Canoe vs. Kayak

There is an age-old discussion about Canoes being “better” than Kayaks and vice-versa. This might make some of us get lost in the debate. Why are we confronting Canoes vs. Kayaks when both are reasonably similar boats put in motion by the use of paddles, and both have been used for thousands of years?

 At first sight, they might seem the same. But canoes and kayaks differ in that the first one is designed for more than one person, while kayaks are individual boats. Naturally, each one is best suited for different environments and uses. 

 In this article, we will try to clarify some misconceptions. As well as point out some of the characteristics that set these two ships apart from each other. So by the time you read it, you will have all the information needed to decide what boat you will buy for your next paddling trip.


 When put in the dilemma about whether you should invest in a canoe or a kayak, the first thing you should keep in mind is the following differences between the two.

Design: from a design point of view, the main difference is in the vessels themselves.

  • Canoes sit higher in the water, are larger and heavier with a wide frame and open-top, designed to carry multiple passengers and more gear.
  • Kayaks, on the other hand, are smaller, sleeker boats designed for speed or recreational purposes, such as whitewater rapids, open-water sea paddling, river tours, as well as the occasional fishing trip.

Seating and Cockpit Comfort:

  • Because of its open-top design, boarding a canoe is generally less complicated than getting in and out of a kayak (it’s as simple as stepping inside). Paddlers can use the canoe’s walls or a nearby dock to steady themselves and proceed to stand up once they are inside.
  • Getting into a kayak might be a little trickier, as it requires the paddler to slide their legs inside the cockpit, maintaining balance so as not to tip the boat. However, kayakers might argue that once inside, the comfortable feel of the kayak offers more control and makes paddling easier than in a canoe.
  • Onboard a canoe, the rowers kneel (or sit, if there are small benches) inside. In contrast, kayaks are closed-deck boats with a hole in the middle. The pilot climbs into and sits inside with his legs stretched out in front of him.

Kayak cockpits can be configured with back support, which is a useful feature perfect for paddlers planning to go on extended trips. In general, a canoe ride will prove to be more comfortable simply because of the greater freedom of movement allowed by its open-top format. So, the comfort difference between canoes and kayaks is while kayakers are essentially “confined” to their cockpits, canoe paddlers can move around at will.

Different Paddling Styles: while canoes might be more comfortable than kayaks, the real tradeoff comes when you start paddling.

This happens because canoes are bulkier and heavier, so they take more effort to paddle. In general terms, they require two people to alternate strokes for the canoe to keep tracking straight (which very often is easier said than done). Simply put, the learning curve when you start paddling a canoe is steeper than for a kayak, also:

  • Kayak paddles have a blade on each end. And they are designed for a single user who must grip both hands in the middle of the paddle, dipping each end alternately into the water.
  • Kayak paddles usually have their blades offset at a 90-degree angle from one another. They lower on wind resistance and allow the kayaker to easily position the pad in the right direction while switching sides.
  • In contrast, canoe paddles are shorter, come with a single blade designed to dip straight into the water, and a knob or “T” at the other end.
  • Users must grip the canoe paddle with one hand in the middle for power and the other at the knob end of the paddle for control.

Types of Canoes / Kayaks

When comparing canoes vs. kayaks, you must know there are four different categories of canoes and four different types of kayaks. All of them are designed for specific activities and areas of navigation.


  • Recreational Canoes are designed to have a high degree of stability as well as to be easy for the paddlers to control. And because of this, they are the most common style of canoe people choose for paddling on peaceful, slow-moving waters.
  • Square Stern Canoes are built with a flat rear to accommodate an outboard motor if needed. These are perfect if you’re going on an extended trip, as it allows you to take a well-earned rest from paddling.
  • Whitewater Canoes are significantly shorter and more manoeuvrable than recreational canoes. But they are also far harder to paddle in a straight line. Besides, due to a much lower degree of stability, they are generally outfitted with air-filled floatation bags to prevent water from filling the cockpit and sinking the craft.
  • Racing Canoes are narrower to increase speed, and they sit lower in the water to help compensate for the lack of initial stability. Plus, they generally lack a bench seat. So instead, the paddler (or paddlers) kneel within the bilge.


  • Recreational Kayaks are generally wide to provide high stability while being short, which makes them highly manoeuvrable.
  • Touring Kayaks are significantly longer. Plus, they are designed to travel in a straight line with more speed over longer distances and with less effort from the paddler. Touring kayaks are often available in both sit-inside and sit-on-top types.
  • Whitewater Kayaks are very similar to recreational kayaks. But shorter and broader, to make them even more manoeuvrable.
  • Racing Kayaks are much longer, narrower, and much faster than touring kayaks, but they are also far less stable. Despite their length, they usually require a rudder to help keep them traveling in a straight line.

Maintenance and Storage

 Keeping your watercraft seaworthy is critical! So regardless of vessel size, type, or area of operation, kayaks and canoes alike require maintenance to varying degrees.

  • It is recommended that after every outing, every boat used in saltwater should be rinsed with fresh water. This stops metal corrosion and takes away any aquatic species that might have attached to the hull.
  • As part of regular cleaning, thoroughly inspect the hull from bow to stern, tighten screws and replace or repair any frayed bungee cords, mooring lines, and cables.
  • Lubricate snaps, springs, and metal parts to avoid binding and cheque rivets for tightness.
  • A wooden canoe is more likely to be damaged by the elements than one made of plastic or composite materials. Protect the wood by regularly applying water-resistant products to the hull so this way, you will reduce the potential for rot and mould accumulations.

Effectively storing kayaks and canoes will keep them in good operating condition for years. A protected indoor-location is the best way to prevent unnecessary damage! Extended exposure to UV rays, wind, rain, and rodents can significantly deteriorate those boats left unprotected for a long time.

 Among the recommended storage options, we can mention:

  • Suspending your boat from the ceiling of your garage or basement by employing a rope-pulling system will get it safely out of the way.
  • “Mounted” on a Wall by using some firmly placed L-shaped brackets to store your watercraft. Just make sure the racks are well-positioned to provide the best support and distribute the weight of your boat correctly.
  • Upside Down, sawhorses are perfect for keeping your boat off the ground. Make sure there is no bowing, and the weight is evenly distributed, and if storing outside, place it in a shaded spot that is hidden and well covered.

Prevention of Common Injuries

 Although a poor technique is often to blame, other factors might lead to acute injuries while canoeing or kayaking. These typically include issues with joints, muscles, and tendons due to the unusual forces exerted that can lead to many other soft-tissue injuries.

 It is no wonder the shoulder is the most common area to suffer, as it is heavily involved in performing paddling strokes. Followed by other regularly injured parts of the body such as the rotator cuff, wrists, fingers, and lower black.

If you are looking to go out in your canoe or kayak regularly, these are a few key steps you can take to prevent these types of injury:

  • Practise progressive stretching routines to develop and improve flexibility.
  • Improve core strength to cope with the rotational forces used in both activities
  • Improve your upper body strength.

The ideal way to develop all of the above is through the practise of Pilates. This type of exercise not only helps you guard against injuries but can also contribute to add more power to your stroke.

Finally, proper technique is essential because, as we mentioned earlier, many injuries are caused by poor paddling manners. So, be sure to seek out expert guidance before getting too competitive! And next time you compare canoes vs. kayaks, please make your decision based on what you want to get out of your paddling experience!

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