Canoeing is the perfect activity to bring families closer together—after all, you are literally all in the same boat. A canoe outing with the family is a much-needed chance to escape screens and enjoy nature while forging important memories. Floating on the water in so nimble a craft as a canoe instills feelings of awe and wonder. If this effect has been worn dull for you over the years, let a child’s early experiences of canoeing remind you.
Choosing the right canoe for a family is important, especially for young families. These are formative years, and giving children enjoyable outdoor experiences when they are young will set them up for a lifetime of exploration and enjoyment. On the flip side, a canoe that is too unstable may be uncomfortable for nervous family members and can have a lasting negative impact on their feelings toward canoeing.
In this buyer’s guide, we offer advice for buying a family canoe. We’ve also included links to some excellent choices. Use the reviews and links to guide your search in understanding what canoe is best for you and your family.
Top picks: Best canoes for families for 2024
Best Family Canoes
Saranac 146 XT
Bob Special TuffStuff
Bob Special 15' Aramid Lite
Haida 17' TuffStuff
Baraka Hybrid Inflatable Canoe/Kayak
Shop canoes for families
When it comes to buying a family-sized canoe, there are different canoe options depending on the type of canoe and number of family members. Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide features every family canoe on the market.
Explore the guide using the filters to narrow the search down, and see each canoe’s specs, prices, reviews as well as places to purchase them.
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Shopping for a used family canoe?
A canoe is more than just a boat; it is an opportunity for a family to spend quality time with each other and teach important things like teamwork and a love for the natural world. Families will outgrow canoes, and eventually good family canoes may end up for sale, giving you an opportunity to create paddling memories with your family.
When inquiring about buying a canoe, chat with the seller about what they used it for. How many kids do they have? How old were they when the canoe was used? Where did the canoe take them?
Compare the needs of your family to the previous owners and ensure that the canoe is a good fit. The seating should be comfortable for those who need it, and everyone should have a space in the boat.
Online classifieds like Craigslist, Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace are good places to start searching, but also talk to other families who have canoes. Some may be looking to upgrade their canoe. Outfitters at popular canoe destinations will often sell their fleets of rental canoes as well at the end of each season.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used canoe, read our article How To Buy A Used Canoe.
Family canoe buying guide
The first thing to consider with a family-sized canoe is the intended use for it. If the goal is to take camping trips, then ensure that there is sufficient space to pack gear along with paddlers, large and small. A canoe for day outings can be a bit smaller. A square-sterned canoe is best if the plan is to add a motor on the back.
Also consider the material of the canoe. Lightweight materials will make the canoe easier to portage and load on vehicles, while heavier canoes will be more durable and likely less expensive.
What is a good family canoe?
When shopping for a family-sized canoe, consider three S’s: seating, stability and storage. A good family canoe will seat everyone comfortably, store all the gear you need, and feel stable on the water.
Some family canoes come with an option to add a third seat in the middle, behind the yoke. This is a great idea, but not essential. Packs or cushions can serve as a seat. For smaller children, having them sit on the floor of the canoe will keep them low and the boat will be more stable overall.
Stability and storage capacity are two of the most important things to consider in a family canoe. A stable boat will provide peace of mind with a full canoe. Families with young children who may get restless in the boat will appreciate a forgiving design. Look for a wide, flat-bottomed canoe to provide stability.
Storage capacity is also important for a family-sized canoe. Even on day outings it is good to be able to carry a load of gear – snacks, toys and other items to make the day more enjoyable for everyone. When looking for canoes, look at the maximum weight capacity to better understand how much a canoe can handle. Ideally, the group weight (including gear) is not close to the maximum capacity.
Family canoes can be advertised as such, but other styles of canoes may be suitable. Canoes designed for hauling cargo or hunting will also be very stable and have a high capacity.
Canoe vs kayak for family
The clear advantage of owning a canoe over a kayak for a family is the space and relative openness of the canoe. It is easier to get in and out of a canoe compared to a kayak, and once in the boat, small children have more freedom to stretch out.
In the unlikely possibility of a capsize, there are less entrapment issues with a canoe. Kayaks for three or more paddlers do exist, but are rare. Family-sized canoes with three seats are more common, and ones with four seats do exist. Smaller children can also sit on the bottom of the canoe and canoe packs serve well as ready-made seats.
Most stable canoe for family
Look to the hull dimensions and design to indicate which canoe may be the most stable for a family. Wider boats with flat hulls will offer excellent initial stability. Pay attention to canoes claimed to have high initial stability; it is the term used to describe how the boat feels when it is resting. Canoes with high levels of initial stability won’t feel twitchy with every shift in weight. This is ideal for a family, especially children who are likely to want to move around while underway.
Examples of stable, wide-hulled boats include NovaCraft’s Haida, Sun Dolphin’s Mackinaw SS, and Esquif’s Adirondack. Many companies have a version of the Prospector design, a tried-and-true shape which balances stability and performance.
Can a family of four fit in a canoe?
A family of four can certainly fit in a canoe! The length of the canoe will determine how well the family will fit. Parents with two young children may fit comfortably in a 17- or 18-foot canoe, but a 20-foot canoe offers more space for cargo and room to grow.
What size canoe for a family of four?
An 18-foot canoe can fit a family of four with two small children. There may be a third seat, but otherwise the kids can sit on the bottom of the hull with a comfortable cushion. Consider moving up to 20 feet for a family-sized canoe.
What size canoe for a family of five?
Depending on the age of the children, a family of five using a 20-foot canoe can be comfortable. There are options to go even bigger! Voyageur-style canoes offer seating for six or more – although these specialized craft will require some searching and may need their own trailer for transport. Eventually, shifting to two canoes may be the more practical option to fit everyone (and their gear).
Best family canoe reviews
Reading reviews highlights performances and features, as well as provides insight on where and how a canoe is best used. Use these to guide the search for the best canoe for your cohort.
- Canoe Review: Old Town Saranac 146
- All-Around Recreational Canoe Review: Pelican 15.5
- Boat Review: Souris River Quetico 18.5 Canoe
- Boat Review: Nova Craft Bob Special
- Small Canoe Review: Esquif Canoes’ Prospecteur 15
- Boat Review: Old Town Canoes Discovery 169
- Bluewater Prospector 17 Review
- Scott Canoes Wilderness Canoe Review
- Composite Creations’ Tandem River Runner: Double Dog Review