Best Square Stern Canoe in 2019 (REVIEW GUIDE)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to mount a trolling motor to your canoe? It can be a great addition to your fishing setup, allowing for easier repositioning while maintaining control of your rod.

There’s just one problem, trolling motors are mounted on flat surfaces, which traditional canoes don’t have on their bow or stern; side mounts are a possibility, but don’t handle as well as those mounted on the boat’s transom. Now you just need to find a canoe with a transom.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this problem: square-stern canoes. These asymmetrical boats have space in their stern carved out just to fit a trolling motor.

So what is the best square stern canoe? My personal favorite square stern canoe is the Old Town Discovery Sport 15. It’s made from lightweight polyethylene but is rigid enough to mount a 4 horsepower trolling motor. With the motor attached, it has a carrying capacity of 800 pounds, which is more than enough for three anglers and their gear.

Square stern canoes can be difficult to come by though, and there are only a few manufacturers, which makes the process of choosing the right one a little bit easier but also frustrating.

On one hand, there aren’t that many models to look at, but finding one that has all the features you’re looking for can be a challenge. 

To make things easier for you, I’ve done the legwork and found the very best square stern canoes on the market right now.


​Reviews of the ​Best ​​Square Stern Canoes

1. ​Old Town Discovery Sport 15 Square-Stern Recreational Canoe

Old Town Discovery Sport 15 Square-Stern Recreational Canoe

Old Town is one of the most respected names in canoes, and they’ve been building them since the turn of the 20th century. That experience shows with their Discovery Sport 15 square stern canoe: it’s comfortable, spacious, and is built to last.

One of the first things you’ll notice with the Discovery Sport is that it feels roomy. There are three padded benches to easily fit you and two friends, but the space between them is large enough to hold everyone’s gear comfortably too.

Then there’s the rock solid-construction; while most of the cheaper canoes are made from polyethylene and are prone to cracking with larger motors, the Old Town is built from a much stronger three-layer version of the plastic. You should have no trouble mounting a 4 or 5 horsepower trolling motor on the Discovery Sport. Its flat hull is perfect for less experienced anglers too, as it has excellent primary stability. 

One of the biggest complaints about the Discovery Sport is that it’s difficult to move on your own. At 113 lb, you’ll definitely need a friend or a trailer and cart to get this one in the water. It also just feels kind of bulky, with a maximum width of 40 inches. This prevents it from tracking as well when paddled and definitely cuts down on its speed when using a trolling motor. Nobody buys a fishing boat to go fast though, right?

The Discovery Sport 15 is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive square stern canoe out there, and it has a lot of features that make it attractive for first-time buyers.

You can read here my full review of the Discovery Sport 15.

Pros

  • Good primary stability from the flat hull
  • Extra strong three-layer polyethylene construction
  • Ample seating configuration

​Cons

  • Quite heavy
  • Too wide to move quickly
  • Moderately expensive

​2. Mad River Adventure 16 Square Stern Canoe

Mad River Adventure 16 Square Stern Canoe

The Adventure 16 from Mad River is one of the best entry-level square stern canoes out there. Its polyethylene construction lets it slide over rocks with ease, rather than scraping and cracking like many composites or wooden canoes would.

With a width of 37 inches and an innovative multi-chine hull, this is also one of the most stable square stern canoes that you’re going to find. Upon first use, many paddlers will think it feels tippy, but this is actually just it being very responsive to your strokes. This is a case of low primary stability, but great secondary stability – the canoe is very unlikely to tip over. Once you get the hang of it, the Adventure 16 is a joy to paddle.

As might be expected with a canoe that can comfortably hold three paddlers and their gear, this is a rather heavy boat – 84 pounds to be precise. You’ll need a friend or a cart to get this one to the put-in point.

One other complaint that paddlers have about the Adventure is that the transom can crack if you mount too large of a motor on it, anything greater than 54 lb of thrust. In most cases, the hull bends rather than breaks, but it’s almost impossible to repair polyethylene hull when it does break.

If you’re buying a square stern canoe for the first time, Mad River’s Adventure 16 is a solid choice that handles well in almost all conditions. Just be sure to only mount small motors on its transom.

