So you are thinking about canoeing with your family. The best option is to buy a used canoe. I have a whole section on canoe materials and shape, etc. You can still get the best boats off of craigslist, but the more you know the better the outcome.
If you are buying off of craigslist, go to the main craigslist page for your area (and for me it is WashingtonDC.craigslist.org. Search for “canoe” in the general search area. Who knows if people will put canoe in boats (makes the most sense), or sporting, or camping and RV or general. You don’t want to miss any canoe for sale.
Read the section on materials carefully. I still recommend you buy an ABS Royalex canoe from a major manufacturer: Old Town, Mad River, Mohawk, and Wenonah. I have updated this to say that I include Bell Canoe Works as another major manufacturer. I have mostly seen them in the midwest, but it is a good brand, and I saw one on cragislist recently. Blue Hole is a manufacturer I have seen in the last several months. They used to make really good canoes years ago. I don’t think they are still manufacturing, but an old canoe in good shape would still be serviceable. Dagger used to make canoes, but appears to only make kayaks now. I have seen mostly whitewater Dagger canoes but I have seen one recently (Reflection 15) on craigslist which is an all around family canoe. I’ve seen some other manufacturers in Canada, but have not seen the boats around here.
So first thing you need to do is find out exactly what kind of canoe the owner is selling. If no picture is posted, ask them to send you pictures. I would talk to the owner about their canoe before making the trek to buy it.
Some owners do not even know what kind of boat they own. I don’t know how to prevent idiot boat owners from telling you the wrong information. I drove to Towson to buy an Old Town Appalachian Canoe. There was no picture posted, but the owner said it said “Old Town Appalachian” on the side. An Old Town Appalachian is an ABS/Royalex canoe, just what we wanted. When we got there the canoe was actually a cheap Old Town Adventurer made of polyethylene plastic. It was a waste of time. If I had waited for pictures it would have prevented me from going to Towson to buy a boat which was obviously not an Old Town Appalachian. But it might have allowed someone else to get that boat before me had it really been an Appalachian.
Let’s say you find an ABS/Royalex canoe you think you might be interested in. Here is what to do. Find out the exact brand and name of the boat. Let’s say you find an Old Town Camper. First off it is an Old Town, one of my recommended brands, that is a good thing. Google “Old Town Camper” and get to the area of Old Town Canoe which describes the canoe. Read that carefully. Is it Royalex? (it is). The description says it is a good all-around family canoe… that is what you are looking for. Read the “Hull characteristics” and understand what you are getting. Then google “old town camper review” and that should take you to paddling.net so you can read other peoples reviews of the boat.
Now they have made some of these boats for many years and the boat someone is selling may not be the same as the one listed on the Old Town website. What type of seats and gunwales are on the boat they are selling.
It is hard to explain gunwale (pronounced gunnel), so I have included a picture of our canoe. Our gunwales are black and vinyl, you can see the black that goes all the way around the outside of the boat. This and the seats are a consideration of the boat you are buying. You can have wood gunwales, metal, and vinyl. Each has their own characteristics, and Mad River Canoe has written on gunwales extensively on their website. What you need to know is that you want a vinyl or metal gunwales. If you get wooden gunwales, expect to repair and reseal them every couple of years.
Given a choice of seats you want nylon webbed seats vs. the cane seats. Plastic hard shell seats are OK, but not as comfortable. Unfortunately in that picture, we have nylon and foam seat covers so you cannot see they are webbed seats. Cane seats don’t last long and will need to be replaced. It is OK to buy a canoe with cane seats, just remember you are going to have to replace those seats after awhile. So price those seats out before deciding to buy that canoe. Ed’s Canoes is not the only place to buy seats, but this page shows both types of canoe seats.
Thwarts are the crosspieces between the gunwales. Are the thwarts is good working order? Are they deteriorated and rotted out? If they are rotted out, then price out new thwarts. They are pretty easy to replace, at least the wooden ones are. I don’t know about replacing aluminum thwarts.
Length of Boat
You want a boat 15’8″ to 17′ long. Many boats come in different sizes and they are still called the same boat name. For example the Old Town Camper comes in 15 and 16 feet. You don’t want to buy the 15 foot canoe, that is not a family canoe. Do not assume the owner knows the length of the canoe they are selling. You can ask and if a picture shows it says the length on the side of the canoe, then you can be sure. Otherwise take a tape measure with you when looking at the used canoe, just to be sure. You don’t want the 15 foot canoe, because it is not made for a third seat in the middle. Even if you are a single parent paddling with an only child, you will want 3 seats so you can bring a friend too.
