A New Addition to Our Fleet: The Nova Craft Prospector

By Uncle Dan

At the beginning of this season we replaced our old Voyager Prospector with a new red Nova Craft 16' Prospector (purchased from MEC). The boat was meant to be used primarily by our kids and it served its intended function remarkably well.  

Anna and Eva in the 16' Nova Craft Prospector.

The Nova Craft Prospector strikes a perfect balance between ease of maneuverability (due to its 2.5 inch rocker) and straight tracking on flat water (partly due to a full length keel). The kids liked the maneuverability when soloing the boat and when they were exploring islands or fishing.  They also appreciated the relatively straight tracking of the boat when we were on the flat water (on a recent trip we paddled for roughly 11 km on just the first lake.)

Josh soloing the Nova Craft Prospector.

The boat is exceptionally stable, which is important when it is primarily being used by kids. On numerous occasions (when the kids took it to go swimming, exploring, or fishing) the boat was filled to the gills with kids and the movement of the kids in the boat did not pose a noticeable problem; the boat handled considerable side-to-side wobble without ever coming close to tipping.

The Nova Craft Prospector is a very stable boat even when put to the test by energetic kids.

The symmetrical shape of the boat allows the boat to be paddled backwards as easily as forwards, which is useful when one wants to solo the canoe from the front seat facing the stern.  The absence of a thwart behind the front seat also makes this possible. 

Josh soloing the canoe sitting in the front seat facing towards the stern.

The 16' Nova Craft Prospector boasts a centre depth of 15 inches and a centre width of 36 inches.  The upper end of its load capacity is 1000 pounds.  We were able to comfortably fit two 60L barrels (with harnesses) side-by-side between the front seat and the yoke, and two small 30L barrels and some day bags between the back thwart and the yoke (see photo below).  There is also room under the seats for smaller items such as camera gear and water bottles.  The boat could easily handle all of the gear for two people going on a one- or two-week backcountry trip.

The loaded Nova Craft Prospector.

One of the features that I rather like about the Nova Craft Prospector is the relatively meaty aluminum gunwale design (you can get ash gunwales at an additional cost).  The solid gunwales make it easy to pick the boat up from the side and ensure that the seats, thwart and yoke are firmly attached.  We opted for the aluminum gunwales over the ash upgrade because the aluminum gunwales require less maintenance and have greater longevity when the canoe is stored outdoors.  

As you can see in the image below, the paddler of the Nova Craft Prospector sits relatively high above the waterline and so it is advisable to use a paddle with a slightly longer shaft.  The bow height of the Prospector is 23 inches, which is aesthetically appealing and useful when faced with large waves, but can be somewhat of a challenge in strong wind conditions.

Anna paddling the Prospector (left side of the image).   

In terms of build quality, I am happy to report that the Nova Craft Prospector has a solid and reliable build.  The boat is available in several layups (fiberglass or the new TuffStuff material amongst others).  While I would have preferred to go with the amazing TuffStuff, I decided to ultimately go with the much cheaper fiberglass version.  I gather that nowadays fiberglass boats are considered to be mostly cottage boats, primarily because of their weight, which makes them somewhat difficult to portage (the 16' fiberglass Prospector is about 68 pounds in comparison to the TuffStuff version which is about 54 pounds).  However, I don't mind carrying the extra weight on my shoulders when portaging, and the fiberglass version is much lighter on the wallet (which is important when your family has 7 people and the cost of camping gear is quite high).  On our last trip, I portaged the Prospector for a total of roughly 1.3 km and it wasn't really a problem.  Keep in mind that "back in the old days" most of the canoes were fiberglass and portaging a 65 pound canoe was a routine event.  While I would recommend that you go with the TuffStuff layup (or even another lighter layup such as the aramid lite or the blue steel layups) if you have the cash, if money is an issue, just hit the gym during the year to make sure that you are made out of tuff stuff before canoe season begins so you can carry the fiberglass version :).  The fiberglass version we purchased held up very well even though it made frequent (and sometimes somewhat careless) contact with rocky shores of the lakes in the Temagami region.  

If there was one thing I would ask the good folks at Nova Craft to change about the boat it would be the yoke.  The yoke included in this entry level boat is not really much of a yoke (it's more like a thwart), likely because, as I noted before, fiberglass boats are no longer meant for serious portaging.  However, a deep dish yoke would be really helpful for those of us backcountry trippers strapped for cash, especially given the weight of the boat.  In order to portage the boat, I had to resort to the old tried and true trick of lashing paddles between the yoke and the back thwart and carrying the boat on the cantilevered paddle blades (which was much more comfortable -- in fact, I actually like that better than the deep dish or contoured yokes on my other canoes).  While MEC sells a deep dish yoke (for about $100) you can install yourself, I found that the ends of that deep dish yoke were much narrower than the ends of the yoke included with the boat, and I worried that there would just not be enough "meat" on the outsides of the screws to securely hold the yoke in place when the boat is on my shoulders. Also, what's the point of going with a cheaper boat if you have to spend hundreds in post-purchase upgrades?   While I'm making suggestions, I should also mention that the kids complained a little about the comfort of the seats and the handles on the bow and stern; seats made from wide webbing would be preferred and more rounded handles would be much appreciated.  Again, seats made from wide webbing can be purchased at MEC, but at an extra cost.

