We picked up our old Northstar from a neighbor that was moving out of state and did not have the ability to bring the boat with him. At a whopping 95lbs and 18+ feet in length I can see why. This is really the only negative. It's a beast to move, even in two people. Unless you have a trailer, are both Crossfit champions in a long term relationship, or live on the water where carrying it any distance is not an issue you are likely to have problems getting it around. Did I say it's a beast?
Well that's the only bad thing or drawback, everything else about this design is extremely impressive. The plastic is high quality and has held up to years of sitting under the sun, being dragged and launched and landed on rocky beaches or shores with minimal changes or damage. It doesn't seem to have aged much at all and appears to be nearly indestructible considering how much abuse we put it through.
As far as seakeeping this Kayak has it all. It's both extremely stable, much less tippy than any single I've tried, and very fast in a straight line. I can put one of my sons in the forward cockpit, when they were little I would have my wife follow along in a single and there was nothing she could do to keep up even though I was paddling alone. When we're both paddling this thing, it absolutely hauls ass. I never clocked any speeds but we tend to reach the same destinations we go to in our singles much sooner. If I had to guess this boat is probably 50% faster or more than a shorter single in the 12-14 feet range. Again, it's not a little difference, destinations compared to small to medium singles are reached very quickly.
The turning is a little slow unless both paddlers start to synchronize. I am sure it can be turned quick but we were never able to do so. That said I don't need to count on the rudder for turns either which works well for tracking in wind, I just take my time and don't treat it like a sports car, only a rocket ship for its straight line speed. Build quality of the seats, hatches and rudder has been excellent as has the durability of everything holding up.
The storage is amazing, there's lots of room with a huge bow and even bigger stern compartment; there's also a central compartment as well. This is an excellent long expedition boat in terms of gear storage and it's big, long and fast enough that even with some weight or cargo on board you can still make good time. The hatches are plastic and the nylon bands securing them have suffered some fatigue but at least you don't have to worry about rubber. Some of the ergonomics and fittings do look older and a bit dated but that's what you get when you paddle an old boat.
Wilderness now makes a replacement for the Northstar called the Polaris which is very similar and we bought one as the kids are old enough to paddle now, one parent in back with one kid in front, but still waiting on it. The main difference is that the Polaris is a bit shorter as it lacks the center storage compartment. IT does have a small cupholder or "day storage" compartment behind but pretty much handles and paddles very much like the Northstar. They do have the same name as Polaris is latin for the Northstar and while it's 10lbs lighter, I don't think I can tell much difference in the weight. So fret not, even though the Northstar is no longer in production and may be hard to find, you can still buy one anew with more modern fittings, 10lbs less, minus 5 inches of length and the center storage compartment in the Polaris.
As far as it goes the boat does everything well. If a button could be pressed and it folded up for transport I'd give it an 11, since it can't... 10/10
Things we like: the Northstar easily slices through the water, and weighing in at 93 lbs, with two people, is able to maintain a comfortable momentum (once up to speed) with minimal effort. We found that bent-shaft carbon fiber paddles greatly reduce fatigue and really compliments this boat. The hatches have remained dry on all trips we have gone out on thus far; it has excellent stability in rough waves; plenty of attach points & webbing to tie stuff on the top when heading out for a long trip; the rudder provides excellent response & control and is easily raised or lowered from the rear cockpit (I would recommend lubricating the pedal controls with a light grease on the slide mechanism for smoother operations); The Phase-3 seat is “awesome” you can adjust that puppy for a very comfortable seat and it breathes quite nicely even on the hottest days; being of polyethylene construction it is virtually indestructible for most river hazards (we can run over rocks, branches, and whatever is just below the water without fear of cracks or tears); bottom line... this kayak is joy to own and has provided hours of kayaking pleasure.
Things we didn’t like: Face it... this is a heavy boat at 93 lbs.... once in the water it is great.... getting it there can be a challenge. After our initial struggles....we purchased a Thule 897XT Hullvator which effortlessly loads the boat on top of my 3-dr Geo Metro and a NRS boat cart....thus problem solved !!! We have not experienced any heat related warping of the plastic hull, and based on other reviewer’s comments have taken great care to ensure our Northstar is well supported in transit & storage. We also periodically polish it with Formula 303 to provide UV protection of the polyethylene and make it shine.
To get a 10 out of 10, it would weigh 50 lbs, still be as strong as an ox, and load itself onto our car on command.... but in the real world.... this is an excellent value and a great tandem kayak choice for novice or expert alike.
While another reviewer has dubbed tandems 'divorce boats', my wife and I have found them very copasetic. They enable us to paddle together, without the otherwise inevitable widening of a gap that would occur if we were each paddling our own single-person boat.
