This review is for the Nova Craft Prospector 16 in Tuffstuff Expedition layup. Our boat was manufactured in 2017 and weighs 61 lbs. It is the ninth canoe my wife and I have used in Midcoast Maine since 1976.
After two years of putting this boat to the test, we conclude that the Prospector 16 is very capable for its size. It is well-suited for waterways where carries are common and a wide range of conditions are encountered.
To understand what this boat does well we need to examine its form. The hull is symmetrical in shape with a shallow arch bottom. The beam and floor are wide and the bilge is round but not too soft. The sides are vertical. The bow and stern are full, yet the stem is sharp and cleaves the water nicely. The hull has just the right amount of rocker.
These features allow the boat to paddle backward as easily as forward. The bow and stern rise over the waves. The boat can be turned quickly in any direction. In the wind it stays on track simply by adjusting the trim. The vertical sides and the wide floor and beam enable the boat to pole well and to carry a heavy load comfortably.
Extra weight in the Prospector 16 often improves its performance. On large lakes and the ocean a heavier load helps the boat maintain speed and momentum in the face of wind, waves and currents. Extra weight can also be used to adjust the trim. On day trips where we have little gear on board we bring a 5 gallon collapsible water jug for ballast. It can be moved forward or backward in the boat easily and can be emptied and refilled as needed during portages.
In the rapids, the deep hull, wide beam and rocker on the Prospector 16 make it possible to ferry, stop midstream, make quick turns, draw parallel to the current and lean downstream. The result is that running Class 1 and 2 rapids is easy. Running Class 3 rapids requires more skill but the Prospector 16 still handles well in spite of the bigger waves and stronger currents.
The Prospector 16 is a good poling boat with one person on board and a light load. In this configuration, about the only limit to what the boat can do is one’s skill and stamina. On the other hand, with two people and gear on board, the Prospector 16 becomes more difficult to handle. This is normal for smaller canoes. We can pole up and down Class 1 rapids rather easily, but we can ascend Class 2 rapids only by going solo. Ascending Class 3 rapids with a load is out of the question.
A boat’s speed indicates a great deal about the form of the hull and its efficiency in moving through the water. Our average speed in the Prospector 16 paddling tandem on calm water is 3.4 mph and our maximum is 4.7. After testing nine canoes in this manner, we would classify the speed and efficiency of this hull as about average.
The Prospector 16 will be a little more tiring to paddle during long trips on flatwater than a canoe designed for greater speed. On the other hand, in rough water, we have found it to be just as fast as modern designs with asymmetrical hulls and narrow beams. For example, in a seven mile test on the coast of Maine under similar conditions of wind, waves and tide, both the Prospector 16 and the Wenonah Escape completed the course at the same overall speed of 2.9 mph. The difference was that the Prospector 16 was easier to handle in the waves and provided a smoother and more comfortable ride overall.
There are a number of other boats on the market called Prospectors. Most of them have little in common with the Nova Craft canoes of the same name. In this category we would place the Wenonah Prospector 16 and the Swift Prospector series of canoes. These boats have narrower ends, narrower floors and softer bilges than the Nova Craft Prospector line.
Features like these boost speed at the expense of the stability that makes the Nova Craft canoes so useful in whitewater, on the open ocean, for carrying a heavy load and for poling. For our purposes, the Nova Craft Prospectors are a better choice, but other people may prefer slimmer and faster boats for the kind of paddling they do most of the time.
An exception to the rule above is the Wenonah Prospector 15. The Royalex version that we purchased in 2013 is similar in form to a Nova Craft Prospector, but the hull is not as deep. It is a wonderful little boat with many uses and we are very fond of it.
The additional details provided below may be useful in deciding whether this canoe is the right one for you.
When paddling solo on flatwater one can sit on the bow seat facing backward. In rapids it is wiser to kneel in the center of the boat with the yoke in front of you.
As in all canoes, attention to the boat’s trim is critical. Gear and water should be moved forward or backward in the boat as needed depending on conditions.
Waxing the hull not only protects the gel coat from sunlight but it also helps the boat slide easily over fallen trees and through tangles of shrubs and branches while portaging.
