This is the Difference Between a Kayak and a Canoe (With Pictures!)

Most people can usually tell the difference between a canoe and a kayak by simply looking at them, but beyond style, many people wonder if there is an actual difference between the capabilities of a canoe and a kayak.

The main differences between canoes and kayaks are the sitting position and the paddles. A paddler in a canoe sits on a raised seat and only has one paddle blade. A kayak paddler sits on the floor of the kayak and has a double-bladed paddle.

There are many seemingly small differences in kayaks and canoes that make them different from each other. Canoes and kayaks aren’t just different because of the style, but because they offer different purposes for boaters as well.

The Differences Between Kayaks and Canoes

A canoe is a narrow lightweight boat that is commonly pointed at both ends. Canoes have open tops and are propelled by one-bladed paddles. Typically canoes can hold 3 people.

A kayak is a small and narrow boat that has a covered deck and cockpit. A kayak is propelled by a double-bladed paddle. Also, traditional kayaks only hold one paddler.

There are additional differences as well. These are:

  • Purpose and Technique
  • Size and Design
  • Equipment and Features

Let’s tackle them individually.

Purpose and Techniques

The differences in the style of a canoe and a kayak have an effect on the purpose of each boat. Depending on the water activity that is planned or wanted is the key difference in choosing whether a kayak or a canoe is wanted.

Canoes and kayaks are different enough that different techniques can be used when boating on either one of them. Usually, the difference in techniques come from the differences in the paddles of the boats.


Canoes are often used for leisure paddling and calm waters. Usually, canoes are built more for families and camping trips on calm water. This is because canoes are built to be practical, manageable, and versatile.

Canoes are bigger and are meant to hold more weight and gear than kayaks. Canoes are rarely built for just one person and are more for expeditions than kayaks. Because canoes are built longer and larger, they are more likely to travel in straight lines and are easier to control.

Canoes also offer more stability, less possibility of capsizing, and the variety in sitting positions usually make them comfier.

Canoe techniques are usually simple and efficient just like the canoe itself. The single blade paddle for a canoe helps the canoer conserve energy, helps the canoe to glide through the water and minimizes zigzagging.


Kayaks are used more for water sports because they are meant to be faster than canoes. Kayaks are often used for training and competing in water sports or challenging and difficult waters. This is because they are designed to hold fewer people and things which helps make them faster.

Kayaks are typically easier to maneuver because they weigh significantly less and are shorter than canoes. Kayaks are used more for coastal waters and white water rafting because they are designed for rough water.

The double paddle of the kayak make paddling more efficient and because a kayak is smaller and shorter, they put you very close to the water. Kayaks are also great boats to use if you want to get wet.

The double paddle also allows the paddler to do a twisting technique which helps the paddler turn and move with the paddle and the water. This is also why kayaks can perform moves like the Eskimo roll. With the top deck covered and the paddler
in a secure position, they are able to roll over when capsized and the kayak won’t fill with lots of water or

You can also find kayaks that are made for their mobility. These portable sportsmen kayaks make coming and going from the body of water of your choice much simpler and much more user-friendly. Unlike canoes, these kayaks can be moved with ease and do not require a trailer or anything of that nature,

Size and Design

The different sizes and designs of canoes and kayaks are the most significant differences between them. Canoes and kayaks do have some similarities but recognizing their differences are what can help decide which one is best for your purposes.

Both canoes and kayaks are made to be thin and relatively lightweight boats. Both canoes and kayaks end in points to help them cut through the water and are usually made from the same materials.


On average, canoes are about 15-17 feet long and weigh from about 50 pounds to 90 pounds. Canoes are typically made from wood, fiberglass, plastic, aluminum, and Kevlar materials.

Canoes are designed with open tops and decks which allows the canoer to move around freely and pack a lot of gear inside. The sides of a canoe are short, but they come out of the water making canoes feel more like a traditional boat.

Canoes are also designed to hold two or more people. Typically, canoes come with two installed seats and room in the middle for more people. This means that children, other adults, or dogs can come along for the ride as well.

Because a canoe offers higher stability, canoes are better used for fishing because paddlers can stand up inside of a canoe carefully, without it capsizing.

Also, the sitting position in a canoe has the paddler either kneeling on the floor of the canoe or sitting on a raised seat with their knees bent. This creates better stability for the paddler in the canoe.

Canoe paddles are also significantly different from kayak paddles. Canoe paddles are usually 4-5 feet in length and consist of one blade, a long shaft and a t-shaped grip.

The paddler’s dominant hand stays firmly grasped on the t-grip while the other hand holds the shaft just above the blade. The paddle then needs to constantly switch from one side to the other to keep the canoe going in a straight line. Also, canoe paddles end in an sq-oval shape to help make sharp turns.


On average kayaks are usually 5-6 feet in length and weigh between 20-75 pounds. Kayaks are usually made from different types of plastic, as well as fiberglass, and Kevlar composites.

Kayaks are designed with a closed deck that surrounds the paddler to provide them with security and protection, which is good because Kayaks are usually used on rougher waters. However, this does mean that typically only one person can sit in a kayak and they don’t have a lot of room for equipment or gear.

