Canoe vs Kayak: A Detailed Comparison Beginner’s Guide

Canoe and Kayaks were first fashioned and used by indigenous people as a way to help them travel across rivers, fish, hunt and transport goods from one place to another with ease. While kayaking and canoeing were a necessity for these people, today they are two of the most popular water sports in the world. When deciding between a canoe vs. kayak, there are a few points to consider.

The Canoe


When considering a canoe, there are several preferences to keep in mind.

Party Size

First and foremost, a canoe is usually not for the solo rider. The length and width of the boat make it too difficult to handle alone. However, one can pilot a canoe alone by sitting in the rear of the watercraft, which makes it easier to steer. The ideal use of a canoe is for group outings of two people or more. Up to four adults can sit in a canoe at one time. If you prefer to take the family out on the water, two adults and four children can fit inside.


A canoe is, on average, heavier and more cumbersome to carry around than a kayak. The weight is mitigated by the fact that canoes are usually utilized by more than one person, giving you plenty of available helpers to get the boat in and out of the water.


The size and interior cabin of a canoe mean there is space to spread out, either by yourself or with other people. There are also comfortable seats that can be added to the benches to give you back support for hours of paddling. One option allows the user to have chairs that sit on the floor of the canoe to provide cushioning and support. It's easier to stay out on the water when your bum and back are in a comfortable position.



Paddling can be done two different ways in a canoe. One either can kneel on the floor of the canoe or utilize one of the three bench seats to sit on top of. This is strictly a matter of preference.

The paddles used for canoeing (also known as oars) consist of a single blade, unlike kayak paddles which have a blade on both sides. The single-blade stays in the water, which helps to keep water out of the canoe since the blade does not need to be lifted out of the water over the top of the canoe. If anyone in your party is nervous about being in a boat that might take on water from paddling, a canoe is a clear choice.


Square Back

There is no deck in a canoe. Rather, all the room for storage and stowing is inside the boat. If you choose to fish from a canoe, you have more room to move about and stash your supplies. Canoes can move as quickly as kayaks; however, they don't have the easy maneuvering capabilities that a kayak has.

Canoes are easier to stand up and walk around in even though they are less stable than a kayak. Canoes are more likely to capsize than are kayaks, and when they do, unlike kayaks, they tend to stay upside down or even worse, sink.Righting a capsized canoe is not an easy task, but it can be done. Everyone partaking in either kayaking or canoeing should be able to swim or wear the proper safety gear such as life jackets.

The Kayak

Ascend FS10 Kayak

If you prefer easy handling over capacity, take a look at some of the offerings of the kayak.


Maneuvering and paddling a kayak is much more comfortable than a canoe, due in large part to the shape. A kayak is narrower and made of a more lightweight material giving it the ability to glide across the water more comfortably. A kayak and a canoe can still travel at the same relative speed. A kayak is made for those instances where quick turns may be necessary such as in rapids.

Single or Double

double kayak

Are you a person who enjoys going for water excursions alone or do you prefer to do so with a partner? In a kayak, it doesn't matter which one you choose. A solo paddler more easily handles kayaks. You do still have the choice of a two-person vessel. The kayak works for you, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert.

Seating Style: In or On

A canoe is a standard boat without much variation. A kayak offers you a few choices that may aid in your decision between the two. Aside from the one or two-person preference, there is also a seating preference. Kayaks offer in-boat seating where you are positioned inside the cavity. The other option is to sit on top of the deck. The choice between the two sitting styles may come down to comfort and seasonal use.


Sit In Kayak

A sit-in style allows the kayak operator to sit down inside the hull. The position of the legs allows the operator to brace them along the walls of the boat, which can help give more strength for paddle strokes. This interior bracing becomes essential in situations where stronger strokes are needed, such as combating rapids or trying to get yourself out of a tight situation.

Another advantage of a sit-in boat is that it becomes watertight inside with the use of an accessory called a skirt. The skirt is stretched over the opening over your legs, becoming a barricade against water intrusion. It is only natural for water to splash in and onto your legs as you make your way around the waterbody. However, in the colder months, having water splashed on your legs won't leave you feeling too pleasant. A sit-in kayak will enable you to use the skirt and keep the water out during the colder months. In this way, your paddling won't be restricted by cold water months.


Sit On Kayak

An alternative to the sit-in style is the sit-on boat. People who fish and like to use kayaks for sporting tend to like this style more than the sit in. It gives room to move about on the deck, and also ample storage under the hull.A paddler in a sit-on kayak has virtually no chance of staying dry. The water splashes around every time the paddle comes up out of the water. The chair(s) in this style may block the built-in drains at the bottom of the boat that keep it from taking on too much water. You can plug these holes with flappers called scupper plugs. Doing so may prevent water from splashing back into the boat through the holes. Since the sit-on kayak is better suited for warmer months or climates (because of the amount of water splashed about), it may not matter to you if the water stays out this way or not.

Unlike a sit-in boat, a sit-on kayak allows you to re-enter the kayak from the water. If you plan on taking a dip in the water, you can get back in if the chair is on top.Kayaks are not likely to capsize unless in extreme rapids conditions or as the result of defects in the construction of the boat. In fact, kayaks are designed to roll over and set themselves upright if they are to capsize.Both styles are equally safe and offer a paddler different experiences. If you are an avid fan of all things water sports and being able to ride a creek or river for hours, a kayak may be your ideal water vessel.

How Do You Decide Between a Kayak and a Canoe?

Canoe and Kayak

After taking a look at some of the differences in the two boats, are you closer to being able to decide between them? If not, ask yourself the following questions:

What will you use the boat for?

If you plan on spending a weekend day taking the family on a leisurely float down the river, a canoe is better suited, primarily if your family consists of children who can't yet paddle. On the flipside, if you plan on braving the rapids with your best friend, a kayak may be your better choice.

Are you more likely to use the boat alone?

If you believe you will enjoy solo excursions on the water, a kayak is a better choice. While it is possible to pilot a canoe solo, it isn't an easy undertaking. On the other hand, if you prefer fishing with a couple of friends who are not likely to also invest in boats, a canoe may be the way to go.

You really can't go wrong investing in either type of boat. So long as you plan on pursuing your paddling hobby at any kind of level, the money won't be wasted. In the big debate of canoe vs. kayak, one clear winner is you. Spending time on the water in either type of boat is a great way to unplug, unwind and become inspired by nature at every turn. Happy paddling!

James Moore

Hey, I'm the founder of Fishing Kayaks Guide. As a professional angler for over 10 years now, I love to hear and share experience and knowledge about kayak fishing and get connected to all of you people who are enthusiastic to hit the water.

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