The yoke can be turned around to face the stern. By so doing, the rear thwart can be used to stabilize the canoe with one hand while portaging. We prefer this method to holding the gunnel or using a tumpline.
The yoke provided by the manufacturer was beautifully made, but it was too wide for for us to grip firmly while swinging the boat onto our shoulders. We replaced the yoke with a narrower one that is easier for us to hold onto.
We like the rings for painters on the bow and stern. We use the painters for tying the boat to shore and for retrieving the boat if it starts to blow away during self rescue drills on a windy lake or bay.
For tracking and lining the boat from shore we do not use the rings. Instead, we attach bridles to the bow and stern seats as described by Garrett Conover in “Beyond the Paddle”. These lines pull the boat from the bottom of the hull instead of the top, ensuring better safety and control.
During a sharp impact the gel coat tends to flake off in small pieces while leaving the fabric beneath undamaged. On kevlar hulls we have owned, similar impacts caused gouging of the gel coat and sometimes long tears in the fabric. The Innegra hull on the Nova Craft Prospector 16 is stronger and more resilient but the chips in the gel coat should be repaired periodically.
Nova Craft manufactures the Prospectors in lengths from 15 to 18 feet. Compared to the Prospector 16, the 17 and 18 foot models should be faster and provide better glide and momentum. On the other hand, their extra size and weight will make them more difficult to carry.
The boat we purchased was constructed in Kevlar Flex-Core. It has proven to be a strong and relatively stiff hull. The gel coat is easily scratched, of course, but the scratches are mainly superficial and can be repaired with a little bit of work if one desires to acquire the skill. We ordered our boat in Smoke, a white color in which scratches are not so obvious.
Here is a description of what we mean by the big boat feel of the 17 Wenonah.
1. The vessel is slow to gain speed but maintains good glide and momentum once underway. This has many advantages in dealing with rough water and strong currents. However, for the same reason, the boat may seem hard to stop or turn once it reaches full speed. The solution is to anticipate how the boat will respond in advance and then use shorter and easier strokes to change direction and speed more gradually. This technique becomes second nature once you understand how the boat performs.
2. A single paddler in the stern can manage the boat well on his own with enough weight in the bow to maintain proper trim. I weigh 165 pounds and have paddled the boat solo with success in winds up to 8 or 9 mph by placing all of my gear and ballast weighing about 100 pounds in front of the bow seat. The ability of the boat to perform like this can solve many problems while camping, fishing, transporting family members and so on.
3. Our average speed in this boat on calm water with two paddlers is 3.6 mph. That is fast by our standards. However, maintaining proper trim and developing a synchronized stroke between both paddlers is needed to achieve these results, but this is true for all canoes.
4. The boat is superb for poling and we have written a separate review on our standardized test for this reason. The boat is good for poling because of its stability, glide and momentum. These qualities are needed in order to carry the boat forward against a strong current. In addition, the boat's stability greatly improves the safety of poling in quickwater and rapids whether or not the boat is heavily loaded. For example, when the pole gets stuck on the bottom of the river, which happens quite often, the poler is not thrown off balance easily. Instead, he or she remains in control and has a choice whether to release the pole quickly with a sudden upward thrust or to simply let the pole go and retrieve it later.
5. The 17 Wenonah handles well in wind and waves. The stem and stern are narrow, which is good because this feature helps the boat slice through small oncoming seas smoothly. On the other hand, the hull widens quickly toward the center and provides good lift in large waves when needed. This is the best of both features. As a result, we find that the 17 Wenonah is quite comfortable and relaxing when crossing large bodies of water like the saltwater bays and big rivers that are common in our region.
People will want to know what the 17 Wenonah doesn't do well. The answer is that it will not be as useful or fun in situations where a smaller and more maneuverable canoe would be better. For us, that includes small bodies of water like beaver ponds, rocky rapids, surf and intertidal areas along the coast consisting of rockweed covered ledges. In those situations, we prefer the Wenonah Prospector 15, and so in our family we keep two of them on hand for use under those conditions.
We have some minor objections to the 17 Wenonah due to its construction. These are listed below for convenience.
1. Because the seats are suspended on hangers and do not provide support to the hull, there is a thwart right behind the bow seat that we think sometimes gets in the way.
