The following is a discussion that was prompted by my previous ‘Family Canoe’ post. The discussion covers canoeing with kids and how PakCanoes can fill the particular needs that kids have. I think you will find it interesting.
I own four Pakboats, a 10.5 ft Puffin, two early 12ft, one of which is a ‘MadRiver’, and a 14 ft with both sets of ribs.
When we had little ones I thought long and hard about how to make the inside of a PakCanoe comfortable for small children, but I could never really solve my dilemma.
Very small children generally sit on the bottom of the canoe, lean over the edge, dabble their fingers or their tiny paddle, lie down, cover themselves with a towel, even go to sleep. A layer of foam doesn’t really cut it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love your craft, owning four is a testament to that, but they are not really suited to small kids, not the way a rigid hull is.
But I do think you could alleviate that.
Because of the kids I bought a rigid hull canoe (I was paddling PakCanoe exclusively for a while!), and then several more, really big ones, for home in Ontario, and for summer visiting at my father-in-law’s on PEI in the Gulf of the St Lawrence. I have installed bench-type voyageur canoe type seats in two 18 ft rigid hull canoes. Kids can sit two abreast, or shift their weight as needs be. My kids know what trimming a canoe means, and shift as instructed, paddle on what side I tell them. But they still lie down, stand up, and do all the things kids do in a canoe.
One could build a cedar inside/insert deck for a PakCanoe, or you could offer something of another material that folds down – and that would require R&D.
You will also want a full width bench style seat for little ones, position adjustable for end-to-end weight distribution as the child grows. Two such bench seats would make the 17 ft even more appealing. My family canoes are a Sawyer Cruiser at 17′ 9″, and a Sawyer Charger in Kevlar at 18′ 6″, both with full width bench seats for the kids, both capable of having kids stand up in them.
Well, that’s my two cents, for what its worth. I don’t mean to just contradict you, and I do love your boats, would own more if finances allowed – a kayak, and want to see you continue to innovate and create new market share for yourself.
Thank you very much for your thoughts and suggestions. Your point about the discomfort of sitting on the PakCanoe floor is well taken. We have done a little testing for other purposes, and we have found that filling the spaces between cross ribs with sheets of fairly thin plywood works well for standing (while fly fishing – and we did this for a geologist who needed to stand up to chip samples off rock faces). Alternatively, you could put the plywood on top of the cross ribs and pull it down at the center front and back. It may not be elegant, but it will work – and it will not be as cold as being in direct contact with the bottom of a traditional canoe. It will also be drier than being in direct contact with the bottom. The plywood needs to be thin enough so it will bend and take the shape of the bottom of the canoe. Once it is bent to the shape of the bottom, it will have more than enough stiffness to support the weight of a child.
My remarks were aimed at a new PakCanoe 160 (within the last couple of years). You may be aware that we changed to standard bench type seating in all PakCanoes a few years ago. We have also started offering a center seat version that is a bit wider. Brackets for installation of center seats are now included in all new PakCanoes, so there is no need for any installation that involves tools. You simply get the seat and it goes into the canoe the same way as the current bow and stern seats.
I will grant you I thought about plywood too, or 2 or 3 inch cedar slats over the whole bottom, but of course that is not really a marketable thing, and it all gets fussy. When you have little kids, and they are all fussy, you want it to be easy, or at least as easy as possible. You are a long way from having had kids, and perhaps being a man of your generation your parenting was like so many others. My uncle, a canoe instructor of your generation, told me quite earnestly, that ‘kids can’t paddle, till they get much older, and I was wasting my time trying to accommodate them, that they duff, period’. But I belong to a generation of men who think quite differently, who take more time when the kids are infants and toddlers, an age range that men in our culture are traditionally less involved, waiting for them to be old enough to teach to ride bikes, throw a ball, etc.
So, I am not sure how comfortable a Pakcanoe can be made for small kids, but if you are serious about that ‘expanding market’ you will think about it seriously, and perhaps work with parents of young children. It is all very good to say it can be done, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a parent is so committed to their Pakcanoe that they want to take on the extra work of making it work, not when rigid hulls are so much easier. I am trying to be honest, and tell you what I went through. As I said, I have four of your canoes.
As for the new seat – yeah, great, the only change I would make is to make it more like a full bench, put the cross pieces of the frame as close to the outside – to the gunwale, as you can manage, so the whole surface can be used, that way it accommodates trimming weight left and right, at least for the center child seats. They need to be able to paddle, even if it is useless, even if it makes the parents’ job a bit more difficult, as that is what today’s parents want, their child to participate. I realize this makes for another production run – you can’t just take the standard seat and cut it to fit bow or stern of what ever canoe, it means an extra wide seat – so it should just be a slab – like in a Voyageur canoe. But it also means you can have two little ones sitting side by side. It will work, and it will be a market share, or at least I think so. It is what I do for my kids, and I get a lot of admiration from other parents. I was shown this by Jeremy Ward, the Curator at the Canadian Canoe Museum, who did it for his kids, and gets other parents to do it too.
Kids can paddle! But their needs are different.
So, wide bench seats, and a canoe bottom that is comfortable – and insert platform, but it has to be easy, ready made… that will increase your market share in this area.
My two cents.
We are in complete agreement about adapting the canoe for family use. I don’t have any personal experience paddling with small kids, but I have talked to young parents about it from time to time – unfortunately without taking family canoeing very seriously as a market.