We have put a bit of effort into our teamwork, and can now paddle synchronously without much attention, and for long distances. The relative long inter-cockpit space on the Northstar means that a mis-stroke by the stern paddler (usually me) does not lead to the forward paddler being struck (which would not be good for marital relations).
As other reviewers have pointd out, 94 pounds is way too heavy for a kayak, especially if one plans to transport it car-top. I have a very well-practiced ritual for getting it atop my van, which uses some custom-made guide ropes, but still the process is never easy. I also use a standard two-wheeled kayak dolly for moving it to the water. Note, however, that the weight of the Northstar is not exceptional, even compared to some of the composite boats made by the major manufacturers. The only truly light-weight tandem that I'm aware of is the Bullitt by West Side Boat Shop, which at 45 poulds is less than half the price of the Northstar (but its quite a bit more expensive).
Once in the water, the Northstar handles exceptionally well. Its quite fast: my wife and I, using wing paddles can maintain a speed of 6.2 m.p.h. more-or-less indefinitely. It's extremely stable: we've never even come close to capsizing, even in the rough chop that one encounters off the coast of Maine. It ride pretty high in the water. A big wave will, of course, break over the deck (we always wear skirts), but the boat never submarines. And, compared to a single, it's incredibly spacious, with ample room for both seating and gear. We mostly do day paddles, but once took a three-day trip with it. It was, with camping gear, pretty heavily-laden, but still performed well.
Other than the weight, the only other gripe that I have is that I would really prefer front-paddler steering over the rear-paddler steering used by the Northstar and most comparable tandems. I couldn't count the number of lobster bouys that I collided with, because I couldn't see past the brim of my wife's hat!
Overall, I'm rating the Northstar a 7. It VERY GOOD, but rather too heavy.
The NorthStar is a very big, heavy boat. Car topping requires a certain regimented skill set, especially in brisk winds. Once in the water, however, the kayak really comes into its own. Ours has handled everything from relatively tight rivers and streams to very aggressive open water with equal success, comfort and confidence. Fit and finish are good. The Phase3™ seat is probably the Gold Standard for comfort and adjustability. Our boat's rotomolded plastic construction can get pretty soft while being transported in the hot sun. Wrapping the boat in two white bed sheets sewn end to end looks a little strange, but it sure solves the problem.
We were surprised at how fast this particular design is. An adult paddler and an enthusiastic child can keep up with most solo boats. My wife and I are often the fastest boat in our group, especially on long legs where staggered hydration breaks give any double a strong advantage. With two aggressive, full size paddlers looking to show off, we routinely leave even elite solo paddlers gasping after an hour or so.
The drawbacks we have found are three. One is the position of the rudder lowering mechanism. This fouled my right hand when paddling. I moved it aft of the cockpit and also removed the deck lines by the cockpit, which also occasionally rubbed my hands.
A second drawback is the heavy spray my wife receives in the front seat when punching into chop. However, this is preferable to the solid water that we have experienced in other designs. She now wears UV protection goggles under these conditions.
The third drawback is, as previously mentioned in a review, the manner in which the plastic softens when on land in direct sunlight approaching 90 degrees. The flip side of this is that the kayak will always return to its correct shape when it cools down! We work round this problem by storing the kayak out of direct sun, and, when on the top of our pickup, supporting it at three points along its length. If this kayak were produced in the triple layer poly, as used in my P&H Capella, it would rate 9 in my review. It is available, slightly lengthened, as the Northstar Pro in composite, so those with deeper pockets have another way to avoid the softening issue.
The Northstar is an excellent kayak for our purpose, i.e. solo day trips up to 20 miles in potentially demanding circumstances, in a kayak robust enough to cope with being grounded on beaches and hauled single-handed onto a pickup. Oh yes, and it's a great value.
So, why the 6 out of 10? Being a plastic tandem this boat is a nightmare if you need to transport it during warm weather. The hull doesn't have enough rigidity so it will collapse where the racks contact the boat. I use Thule racks and pads. We drove cross country and this problem really got worse when the air temperature rose above 80 degrees F. The hull collapsing caused numerous problems because once the hull sags the boat is no longer snug on the rack allowing it to move across the racks in cross winds and when semis pass on the interstate. During one of these episodes the Northstar slammed into my other kayak so hard it broke the rudder off my other boat. The boat also sagged so much that it was bouncing off the roof of my new truck.
The bottom line is that this is good boat until you need to transport it during warm weather. I am sure that all plastic boats are the same in order to keep the weight down. Hope this helps you.