2. We think the foot brace for the stern paddler should be an option and not standard equipment. We paddle mainly on our knees and do not use it. More importantly, it gets in the way while poling, stowing gear and climbing back into the boat during deep water rescues.
3. Like many canoes today, the thin ABS end caps on both the bow and stern are a little flimsy and have wrinkles where they are riveted to the hull. We think that a more attractive solution should be possible.
In spite of these minor irritations, the good qualities of the 17 Wenonah stand out. The hull provides a smooth and comfortable ride even under difficult conditions. Indeed, the more we use this canoe on our journeys here in Midcoast Maine, the more we rely on it for speed and safety.
It is a true old-fashioned symmetrical hull with 2 inches of rocker, a maximum outside width near the waterline of 36.5 inches, a shallow arch bottom, and a short, round chine. The depth is only 13 inches at the center, which saves weight, and so the sheer rises gracefully to the bow and stern, which are both about 20 inches deep.
I have taken this boat out onto the Androscoggin River here in Midcoast Maine for a series of standardized tests and my impression so far is that it is an excellent boat for general canoe travel. It is very stable, with good glide and momentum, and turns quickly when needed. In some ways, it reminds me of the Old Town Tripper, which was also a very versatile boat, except that the 17 Wenonah is much lighter and faster.
My first tests have dealt mainly with the poling qualities of the 17 Wenonah, since poling is an essential skill for upstream travel on the many small streams here in the Midcoast region. The standard test I used was a 3.0 mile round trip on the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham, Maine. The river here is tidal but freshwater, and during the last two hours before low tide the water level falls to create some interesting riffles and quickwater over gravel bars.
In the table below, the boats are ranked by speed in mph. Note that the wind was blowing about 8 mph with gusts up to about 12 mph in all these tests and that the distance upstream and downstream was equal. The 17 Wenonah was the clear winner in this group for sheer speed and ease of handling as a poling boat.
Wenonah, 17 Wenonah, Kevlar Flex-Core, 17 ft, 62 lbs., 3.3I will report on the paddling qualities of the 17 Wenonah once we have taken it out on longer trips and more varied conditions.
E.M. White, built 1931, Wood and Canvas, 18.5 ft., 75 lbs., 3.1
Wenonah, Prospector 15, Royalex, 15 ft., 59 lbs., 3.0
Old Town, Penobscot 16, Royalex, 16 ft., 65 lbs., 2.9
Wenonah, Prospector 16, Kevlar Ultralight, 16 ft., 40 lbs., 2.3
I should mention that the boat we received was much heavier than its advertised weight of 55 lbs., so Wenonah is graciously replacing it with a new one at no cost to us.
This is an addendum to our review of 9/17/15 in which we rated the Wenonah Prospector 16 ultralight very highly. In that review we promised to write an addendum once we had more experience poling the vessel.
We regret to report that we have found the Prospector 16 ultralight to be a very poor poling boat. It is very unstable and we have had difficulty keeping it aligned with strong currents. We even capsized while poling across Merrymeeting Bay in shallow water earlier this week due to these problems. It was our first capsize while canoeing after 40 years of paddling together if we exclude rescue drills.
The poor poling qualities of the boat came as a surprise to us since we have had good success with the Prospector 15 in Royalex. Although the Prospector 15 is a shorter boat, it is wider and more stable. It handles well poling in rapids, waves and on windy bays. We have written a report on a standard poling test we have conducted for four boats in an addendum to our review of the Prospector 15 for those who want to explore this issue further.
This is an addendum to our review of the Prospector 15 in Royalex dated 10/15/5. We tested four canoes for their poling qualities on the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham, Maine, this July and we included our Royalex 15 in the process.
The Androscoggin River in this area is affected by tidal rise and fall of about 2.5 feet. At low tide this section offers good poling potential on gravel and sandy bottoms. The currents run from 0 to 3 mph depending on location, although the average is about 1 mph. The fastest current is on the return trip between Cow Island the Topsham shore where the water falls over low gravel bars.
The wind is almost always a factor on this big river. On our testing days it averaged about 8 mph with gusts to about 14 mph.
