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The Differences Between a Canoe and a Kayak

You may have noticed that many people use the terms kayak and canoe interchangeably, which is actually incorrect. Kayaks and canoes are actually two different things and have different uses. 

canoes and kayaks lined up on the ground

There are a few ways that you can identify a canoe, or kayak, with easy methods to distinguish between the two. Luckily, we are here to help you understand which is which, and how they vary from one another.

For instance, one of the easiest ways to determine whether a boat is a canoe or a kayak is to examine the type of paddle being used. Canoeists will utilize a paddle with a blade at just one end, whereas kayakers will have a paddle with a blade at both ends!

kayaks and canoes on a rack

Although they are both used on the water, a kayak and a canoe vary in style, design, and nature. However, they do look very similar, and can often be confused for one another, so what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? 

What is a Kayak?

A kayak is a small, sleek boat that sits close to the water. These types of boats are made for speed, agility, and recreational purposes such as whitewater sports, or open sea paddling.

people enjoying kayaking

Within a kayak, the user will sit inside the kayak, with their legs covered inside the boat, using a double-bladed paddle to push their way through the water. 

If you are using a kayak, then you should be in a sitting position, with your legs stretched out in front of you, and covered by the deck of the kayak. The great thing about kayaks is that they are built for speed. 

people kayaking in flatwater kayaks

Their sleek shape and streamlined design mean that they can flow through the water effectively and quickly, maximizing performance, no matter what the water conditions are. Kayaks are also incredibly easy to use and are great for building physical strength and endurance.

What is a Canoe?

On the other hand, a canoe is a much larger and heavier boat to maneuver. In contrast to the kayak, the canoe has a wide, open frame, and no deck to tuck your legs under.

two people in large canoe

A great way to remember the style of the canoe is that they are often called Open Canoes, due to their wide open space inside the boat. 

Users will then have to either kneel inside the boat, or sit up on the small bench in order to use the paddles.

couple canoeing in front of mountains

With a canoe, paddlers will propel the boat forward by utilizing a single bladed paddle, with one user on one side of the boat, and the other on another side to push the canoe towards their destination. 

A canoe is also designed to carry many more passengers, as its heavier weight is much stronger and the boat is larger than a kayak. This then makes a canoe very steady, strong and not prone to flipping over. 

two people canoeing

These types of boats are therefore better suited for relaxing trips along a river, or on a lake, with plenty of space to take friends, or even a dog and lots of supplies for a day on the water.

They are designed for meandering and easy going trips on gentle water conditions, which is why these types of boats are favored by many. 

Canoe vs Kayak: Which is Better?

The main difference between a kayak and a canoe is their purpose. The kayak is designed to fit one or two people, and is lightweight, streamlined, and designed to travel fast.

two kayaks on shore

This is why canoes are made for competitive and more challenging water conditions and sports such as whitewater kayaking. 

On the other hand, canoes are made for multiple people, are much more versatile, and intended for recreational purposes such as a leisurely paddle on calmer waters. They are far more spacious than kayaks, and can fit a few people at once, along with lots of kit and supplies. 

people in an inflatable canoe

Another difference is that kayaks are far more lightweight than canoes, as they are typically designed for one or two people, and are therefore prone to flipping over more.

In contrast, canoes are far heavier, and more stable than kayaks in this sense, as they are stronger, much more weighted, and designed for multiple users. 

people in a tandem kayak

A great way that you can distinguish between a kayak and a canoe is by the deck. A kayak has a closed deck, where paddlers will tuck their legs underneath, whereas canoes have an open deck, where paddlers are exposed.

This is mainly because kayaks are used for harsher waters, where safety and a secure seat is required, whereas canoes do not get used in this way, so users can move freely. 

people canoeing

You will also be able to tell whether a boat is a kayak or a canoe by looking at the paddles that are being used.

As previously mentioned, a kayak uses a double-bladed paddle, which has a blade on each end, whereas canoe users will have a single-bladed paddle, only on one end. 

2 people in separate kayaks

This is mainly because kayakers are positioned much lower than canoe paddlers, and are much closer to the water, which means they need a lot more help for efficient propelling.

The double-bladed paddle also allows kayakers to move much quicker and can help them maneuver themselves through tough water conditions, whereas canoes do not need this. 

happy group of kayakers

In contrast, a canoe has much higher sides, so that the open deck is protected, meaning it is harder for water to get inside the canoe.

It is for this reason that you may see people in canoes in normal clothes, whereas those kayaking may be wearing swimsuits or wetsuits. This is also because kayaks are much easier to capsize than a big, heavy canoe.

Final Thoughts

Although many people refer to kayaks as canoes and vice versa, the two are very different kinds of boats, and used for different purposes and activities.

With our handy guide, you will be able to distinguish between a kayak and a canoe like a pro! Let us know which one you prefer in the comments below!

Rocco Smith

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