Condition of the Boat
What is the condition of the boat? Where has it been stored? You want a boat that is stored under a tarp or indoors. ABS canoes or any plastic canoe is not supposed to be exposed to the sun all the time. Talk to the owner and see where it has been stored. Look carefully at the inside and the outside of the boat.
Cost: We got our guest boat off of craigslist in 2011. It was $450 for a used Mohawk Intrepid in very good condition. It came with a canoe dolly and some paddles, a new thwart, and 2 new seats. The thwart and seats needed to be replaced, but our boat came with the replacement seats and thwart. I didn’t try to bargain down the boat, as there were other people waiting in line to buy the boat if I did not. We had to spend half a day replacing the seats and thwarts. So it was a boat that would appeal to a DIY kind of person.
Friends bought a Old Town Camper canoe off of craigslist in 2014, it was in very good condition and it was $400. I think $400-500 for an ABS/Royalex canoe in good condition is a good buy. I have seen someone selling an Old Town Appalachian for $750. Those boats go for $1800 new and if I really wanted an Old Town Appalachian, (and we already have one, so we think it is the best boat for us) then I think I would probably buy it for $750, if it were in good condition.
I have seen aluminum canoes on craigslist for between $300-500. That is about the same price as an ABS/Royalex canoe. I might be wrong, but I don’t think they make aluminum canoes anymore and I’m pretty sure they haven’t made them for 20 years. Aluminum canoes make for fine family canoes. But if you going to pay the same price as an ABS/Royalex canoe, then get the Royalex canoe instead of the aluminum. Pros for aluminum: The sun doesn’t affect them, so a 25 year old canoe that has been sitting outside is just fine. They tend to have a small keel down the middle, which works for you on flat water. The seats and thwarts are also aluminum so they are not going to need any care, they will last forever as long as they don’t get in an accident. Cons: If you go where it is shallow, the aluminum canoe catches on the rocks, whereas the plastic canoes will ride over it more easily. If you get in whitewater and the canoe gets broached, it will get banged up and and it will never recover. One last con is that the canoe sounds like a can when you canoe. It is not silent and each paddle will hid the side of the boat and make a bonk sound.
I would not buy a used aluminum canoe which is banged up and then banged out. As long as it is in good shape, it is a fine boat to buy.
Most of the fiberglass canoes I have seen on craigslist are very old and would need a lot of repair. I just recently saw a rather new fiberglass canoe for $450, with paddles and lifevests. But for that money you could get a ABS/Royalex canoe. A new fiberglass canoe is $750, a new ABS/Royalex canoe is $1700. So for $450 you are not getting any deal on the canoe. But in good shape, a fiberglass canoe is a fine canoe to have. But it can’t be 20 years old. And a fiberglass boat is not going to last like an ABS/Royalex or aluminum canoe. But at the same time it is going to be lighter and easier to carry.
I don’t know much about Kevlar. It is a very expensive canoe. The stuff if very light and very tough. People use the canoes for both flat water and white water. Kevlar is not as strong as ABS/Royalex, but it is tougher than fiberglass and much lighter than ABS/Royalex. Not all Kevlar canoes are the same. I have seen canoes that have one layer of Kevlar between other layers of something. They would not be as good as all Kevlar for lower weight. If you are considering a $1500 used canoe, than do more research on the boat and on Kevlar before laying out that kind of money.
No, don’t buy a wood canoe. Lots of upkeep. They look beautiful and would look good as the base of a coffee table, but not if you want to take it on the water. They are very expensive because they are hand made. They are not good for a family canoe.
All Other Thinner Plastic
There is the 3-layer plastic of the Old Town Discovery series. And there is the polyethylene canoes (1 layer, sort of like kayaks). These are fine family canoes. But do some research. If you are paying $450 for one of these, you are over paying. For $450 you can buy an ABS/Royalex canoe which is a MUCH better canoe. They make these cheaper on purpose, so they are cheaper to produce and sell to you. They are fine family canoes, just don’t pay the same price you would pay for an ABS/Royalex canoe. If you get one, I would buy one from a major manufacturer, and even though Coleman makes them, I would buy an Old Town or Mad River over a Coleman. Coleman makes coolers, Old Town and Mad River make canoes. These plastic canoes also need to be kept out of the sun, so find out the history of the boat.
The reason I recommend getting a boat off of craigslist vs. something sold at the end of the season from a livery is that the boats tend to be less used and less abused by private owners. Canoes from liveries will have been used quite a bit, and people who rent boats may not care how they treat them while they are renting them. But liveries are easy places to find used canoes, so do not discount it. They may sell all of their boats at the end of every season. Or they may keep them until they are quite old. If you consider buying from a canoe livery, call and find out when the boats they are selling were purchased before you decide you want to drive out to see them.
Check out my page on Where to Buy a Used Canoe