The course was a 3.1 mile round trip both upstream and downstream so that the winds and current would affect both legs of the journey equally. I poled the boats solo with 40 lbs. of ballast on board to assist in setting the right trim.
Here are the results in terms of average speed over the course. Average speed in this case indicates fairly accurately the ease of handling the vessel, including its momentum, directional stability and overall stability while heading into wind, waves and currents.
E.M. White (1931), Wood and canvas, 18.5 ft, 75 lbs.: 3.2 mph Wenonah Prospector 15, Royalex, 59 lbs.: 3.1 mph Old Town Penobscot 16, Royalex, 68 lbs.: 2.9 mph Wenonah Prospector 16, Kevlar Ultralight, 40 lbs.: 2.4 mph
We found it striking how well the little Prospector 15 did in comparison to the E.M. White canoe, which is one of the greatest tripping boats in Maine history. The results would be different if we had two people and gear on board instead of running solo. In that case the difference in speed between the E.M. White and the others would be greater.
Even so, this test showed why my wife and I have had such fun with the little Prospector 15 and why we have managed to pole down the rivers in this region with both of us on board. Going upstream is more difficult than it would be in a longer canoe, but the fact that the little Prospector is so versatile is something to praise.
In my original review I said the Prospector 15 is too short while poling with two people on board, but my wife and I are managing to solve this problem with experience, at least on big rivers like the Androscoggin and going downstream in Class 1 and 2 whitewater. One approach to help with the crowding problem is to adopt a traditional diagonal stance and pole on one side of the boat only.
On a trip last September, I accidentally left my whitewater paddle behind and the only straight shaft paddle I could find in the shop of a local outfitter was a Loon. During our expedition, we encountered a variety of conditions as expected. In the rapids and tidal falls I was forced to pull out the Loon to provide the leaning, bracing and drawing needed in rough water. These areas would be mostly classified as Class 2 whitewater. There were also a few tidal falls that are hard to classify. They consist of large tongues of water pouring through headlands with powerful eddies, boils and big waves.
After this experience, my impression of the Loon is that it is a good paddle for the price. It is well made, comfortable and light weight. On the other hand, I had two concerns. One was that it might break at any moment and the other was that the blade face was too small for the bracing and power strokes needed in whitewater. On the plus side, we survived the trip intact and the boat still looks like new even though the Loon was not designed for these conditions.
My one objection to this paddle for its intended purpose is that the grip is designed for use in only one direction. In rough water, one needs to use both sides of the blade either for bracing or for a power stroke, and to me the one-sided palm grip always seems to be facing the wrong way while doing this. I understand that in calm conditions this may not be a problem for most people, but even for casual use I prefer a paddle that can be used easily in wind and waves if necessary.
In summary, I agree with the other reviewers that this paddle is a good value for the price. The fact that my wife and I survived a week using it in conditions it wasn't designed for indicates that is a good paddle. I would just prefer a symmetrical palm grip.
We have owned this boat for three years and have used it for paddling up and down small, rocky streams, beaver ponds, headwater wetlands, quickwater, Class 1 and 2 whitewater, light surf, and short trips among the rocks and ledges here in Midcoast Maine. We also own a Prospector 16 in Kevlar Ultralight for which we have written a separate review.
This boat is small but very capable. It is a blast for short trips where a small boat with decent speed and high maneuverability is an advantage. It is perfectly at home in the environments in which we use it.
It poles very well with one person, and it can be poled with two people on board and some gear also but it is a little small for that purpose. While poling with my wife on board, there isn't much room to stand with the gear stashed behind me and my wife trying to keep out of my way just a foot or so fin front of me. I continually drop water on her head because we are crammed so close together. Poling a longer boat is a lot more relaxing and pleasurable, but even so it can still be done with this versatile little vessel.
The Prospector 15 in Royalex excels in quickwater and Class 1 and 2 whitewater. It provides a very smooth ride and the superb handling that is needed to avoid obstacles such as trees and brush, haystacks, rocks and ledges on small streams. Ferrying from one side of the stream to the other is easy. Turning in and out of eddies is a breeze. Paddling upstream or holding the boat in one place in order to scout ahead or take a better route seems perfectly natural.
