You’ve been reading on this blog and learning about kayaks and canoes. You’re interested in buying a new boat soon, but you’re torn between the two types. How are kayaks and canoes different and which is the ideal choice for you?
Canoes have enough gear storage for most people and are very stable boats, but learning to paddle in a canoe is hard, and the boat is heavy. Kayaks are faster and lighter boats, but you’re less protected so you could get wetter.
The above paragraph only scratched the surface regarding the differences between kayaks and canoes. In this guide, we’ll evaluate both types of boat in areas such as stability, speed, and storage. We’ll also go over the pros and cons of canoes and kayaks to help with your decision.
Kayak vs. Canoe – Critical Differences Between the Two Boats
Canoes and kayaks share the same streamlined shape, and they tend to be made of materials like wood, aluminum, or fiberglass, but that’s where the similarities end. To declare a winner, let’s see how kayaks and canoes perform in the following areas.
One of the top qualities that any boater wants when shopping around is stability. Although both kayaks and canoes are regarded for their stability, one is certainly securer on the water than the other. That distinction goes to the canoe.
Why is that? It all comes down to the shape of the hull, which is the boat’s main body. Although a kayak’s hull isn’t sharply V-shaped like a sport boat, compared to a canoe, the shape is certainly more V-like.
V-shaped hulls are great at cutting through the water, but when it comes to stability, they’re a detriment. Canoes have a flatter hull compared to kayaks, which is the best type of hull if you want a stable vessel.
Flat-hulled boats are far less likely to take a spill as they glide through the water rather than cut through it.
Of course, not all canoes are uniformly flat-bottomed. Some have rounder hulls. In that case, then the stability of the canoe is still better than that of a kayak, but only by a small margin.
Both canoes and kayaks are available with a motor, but for the sake of this article, we’re talking about non-motorized versions. You would think then that your boating speed would be solely dictated by the force of your paddling, but that’s not entirely true.
The shape of a boat’s hull does not only influence its stability but its speed potential as well. V-shaped hulls, as we talked about above, slice through the water as they go. This displaces the water on either side of the kayak so the boat can swiftly navigate.
Rounded hulls don’t cut through the water as much due to their shape. V-shaped hulls are pointier on the bottom while round hulls are duller. That said, these hulls still lend a boat marginal speed, but not as much as a V hull.
Flat hulls are the slowest vessels. They glide through the water rather than displacing it, which is almost like dragging the boat on the water.
Again, this doesn’t mean canoes are exclusively relegated to the slow category. Round-hulled canoes will be faster than their flat-bottomed counterparts and on par with a round-hulled kayak. Some canoes even have V-shaped hulls, which would make them about as fast as canoes. You just don’t see this style of boat all that often.
Maneuvering in your boat is something you’ll do frequently, but how easy will that be in a canoe versus a kayak?
That depends on what kind of maneuvering you want to do. If you’re talking about traversing a body of water in a straight line, then a kayak is your better bet.
We’ll talk about paddles more in the next section, but the paddles of a kayak are designed so you don’t have to keep moving your body positioning to maintain a straight line.
Depending on the rocker your canoe possesses, it might be good at turns and other maneuvers in that same vein. What is the rocker, you’re asking? It’s a measure of how curved the hull is in relation to the stern and bow rising.
The more pronounced the rocker, the easier it is to turn and otherwise maneuver your boat. With less rocker or none, then you might struggle to turn in your canoe compared to boating in a kayak.
We said we’d delve into the difference between canoe and kayak paddles, so let’s do that now.
The key difference is the number of blades. Kayaks have paddle blades on either side of the shaft while canoes have one paddle blade. The other end of the shaft has a T-shaped knob or handle.
When using a kayak paddle, you hold onto the middle the shaft using both your hands. First, you’d dip one paddle blade into the water, then the other. Keep repeating and voila, you’re paddling in your kayak.
Paddling using a canoe paddle requires you to put one hand on the T-shaped knob and the other in the center of the shaft.
Not only is there a steeper learning curve when paddling in a canoe, but other factors are working against you as well. For instance, canoes are heavier compared to kayaks. As you’ll recall on this blog, the average kayak is 20 to 80 pounds. Canoes weigh around 100 pounds on average.
To navigate in a canoe usually requires two people to paddle. In a kayak, you can easily navigate in the boat on your own without feeling overwhelmed by your kayak’s weight.
Canoes and kayaks aren’t all that different in the size department, admittedly. The average length of a kayak is 10 feet while the typical length of a canoe is 14 feet. Some kayaks are 14 feet as well, typically bigger boats such as fishing kayaks.
All that said, between the two, canoes are usually moderately larger. When you combine that with the extra weight a canoe carries compared to a kayak, you can see how you’d end up with a boat that can at times be cumbersome.
The cockpit design of a kayak and canoe are one of the biggest differentiating factors between the two types of boats. The cockpit of a canoe is wide open with several rows of bench seats to accommodate one to three canoers.
Kayaks are known for their enclosed cockpits. These are sit-in kayaks, named such because the user sits right in the cockpit seat and then begins paddling.
As you’ll recall if you’ve been reading the blog recently, there’s another type of kayak known as the sit-on-top kayak. Like a canoe, a sit-on-top kayak has a wider, more spacious cockpit.
In this category then, the winner is the kayak. You have the freedom to select whether you’d rather sit in an enclosed cockpit or one that’s roomier. With canoes, you only have an open cockpit design at your disposal.
That said, even if you select an enclosed kayak, the chances of getting wet are higher compared to paddling around in a canoe. Kayaks sit naturally lower than canoes do, so if you get splashed by a big wave or rushing current, you have less protection.
The storage potential afforded to you by the type of boat varies, so let’s talk about this next. After all, we’re sure storage potential will certainly motivate your boat choice one way or the other!
