Canoe vs kayak is a debate as old as time. Both of these water vessels hold a lot of excitement for anyone who rides them. But if you’ve ever seen a canoe and kayak, you’ll realize that they are very different from each other both in design and function.
If you’re looking for a water sport to pick up, you’re probably right in the middle of this debate. In this article, we’ll be helping you make the right decision between these two vessels. But instead of coming out and telling you which is better, we’ll break each of them down into their unique strengths and weaknesses so you can see which matches your style.
Let’s jump in!
Learn The Basics
What is a Canoe?
A canoe is a paddle craft with a wide frame and an open top. It is usually designed to sit more than one person and the craft tends to be heavy, big, and bulky. Canoes have to be big because they are designed to carry a lot of weight whether it’s other passengers or gear and equipment.
What is a Kayak?
A kayak, on the other hand, is a small and sleek paddle craft with a closed top that’s designed for speed and maneuverability. While canoes transport things, kayaks navigate white water rapids, or rivers, with precision and accuracy. That’s why they have a single seat for the paddler. With kayaks, the driver sits “inside” the vessel instead of on top like with canoes.
What Are the Key Differences in Seating?
The seats on a canoe are attached to the gunwales on either side. Gunwales are the upper edges of a canoe. That way, passengers can sit with their feet below them as they ride, much like you do with a chair.
With kayaks, the seating is a little more complicated. There’s usually a plastic molded seat that settles into the vessel. But the paddler has their feet extended in front with the knees resting just below the front deck. It sounds more uncomfortable than it is, and this position aids the driver in maneuvering the vessel.
Getting into a canoe is a simple process. You step on board, find your balance, and find a seat. Paddlers can also use nearby docks to steady themselves as they climb on board. Here, inexperienced passengers may need some help getting in to avoid falling over.
The comfort of a canoe does leave a few things to be desired. Firstly, there are no backrests so passengers and the paddler have that to deal with. Secondly, you can only control the vessel with your paddles, which can become very tricky in unsteady waters.
Getting into a kayak is quite tricky for beginners. The paddler needs to lower himself slowly to avoid tipping the vessel over. Remember the slightly complicated foot position? Well, you need to go feet first and ensure your legs are positioned right before moving forward.
Once in, the story changes because some kayaks can be fitted with backrests to give the passenger a comfortable experience throughout the ride. The leg positioning also provides more maneuverability.
Dismounting: Canoe vs. Kayak
Dismounting each of these vessels is as easy as doing the mounting process in reverse. But if the paddle craft ever turns over, the story changes.
With a canoe, you’ll most likely be thrown out. That’s because there’s nothing holding you in the vessel. So, you can easily swim to safety.
But in a Kayak, you need to follow a specific sequence of easy steps to get out safely. First, tuck forward so that you prevent your knees from jamming against the thigh braces, Next, pull on the grab loop to release the spray skirt. Finally, you can place your hands on the cockpit rims and push out.
As you can see, dismounting an overturned kayak requires a bit of practice to master.
Paddling: Canoe vs. Kayak
Canoes are much harder to paddle than kayaks. Even though you’re on the water, all that weight can really start to get to you, which is why canoes usually require two people to paddle. You can double the impact of each paddler by using two oars, but that leads to even more exertion.
Because they are inherently lighter and sleeker, kayaks are much easier to paddle. You’re also closer to the waterline so there’s a greater area to exert your force. What’s more, kayak paddles have two blades on each end and the paddler simply dips either end in the water at a time.
The risks of getting wet are also quite different in these two activities. You’re more likely to get more water on you while kayaking than canoeing.
In a canoe, your body is higher above the water level. Plus, you’ll be paddling mostly in calm waters with a lower risk of getting wet. With a kayak, you’re much closer to the water and are likely to be in unsteady waters like white water rapids, where there’s moisture flying everywhere.
Maneuverability and Stability
You’ve probably figured out that a canoe is more stable than a kayak. The sturdy build and deep, open cockpit make it balanced on the water, and less likely to flip over. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for maneuverability.
Changing direction and picking up speed is much harder in a canoe. Its size means there’s more contact with water which creates additional resistance.
Kayaks, on the other hand, can flip over quite easily (and they do). The body is relatively narrow and because you stick out vertically, any left or right movement is bound to cause the vessel to tip one way or the other.
These paddle crafts are, however, quite easy to maneuver. They also tend to be faster and are even quite easier to move in a straight line.
What are the Different Varieties?
There are so many different types of canoes and kayaks. Some varieties even resemble other water vessels and are designed for specific uses.
Here is a list of the different kinds of canoes available and some of their differences
- Recreational canoes: These are the most common kinds and have the traditional canoe shape
- Square stern canoes: These are built to accommodate a motor and are mostly used for extended trips
- Whitewater canoes: Whitewater canoes are built to be maneuverable but they can be quite difficult to paddle
- Racing canoes: Racing canoes are built for speed so they have a narrow body and the paddler is much closer to the water
Next, we’ll look at the various types of kayaks. You’ll notice that some of these are quite similar to canoes.
- Sit inside kayaks: These are the traditional kayaks
- Sit on top kayaks: These have an open cockpit and are quite similar to canoes. They arefundamentally different from sit-in kayaks
- Recreational kayaks: Recreational kayaks are designed with a wide base to improve stability
- Whitewater kayaks: These have a sit-inside design with a short hull that makes them maneuverable enough to take whitewater rapids
- Racing kayaks: These have a longer body and are much faster than other kayak kinds. However, they are also less stable.
Most people can step into a canoe and just start paddling. The only beginner skills you need are mounting, holding the paddle properly (so you don’t sprain a muscle), and steering. However, this doesn’t mean canoeing is easier than kayaking.