On the coast the Prospector 15 is great for short adventures among shoals, breaking waves and light surf. The idea is to steer among the shoals and avoid the breaking surf by staying in deep water. We paddle in seas up to about three feet high. Care is needed to avoid breaking waves of course and in this environment the little Prospector provides the precision handling needed to avoid them.
The Prospector 15 rides over big waves quite comfortably in all directions. This is also true of the Prospector 16. Modern asymmetrical hulls with little or no rocker like the Wenonah Escape and the Aurora are better than the Prospector style hull only when heading directly into steep little waves with a short wave period. That is because they tend to slice through them instead of bumping over them. In waves over a foot high and with a longer distance between crests, however, the Prospector style hull provides a smoother ride and safer handling.
The Prospector 15 is easy to carry because it is short. Shorter boats concentrate the weight closer to your body and are less likely to rock up and down as you walk or when the wind blows. We enjoy carrying this little boat a great deal in order to get around dams, fallen trees, waterfalls, sandbars and other obstructions during our journeys.
The Prospector 15 is also a fast boat for its size. Our average speed on both coastal and inland waters so far is 3.3 miles per hour. See the table below. On ponds, we can maintain a steady pace of about 3 mph against headwinds of about 10 mph gusting occasionally to 15 mph, which are very common here in spring and fall. It pays to use good paddles and synchronized strokes to maintain this momentum. The Prospector 15 requires a little more attention to keeping the vessel heading into the wind than the Prospector 16 but it is not difficult to do so. In sudden gusts over 15 mph the Prospector 15 can be blown sideways sometimes but this is true of any canoe.
Table of Average Boat Speeds, Midcoast Maine
- Wenonah Prospector 16, kevlar ultralight: 3.5 mph
- Wenonah Escape, fiberglass/polyester: 3.4 mph
- Wenonah Prospector 15, Royalex: 3.3 mph
- Old Town Tripper, Royalex: 3.0 mph
- Wenonah Aurora, kevlar ultralight: 2.7 mph
We don't recommend the Prospector 15 for wilderness tripping or Class 3 whitewater because of its small size and low freeboard. The Prospector 16 provides greater carrying capacity and speed for these purposes. Nonetheless, both boats are superb for what they were designed to do.
My wife and I portage our boats a great deal and so the Wenonah ultralights seem like a gift from heaven. Nonetheless, we have found the Prospector 16 in kevlar ultralight to be an especially versatile and capable boat for many types of paddling.
We purchased the canoe in April and have paddled it in two main types of environments so far. These include the narrow bays and tidal rivers of the midcoast region and the small streams and beaver ponds farther inland. Missing so far from our test runs are big lakes and open ocean.
Our average speed on calm water is 3.6 mph. On the coast, in spite of the wind and tides, our average speed so far is still 3.5 mph. See the table below. This makes the Prospector 16 the fastest boat we have ever owned.
With coordinated stroking, the Prospector can be headed into the wind and waves and held on course quite easily with minimal correction. As wind speed and wave size increase, however, one paddler should keep a blade in the water while the other takes his out for another stroke. This sacrifices some speed in favor of stability and control, but this is true for all canoes.
We have found that the Prospector handles best with the total load from people and gear centered just aft of the main thwart. For example, since I weigh more than my wife and I paddle from the stern, we maintain proper trim by placing most of our gear forward in the boat, just behind the bow seat. We have not needed ballast so far to achieve proper trim as we have in other boats.
The canoe is superb in quick water and Class l and ll whitewater. With its rocker and symmetrical hull, it can be paddled backwards and sideways easily or turned on a dime. We have no problem turning in and out of eddies. The boat just bounces off pillows of water tumbling over rocks if we come too close and we can slide up to and pass haystacks with no effort at all.
The Prospector is not designed for Class lll rapids or charging over Class 1V drops. It can probably handle these conditions but it is probably best to use a whitewater boat instead.
The Prospector hull originates in theory from the Chestnut Canoe Company in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Kenneth Stolway, a Canadian writer, indicates that the earliest reference to the hull is from the company's catalog in 1923. The Prospector gained a fabulous reputation based on the writings of outdoor writers, but Stolway thinks the reputation is not deserved. He says the original boat had too much rocker and was susceptible to being swept sideways in strong winds.
