea eagle line of fishing boats and motormount boats that seems like it could do what I want it to do, and makes the transport of the device easy from the garage to the launch sites.
posted by Karaage at 1:13 PM on October 30, 2020

I grew up paddling around (well, sitting in the middle when I was younger) in a basic plastic Coleman canoe when we went camping in the summer. I often see similar canoes on Craigslist for $200-500, depending on location, age, quality, and season.

My dad (and later I) had no trouble maneuvering it solo, and it was perfectly fine with two parents, me, the dog, an ice chest, and assorted other stuff. Pretty stable - you could swap seats if you were careful about it, or climb back in after a swim if your co-paddler counterbalanced. It was best to avoid the powerboat wakes if you didn't want to get bounced around, though.

We had a little wooden mounting board across the back for a tiny electric trolling motor that was adequate for puttering around if you got tired of paddling, but might have trouble keeping you from getting blown backward in a strong breeze.

I think the main downside was the weight. Just because my dad often got it on and off the truck rack by himself didn't mean it was good for his back!

So... I'd second tiamat; a canoe (maybe lighter than that old Coleman, though) sounds like a good choice for you. You can probably get a used one for cheap, then if you upgrade or don't paddle enough just resell it.

Also, Klepper and Folbot have made some tandem kayaks (both folding and non-folding) that are not as enclosed as most kayaks, and relatively wide. I had one for a little while and, while it was a huge pain to transport, fold, and unfold, it was really nice to paddle - big, stable, and versatile. Felt almost like a canoe. Adding a motor might be a bit of a project, though, depending on the details of the model. I get the impression they're mostly discontinued, but pretty available secondhand.
posted by sibilatorix at 4:16 PM on October 30, 2020

I did this for years.

A lot depends on your ability to store a kayak and lift onto a car. If you do not have that, get an inflatable. Notice that a quality inflatable will be quite heavy. Thick durable PVC is not light. Otherwise, I would look for a used rotomolded sit-on-top sea kayak with a wet tank well.

Stable watercraft are wider and longer than non. And thus heavier. I would avoid light weight watercraft. You will not have the skill to take advantage and after a few rocks, fishing hooks, etc. they'll need repairs. Large inflatables are tiresome to inflate with manual pumps, be prepared to spend good money on a pump.

To sum up, look on Craigslist or similar for a ~12' rotomolded kayak/canoe, or similarly sized inflatable. You'll know a good inflatable because it will be heavy and the material will be physically thick.

Example rotomolded SOT
Example inflatable
posted by pdoege at 5:35 PM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend a sea eagle inflatable, and you are one step ahead of me. I got a FastTrack 385, and enjoyed it so much I got a 465 as a second boat so my family can have options depending how many kids/adults/dogs want to go on a particular adventure. They are not as fast as a rigid, but they are a heckuva lot more stable, easier to transport/store, and more flexible in how you can use them (motor, sail, seats/standup, etc). Pumping them up takes less than 5 minutes.

I've previously owned a rigid two person kayak, a foldable feathercraft solo, and inflatable whitewater solos. I prefer the inflatables, and the sea eagle is the best I've experienced.
posted by Diddly at 7:52 PM on October 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you get an inflatable, get yourself a 12V air pump you can plug into your car's accessory outlet. You can use it to inflate, and when returning, put your hose on the other end of the pump to suck the air out of the boat. Deflating with suction makes it much easier to roll up the boat.

Something like this, for example, although I'm not recommending this specific one.
posted by JackFlash at 8:22 PM on October 30, 2020

Since moving just off a lake (and near others) several years ago, I've had Intex Challenger kayaks. There's a solo and two-person version. Extremely inexpensive, but durable, and move OK in the water if you're just putzing around. In fact, a few neighbors have purchased the same brand, both solo and duo - I've joked I should be getting a commission from Intex.

I've been pretty satisfied and feel comfortable going on good-sized inland lakes. An inflatable's the best way to go if you don't want to lift a heavy one on top of a vehicle (or carry it quite a ways to water), or in my case, also have to lug it up a stairs.
Instead, it stays partially deflated and folded in the back of a small SUV all summer. Prior to that, it fit into a compact hatchback.

The first one I had still worked after a couple small holes had to be patched (kit included). Lasted four summers at least. The second one ordered had flaws when it arrived, but that was replaced no charge, and this latest is fine too.

Some changes to the newest (included) paddles - I'm not sure if I like them as much as the previous style.

But what I do like is the change in colors. The first one I had was a tan and blue that blended into the scenery - not great when you are on a lake with jet skis and powerboats. (I've had a couple close calls, but I don't see how that would have changed in any other more expensive kayak.)

Anyway, the newer one is a light fluorescent green, not my favorite color, but more visible.

They come with a hand pump, but it doesn't take that long to inflate.
posted by NorthernLite at 9:38 PM on October 30, 2020

I have a tiny Zodiac rubber inflatable that seats 3 with a weight limit of about 350#. It has oars, which is good exercise, and a flat transom where a small motor can be mounted. My 4 hp motor was stolen (neighbor kid, grrr) and now I have a trolling motor. For extra fun, it can be flipped over as a platform for small children. A friend had a cheaper inflatable rowboat that she was happy with.

Life jackets and throwable lfotation, for real. My parents were not paranoid about safety at the lake; I had a scary experience when I was 5, survived because my brother was trained as a lifeguard.
posted by theora55 at 9:00 AM on October 31, 2020

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