Kayaks with a closed top have only a cockpit for a paddler to sit in. Kayakers can usually only sit one way-that is they sit on the floor of the kayak, and have their legs stretched forward inside the kayak. Their knees are able to rest on supportive braces inside the cockpit.

This is also why kayaks can perform moves like the Eskimo roll. With the top deck covered and the paddler in a secure position, they are able to roll over when capsized and the kayak won’t fill with lots of water or sink.

The paddles of kayaks are also a lot different. A kayak paddle has to blades on both ends and a long shaft in the middle. Usually, they are about 5-7 feet in length. The double blade is efficient for a kayak because it is ideal for a one-person boat.

The double-bladed paddle also allows for the paddler to twist their upper torso while paddling to move quickly through the water, instead of having to switch hands when paddling.

Equipment and Features

Canoes and kayaks also require different materials and have different features for their specific purposes. There are a lot of things a specific canoe or kayak design can offer that makes that boat better for a specific purpose.

Both canoes and kayaks can come with seat cushions, for better comfort, paddle bags, carts or trolleys that make them easier to load, and utility straps that can help with loading the boats onto a car.


Canoes typically come with 2 paddles because they are considered more of a tandem boat. The paddler in the bow and the paddler in the stern will each have a paddler.

Canoes can be equipped with trolling motors because there is room for them. A trolling motor is a motor that can be attached 3 different ways to a canoe and makes a canoe faster and quiet, especially when it comes to fishing.

Canoes also come with different seat types, like hardback or mesh, which provide the paddlers with the best comfort. Canoes can also come with cup holders and built-in coolers, which is great for long expeditions and camping trips.


A kayak usually comes with netting across the deck that can be used to hold items that can’t fit inside the cockpit. Also, kayaks usually come with handles for easy carrying, thigh and knee braces, paddle holders and some can come with rear storage.

Kayak paddles can come with grips to help keep the paddler from slipping or creating blisters on the paddler’s hands. Kayaks can also have a safety flag attached which is good for rough waters.

Kayaks can also come with spray skirts. Spray skirts are waterproof covers that can be used to keep paddlers dry or prevent water from leaking into the kayak.

History of the Canoe

Until the mid-1800s, the canoe was a crucial means of transportation all around the world and was mainly used by aboriginals. Canoes were used for trade and exploration as well as transportation and are still used in many third world countries.

The Pesse Canoe is the oldest canoe and boat ever found.

The oldest canoe ever found was the Pesse canoe found in Holland in 1955. The Pesse canoe dates back to around 8,000 BC and is the oldest canoe and boat that have ever been found. There have even been canoes found in Africa and China that are almost as old as the Pesse canoe.

Of course, all these older canoes are dug out canoes. This means that they are basically just hollowed out tree trunks. As time went on the canoe lost its popularity but have never truly been lost.

Today, canoes and canoeing are still very popular and with new advances in technology. Current canoes are far more advanced than what was used over 10,000 years ago.

Not only are canoes now being made from different, high-tech materials, but they also come with a number of new features that make them safer, better looking, and more fun to use!

History of the Kayak

Kayaks were originally designed to be hunting boats and originated from one region, and by one tribe. The Inuit tribe inhabited Canada, Greenland, and Alaska and created the kayaks out of seal skins and wood, or whale bones if wood could not be found.

Kayaks were closed on top to keep paddlers from getting wet and cold in the icy water and had a deep cockpit to hold spears and weapons for hunting.

In the 1924 Olympics in Paris, kayaks were shown as a demonstration boat. It was not until the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that kayaks become a recognized boat. The popularity of kayaks grew from then on.

Despite the many differences between canoes and kayaks, many regions of the world, like Canada and England, refer to kayaks to as canoes, and regular canoes. In some of these places, they are called Canadian canoes to distinguish the difference between the two types of boats.

What’s Best For You?

When considering which boat would be best for your purposes it’s best to know the specific differences between kayaks and canoes and keep the pros and cons of each boat in mind.



  • Carries a lot of gear
  • Better for long expeditions or camping
  • Better stability
  • Various sitting positions
  • Ability to stand
  • Less likely to get wet
  • Family and dog-friendly


  • Faster boats
  • A lot more techniques can be used
  • Lightweight
  • More maneuverable
  • Closer to the water
  • More efficient paddling
  • Better for rough water



  • Heavy and big
  • Difficult to maneuver and transport
  • Take on a lot of water
  • Difficult to paddle solo
  • More effort for paddling
  • Slower than kayaks


  • You will get wet
  • More difficult to master
  • Double paddles are heavier
  • Not a lot of room
  • Higher risk of capsizing

So, consider some of these pros and cons and ask yourself some questions before deciding which boat to buy. Are you looking for more of a relaxing, family friendly, expedition boat? Do you feel more like sightseeing rivers? If yes, a canoe would be the best choice for you.

However, if you’re looking to go white water rafting, enter competitions, race your buddies, and have a more adventurous water experience than kayaks are the way to go.

Whichever boat you decide fits your purpose better, just make sure that you have all the equipment you need and you are caught up on all the regulations and safety procedures.

Make sure to find a suitable life jacket that will keep you safe but also one that works well with the way you paddle and your body type as well as comfortability.

Whichever boat you choose will give you a great time out on the water and memories that will last a lifetime.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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