Pros

  • Multi-chine hull provides excellent secondary stability
  • Polyethylene construction bends rather than breaks
  • Easy to paddle, very responsive handling

​Cons

  • Moderately heavy
  • Very difficult to patch if hull cracks
  • Can’t handle a very large motor

​3. ​Sun Dolphin Scout SS 14’ Canoe

Sun Dolphin Scout SS 14' Canoe

Along with the Mad River, this is one of the better budget options when it comes to square stern canoes. Like the Adventure 16, it is also constructed from durable and flexible polyethylene, which is unlikely to break, but is impossible to repair when it does.

Where this canoe differs from its inexpensive counterpart is in the hull design – the Sun Dolphin Scout SS uses a much more conventional flat hull rather than the multi-chine seen on the Mad River. This gives it better primary stability, but won’t feel as responsive or have as good of secondary stability. It won’t feel as tippy, but don’t press your luck with it, because it will roll over once it gets past a certain point.

At 14 feet long, the Scout SS is a bit shorter than most of the other models reviewed. While this lowers its carrying capacity by about a hundred pounds and prevents the canoe from tracking as well, it also makes it more maneuverable in tight spaces. Be careful when mounting your motor though, the polyethylene hull isn’t that strong and will definitely crack if you mount something too heavy or powerful (more than 50 lb of thrust).

If you’re just getting into canoe fishing and aren’t used to paddling a longer boat, this is a great one to start with. However, more experienced paddlers will probably prefer something with a faster and stronger hull design.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Flat hull has excellent primary stability
  • The shorter length makes it easier to maneuver

​Cons

  • Less carrying capacity than most models
  • Doesn’t track as well as longer canoes
  • Can’t mount a very powerful motor

​4. ​Grumman 16’ Square-Stern Canoe

Grumman 16’ Square-Stern Canoe

While most canoes are made from polyethylene or composite materials, Grumman has soldiered on with their well-made aluminum designs. While metal is a bit heavier, it does give you the option of mounting a larger, higher horsepower engine without worrying about the transom breaking. It’s also just a lot more durable should you run it over some rocks or accidentally drop it on the pavement. That being said, cracks in the metal aren’t exactly easy to repair.

The Grumman 16’ Square-Stern is designed with stability in mind, which is critical for anglers that could be reeling in a whopper. It’s flat, which provides good primary stability – it won’t feel tippy, but also has a decent-sized keel line that gives it better tracking. 

One downside to its design comes in the seating department – there’s just not that much of it. While many of the other square stern canoes have three full seats, there’s only one bench at the front of the Grumman 16’ and one directly in front of the motor mount. That can be a good thing if it’s just you, a friend, and a lot of gear, but probably won’t work for three people.

The Grumman 16’ is a good choice for anglers that want an absolutely bulletproof boat that can take a larger motor but who don’t care much about its features.  With proper care, this boat could last a lifetime.

Pros

  • Bulletproof construction
  • Can mount larger motors to it
  • Flat, stable hull

​Cons

  • The aluminum hull is heavy
  • Not much for seating
  • Expensive

​5. ​Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS 15.6’ Canoe

Sun Dolphin Mackinaw SS 15.6’ Canoe

The Mackinaw SS canoe is essentially an upgraded and slightly more expensive version of its smaller cousin, the Scout. It’s about a foot and half longer, which makes it just a bit harder to maneuver, but also makes for better tracking, especially in a swift current.

The bench seats are more ergonomically designed and come with drink holders, which is a nice touch when you’ll be spending the whole day out on the water.

The hull shape is nearly identical to the Scout, with its flat shape providing excellent primary stability and less than perfect secondary stability; beginners should have no trouble keeping this boat upright. With a hull width of 40 inches, you won’t find yourself tipping, even from a standing position. However, you also won’t be going anywhere fast in it.

Also similar to the Scout, you’ll need to be careful with engine size as something with too much thrust can crack the polyethylene hull; keep it under 50 pounds of thrust.

The Mackinaw is a good choice for those that would feel cramped in the 14 feet available on the Scout and want a few extra amenities. In most ways, they are identical though.

Pros

  • The extra length makes for better tracking
  • Flat hull has great primary stability
  • Lots of storage space

​Cons

  • Secondary stability could be better
  • Polyethylene hull still can’t mount a large motor
  • The wide hull is slow and has clunky handling


What is a Square Stern Canoe

For the nautical novices, the term “stern” refers to the rear of the boat. While most canoes have a symmetrical shape with rather pointed ends that can be paddled in either direction (one of the many differences from kayaks), square stern canoes have the point lopped off on one end. They trade the versatility of bidirectional paddling for some extra hull strength, but more importantly they allow you to easily add a trolling motor to the canoe.

