BWCA Family canoe for 3 kids and 1 adult (single parent) Boundary Waters Gear Forum
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member (5)member
04/15/2022 05:51PM  
I have searched the forums for hours about suggestions for a family canoe and they were all for 2 adult families. So I figured I’d post this here as it hasn’t really been addressed in the past. I am looking to get a canoe for the family (kids aged 7, 5, and 3) to start using while car camping, as well as introducing them to wilderness tripping - something I grew up doing and where my heart lays. I have lots of canoe experience but my children do not. Because they do not have much experience, and no second adult to stern, I am not willing to get two small canoes. I am considering one larger canoe for now and then later down the road getting something smaller for solo/tandem use.

I have been considering a 17 prospector (swift or nova craft), 17.5 prospector (Souris River), Quetico 17 or 18.5 (souris river), 18 prospector (nova craft), 16’6” prospector (holy cow) and a 17’4” explorer (holy cow canoe) all with 3rd seat options. I’m still undecided on materials for each. I’m leaning more towards a Kevlar or tough stuff, maybe blue steel.

Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions?
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distinguished member(5360)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
04/15/2022 09:14PM  
I would look at the SR Quetico 18.5. The third seat is far enough back that you will have good access to the two younger kids and the webbing area is very wide. So they should be able to sit side by side. And the compartment forward of the yoke and behind the bow seat has good room for your gear. I've done a three person trip in that canoe with all adults and we fit our gear in that area with day packs at our feet. It also has good stability even when not loaded and so is good for day trips.

I wish I was more familiar with the prospectors, just because people seem to like them. You might also look at the Northstar B19, they sort of call a prospector. But I feel like the extra foot of length can make twisty portages harder.

I remember seeing a one parent, two or three kid family once. What I noticed was that the parent was using a kayak paddle in the stern seat. That might be a good option for extra propulsion if needed.
distinguished member(4155)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
04/15/2022 09:24PM  
I think you'd like the bigger tandems that can also be used as 3 person. Out of all the ones you've listed I've been in the 2 SR Quetico and those would be good stable options with room to spare as they grow. I feel like 16 is too short

I'd add wenonah boundary waters, North Star northwind 17 or 18.....and yes in any of them Kevlar is nice.

But to start you can put the oldest up front and the little ones in the middle on the floor or pads or what you want. As the next oldest gets bigger you can do a drop in middle seat for them and still have littlest in front of you on the floor
04/15/2022 09:27PM  
Perhaps a Wenonah MN 3 or even a MN 4?
04/15/2022 09:34PM  
plander: "Perhaps a Wenonah MN 3 or even a MN 4?"

And if you want a used one you can put a couple hundred down on one and pay for/pick it up in October in Ely…From Piragis.

Used canoes from Piragis
member (6)member
04/15/2022 09:38PM  
I think any of those canoes would serve you well, so my advice is to pick the one you like best, maybe with an eye to the future if you plan to keep it long term. After all you will be the one doing the paddling, packing, and carrying.
Your kids personalities and the dynamic between them will determine where you put them in the boat - do you need to be able to physically reach them, will they get bored and start fighting, etc.

A friend of mine has an Old Town with a center seat and when we have gone out my oldest sits in the bow and his two share the center seat. I don't have a center seat so my younger two take turns between the bow seat and a childs camp chair in the center.

So experiment, find out what works for you, and work out the details as you go, just get out there and enjoy the time with your kids, they won't forget it.
distinguished member (270)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
04/15/2022 10:45PM  
When our child were young, 5&7 we used a 18’ Grumman. Because of congenital heart defects my wife could only help some. We trip in the BWCA with all the gear and us in the canoe.
If you are looking to start out car camping With you providing most of power I would look at a canoe no longer than 16’ or 17’. A longer canoe would be difficult in the wind or on a river with current. I have seen a father with 2 children in the BWCA having a very hard time making any progress because they could keep the canoe going in the right direction. For just paddling on a lake there would be more than enough room.

distinguished member(1442)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
04/15/2022 10:51PM  
I have kids and the Quetico 18.5 has been great for us. We trip just fine with four people in it since three of them are kids. Highly recommend.

Try a couple of different options and go with the one you like the best. Good luck!
distinguished member(5708)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
04/16/2022 07:04AM  
Welcome to!

Have a Souris River 18.5 & use a kayak paddle.

The 3 seats are certainly nice but, really appreciated the stability when traveling with a young one. It has served us well.
04/16/2022 08:53AM  
We had a SRQ18.5 until the ducklings were 10 and 12 and that was when they no longer fit side by side in the 3rd seat. It is rock solid stable and you’d have no problems with the 3 littles climbing around in the canoe and hanging over the sides etc which littles will do.

Wind will cause problems with a little in the bow but you’ll be car camping so you can control when you go out on the water a lot easier.

I also used it on daddy/daughter tandem trips with one of them in the bow. I just made sure we were on smaller lakes.