Canoes, given that they’re usually bigger, do tend to offer more storage. That’s also true since their cockpit design is open. You can keep your favorite gear and essentials right under your seat or in other storage areas throughout the boat.
A kayak with an enclosed cockpit only leaves you with so much storage space. You have to squeeze whatever you need right in there in the cockpit with you. The more gear you bring, the harder it is to move around, maneuver, and paddle.
Sit-on-top kayaks afford you storage space akin to a canoe, with under-seat storage and dry storage options. Some kayaks have front and rear storage areas as well for hiding your stuff.
Dry storage areas are more common in kayaks than canoes since kayaks are likelier to get wet of the two types of boats. If you’re bringing electronics like your smartphone or a fish finder, always stash this stuff in dry storage!
Recreational kayaks, as an introductory boat, cost as little as $400. Fishing kayaks are pricier at $1,100. The average price of a new canoe is $900. Considering that lower-cost fishing kayaks are around $750, canoes are the more expensive boat of the two, although not necessarily by a lot.
The Pros and Cons of Kayaks
To solidify your decision between kayaks and canoes, let’s wrap up by covering the pros and cons of both types of boats, beginning with kayaks, then canoes.
Easier to Paddle
We’re not saying that paddling a kayak is easy as a green beginner, but compared to learning how to paddle in a canoe, you’ll have a better experience in a kayak. Once you master the ins and outs of kayak paddling, you might then want to try paddling around in a canoe.
It will be different given the paddle design changes of a kayak paddle to a canoe, but the learning curve will be far less steep.
Better Speed Potential
Do you plan on using your boat for racing? If so, then you’ll need a boat capable of achieving higher speeds such as a kayak.
The V-shaped hull of a kayak is ideal for building momentum in rivers and lakes as the boat slices through the waves. Of course, you’ll want to improve your paddling abilities to increase your speed as well.
Much More Lightweight
Kayaking and canoeing are the most enjoyable part, but before you get to the river, you have to lug your boat onto a trailer, secure it, hitch it to a towing vehicle, and then trailer it in the water.
The less time-consuming and strenuous this process is, the better. Kayaks made of materials like wood, metal, or fiberglass aren’t heavy, and the inflatable ones are even lighter-weight than that. If yours is an inflatable kayak, you don’t even need a trailer. You can transport your boat in a carrying bag.
Toting around a canoe is a more laborious process, so make sure you’re well-rested ahead of all your canoe rides. You’ll need the strength to get your boat from Point A to Point B, then to paddle around, and finally, to transport your boat back to your trailer.
Usable in Whitewater Conditions
Whitewater boating is a high-stakes, high-thrills activity that’s very desirable to some. If you’re in that camp, then kayaks–not canoes–are made for whitewater boating.
V-shaped hulls might lend a boat speed, but in doing so, they sacrifice stability. Kayaks can capsize rather easily.
If you’re wearing a life jacket, then tipping out of your kayak usually isn’t a life or death situation. As a lightweight boat, it also isn’t particularly difficult to right a kayak.
Don’t be mistaken though; anytime you capsize, you’re at risk of injury or even death. Wearing a life jacket minimizes that risk, but you still need to get back in your boat or have someone rescue you from the water.
Possibly Less Storage
For the boaters who don’t travel light, a sit-in kayak is not the right choice for you. The small cockpit doesn’t afford you room for the amenities you like to have close on hand. You’d need a sit-on-top kayak, a fishing kayak, or a canoe.
Could Get Wet
Protective skirts are a common sight on kayaks since the skirts prevent water from soaking your lap as a wave splashes up. As you’ll recall, kayaks sit lower on the water, so even sit-on-top kayaks aren’t impervious to getting wet during a day of adventuring. That’s not the case for canoes.
The Pros and Cons of Canoes
Great Gear Storage
The open floor of a canoe is spacious for storage room. You can use that generous space however you want it, including stowing gear.
Another advantage of a canoe when it comes to gear storage is that your stuff is at less risk of getting wet. Of course, kayaks have dry gear storage, and that’s there for a reason.
You Can Paddle Standing Up
Who says you have to sit down the whole time you’re boating? Not if you’re in a canoe, you don’t. You can shift between standing up and sitting down or stay upright the entire time. It’s your choice!
If you tried to paddle on your feet in a kayak, you would more than likely capsize the boat. It’s not designed for that.
Canoes can support upright boaters since their hulls are flat. That flat hull also makes canoes a lot less likely to capsize than kayaks. No boat is impervious to capsizing, but canoes don’t tip easily.
That’s not the case once you get into round-hulled or even V-hulled canoes, just to make that clear.
Higher in the Water
If you wanted to get wet, you’d take a swim. You decided to go canoeing instead, so you’d rather keep your clothes, shoes, and gear dry. The elevation you get in a canoe versus a kayak allows you to do just that.
Might Be More Expensive
The starting price of a canoe is higher than a kayak, but that’s not universally true. You can get your hands on a new canoe for less than you’d pay for a kayak and vice-versa; it all depends on the size of the boat, the material, the features, and the retailer.
More Difficult to Navigate
Here’s something that’s far more undisputed: it’s not easy to get around in a canoe. The boat is heavier, the paddle is different, you have to shift your weight; it’s a completely different ballgame than paddling in a kayak.
As we touched on before, the bulky weight of a canoe is not only disadvantageous when paddling, but when transporting your boat to and from the local lake. It’s best if you have a second or third person with you.
Kayaks and canoes are two boat types in which users typically paddle (the two boats can be motorized as well). The vast number of differences between canoes and kayaks means you’ll naturally develop more of a preference for one boat compared to the other.
We hope the information in this guide helped you decide whether a kayak or a canoe suits your lifestyle and budget. Good luck!