Because they skip the classes, many beginners find canoeing to be a real challenge. Steering in a straight line is difficult, but trying not to go in circles can be even harder. They also don’t know what to do to conserve energy and actually enjoy the experience.
Beginners tend to seek instruction even before stepping into a kayak, due to its unfamiliar nature. Basic instruction is really essential to fully and safely enjoying either craft.
Interesting Facts about Kayaking
Kayak Actually Means Hunter’s Boat
The word “kayak” is believed to have originated from Greenland where it was used byEskimos. The word translates to man-boat or hunter’s boat, and much like the canoe, it had a specific non-recreational function.
The vessel was designed to be small and light, perfect for sneaking up on animals that live in the water or along the shore. However, it’s not clear how easy dismounting was with the earlier models.
The First Kayaks Were Made from Animal Products
If you think an inflatable kayak is amazing, get this: kayaks in the 1500s were made out of the skin of animals like seals, stretched over a frame made from wood or whalebone. The intelligent pioneer kayakers at the time also used whale fat to waterproof their vessels.
Currently, the world’s oldest kayaks sit in the North American section of theMuseum of Five continents. They date to the year 1577 and are now considered as important as any other piece of history in the museum.
One Man Inspired the International Scale of River Difficulty
The International Scale of River Difficulty is a 4-point scale used to measure the strength of rapids. It was developed after one man who embodies the spirit of Kayaking, Adolf Anderie, kayaked the Salzachofen Gorge, a particularly treacherous course.
Pros and Cons of Canoes
Pros of Canoes
- The vessel has more stability on the water
- You can mount and dismount fairly easily
- The experience is usually more comfortable
- Lots of storage room for gear and other items
- You’re unlikely to get wet in a canoe
Cons of canoes
- It’s very difficult to paddle for a lone passenger with a single-bladed paddle
- It’s slow and difficult to paddle in a straight line
- Many boats will sink or capsize
Pros and Cons of Kayaks
Pros of Kayaks
- Kayaks are sleeker and easier to maneuver
- They have a double-bladed paddle that allows you to paddle faster
- Kayaks are designed for high-energy activities like racing and maneuvering in white water rapids
- They are easy to transport
Cons of Kayaks
- Getting in and out can be tricky
- They require skill, mastery, and hours of training
- Kayaks aren’t as stable as canoes
- You’re more likely to get wet
- They don’t have storage space forkayaking fishing gear and other items
Which is Easier, Canoeing or Kayaking?
Both of these activities have their difficulties. However, many people say canoeing is harder, usually because of the amount of energy needed to propel the vessel forward. It’s also difficult to track (paddle in a straight line) a canoe.
Kayaking has its own difficulties too. There’s a lot of coordination required to stay upright, and because you’re paddling alone, you need to be alert. With kayaking, you also have to learn proper mounting and dismounting techniques. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of trouble getting into the paddle craft.
In both instances, the difficulty can be drastically reduced when you receive expert instruction. As with many sports, professional advice is that you don’t attempt anything until you see an instructor. Besides minimizing the risk of injury, this also ensures that you don’t master any wrong forms.
How Fast Can a Canoe or Kayak Go?
Kayaks are designed to be fast, so the top speed is completely dependent on the paddler, although kayak design and the type of water you’re paddling in can also make a significant difference. Beginners are slower so they usually travel at around 2 to 2.5 miles per hour on an obstacle-free course.
A highly experienced kayaker, on the other hand, can really pick up speed and travel between 3 and 4 miles per hour. Athleticism and arm strength also have a role to play here because people in better shape will be able to reach higher speeds and maintain them. An experienced kayaker in excellent physical condition can sometimes top 5 miles per hour.
Canoes are much slower so pro-paddlers will get an average speed of about 3 miles per hour in calm water. Beginners will be even slower at around 1 mile per hour. Veteran (and fit) canoe paddlers trying to reach top speed under ideal conditions can reach about 9 miles per hour. The world record speed achieved in a standard canoe is 12 miles per hour.
If you choose to row the canoe with two paddles, however, you can get more speed. That’s because rowing is more efficient than paddling, especially if you get the rhythm down pat.
Will You Get Wet While Canoeing or Kayaking?
You’re very likely to get wet while kayaking because of the way the vessel is designed. You’re much closer to the water so that proximity increases your chances. Kayaks also require a lot of dexterity to paddle so you may waver to the left or right while moving, and get water on you in the process.
With a canoe, the risk is much lower. The gunwales are higher so you’re farther from the water. Additionally, canoes are usually paddled in calm water so there’s bound to be less water splashing around. The only risk of getting wet occurs if the boat capsizes or if you fall out due to poor balance. It should be noted that novices, especially those who have little or no instruction, are quite prone to mishaps like tipping the canoe, capsizing, etc.
Are Canoeing and Kayaking Safe for Children?
Canoeing andkayaking are not dangerous and are considered safe for children. Kids as young as four can climb into a two-person kayak with an adult, follow instructions, and learn the tricks. The same goes with canoeing. Adult supervision is key, however, as is following a strict safety regimen.
Canoe vs. Kayak: Which is Better for You?
Choosing between kayaking and canoeing may eventually come down to availability. How easy is it for you to get equipment for either of these activities?
Some of the other things to consider may be your preferences for recreational activities. Do you prefer the speed and high concentration needed for kayaking? Or are you more inclined towards the slow and steady pace of canoeing?
Another important consideration is the type of setting where you will use your craft. Is it a peaceful lake or a moving river? These considerations should also be part of the equation. Whatever you choose, remember to have fun and enjoy yourself.