Probably the second most asked question I get is which boat? My answer is usually “I don’t know” because it is hard for me to tell you which boat you need since I know nothing about you. Picking a boat is very personal, what I love about one you might hate. About the best I can do is giving some general guideline to help you pick.
Be Realistic about your needs. What are you going to do with the boat? Many people have grand plans for multi-day trips, camping, living off the land. In reality they end up taking the boat out for 1 to 4 hours at a time. The last thing they really need is a boat designed for extended trips.
Almost every new paddler wants a super stable boat. Unless you have a physical issue that affects your balance, stability is way over thought! Its like learning to riding a bicycle, you wobbled at first but the more you rode the better you got. Paddling is no different and you shouldn’t expect to jump in and go without a few wobbles. That doesn’t mean you will go swimming either. I have yet to find a person that didn’t get comfortable in an hour or less of paddling my Curlew design, which has a lower stability level than most commercial entry-level boats. It will also run rings around most of those too.
Every design aspect of a boat is a compromise, to gain something you have to give up something. Giving up some stability will generally give you an easier paddling and therefore faster boat. This applies to every aspect of a boats design so the trick is to find that comprise that suits you and your skill level.
The boats length is a compromise too; the shorter the boat the more width it will need in order to maintain it’s stability. That means more boat in the water (wetted surface) which cause the boat to be slower, meaning it has higher resistance. The difference in a 10 foot long boat and a 15 foot boat can be dramatic! Think barge vs. speedboat. That is the main reason I am not a fan of short boats. They look cute, but I think they are a poor compromises.
If fishing is your main goal, you will probably want higher stability since you need to concentrate on fishing and not the boat. For serious fishing I recommend Cast Away, the Crawfish Piroques or the Stonefly canoe. You give up some speed and that means it will take longer to cover the same distance but you gain a lot of comfort and space, which is more important if fishing is the main goal. If you’re a casual fisherman and you just want to take a rod along and your primarily interest is paddling, these would not be my first choice.
For new paddlers there are several boats you might be interested in. If you are looking for something for a small body of water and will not be paddling any distance with a group of longer boats the Mess Abouts with their large open cockpit might be a good choice.
If you’re looking for something with a little better performance and plan on paddling with a group then look at Curlew or Ravenswood, these would be a better choice, even for a first timer. These boats are what I like to call a fast cruiser. Top speed was never a consideration in this design; instead it was optimized for the 3 to 4.5 mph range. That is the speed range most recreational paddlers paddle 95% of the time. You can add hatches and camp out of these two but they are not large enough boats for extended trips. The stability is a little lower than most commercial designs but I find new paddler adapt quickly. Yes you will wobble at little at first but most everyone does. After 2-3 hours you won’t give it much thought and then your not stuck in a slow (but very stable) boat you wish you had not bought.
Trust me on this! We have several new paddlers show up on very short boats and struggle to keep up and even thought we have slowed to allow for them. It always ends up with everyone frustrated.
VARDO is a larger boat and a little more stable. It has been a very popular design and is suitable for day use, camping and casual fishing. It really is a good all around design that you will not outgrow quickly. It is also higher volume so it is very roomy inside with lots of space to move around. If you like camping, this is the boat I would suggest you look seriously at.
If you like to race or are just looking for the faster/easiest to paddle boats at faster speeds, then you want longer waterline lengths. Again, there is always compromise but the longer boats have more speed potential IF you have the horsepower to push them.
My faster designs are Short Shot, Long Shot and Firefly. These were not designed as racers but their owners do race them. These boats have more rounded shaped hulls with multiple chines and therefore lower resistance numbers. That doesn’t mean that they are not suitable for recreational paddling. My go-to boat wass a Long Shot, I used it more than any other boat I own. But after redesigning the Short Shot I paddle it mostly now.
Another faster design is Sling Shot. It is a hard chined boat that is narrower and has less stability but is similar in its speed potential to the previous mentioned boats. It is probably not a first timers boat due to the lower stability but that is not to say you can’t learn to paddle it either. I have seen first timers paddle less stable boats than it so it depends on the paddler.
I didn’t try to list all my boats but just give you some general idea’s. I will very rarely tell someone that they should build a particular boat because I don’t know enough about you. My hope is this will help you narrow down your choices to the boats best suited for you and the way you paddle.