I think we can make a very functional floor with a plywood (or similar) bottom, hinged along the keel with a heavy-duty fabric on top. The fabric I have in mind is a laminate with a 1/8” layer of a fairly hard closed cell foam. The fabric top will be one-piece and will act as the hinge between the two plywood sheets. The edges along the sides will extend under the inflatable tubes. Once the floor is inserted in the canoe and unfolded, it will lock itself into place.
The seat is also something we have put some thought into, but not as a child seat. We have looked at adapting PakCanoes for sailing (there are a couple of rigs on the market that will work with PakCanoes), and a full-width seat would be helpful. There will not be much of a market for a while, so it is hard to justify a wider version of the existing seat. An alternative is to add a wider seat top on top of the existing center seat, using the same materials as the proposed canoe bottom panel. The add-on top will not need a lot of stiffness because it will be supported by a strong seat.
I will try to get samples ready so I can show a PakCanoe 160 with wide center seat and floor board at Canoecopia in March. If we sell some, it will be a manageable number that we can produce here for this year.
I recognize that the setup will be a bit more “fiddly” than a traditional canoe, but I think that what we are discussing will have some advantages over traditional canoes:
1. The floor board will stay drier than the bottom of a traditional canoe because water from the floor board will drain into the bottom of the canoe.
2. And it will be warmer because the floor board will not be cooled by contact with the water (the bottom of a traditional canoe is as cold as the water under it).
Both factors should improve the comfort for the child(ren).
Those sound like good ideas, with a sound understanding of your market which I hope that tinkering expands. I like the sound of the bottom you have planned. If it came in sections, and could be packed and shipped, like the rest of your boats, all the better.
As for warm and dry, that is a big selling point.
A 17ft leave lots of room to grow, before you have to start thinking about a second canoe, and 18 ft even more so, with room for two full width bench seats.
On any account, good luck with tackling that niche of the market. Most ‘safe family canoes’ are anything but safe, with only primary stability – dangerously flat bottoms, while yours have very high secondary stability, they are dry, wonderful canoes.
The seats can be installed easily enough, but I have not figured out the floor board design for the longer PakCanoes yet. It may have to be more of a compromise. We’ll see.
I am not sure you even mentioned the scariest safety aspects of canoes in general. Even with high secondary stability and a very seaworthy hull, there will be times when a canoe capsizes. You will then face the question of how well the canoe performs in a self rescue situation. If the canoe is upside down, you need to get it turned over. That is actually a little harder with side flotation, but at the point where it is on its side, the side flotation makes it float higher. This results in less water in the canoe once it is upright again. With a few inches of water on board, the PakCanoe is very stable. To make it capsize, you have to force the flotation on one side under water, so the canoe is effective at resisting another capsize.
Many canoes have so little flotation built in that it is barely enough to keep the canoe itself afloat. I have always felt that all boats should come with enough flotation to keep a couple of swimmers afloat. Also, very few canoes have any flotation placed to increase stability after capsizing. From a family standpoint, it is important to be able to put the children somewhere safe while you deal with other self rescue tasks.
My two cents (or maybe five).
Re flotation and capsizing, these are very important, yes, more than a nickel’s worth, that is for certain, a Guinea, in gold, as the Brits say. I have yet to tip with the kids in the canoe, although they tip it themselves, on purpose with their cousins, in waist high water. They will gladly to that with the 18 ft freighter. I should do some safety training with them this summer, they will think it a laugh, but it could save lives.
I am putting flotation in the 19ft Pat Moore Voyageur – I have changed it as an art piece, make it look like a classic Voyageur Canoe with upswept bow and stern. It will be paddled across Canada, and I can’t put enough flotation in it – meaning no amount would be enough. It would be great if I could put in enough that it could float with four people in it, but really there is just room enough that the canoe won’t sink, empty.
In regards to safety, clearly PakCanoes have added safety, and you should find a way to market that too, along with whatever other tweaks and accessories you make for your ‘family friendly’ package.
I still think the 17 ft is a better family canoe, and I steer friends towards bigger canoes all the time. No one seems to regret the extra space and stability, especially when they get good fast lines. My Sawyers, both of them, are only 32″ wide, but the Cruiser is very fast, and the Charger is very sea worthy. I have had it out in 3 foot swells.
Good luck, again, do drop me a line when you have your tweaking further along, I am interested.
If you have two kids about the same weight they sit on opposite sides, and paddle (and both switch sides, or rest, when their arms tire, and if one is slightly heavier you ask them to ‘trim their butt’ more towards the center. It is easy for them to shift about on such bench seats. They don’t have parents constantly telling them to sit still.
It is a versatile system. It looks to me like your new seats (will a light piece of ply) could be adapted for such a system, and I bet the 17 ft would take two such benches, as I have done in my 17′ 9″ Sawyer Cruiser, which would have much less volume than your 17′.
My most important credo with kids is to have fun. If they are not having fun they won’t want to do it again. If they don’t build fond memories they won’t grow up wanting to canoe.
My ten year old boy, 60 pounds, will take command, sitting – and standing in the stern, of my 19 ft voyageur style canoe, with a team of 6 paddlers, including himself. One in bow and stern, two on each bench. The boy doesn’t have the strength to steer the canoe, but he does understand how to direct who paddles on what side, and when, as well as directing them to pry and draw. He steers with his brain, not brawn. It is a joy to watch, and his sister does it too. Fun!
I am in complete agreement. Of course, our seats will be mounted a bit higher (and they will be adjustable). That is needed because the floor board will be almost 2” above the canoe bottom. I think that will have the effect of improving paddling comfort for the kids, since they will not have to reach so much to get over the gunwales.
Agreed, higher is better for reach. My height was a compromise, and I have used seat cushions.