When the summer arrives and the lakes thaw, it’s time to get out and enjoy the good weather. Kayaking and canoeing are two popular lifestyle watersports. Beginners new to kayaks and canoes might not understand the differences between these boats.
You can do so many things on the water with a kayak or canoe. Go camping around the lakes, challenging whitewater rapids, and enjoy some offshore or inshore fishing. Which is the right choice for what you want to do on the water?
Should you invest in a kayak or canoe? What’s the difference between the two? This post unpacks everything you need to know about canoes versus kayaks.
- What are the Types of Kayaks?
- What are the Types of Canoes?
- Canoe Vs. Kayak – Key Differences
- Canoe Vs. Kayak – Pros and Cons
- Canoe vs. Kayak – Which is Right for You?
What are the Types of Kayaks?
Sit-Inside (SIK) Kayaks
These models have a “cockpit” surrounded by a “coaming.” You sit inside the boat and attach a spray skirt around the coaming to keep the water out. They’re the popular choice for whitewater applications.
Sit-On-Top (SOT) Kayaks
These models feature molded, open decks. You sit on the kayak rather than inside the boat. These models are popular for in-shore and offshore applications.
A recreational or “rec” kayak is a sit-on model ideal for flat water conditions like lakes and sheltered areas along the coastline. These models are 9 to 12-feet in length and offer excellent stability on the water. However, they feature design and construction with plastic materials, making them heavy and less maneuverable. They are easy to float and have less of a capsize risk.
This sit-in model has a slender width and a long length, between 12 to 18-feet. They cut through the water, making them a good choice in choppy water conditions. The hull creates less drag, giving the kayak more glide. Touring kayaks are ideal for traveling long distances, and they’re also suitable for offshore fishing.
White water kayaks, like creekboats and playboats, have a short length. Typically, they’re between 6 to 8-feet and have more width to the boat. These sit-in models allow for the fitment of a spray skirt. They are used for surfing and carving eddies, plunging in and out of holes, and other whitewater stunts. These kayaks have more “volume,” giving them excellent float and maneuverability.
These sit-in models can range up to 36-feet in length. They are expensive boats suited to professional river racing. However, the slimline design and size make them unstable, and many of them require tracking of the kayak using a foot-controlled rudder.
Inflatables are an option for an affordable recreational kayak. They are lightweight and easy to carry on portages and from the car to the shore. Most models feature design and construction with PVC materials and a tri-chamber design to reduce sinking risk if a sharp object punctures the hull or pontoons. They are available in various lengths and styles and are the best choice for beginners.
What are the Types of Canoes?
The “rec” canoe is ideal for family use and beginner paddlers. They are suitable for calm, flat water use, such as lakes and slow-moving rivers. Rec canoes offer the best stability and ease of use.
The racing canoe features a slimmer body than the rec canoe, and they sit low in the water. Most models don’t offer bench seating and come designed for speed and stability.
Canoe Vs. Kayak – Key Differences
Looks and Hull Design
The hull design is the biggest difference between canoes and kayaks. Canoes are bigger and heavier, and they typically have a wide, flat bottom and tall sidewalls. Canoe’s average lengths are between 13 to 17-feet.
Kayaks have a more performance-orientated hull design. The touring and racing models have hulls that slice through the water, reducing drag. As a result, you get faster cruising speeds, better glide, and improved maneuverability over the canoe hull.
Kayaks give you more choice between hull design and performance to suit your chosen application on the water. The kayak offers you more versatility for use in all water conditions. The canoe is more suited to flat water and canoe camping trips.
Storage, Load Capacity, and Weight
Canoes give you more storage space on board the boat. Kayaks come with onboard storage, but you’ll find it challenging to pack all your camping gear into it. Kayaks have load capacities ranging between 200-lbs to 450-lbs, and some larger models accommodate up to 900-lbs.
The canoe is also the heavier option, and even the rec kayak is lighter than a canoe. However, kayaks usually come with dry storage compartments, which aren’t available in canoes.
Comfort and Paddling Position
Kayakers have a lower riding position, closer to the hull. Canoes feature bench seating that has the rider elevated above the waterline. You get more drive and glide out of a kayak, and the lower profile means you get more torque and speed when paddling.
Kayaks use a two-sided paddle for easy stroking on either side of the boat. Canoes usually have oars, meaning you have less paddling power, torque, and speed than a kayak.
Both kayaks and canoes have options for seating upgrades. Fishing canoes allow you to fit a high-back seat onto the bench to support your lower back. Kayaks also have these options, and many inflatable models come with comfortable, fully-adjustable inflatable seats.
Maneuverability and Stability
The canoe offers you a stable platform for paddling, fishing, and navigating rivers. The wide hull design gives more surface area to the hull and exceptional stability. The shallow hull also allows for scooting over debris, like beaver dams, and it’s ideal for shallow waters and lakes. However, these boats have less maneuverability compared to the kayak.
The kayak is less stable than the canoe. However, some rec kayaks and inflatables offer you the same stability on the water like a canoe. Canoes are better for calm, flat water conditions, and kayaks do better in rough waters.