My wife and I have not found this to be a problem with the Prospector hull as it has been adapted by Wenonah. On the contrary, in gusts up to 15 mph and waves up to a foot high it has handled very well.
We have poled this boat only once so far on a short stretch of quick water between beaver dams. It seems to pole very well, just like its smaller cousin, the Prospector 15, which we own in Royalex. We will write an addendum to this review if necessary once we gain more experience poling the Prospector 16.
All in all, my wife and I find this to be a superb canoe. For our purposes, it is clearly the best canoe we have ever owned.
In our previous review, we mentioned that the Aurora is sensitive to trim in wind and waves. We would like to clarify that statement by saying that all canoes are sensitive to trim in wind and waves. The difference is that in many of the asymmetrical hull designs currently popular, it is more difficult to achieve a proper trim than a boat with a symmetrical hull and more rocker.
For example, we are currently paddling the Wenonah Prospector 16 Kevlar Ultralight in the Midcoast region. The Prospector hull is symmetrical and has a lot more rocker. We can, therefore, hold the nose down into the oncoming wind and waves just by shifting the normal gear we carry a little forward of the center thwart. This eliminates the frustration of putting a lot of extra weight in the bow of the boat, as we are forced to do in the Aurora.
In our previous review we also forgot to mention boat speed. The Aurora is the slowest boat we have owned. We came to this conclusion after preparing a table comparing the average speed of four canoes we have used for paddling in the Midcoast region of Maine. By average speed, we mean how long it takes to get somewhere under actual conditions of tide, wind and waves. The results in mph are as follows:
1. Wenonah Escape (Polyester-Fiberglass, 17.5'): 3.4We don't have enough data yet to establish the average speed of the Prospector 16 Ultralight.
2. Wenonah Prospector 15 (Royalex, 15'): 3.3
3. Old Town Tripper (Royalex, 17'): 3.0
4. Wenonah Aurora (Kevlar Ultralight, 16'): 2.7
Average conditions in the Midcoast region include winds in the range of 10 miles per hour, seas of 1 to 1.5 feet and tidal currents averaging about 1 mph. Sometimes these factors are in your favor and other times they are working against you. The average speed in the table, therefore, requires a lot of mileage under varying conditions to produce an accurate picture of a boat's overall performance.
I have carried the boat on portages up to a mile in length so far and it has been a delight for that purpose. Simplicity and ease in portaging are enhanced not only by its light weight but by its relatively short length.
In the wind and waves, the Aurora requires special attention to trim. For our purposes, a five gallon collapsible jug that can be filled with water and placed in the bow is essential for ballast. We carry extra drinking water for ballast also. Without holding the boat's nose down, the Aurora is very difficult to track. Even in calm conditions it tracks poorly without special attention paid to trim. However, with the plastic water jug crammed into the bow, the boat turns its nose into the wind beautifully and can be kept on track for hours without difficulty.
With about 400 lbs. of people and gear, the Aurora has sufficient freeboard to handle waves 1 to 1.5 feet comfortably, and it has been very good for crossing semi-protected saltwater bays because of this.
The gelcoat on our boat is quite thin, and so we are constantly repairing it. Many rocks have even cut through the gelcoat and torn some of the kevlar layup. As a result, we have learned to make gelcoat repairs as a matter of routine. They are not difficult and you can restore the glossy finish on an ultralight quite easily once you know what to do.
Overall, we think the Aurora is a well-made boat but we prefer other hull types. The Aurora is a modern asymmetrical hull design. It has a shallow arch on the bottom and turns up to the gunnel rather sharply. It has moderate rocker (1.5 inches). In contrast, we have found that the Prospector style hull from early in the last century is a better fit for the paddling we do. These boats have a symmetrical hull, extra roundness in the bottom and greater rocker. To us they are easier to paddle and more comfortable and secure in wind, turbulence and rough water. They even track well with the addition of ballast.
The only advantage that the Aurora has over the Prospector style hull is that it slices into the oncoming waves a little more smoothly. We appreciate this difference in the windy bays we cross. Nonetheless, considering all the factors, we think we should have purchased a Wenonah Prospector 16 in the ultralight layup rather than the Aurora.