The right type of boat makes all the difference in the world when you get into watersports. Kayaks and canoes have a few similarities. They have both been around for thousands of years, and the earliest forms were made from simple materials such as birch wood and animal skins. Over time, both types have evolved to be designed with durability in mind.
Yet, they still have unique differences in their designs that allow them to be better suited for certain purposes. Exploring the differences between a kayak and a canoe helps you decide which one will help you deepen your enjoyment of spending time on the open water.
Open Versus Closed Designs
When you look at a kayak and canoe, the most obvious difference is their design. Canoes are built with a wider frame that is completely open at the top. The wider opening gives you more space to fit passengers and gear.
Kayaks can be open or closed. However, even open kayaks look different from a canoe. A closed kayak has a small opening that allows you to climb inside and stretch your legs out into a forward position. This closed design is meant to help keep you dry, which makes it ideal for boating in cooler water.
An open kayak has shorter sides than a canoe. In fact, it is more like a depression that is formed in the boat that is just big enough for your body to rest comfortably inside while still technically sitting on top of the boat. While you will get wet with this design, it provides a different type of riding experience compared to a canoe.
With both types of kayaks, there is usually a storage compartment that allows for some supplies to be kept dry. Kayakers also get creative with storage. You can find cockpit and deck bags that are designed to keep water out of your gear while creating enough room to stash everything you need for overnight trips.
Type of Seating
The seats on kayaks and canoes also affect your comfort. Canoes tend to have bench-style seats that you can use to sit on as you paddle. However, some people prefer to kneel since it gives them better stability.
Kayak seats range from simple designs that are molded into cockpit using the same materials as the boat to intricate styles that have all the bells and whistles you need to stay safe and comfortable. Most kayakers prefer a seat with a high back that takes the pressure off of their muscles as they paddle their boat. Padding in the seats can be made from gel or foam, and having the extra cushion reduces discomfort while also serving as an additional form of insulation when you paddle out in cooler weather.
You can also see the difference between a kayak and a canoe in the paddles that are used. Canoe paddles have a single blade design with a knob at the other end of the shaft that the boater holds on to as they paddle. To move the boat in a straight line, the paddle must be used on one side and then the other. This is why you will usually see to people paddling in a canoe. Although a single person can operate a canoe, it is much harder to alternate sides in this manner compared to how you paddle in a kayak.
Kayaks are designed for single riders, even though you can ride tandem in certain styles. A kayak paddle has a blade on each side. To use it, you hold the paddle in the middle along the long shaft and alternate dipping it from side to side. Although a standard beginner’s paddle works fine for most purposes, you can find specialized paddles that allow for even greater speed or that are made from materials that help to reduce arm fatigue.
Speed and Maneuverability
With both kayaks and canoes, your arms serve as the motor. You can generally go only as fast as you are capable of paddling in the given water conditions. However, canoes are just generally slower and harder to maneuver around tight curves due to their design.
Kayaks have a slimmer profile with a specially designed bow and stern that lifts more of the hull out of the water. This creates less water-resistance than the canoe’s more boxier design. With less resistance, you can expect each stroke of the paddle to push the boat further along. A kayak can also be outfitted with rudders and skegs that assist with steering as you paddle. The increased maneuverability is why kayaks are the boat of choice for tightly curved waterways and open water with stronger currents.
The Overall Wetness Factor
Some people love getting sprayed with water while they paddle, while others would prefer to step out of their boat completely dry. For the most part, a canoe provides satisfactory protection from the water since the high sides keep most of it from getting in the boat. However, this only applies on very calm water that has very few waves.
A kayak usually involves some degree of exposure to the water. Naturally, a closed cockpit keeps you drier than an open kayak. However, you can also use spray skirts to stay dry. These are simply pieces of water-resistant fabric or rubber that fit over the cockpit. They have a small opening in the center that fits snugly around your body so that water has a smaller chance of making its way inside.
Stability and Roll-Over Potential
Speaking of getting soaked, people who are new to boating often want to know which type of watercraft is most likely to send them overboard. With their smaller, more slender size, kayaks are easier to roll over in the water. However, they are also the easiest to get out of a sticky situation. One of the first tricks every new kayaker should learn is a simple roll. This can allow you to stay in your kayak and go right back to paddling if it capsizes. You can also always abandon ship and get back in if it is safe to do so.
Canoes have a wider base that increases their stability. However, they can still tip over if the weight of the passengers is not distributed evenly. They are also less capable of handling rough water conditions. With a canoe, capsizing can be much more dangerous since you cannot roll them over while in the seat. They are also difficult to get into from deeper water.
In the world of water sports, canoes tend to be viewed more as the SUV of boats where you can expect plenty of room inside to take a passenger along and enjoy a leisurely day. Kayaks are more like a sports car with stock models and options for customization. These sleek vessels are designed for greater speed and maneuverability. While their tighter fit may mean sacrificing on space, they truly are the boat designed for you to choose your own adventure since they can go just about anywhere.