HOW TO GET A GOOD DEAL ON A GOOD USED CANOE
Updated: Apr 25
by Cliff Jacobson
Have you priced new canoes lately? Top-end composite models begin around $2,500 and, depending on lay-up and trim, top out at over $4,000! The good news is that GOOD canoes appreciate over time; bad ones do the opposite!
Canoes depreciate about ten percent when they leave the store, another ten percent when they get their first scratch. The downward spiral continues as dings pile up. Age means nothing. Condition is everything!
Ultralight We-no-nah canoe on a portage in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area
In time, even the best kept canoe will incur nicks that drive its value down. You’ll save big if you buy "used" and let someone else take the initial hits. Be aware that there’s an inverse relationship between high performance (paddling pleasure!) and durability. Lightweight, fine-lined carbon-Kevlar composite canoes are more easily damaged than heavier, more durable Royalex, Inegra, aluminum and polyethylene canoes. But they are easier to repair! Indeed, a badly damaged composite or wood-strip/fiberglass canoe can—in a few hours--usually be repaired to cosmetic new. Royalex, aluminum and polyethelene canoes mend solid but the patch is a glaring reminder of the rock you hit. (You’ll find detailed repair procedures for all types of canoes in my book, CANOEING WILD RIVERS, 5th Edition).
HOW TO FIND YOUR DREAM BOAT
The best canoes are sold by word-of-mouth and/or are listed in canoe club publications and on canoeing websites. Paddling.com and North American Canoe Trader (Facebook) are two popular sites. Avoid newspapers, eBay and Craig’s list unless you “know canoes!" Is it safe to buy a used canoe on the strength of an ad placed on a canoeing website or Facebook page? Usually yes. Selling a good canoe is like parting with a vintage Porsche that you’ve driven for years. Accomplished paddlers love their boats, even those that they are about to part with. With rare exceptions, they’ll tell the truth, often focusing on scratches and minor damage that is easy to repair. And, if they think the boat isn’t right for you, they will discourage the sale. Really!
Dan Cooke (Cooke Custom Sewing/www.cookecustomsewing.com) paddles his Bell Flashfire solo canoe on a fog-shrouded lake in the BWCA.
Suppose you buy a canoe in Minnesota and live in Pennsylvania. Isn’t it frightfully expensive to ship a canoe from Viking land to the Keystone state?
Yes and no. Some small transfer companies will carry canoes on a “space available” basis. But to keep the cost down, you must be willing to accept delivery at a time and place that’s convenient to the trucker. I’ve had two canoes shipped to me by truck: in each case the charge was under 150 dollars. I once bought a canoe in Maine and had it delivered to my Minnesota home by rail. Transit time was 27 days and the shipping cost was 75 dollars.
We-no-nah Minnesota II, ultralight Kevlar, 43 lbs. $4,300 new.
Option 2: Contact your local canoe dealer and ask if any of his suppliers deliver canoes to the state where your used canoe is located. Companies that have their own delivery trucks may drop ten canoes in Harrisburg, PA, fifteen in Chicago, twelve in Madison, Wisconsin, then finish out in Illinois. It’s unprofitable to dead-head back to the factory so they often haul a competitor’s boats to retailers which are along their route. If there’s space on their trailer--and they’re going your way--you may be able to work a deal.
Option 3: Buy a used rental canoe from one of the outfitters in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Many outfitters sell part or all of their fleet at the end of the season then re-stock with new. Piragis Northwoods Company (www.piragis.com), in Ely, MN is the largest outfitter and high-end canoe dealer (Northstar and We-no-nah canoes) in Minnesota. Piragis’ sells their entire fleet at the end of the summer season, then re-stocks with new for the coming year. The result is that buyers get a huge discount on classic tripping canoes in excellent condition. Piragis has a plan that pays fellow paddlers (who are going your way) to deliver your canoe. Call the store for availability and pricing.
Two of my Northstar Yellowstone solo canoes. L: Ultralight Kevlar--28 lbs;
R: Kevlar black and gold--34 lbs. BWCA, Minnesota.
A good, used canoe is the smart way to go if you’re on a budget. Two thousand dollars will buy an exquisite Kevlar cruiser that will turn heads. One thousand dollars is a fair price for well-maintained Royalex, whose value has increased since it went out-of-production in 2013. Polyethylene canoes (Old Town 169’s, Coleman etc.) are among the few that don't appreciate. Figure, $400 for a well maintained one. Add 100-200 dollars for wood trim. If these prices seem high, consider that someone else has absorbed the depreciation. Do a little fix up work and five years down the road you may be able to sell your canoe for more than you paid for it!
Here are three canoes I've owned and sold:
1. Sawyer Charger 18'6" Kevlar whitewater racing canoe/aluminum trim, purchased new for $795. Sold ten years later for 1000 dollars.
2. Mad River Royalex Explorer/wood trim: Purchased for $995. Sold six years later for $1000.
3. Mad River Kevlar Explorer/wood trim: Purchased for $1000. Wrapped on a Canadian river and suffered substantial damage (photo below). Took me a full weekend to repair it. I paddled it for two more years then sold it for $800. If not repaired, it's doubtful I would have found a buyer at any price.
Kevlar Mad River Explorer. "Wrapped" and damaged. Steel River, Ontario, Canada.
Ultraviolet damage: Sunlight deteriorates plastics—Royalex, polyethylene, vinyl, you name it! Sustained exposure to sun will cause plastic rails to become brittle and crack; the natural gold color of clear gel-coat and skin-coat Kevlar canoes will darken; Badly UV-damaged hulls may soften and lose their shape.
Sections of the inside bottom of a composite or woodstrip-fiberglass canoe has a milky color: the milkiness results from moisture that is trapped beneath the top layer of Kevlar or fiberglass. It usually evaporates fairly quickly if the canoe is exposed to sun. Unless it’s excessive (can cause de-lamination), it won't hurt anything. A thin coat of marine varnish (when the moisture has evaporated) will usually seal the bottom and eliminate the problem.
A composite hull that shows de-lamination: Buy it and your problems have just begun!
Scratches: Every canoe that goes down a river will get them. Show me a used canoe without scratches and I'll show you a garage queen or pond boat. You are financially well ahead to buy a used canoe with minor damage. My flagship book, CANOEING WILD RIVERS, 5th Edition has a full chapter on canoe repair. It's easy. Really.
Books available on my website, www.cliffcanoe.com. Autographed (from me) or click Amazon link for non-autographed copes:
My book, BOUNDARY WATERS CANOE CAMPING, 3rd Edition, details everything you need to know to safely and enjoyably canoe the BWCA.
My book CAMPING'S TOP SECRETS, 2022 revision, details practical camping tips and procedures that only the experts know. If you know just a few of these tricks you'll be a hero to your friends!
My 90 minute video, THE FORGOTTEN SKILLS details the most important camping skills. If you can do them all you'll be a hero to your friends!