Kayak Vs Canoe

Canoes and Kayaks

Kayak vs Canoe: What's the difference?

If you are new to kayaking, you may be wondering what’s the difference between a kayak and a canoe. Both are vessels that use paddles to move through the water, but they have different designs that affect their performance and use. In this article, we will outline the key differences between kayaks and canoes, so you can decide which one is best for you.

Kayak vs Canoe Construction Design

Traditionally, kayaks have one or two occupants, are smaller and sleeker in design.  With shallow sides, usually a closed in hull, they often require a spray deck to keep the paddler dry. Kayak paddlers are usually seated with legs outstretched inside the hull space except for a Sit-on-top kayak.

Canoes on the other hand are bigger and heavier with wider frames. They have open-tops and higher sides than kayaks. Canoeists are seated properly often sitting on benches, while sometimes needing to stand/ kneel to propel the canoe forward.

Most modern day canoes and kayaks are made from sturdy products such as durable plastics and fibreglass.

which kayaks are more stable

Kayak vs Canoe Seating

The seats in Kayaks can be specifically designed for comfort with padded back support which can be handy on trips with extended time sitting. A trade off for comfier seats is the inability inside a  closed hull to move your legs around or change positions.  Freedom of movement with a Canoe can be a real advantage on extended day trips.

The open-top, taller and wider design of the canoe make climbing aboard a canoe generally easier than in and a kayak. On the other hand boarding a closed cockpit kayak can require considerably more skill, requiring better balance whilst sliding their legs inside hull.

kayak vs canoe pros and cons

Kayak vs Canoe Paddles

Probably one of the most notable difference between canoes and kayaks is in the way each is paddled.

Kayaks have double-bladed paddles each end used alternatively on each side (left and right) to row the kayak forward. The blades are offset at a 90 degree angle from each other, enabling use by a lone paddler. A kayaker holds the paddle with both hands towards the middle alternating paddling left and right side.

Canoe paddles are much shorter, with a single blade at one end and a knob or “T” at the other. Canoeist take hold of the canoe paddle with one hand in the middle of the shaft and the other the knob end of the paddle. Multiple canoeists must alternate sides they stroke on to keep the canoe headed in the right direction.

Kayaks are generally lighter and less bulky than canoes. Therefore paddling in a kayak is generally regarded as easier to learn and requires less effort and co-ordination.

Canoe Paddle

canoe paddle kayak difference

Kayak Paddle

Kayak paddle canoe difference

When the water gets in

Generally a canoe with its higher sides will keep you dryer in calmer waters. However, if you’re tackling rough water, a kayak with a spray skirt over the cockpit might keep you drier.

Small amounts of water are easily siphoned out of a canoe but can prove much harder to reach in an enclosed kayak. A bilge pump is a great accessory for either type of water craft.

In terms of a complete tip over, a kayak has the advantage of being able to be righted with techniques such as the “Eskimo roll”. It’s recommended kayakers doing extended touring or sea kayaking learn these techniques.

Whilst it is harder to capsize a canoe, if it does occur hopefully you’ll be close enough to the shore to avoid the long swim home.

Speed & Handling of a Canoe and Kayak

As a rule, canoes are more stable than kayaks, but are slower and more difficult to manoeuvre.

The reason for this is the narrower bow and stern of the kayak with more of its bow and stern out of the water creating less water resistance. Some kayaks even have skegs with rudders to assist in more accurate steering.

Paddling in a straight line is also easier to achieve in a kayak than in a canoe. Paddlers of varying strengths and techniques can inadvertently push a canoe in one direction more than another. A shift in body weight required with paddling a single bladed oar push you off course.

While canoes are hands down the winner when it comes to stability, the modern designs make both kayaking and canoeing more stable and difficult to capsize than in the past.

Kayak vs Canoe: Uses

Both kayaks and canoes can be used for a wide range of activities — fishing, long-distance trips, river paddling and camping. Below is list of different types of each type of boat and their uses.


Types of Kayaks  Functions
Recreational Designed for casuals use, these kayaks provide larger cockpits for comfort, and bigger berth for improved stability, ensuring better fishing or photography experiences overall
Sea Usually a bigger and longer variant of the kayak, sea kayaks provide more control in the open ocean, besides offering more cargo space for gear loading
Sit-on-Top (SOT) SOT kayaks are also another popular choice amongst everyday fishermen, their lack of cockpits make up for the open space for you to move around during activities like fishing
Surf For wave enthusiasts, surf kayaks function almost similarly to surfboards, allowing you to enjoy the thrills of catching big waves during a sunny day at the beach

If you are looking to traverse rapid, rocky waters, then the whitewater kayak is the best one for you

They are mostly made from strong, durable materials to fit this role

Playboat Playboats are freestyle variants of the kayak, allowing thrill-seekers to utilise the smaller frame of the kayak to perform skill moves and tricks above water
Creekboat Adopting a small overall design, creekboats are suited for those narrow, tight waterways with which longer kayaks may be quite hard to manoeuvre in
whitewater kayak vs canoe


Types of Canoes  Functions
Recreational The common type of canoe for family trips and expeditions, recreational canoes provide ample space for cargo and passengers besides comfort and stability support
Touring For nature hobbyists, touring canoes sport more flexibility to control in the water, while also providing specialised compartments for specific gear and equipment use
Whitewater Just like its kayak counterpart, whitewater canoes are stronger in terms of durability and robustness, protecting you through rapid waters and streams
canoe kayak difference speed

Fishing Kayak


History of Canoes and Kayaks

Both kayaks and canoes have been around for countless generations, dating as far back between 8,200 BC and 7,600 BC (such as the Pesse canoe, preserved at Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands).