Enjoy your time with your kids. There is nothing better than enjoying the outdoors with them.

member (9)member
04/16/2022 10:16AM  
Good for you wanting to get your kids involved with your canoeing activities! My situation is not identical to yours; I am not/was not a single parent, but I do have many years and hundreds of miles of paddling as the lone adult with several kids in a tandem canoe on both lakes and rivers (day trips, canoe camping, BWCA trips, etc.), usually with my two younger boys who were 5 and 9 when I began canoeing, they are all adults now. Other times I was paddling with my wife with or without kids. When we started canoeing the younger one was small enough to curl up in the bow of the boat to take a nap in front of my wife’s feet. I do not believe I ever had more than 2 kids in the boat with me, but maybe I can offer some advice based on my experience. When alone with the kids I always paddled a 16 foot, Old Town Penobscot. If I had more than 2 kids in the boat, I would want a longer boat (18’) and having a middle seat makes a big difference (a lot more comfortable). Ours was a Spring Creek drop-in seat which I liked well enough but always wished the seat drop was lower, to lower the center of gravity of the person sitting on it (important with wiggly kids). Built-in center seats will probably have a lower seat drop (depends on the seat). In my opinion it is important to have a comfortable foam pad (closed cell) on the bottom of the boat for any kid sitting on the floor of the boat (it will quickly get cold and uncomfortable and wet without it). Adjusting the trim of the boat is also important (front to back) and with light weight kids in front it will be a challenge. To help with this the various strategies I have used are 1) shift gear/packs to the front of the boat, 2) putting full water jugs in the bow of the boat (not rocks, you want something that will have neutral buoyancy if the canoe overturns), and 3) turning the boat around and sitting backwards in the Bow seat. Sounds like you want to start small with short trips/adventures and work your way up to longer adventures, which is a good idea. Kids get bored easily. As far as boat construction is concerned you will be doing all the work, so a light weight boat is nice, but you need to balance that against the type of paddling you will do (rocky rivers or lakes?) and the additional cost of the lightweight materials (our Penobscot’s are Royalex). I like my single blade paddle and have never used a kayak paddle, but that is a personal choice not shared by everyone. For safety it is a good idea to paddle in a group, trying to handle an overturned canoe and 3 small kids in the water will get difficult quickly, and properly fitted PFDs are a must (zipped up and on each person, not sitting in the bottom of the boat). Hope I did not get to far off track of your original question. Enjoy you times with the kids, I have so many fond memories on the times spent with my kids canoeing.
04/16/2022 10:32AM  
These are just some things to consider.

With only one adult it is going to be harder to distribute weight in the canoe so that it is appropriately trimmed and handles well. With the adult in the stern seat the packs are going to need to be way forward. You can be creative rearranging seats to get trim. A duffle style pack can go in the bow for instance. You may wish to move the stern seat forward a bit.

A 17 footer is going to be fine until the oldest is a teenager unless you plan on some two week trips. You mentioned car camping and that means day trips. A big 18.5 will be difficult to handle in any breeze with just your family and no gear.

Consider a flatter bottomed canoe. I love prospectors and use one that I built a lot, but they do have a lot of motion even though they are very seaworthy. Initial stability is loose and takes some getting used to. With children I find it easier to have a flat-bottomed canoe with solid initial stability. They are going to want to move around and nothing spoils the day more than being told to sit still because they are rocking the boat. When I go paddling with relatives that have children I convince them to let the kids be in my boat because I don't care about the rocking. I know that the kids don't weigh enough to tip it over so I just roll with it and we have great fun.
distinguished member(4155)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
04/16/2022 11:49AM  
I agree w/ the comments on weight distribution if you've got a breeze.

You can use milk jugs with water, a big rock or two from shore, or whatever you like that's dense. But while you're (assuming) far heavier than the bow person for a while yet put that stuff under the bow seat or as far forward as you can. It'll keep the bow in the water and make your life (steering) much much easier. Been there done that
distinguished member(5360)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberpower member
04/16/2022 05:26PM  
I hadn’t focused on the plan to car camp. That could make the Quetico 17 a good choice. It is also very stable when unloaded and a bit easier to handle solo than the 18.5. You would need to figure out seating. Either add a single wide bench seat or a couple of drop in seats.

I agree that some water jugs will help keep the bow down. With our Q17 I use a large dry bag filled with water to paddle solo from the bow seat facing backwards with the front thwart removed. I can do fine that way with a canoe paddle. With the kids and some ballast I think you will do fine from the stern.

But as others have found the 18.5 is a great choice too and has a bit more room if you do switch to canoe camping.
distinguished member (405)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
04/17/2022 05:11PM  
I didn't read all the posts, but regardless of what canoe you decide to purchase / rent make sure get yourself a kayak paddle.

You should be able handle most paddling chores without having to hope for any help from your 7 year old.

The kids will be able enjoy the trip without the burden of helping to paddle.

I would suggest at least 250 cm kayak paddle.
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