One of the biggest decisions you’ll make as you progress in to the wondrous world of canoeing & kayaking is the moment you decide to invest in your own boat. It’s a big deal and you want to make the right choice. To help you through the bewildering array of boats lining the racks of your local canoe shop we’ve put together a few useful pointers to help you find exactly the right boat for you…
OK so you’ve been bitten by the paddling bug and want to go canoeing & kayaking all the time, you’ve joined your local club, done lots of pool sessions and even been on a few club trips. Up to now you’ve taken advantage of the club’s fleet of boats but now it’s time to choose a boat of your own. You’ve spent hours poring over glossy sales brochures, drooling over ads, staring goggle eyed at manufacturer’s websites on the Internet and dreaming of your shiny new toy. But now the time has come, you’ve saved your hard-earned pennies and you’ve got a pocket full of cash and you’re ready to buy the boat of your dreams… But how do you know it’s the boat of your dreams! Will it have you paddling like a canoeing or kayaking star of send you tumbling in to the drink at every turn? Will your sarnie box and flask fit in it OK?
Joking aside, buying a canoe or a kayak is a big deal, they represent a fair investment, and more importantly, your precious time on the water could be spoiled if you make the wrong choice! To help ease your boat buying nerves and to make sure you end up with the right boat for you the following tips should help you avoid the pitfalls and help you find your perfect paddling purchase…
What Do You Want?
This is the crux question. Sounds simple but as canoes and kayaks have become more and more specialist, with designs for specific styles of paddling it’s a harder question to answer than it may appear. It’s a bit easier if your planned purchase, and your preferred type of paddling, falls in to one of these specific areas, a sea kayak for instance, or a specialist whitewater open canoe. If however you want a ‘jack of all trades’ then things can get a little trickier. Before you start to look at specific models you really need to pin down what it is that you want to get from your paddling. Get yourself a pen and paper and a nice cuppa then sit down and make a list of all the things that you want to do in your new boat. Be both realistic, and honest with yourself. They haven’t invented the kayak that can turn from creek boat to sea kayak yet, or a family canoe that can double up as a surf boat, and it’s not going to do you any favours if you put down ‘running grade five rivers’ if the nearest you’ve come is a splash about on your local lake. What kind of paddling do you do most of, and where? What is your current skill level and how do you see that changing in the future? What are your aspirations and your paddling goals? Do you want a solo boat, or a tandem? Add on your height, weight range etc and you should have started to build up a reasonable picture of the type of boat that you’re looking for. So what next? Well, now its time to do some research.
Everyone and their dog has a website these days and canoe & kayak manufacturers are no exception. An hour or two surfing on the net can provide a whole stack of info on the boats that fit your criteria. Retailer’s websites are great as they often have the different types of boat listed together, so it can be easy to compare the boat’s specifications and features directly. Internet forums can also be a useful source of information and advice (see below).
If you don’t have access to the Internet then track down the manufacturer’s brochures, if you’re not lucky enough to have a retailer right on your doorstep then a quick call to your local shop should be all you need to do. They’ll usually be happy to mail you out a bunch of brochures, or you can call the manufacturers direct and request a brochure be sent out to you. Again these will allow you to check out the models that fit your bill and compare specs and features.
We touched on Internet forums above and they can be an excellent source of advice and feedback from your fellow paddlers. There are a few things to bear in mind though. Most contributors on paddling forums give good, sound, well-meaning advice with knowledge and experience behind it. But some occasionally don’t. And as with all first hand experiences and recommendations, including magazine and web gear tests we have to add, is that they are subjective. All a tester, or poster can do is to comment and feedback on how they found a particular boat, and just because they liked/hated it doesn’t mean you will. So as a rule take on board on-line advice, but sprinkle it with just a hint of salt.
The same goes with shop staff, most canoe shops offer way more than just a place to spend money. They have a professional vested interest in putting you in the right boat (happy paddlers come back to buy more gear), and on top of that, most are passionate about paddling and will want to make sure that they give you the best advice possible.
Brand New or Second Hand
It’s certainly worth considering a second-hand boat and there are some great bargains to be had. You still need to apply the same criteria though, as it’s no good buying a boat just because it was dirt cheap if it doesn’t do the job you want it too. The Internet is the main source of second hand boats these days, with most paddling websites having a ‘for sales’ section or auction sites like E-bay carry a lot of kayaks and gear too. It’s generally not a good idea to buy the boat unseen, especially if it’s a model you’ve never tried, and you should still try to get it out on some water for a demo. Plastic boats are tough and you shouldn’t be put off by scratches from usual use, but do give the boat a thorough check, especially under the seat, around and under the cockpit and both the bow and stern areas, just in case. Check the outfitting and bolts too. Apart from being shiny and new, and probably the latest design, the main benefit of purchasing a brand new canoe or kayak is that it will come with a manufacturer’s guarantee and the after sales back up and service that a good retailer will provide.
If you do decide to go down the new boat route then grab your ‘wish’ list and head to your local retailer. Once there talk through your selection with the staff and explain the reasons behind your choices. Ask plenty of questions. They may well have some advice, or suggestions that you haven’t yet considered. Have a good look at the boats, take a sit in them, you may find that you knock one or two off the list at this stage without even getting them wet.
Symposiums, Shows and Come-and-Try-It-Days
There are a host of these types of brilliant events that take place all over the UK and they can be excellent places to meet like-minded paddlers and discuss boats and ideas. Many retailers now run specific demo-day events where manufacturers turn up with complete demo fleets and are on hand to offer help and advice on the right canoe for you.
Time To Float Your Boat
Time to demo, it’s really important to try the boats on the water. Most good dealers have fleets of demos and access to water; some may even allow you to try stock boats if they don’t have a demo of a particular model. If you’re buying a tandem or family boat then make sure you take along your paddling partner, nippers, dog etc to try the boat with you too Twenty minutes on the water will tell you more about whether the boat is right for you than any website, forum or brochure can ever do.
Remember that discount, if offered, is a privilege and not a right. Many retailers offer a discount to the members of their local club, or regular customers. If you’re making a large purchase then by all means ask, but in our experience a polite enquiry is usually infinitely more successful than demanding 50% off because you’ll also be buying a nose clip! In our opinion, supporting your local retailer and getting great service and advice is far more valuable than saving an extra ten quid on a boat that’s halfway across the country and is probably going to cost you more than that to collect/have delivered.
OK that’s it, your money clip is empty, but you have a lovely new canoe or kayak strapped to the roof rack. It’s time to go paddling. There are just a few little things to do before you hit the water. Take the time to fill in the warranty card and return it, you’d be amazed how many people just rip it out and chuck it in the bin. It’s also a good idea to spend a few minutes making sure any bolts and fittings are done up nice and tight. If you’re new toy has an adjustable seat and fittings you’ll probably want to spend a bit of time experimenting to get it all set up just right for you. Enjoy!
The Expert – Mark Burch – Canoe Shop Chain Owner
“Buying a kayak (and certainly your first) is an exciting time. The choice available however can be daunting, but luckily help is at hand as because in the UK we are fortunate to have a great selection of quality canoe and kayak stores.
It is always best to visit your local canoe and kayak store and speak with staff there, who will invariably be paddlers themselves and should relate quickly and easily to your needs and recommend a shortlist of suitable boats to consider.
It is also wise to see the boat in person and for some being able to try before you buy is a great facility to take advantage of.”