All things considered, however, I give the fiberglass/aluminum-trim Nova Craft 16' Prospector two thumbs up!  It's a wonderful all-around backcountry canoe for the kids.

The Backcountry Toddler

Wondering about taking your toddler into the backcountry?  Check out this video of 2 year old Grace on a 12 day canoe trip in the interior of Algonquin Provincial Park.  Even though it rained for 10 of the 12 days she had a blast.  


A big thank you to MEC for making the Newt Rain Suit.  Our trip would have been a bust without it.

In the video you will see our Swift Algonquin which is incredibly stable and a great family boat.  Dan made the cedar strip canoe using John Winters' Kipawa design (a design also carried by Swift).  

(And a special thanks to big sister Anna for the musical accompaniment to the video)

What canoes do we use? (by Uncle Dan)

Over the years our family has used many different canoes.  Early on, when our family was rapidly growing, our canoe needs changed from year to year and so we opted to rent canoes to meet the specific needs that came up each year.  This gave us a chance to test different canoes from several manufacturers including Swift Canoe and Kayak and Mad River Canoe.   By far, our favorite models of canoes were the Swift designs.    Initially, we were able to fit our family and all of our gear into a single canoe.  This was good because when our children were small, only Shelley and I were available to stern a canoe and Shelley always had to tend to the youngest child (baby or toddler), which left only me at the stern.  We needed a relatively large boat that could fit everyone (and everything) and one that could move relatively quickly and efficiently over flat water (since most of our trips involve flat water paddling).  We found that the Swift Winisk best met our needs.  The Winisk was designed by boat designer John Winters and falls in Swift's 'Canadian Touring Canoes' class.  This boat boasts a length of 17 feet and 6 inches with a maximum width of 36 inches and a 14 inch bow height.  It has an asymmetrical design and is built for speed and stable tracking on the flat water. The photograph below shows us packed in the Winisk with only inches of freeboard (the distance between the water and the gunwale of the canoe). 

Two adults and four children and all of their gear in a single canoe (the Swift Winisk).  Photo by Dave Smilek

While it's probably not a good idea to load a boat to this level, we had to make do since we were not yet able to take multiple canoes.  The Winisk served us extremely well and we recommend it enthusiastically.  If you need a large touring boat you might also check out the Swift Tamagami, which has the same length as the Winisk but a slightly greater maximum width and a larger load range.

In 2011, our children were older and this allowed us to start using two canoes, with Shelley at the stern of one canoe and with me at the stern of the other.  At this point, we decided that it was time to purchase rather than rent canoes because rental costs were getting quite high and we knew that we would use the boats we purchased for the foreseeable future. We purchased one of the canoes at a Swift sale in Guelph, ON.  Fortunately, at this sale we were able to procure a lightly used Swift Algonquin 17" fiberglass canoe at a great price.  Our decision to go with the Algonquin was based on the fact that it is known to be a great performing yet very stable canoe, which are useful features if the canoe has to efficiently transport fidgeting kids across large wavy lakes. 

Anna sitting beside the Swift Algonquin.

For our second canoe, I decided to take the plunge and actually build one!  So, in the summer of 2011, with some help from Shelley, the children, my brother Dave and a good friend named Mike, I (we) built a cedar strip canoe.  I decided to go with the Kipawa designed by John Winters (and also sold by Swift).  The Kipawa is 16 feet and 6 inches long and has a maximum width of 36 inches.  It is an asymmetrical canoe designed for speed and tracking at the expense of a little stability.    I bought the plans and the materials at Noah's Marine in Toronto ON.  The good folks at Noah's also gave me lots of useful tips.  My main sources of guidance for building the canoe, however, were the following two books:

Below is an image of Shelley paddling the cedar Kipawa. 

Shelley paddling the cedar strip Kipawa on a misty morning in Algonquin Park.

Together the Algonquin and the Kipawa were our primary work horses until this year, when our family, now with five growing kids, finally needed a third canoe.  For our third canoe, we fixed and resurrected an old Voyageur Prospector canoe that my brother Dave and I used when we were teenagers (the canoe is now roughly 26 years old).  Below is a photo of my daughter Anna soloing the old Prospector.

Anna soloing the refurbished Voyageur Prospector.

Going forward, we hope to replace the old Prospector with another canoe from Swift -- maybe the 16 foot Keewaydin or the tough Dumoine!  We'll keep you posted.