For kayaks, the first versions are believed to originate from indigenous people like the Inuit and Aleut in Alaska, Canada and Greenland.

They would hunt for food (such as fish and seals) in the open waters  and use leftover skin and bones as materials to create more kayaks. The seal skin was stretched over the Kayak to provide the closed top.

Other tribes in different geographical locations around the world, used tough, flexible wood from local flora to craft the frames of their kayaks.

With limited technology at the time, kayaks became a mainstay use for various purposes including hunting, transport and commuting.

Canoes are also used for hunting small fish and mammals, albeit usually along calmer waters upstream.

A key advantage of the canoe was that it was designed for better transporting and commuting purposes.  A bigger hull space allows for more cargo and people on board.

Some canoes were also built for long distance travel too. Certain large ones were capable of ferrying loads across hundreds of kilometres across the ocean.

Modern Use

Today, kayaks and canoes are still used for a variety of reasons.  Most of their traditional roles however have been taken over by modern boats, ferries and cargo freights. 

Aside from being a common outdoor recreational activity kayaks and canoes are now commonly used in competitive water sports.

Amongst some of the notable athletes who have graced the international scenes are:


    • Nathan Baggaley (Australia) – three (3) Gold medals in World Championships, two (2) Silvers in Olympic Games
    • Vadzim Makhneu (Belarus) – seven (7) Gold medals in World Championships, one (1) Gold in Olympic Games
    • Katrin Wagner-Augustin (Germany) – one (1) Gold medal in European Championships, ten (10) Gold medals in World Championships, four (4) Golds in Olympic Games


  • Nikolay Bukhalov (Bulgaria) – five (5) Gold medals in World Championships, two (2) Golds in Olympic Games
    • Yang Wenjun (China) – two (2) Bronze medals in World Championships, two (2) Golds in Olympic Games
    • Matija Ljubek (Croatia) – three (3) Golds in Mediterranean Games, four (4) Golds in World Championships, two (2) Golds in Olympic Games

The most common competitive events with Canoes and Kayaks can be categorised in he following list.

  1. Canoe Sprint – is a sport in which athletes race canoes or kayaks on calm water
  2. Canoe Slalom – a competitive sport, navigating a canoe or kayak through a course of gates on river rapids in the fastest time.
  3. Paracanoe –  is canoeing of kayaking for athletes with a range of physical disabilities
  4. Wildwater Canoeing – is a competitive discipline of canoeing in which kayaks or canoes are used to negotiate a stretch of river speedily
  5. Freestyle Canoe – is a discipline of whitewater kayaking or canoeing where people perform various technical moves on the spot.
  6. Canoe Marathon – is a paddling sport in which athletes paddle a kayak or canoe over a long distance to the finish line.
  7. Canoe Polo – also known as kayak polo, is one of the competitive disciplines of kayaking, known simply as “polo”
  8. Ocean Racing – The SurfSki is generally the longest of all kayaks and is designed for speed on open water. The most common use of the SurfSki is surf lifesaving competitions and downwind paddling
  9. Dragon Boat – Dragon boat racing has been a traditional Chinese paddled canoe watercraft activity for over 2000 years and began as a modern international sport in Hong Kong in 1976
dragon boat canoe

Which is better Canoe or Kayak?

If you came here out of curiosity to find the difference between and canoe and a kayak – Voila!! Now you know!!

If on the other hand you are in the market to buy either of theses craft, you might be left with the burning question: Should I buy a canoe or a kayak?

We have summarised and ranked the contrasting features that both these water craft offer, to better help you make a decision based on your specific needs.


For groups of three or more people, a canoe is probably the best choice. This is due to its functional space provided while also allowing you to freely move about.

However, if you’re planning for solo or duo water activities, the choice between a kayak and a canoe becomes a bit more difficult. A lot will depend on your personal preference here.

Winner: CANOE

Cargo Space/ Storage

Canoes provides more space to carry equipment and people around.  This is especially true if you are on an extensive outdoor trip through the wilderness.

Single and tandem canoes are readily available on the market today. Therefore a kayak may not be the best option if you have stacks of gear to carry around.

Winner: CANOE


In modern times, both kayaks and canoes are now properly specced to ensure the protection of passengers and paddlers alike.

Still, if a decision is to be made, canoes are usually much safer because of their general intended uses for calmer, shallower waters.

A kayaker is usually at a higher risk of animal attacks or capsizing, due to their streamlined shape and smaller berth.

Winner: CANOE


Kayaks have the clear advantage here, with canoes too bulky and big to take advantage of hydrodynamic designs and features.

Canoes were never created for the purpose of water sprints (except competitive canoeing). Thus this category is basically an unfair comparison against the kayak.

Winner: KAYAK


The longer structure of kayaks make for better handling on water, especially against strong rapids and currents.

Many kayaks are specifically created for whitewater and slalom events leaving canoes a distant second in the manoeuvrability stakes.

Winner: KAYAK


A debate can certainly be found here, with kayaks and canoes both able to withstand unpredictable water conditions and underwater impacts.

However as many kayaks on the whole are made for intentional rough use often they are made from stronger materials.

Winner: KAYAK


We hope we have helped make your decision on a canoe or kayak a little easier.  Now get off the internet and out onto the water and have some fun!!

are conoes different to kayas
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