picture showing a canoe vs kayak

Canoe vs Kayak: Pros and Cons Explained Simply

Well, if you’re new to canoeing or kayaking, the first order of business is to understand the difference between the two.

The history of kayaking and canoeing dates back to several thousand years ago, but here we are, ready to take you for a ride back in time. We will look into and highlight the distinct features that separate kayaks from canoes. 

History of the Canoe

The existence of canoes can be dated back to almost 10,000 years ago. Ancient canoes were carved out from logs to create a floating vessel. They were used for transporting goods and people.

Canoe Build/Design  

Canoes feature a completely open top. The sides are relatively short compared to that of the typical boat but appear slightly above the water surface. Two seats are fitted, one on the bow and the other at the stern such that one paddler is in-front of the other.

The paddle on a canoe has only one blade.  This makes paddling quite complicated because you have to move the paddle from one side of the canoe to the other to move forward.

History of the Kayak

According to research, the first kayaks were built almost 4000 years ago by the native Greenlandic Inuit. The kayaks were curved out from driftwood or whalebone. The kayak’s shell was then covered by animal skin. Fat from whales or reindeers was then spread over the animal skin to make it waterproof.

Kayaks featured a closed design to help keep the paddler warm and dry while s/he was out hunting in sub-zero temperatures. They were mainly used for hunting. Later on, the Inuit people started building bigger kayaks for ferrying people and goods.

Kayaks were introduced in Europe in the early 1800s. Kayaking was officially added to the Olympic roster in Berlin 1936.

Kayak Design/Build

The sit-inside and sit-on-top are the two main kayak designs.  However, all types of kayaks feature the standard paddle with two blades.

Sit-in Kayaks

The sit-in kayak is the original build from ancient times. The paddler sits in the cockpit, legs, and the rest of his/her lower-body resting within the kayak’s hull. You only need to alternate your hands to move the kayak forward or backward.

Sit-on-top Kayaks

The sit-on-tops are a modern build where the paddler sits on top of the kayak’s deck. Unlike the sit-in kayak, with this, the paddler can easily hop on or off the kayak. 

The Canoe vs Kayak

From the design and build, you can tell there are a couple of differences between the kayak and the canoe.

Canoe Kayak
It is entirely open at the top. Features a closed build.
The paddle has only one blade. The paddle has a blade on each end.
Has two seats/benches, one at the bow and the other at the stern. No seats.
It was mainly used for transporting goods and people. They were primarily used for hunting. Bigger kayaks could be used for transport.
Paddling can be a tiring affair as you need to shift the paddle from one side of the canoe to the other. Easy to paddle. The paddler needs to alternate hands to move the kayak forward or backward.  

Pros and Cons of a Canoe

Pros Cons
Its open at the top design makes it easy to climb aboard and get off. Paddling one requires extra effort, especially if you’re alone.
Excellent for cruising in rough waters. Recovering from a capsize can be very challenging, more so if you’re alone.
Have a broader hull that offers excellent stability.  
Have more storage space that makes them ideal for people looking to spend some time out in the waters.  
More extensive deck space offers versatility. You can pack your equipment well within your reach and without too many limitations.  

Pros and Cons of a Kayak

Pros Cons
Great for long distances travel of flat waters. (such as sea and ocean) The closed design at the top of sit-in kayaks make boarding and embarking from one quite tricky.
Faster and easier to maneuver. Limited storage space.
You can quickly recover in-case you capsize using the Eskimo roll safety technique. Moving around a kayak is complicated due to the limited space.
Your items and goods stored in the hull stay dry.  
Easy to paddle.  
Excellent for deep-sea water activities.  

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