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Canoeing can be a fantastic activity to share with your family. It can let you all enjoy the excitement of exploring the great outdoors together and build up wonderful memories for your kids to take with them into adulthood.
Not only that, it can be great for family bonding and can teach your kids skills that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. So how do you choose the best family canoe?
We’ve put together this guide to help you find the right canoe for your family, as well as some of the features you might want to look out for.
Family Canoes: At A Glance
- Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS
- Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Saranac 160
- Grumman 17′ Square-Stern Canoe
- Mad River Adventure 16 Square Stern Canoe
- Sun Dolphin Scout SS Canoe
What Features Make Up A Good Family Canoe?
Size will likely be important when it comes to choosing a family canoe, as you will firstly need to make sure that your whole family will fit in it safely and comfortably. Kids don’t always need their own seats, though, as they can often make their own little seats on the floor.
Video: Family Canoe Trip
You will notice that canoes come in different lengths and have different weight capacities. But just because a canoe might be longer than another doesn’t mean it will have a greater capacity.
So it can be a good idea to check both the weight capacity and the length to make sure the canoe you choose is designed to accommodate you, your family and your gear.
Another thing you might want to consider when it comes to size is how you plan to transport it to and from the water. And think about how many of you will be lifting and carrying it, as it may be too heavy for small kids to lift and you might end up having to carry yourself.
Canoes tend to be pretty stable vessels, even though they may not seem that way when you step into one for the first time.
The shape of the vessel’s hull will determine how stable it will be. You’ll also find there are different shaped hulls for different types of paddling. For example, more rounded hulls and bows may be better able to handle whitewater and choppy conditions.
A craft with a flat bottom will tend to feel a little more stable initially, which could be better for kids getting used to the idea of being in a canoe. Flat bottomed vessels can be a good choice for flat water paddling, such as calm bays, lakes or slow moving rivers.
When you’re paddling with kids it can be a good idea to remember that they can often be a little rough with things. So it can be useful to opt for a durable canoe that can survive the various collisions, scratches and general beatings it might take.
Recreational canoes will tend to be made from durable materials because of this. Materials such as polyethylene and aluminum can be ideal for recreational family paddling.
Paddling As A Family
Your number one priority when you’re on the water with kids will probably be safety. Before you set out, make sure everyone who will be in the canoe has their own PFD (Personal Flotation Device).
In many, if not all cases, it will be a legal requirement for children to be wearing a life jacket or PFD while they’re on the water. A PFD must fit correctly in order for it to work properly in the event of a capsize, so make sure you choose the right size, usually by your child’s weight.
Read our general guide on PFDs here https://kayakguru.com/best-life-vest-kayaking.
There are no real rules regarding the minimum age of children who can go canoeing. You’ll know yourself whether or not your child is capable of the trip. Toddlers will likely not be much help paddling but they can have just as much fun riding along with you.
Some kids will want to help paddle and this could help keep them interested in canoeing and help them feel more involved in the adventure.
How To Paddle Together
Paddling together can be tricky, especially if there are more than two of you. The stronger paddler tends to sit at the stern, with the next strongest at the bow.
Once you get into the swing of things, with one paddler paddling on the right and the other on the left, it should be easier. Kids can paddle either at the bow or from the center seat, if they have a smaller paddle.
Video: 3 Golden Rules Of Canoeing Technique
With kids, you might want to consider a shorter paddling trip, or at least a trip with plenty of stops if necessary. It can be a good idea to plan ahead so you know where any potential resting spots are.
Top 5 Best Canoes For Families
1: Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS
- Length: 15 foot 6 inches
- Width: 42 inches
- Weight: 104 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 800 pounds
The Mackinaw SS is a 15 foot 6 inch canoe designed for both recreational use and fishing. It has a square back that gives you the option to add a trolling motor, which could be useful for fishing or fueling family trips.
Made from polyethylene, the Mackinaw SS is a durable craft that has three seats. Each of the three seats has a cup holder as well as a small storage area. The center seat benefits from a small sealed storage compartment as well as a built-in cooler under the seat.
The Mackinaw SS has a flat bottomed hull and could be ideal for family trips on calm water. The high capacity also means you should have no problem carrying along camping gear or whatever you might need for a day exploring on the water.
Sun Dolphin Mackinaw (non SS version)
The non SS version of the Mackinaw is the same length and width as the SS but weighs less, at 95 pounds. It also has similar seating with built-in storage, and the underseat cooler, but is designed without the square back.
This can mean you don’t have the option of adding a trolling motor, as the stern is not designed for it.
2: Old Town Canoes & Kayaks Saranac 160
- Length: 16 foot
- Width: 37 inches
- Weight: 89 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 850 pounds
The Saranac 160 is a 16 foot recreational canoe with a flat hull that is designed for slow moving or calm water. The built-in rod holders also make it a good choice if you plan to fish.
There are three seats, two with seat backs, which can make paddling a little more comfortable for the paddlers at the bow and stern. With the high weight capacity you could fit two adults and two small children in the canoe, as well as enough gear for a day or two away.
There are small storage compartments in the center seat, including a 6 inch sealed hatch for storing valuables. Each of the three seats also has built-in cup holders for keeping your family hydrated.
> We have reviewed the slightly shorter Saranac 146
3: Grumman 17′ Square-Stern Canoe
- Length: 17 foot
- Width: 36 ⅝ inches
- Weight: 85 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 875 pounds
The Grumman Square-Stern canoe is a 17 foot aluminum canoe built for recreational paddling and high durability. The square stern means you can add a trolling motor if you choose but it can also be paddled traditionally without one.
The aluminum hull can give added strength to the vessel, as well as keeping it lightweight for its length. It can be a stable craft for recreational paddling and there’s plenty of room on board for your family and all your gear.
The added length on this vessel may be ideal for family adventures when you want a little extra space for camping equipment.
4: Mad River Adventure 16 Square Stern Canoe
- Length: 16 foot
- Width: 37 inches
- Weight: 84 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 950 pounds
The Adventure 16 is a 16 foot polyethylene canoe that can be ideal for family paddling on lakes, slow moving rivers and calm bays. It has a square stern to give you the option of adding a trolling motor more easily if you choose.
There are three molded-in seats, each with a padded seat bottom for extra comfort. The bow and stern seats also have the advantage of adjustable seat backs, which can come in handy during longer paddling trips.
With a large 950 pound capacity, you should be able to carry everything you’ll need for a day on the water or even a couple of days camping.
5: Sun Dolphin Scout SS Canoe (Budget Option)
- Length: 14 foot
- Width: 38 inches
- Weight: 84 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 765 pounds
The Scout SS is a more compact family canoe, being just 14 foot long but can be a good value choice for getting you and your family on the water.
The square stern means you can easily add a trolling motor if you decide you want some extra power. There are three molded-in seats, each with two rod holders, so this could be a good choice for a family fishing trip.
It’s crafted from polyethylene for durability and benefits from a flat hull with a center keel line for improved stability and tracking.
Getting out in a canoe with your family can be a great way to enjoy the fresh air and get away from the gadgets at home. When you’re choosing your family canoe just remember to think about who might be carrying it and how many people you want it to hold.
Another thing to think about is your canoe’s initial stability, such as a flat hull, which could be good for reassuring nervous paddlers.
If you’ve found this helpful, share it for others to read. And be sure to let us know how your next family canoe trip goes.
Also check out our tandem kayaks article. These can be used for families too, although not as spacious as the above canoes.