The stern and bow on the kayak curve out of the water, giving the hull more “rocker.” The extra rocker adds to the maneuverability of the boat. The rocker makes it easy to pull off fast turns, but it also increases instability for the rider, making it easier to capsize the boat.
Canoes don’t feature any rocker in the bow or stern. The majority of the hull sits below the surface, providing a stable ride while making it harder to capsize the boat. Canoes come with flat, rounded, and V-shaped hull designs. However, the flat bottom is the most popular choice due to its stability.
Price tags vary for kayaks and canoes. Inflatable kayaks offer you the most affordable option, and they’re excellent value for money. Most inflatables range from $150 to $800, depending on the brand and the size of the boat.
Canoes are available in several composites, with fiberglass being the most popular option. These boats can retail for anywhere up to $3,000 or more, depending on the canoe’s brand, materials, and design.
Typically, kayak prices are lower than canoes. Inflatable kayaks are less than a quarter of the cost of fiberglass models. Aluminum canoes also offer excellent value for money and a durable boat that’s easy to maintain and repair.
Prices dramatically escalate when you look at sports-specific models. Fishing kayaks and canoes come with accessories like built-in rod holders and mounts for your GPS and fish finder units. Some models also allow for the fitting of a trolling motor.
Racing kayaks are expensive, and some models fetch more than $2,000. They are lightweight, and some models feature pedals controlling a rudder for better tracking of the boat.
Canoe Vs. Kayak – Pros and Cons
So, which option do you go for when choosing between a canoe or kayak? This section looks at the pros and cons of these watercraft.
Pros and Cons of Kayaks
- Rec and inflatable kayaks offer a great beginner platform, and they are the most affordable options.
- Kayaks rely on a double-bladed paddle, making paddling and tracking the kayak easy.
- Kayaks are more versatile and suit a wider range of water conditions and applications.
- The shorter design of the kayak improves the maneuverability and handling of the boat compared to a canoe.
- Sit-in kayaks allow for the attachment of a spray skirt, allowing you to tackle rapids and whitewater without water getting inside the cockpit.
- Most models come with a paddle and adjustable seat included with your purchase.
- Kayaks offer sealed dry storage compartments for your fishing gear and accessories.
- Entry-level inflatable kayaks are more affordable than entry-level fiberglass canoes.
- Kayaks are usually lighter and easy to travel with between lake portages.
- Whitewater kayaks are suitable for tackling rapids. Canoes can’t handle these conditions.
- The kayak isn’t as stable as the canoe, and it’s easier to capsize.
- Kayaks with spray skirts are harder to enter and exit.
- Kayaks have less storage space than canoes.
- Kayaks have lower load capacities than canoes and can’t carry as much gear.
- Kayaks are better for solo paddling. However, there are tandem, tri, and quad configurations.
Pros and Cons of Canoes
- Canoes are typically longer than kayaks allowing for more gear storage onboard the boat.
- Canoes are more comfortable for long-distance journeys as they have an elevated sitting position.
- The higher seat in the canoe gives the rider a better view of their surroundings.
- The broad beam of the canoe provides excellent stability on the water. As a result, you won’t capsize as easily as a kayak.
- Entering and exiting a canoe is easier than a kayak.
- The canoe’s high-wall design keeps water out and stops small waves from coming over the side of the boat.
- The canoe has more deck space and more storage capacity for longer trips or canoe camping adventures.
- It’s easier to load and unload a canoe compared to a kayak.
- Canoes are ideal for fishing and family-fun camping trips.
- Canoes are the better choice for senior paddlers and people with back injuries.
- Canoes allow you to add an aftermarket seat to the bench for added comfort.
- Canoes come in various lengths and usually have more passenger capacity than kayaks.
- The high side walls of the canoe make it harder to get into the boat from the water.
- If the canoe capsizes, it’s harder to drain the canoe and recover it compared to a kayak.
- Canoes have a much higher sinking risk compared to kayaks.
- The open deck means water can get in the boat.
- The flat-bottom hull design adds more drag on the water, reducing glide and speed.
- The hull also makes maneuvering the boat harder than a kayak.
- Canoes are longer and heavier than kayaks, making carrying them more intensive for the rider.
- Canoes don’t offer you any dry storage.
- Most canoes are for cruising, and they don’t focus on speed and handling.
- Canoes are usually more expensive than kayaks.
- There are no inflatable canoe models.
Canoe vs. Kayak – Which is Right for You?
When choosing between a canoe or kayak, you need to think about your application. If you’re going camping at the lake, the canoe is the most popular option. It makes it easier to get through the shallows and fish in the flats. You can shuffle the boat over beaver dams and rocks without damaging the canoe. However, it’s heavier than an inflatable kayak, which means more work between portages.
If you’re going offshore for a fishing adventure, the kayak is the better choice. You get a purpose-built boat designed for use in the ocean. If you’re on a budget, consider an inflatable kayak. They are functional, affordable, and easy to carry. They’re also the best choice for people that don’t have storage space for the canoe or kayak at home.
If you want a boat that can handle both ocean-going conditions and lakes, the kayak is the more versatile. Your choice depends on what you want to do with the boat, your budget, and your onboard storage needs.
Why not get both? Keep your kayak for the ocean and the canoe for touring the lakes.