It should be noted that having a square stern will not allow you to mount a large outboard motor to your canoe, turning it into a powerboat (the hull is not designed for planning on the water’s surface among other things). However, they’re an excellent option for anglers that want to use a trolling motor on a canoe to reposition without letting go of their rod to start paddling.

Besides their singular direction of travel and ability to mount a motor though, they’re not all that different from conventional canoes, and choosing the right one involves looking at similar characteristics.


How to Choose a Square Stern Canoe - Buyer's Guide

Hull Material

While the classic canoe material is wood, many are built from aluminum and composite materials now. For centuries, wood was the go-to material when building canoes because it was durable, easy to repair, and looked fantastic. However, it’s also quite heavy and it’s not as durable as many modern materials so it’s really only used by paddlers that want the traditional aesthetic.

Aluminum was also quite popular for a while because it’s incredibly durable, but it has fallen out of favor as lighter and easier to work with composites have come on the market. If you need to mount a heavier motor with lots of thrust though, an aluminum hull is the way to do it.

One of the most lightweight and least expensive options for canoe hulls is polyethylene, the same plastic used to create many recreational kayaks. The material is resilient and resistant to cracking, but if it does break, there’s really no way to repair it. Composite alternatives to polyethylene include Kevlar and fiberglass, both of which are lighter weight and considerably more expensive.

In essence, wood and metal are stronger (can mount larger trolling motors), heavier (you might need a cart or a friend to get you to the put-in point), but are easier to repair. Polyethylene cannot be used with larger engines, but is lightweight enough that it can be handled solo.


Hull Design

Canoe hull design might seem pretty straightforward compared to the multitude of options that come with kayaks. One of the main things to consider when purchasing a square-stern canoe is hull size. This refers to both the length of the boat and how much it can fit inside it.

While longer canoes typically hold more gear, the shape of the hull can also have a pretty significant effect. Wider ​kayaks and canoes displace more water for a given length; so if you need a little extra carrying capacity to fit your friends and gear, look for something wider.

However, there are also a couple of design characteristics that affect handling: keel lines and width. The keel line refers to how aggressively angled the middle of the hull is; more angular shapes glide through the water faster and track better, but also don’t feel as stable. Having a wider hull, which is less likely to roll over, even when you’re reeling in the big one, can offset this.

​​Related: Most Stable Fishing Kayak

The stability of a canoe is often broken down into two categories: primary and secondary stability. The former refers to how easy it is to move the canoe off center, tipping the sides towards the waterline.

Having low primary stability isn’t necessarily bad, it just means the canoe is responsive and will turn quickly, though it will feel tippy for beginners. Secondary stability is the extent to which the canoe prevents itself from overturning.

Flat hulls have great primary stability because they don’t move off center easily, but poor secondary stability, because they will flip over once they’re pushed to a tipping point.


Mounting a Motor

Getting a square stern canoe is all about mounting a good trolling motor, so why isn’t this the first thing to focus on? Well, most canoes fit roughly the same motors. They all have ample space to accommodate the motor and shaft, so the only thing that needs to be considered is the effect of thrust.

As mentioned with hull materials, most boats made from polyethylene just aren’t cut out for anything with more than 50 lb of thrust. Anything more is likely to damage the boat and crack the transom mount. Big motors are rarely an advantage on canoes anyway – they’re lightweight and don’t take much force to propel at a reasonable pace.


​My Choice for the Best ​Square Stern Canoe

Square stern canoes are still a relatively niche market when it comes to non-motorized fishing, so there aren’t that many models to choose from. That being said, I believe that the  Old Town Discovery Sport 15’ checks most of the boxes for what you would want in one, especially in terms of durability and ease of use.

While not the toughest on the list, the Discovery Sport is made from extra strong polyethylene that is still somewhat light, at least when compared to an aluminum hull. Its design makes it easy to paddle or motor with, as the keel line allows for solid tracking and its width makes it nearly untippable.

If you’re thinking about buying a square stern canoe for the first time and want something you can keep and enjoy for years to come, the Discovery Sport from Old Town could be the boat for you.


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