If you’re new to water sports, you may think it’s silly to ask what the difference between a kayak and a canoe is, but it’s not! Many people are unclear about the differences between a kayak and a canoe, so don’t feel bad. The two pieces of equipment look similar upon first glance, so it’s not as obvious to tell them apart in the beginning.
What’s even more confusing is that you’ve probably heard both terms used interchangeably in conversation before. You’ll find that in most parts of the world, using a small boat with a paddle can get confusing as some kayaks are considered subtypes of canoes people often confuse the two.
While both appear as small boats operated on waterways with a paddle, there are actually quite a few unique differences. Between the vessels themselves, the oars, learning how to use both, and more, the differences are distinct.
If you’re interested in taking up either as a hobby, it’s helpful to know the differences and learn how to tell them apart.
Kayaks & Canoes: What Are The Major Differences?
Kayaks and canoes have unique differences between their purposes, the paddler’s position, the paddles used, how they’re classified, their decks, shapes, and even their origins. Below, we’ll describe the differences so you can choose the one best suited for your needs and interests.
Kayaks are considered the faster of the two ways to travel any distance which is why the competitive water sportsmen use them. Canoes are the ideal choice for leisure, with both families and kids having the ability to spend time in them comfortably. They’re great on calm waters and even for transporting gear (and people, of course).
Paddlers of all types enjoy both kayaks and canoes for all kinds of activities though, be it boat racing, whitewater paddling, or leisure, both water boats are optimal. Other ways they’re used include travel, transport, and exercise, relaxing on the water, and even fishing.
Indigenous watercraft have been found all over the world, some dating back thousands of years. Wherever there has been water, humans have utilized watercraft for transport, hunting, fishing, and warfare. According to the International Canoe Federation, canoes are the more commonly constructed watercraft with wider use.
The primitive constructed boats had an elegance to them, ranging from 3m to over 30m in length. They’ve been built from tree bark, animal skins, and logs for as long as we’ve unearthed them. These vessels have features with different purposes in mind; their uses varied by tribe, natural environment, and necessity.
Designs of the earliest canoes usually varied based on location and environment but commonly could be found as dug-out trees and open-topped bark canoes as well as 130-foot-long war canoes. On the flip side, kayaks were designed to keep the icy northern waters out of boats. Builders made use of animal skins, stretched across a wooden frame to build the first kayaks.
Historians believe that the kayak may have originated from Greenland, where Eskimos used them all over the northern parts of the world including North America, Greenland, and Siberia. In contrast to the canoes that could carry multiple people, kayaks were often for a single rider, with uses ranging from transport, fishing, and hunting.
On the other hand, the canoe was in much wider use as mentioned before, being used for transport, trade, and warfare by humans all over the world.
Some key differences between the physicality of the boats are that canoes are an open-top boat, with a rider paddling in a kneeling position, with a paddle that features a single blade. A kayak features a closed top, with a cockpit for the rider to remain seated. The rider will paddle this way, from his seated position using a paddle that features a double blade.
Characteristics Of Each Watercraft
Nowadays, canoes and kayaks are both designed and made with lightweight, thin materials, featuring a narrow tip at one or both ends of the craft that make them great for traveling through water. This formatting of the boat makes them both ideal for racing such as kayak races or canoe sprints.
When you think of a kayak, you may instantly think of a 1 to 2-person vessel that is typically not very long but can come in more extended sizes, with the ability to carry several paddlers at a time. Canoes, on the other hand, can occur in both short and much longer dimensions, also with the ability to take several to a group of paddlers.
Materials used in the making of both canoes and kayaks include wood, PVC (inflatables), molded plastic, aluminum, and composite materials such as Kevlar and fiberglass.
If you’ve been researching canoes and kayaks and have become confused about the classifications, don’t be alarmed. We were confused with the letters and numbers too, but over time and with research, deciphered it. Kayaks alone have approximately 217 boats listed in the classification system, so obviously, things can get confused easily.
You’ll find that each boat contains a letter and a number or a series of letters and numbers. The main letters you’ll find are C for canoe and K for a kayak. Simple enough, right? Following the letter, you’ll usually have a single digit number.
For example, if the number is one as in C1, you know that this craft is a canoe, that carries a single rider. A canoe that carries two passengers will have the classification C2. You’ll find the same system used for kayaks, though boats tend to have more riders than kayaks, in general.
Next, you may have an additional letter added, that would be about the type of deck the craft has. For example, you may find a boat classified as OC1, references that the single passenger canoe is an open deck watercraft.
Did you know that even tiny boats like canoes and kayaks have a deck? You may not be able to walk “topside” on them, but they’re still part of the design, nonetheless.
When it comes to canoes and kayaks, you’ll find that there are two types of decks you’ll. They are made for both one or several riders and come featuring an open or closed version. If you’re looking for one that keeps you more secure while keeping water out, you’d go for the closed option which you’ll usually see on a kayak.
In contrast, an open deck offers the paddler more room. This canoe feature give the paddler more room to maneuver from the kneeling position. The seat sits higher up in this type, allowing you to sit at the edge, with your feet tucked under, to form the traditional operating stance.
The kayak, on the other hand, has less wiggle room for the rider, though it maintains it’s a comfort. The seat in a kayak is at a lower point and inside the boat features thigh braces to help keep the rider secure.
There is another type of kayak though, that can appear more closely to the canoe style and is known as the sit-on-top type of kayak. The deck of this kayak features a seat that is higher up and has a more open deck.
Position Of Paddler
As we’ve mentioned a few times earlier, one of the key differences between these two types of watercraft is the way the paddler takes his or her position. Canoes typically feature a higher seat so that a paddler can sit kneeling on one or both knees. They can also choose to set on the chair with their knees bent in a comfortable position.
A paddler may also choose to sit at the edge of the raised seat in a somewhat half-kneeling position, for a more stable stance. Alternately, a kayaker will sit much nearer to the hull of the boat or the bottom of it.
In this position, their kegs remain outstretched inside the boat. The unique positioning in a kayak allows for power to be centered, with a paddler sitting upright, shoulders relaxed, and chest forward.
What’s The Best Choice For Me?
The best watercraft for you depends on what your ideal time on the water is. Whether or not you’re going solo or with other paddlers matters too along with what activities you’d like to explore.
Many families, large groups of friends, and summer camps for kids find that a canoe will suit their needs, allowing space for several paddlers plus their gear. If you don’t believe you’re very water sports savvy, you may opt for a canoe like this one, which is a bit easier to maneuver and learn than a kayak.
If you’re not sure you can haul or store a canoe, you can always opt for an inflatable such as this 3-person-kayak. There are inflatable boats that aren’t kayaks too if you’re set on the paddling position or all the perks though.
You’ll always enjoy your time on the water if you take into consideration what your ideal time on the water looks like and choose the equipment that’s best suited to your needs. Happy paddling!