Kayaks and canoes are both small boats that are ideal for paddling excursions. They both use paddles and appear quite similar. In fact, if you are new to paddling, it may be a bit confusing trying to tell the difference between a canoe and a kayak. Even for the more experienced paddlers, there is a never-ending canoe vs kayak argument. Nevertheless, these boats have fundamental characteristics in their shape and design that make them distinctly different.

Here are the major differences between canoes and kayaks.

1. Cockpit Design

Canoes are larger, heavier “open-decked” boats with their sides pretty high and out of the water. They are entirely open and have no cockpit. Kayaks are smaller, lighter closed-decked boats (especially the traditional sit-in kayaks) built for speed and supplied with a cockpit for the kayaker to sit on. Kayaks also sit much lower in the water than canoes.

2. Paddling Techniques

A canoe is propelled using a single-bladed paddle, which can be applied on either side of the boat. The single-bladed paddle conserves energy and enables canoeists to travel farther for longer periods of time. A kayak is propelled using a double-bladed paddle for higher speed. The blades are on both ends of the paddle and allow kayakers to paddle on alternative sides of their boats to drive forward faster.

3. Seats

Canoes have bench-like seats that raise paddlers up from the boat floor and provide a convenient, elevated paddling position. Many canoes have two seats, even three, and can be paddled from a kneeling position. A kayak comes with a single seat that is typically molded to the bottom of the boat. You sit on the bottom of the kayak’s hull and have your legs stretched out to lower your center of balance.

4. Performance

Canoes are suited for calmer waters while kayaks can perform well in rougher weather conditions. Likewise, kayaks have better tracking and are easier to maintain in a straight line than canoes. However, most kayaks can only hold one person. Canoes are better suited for family and group trips because they are more spacious and can easily fit two or three people.

Pros and cons of a canoe


1. Can easily hold lots of gear.

2. Best for longer trips because of higher carrying capacity and greater comfort.

3. More stable and harder to overturn than kayaks.

4. Allows you to vary your sitting position for enhanced comfort, particularly during longer trips.

5. Allows you to stand or kneel as you paddle, with no minimal risk of overturning.

6. Lower risk of getting very wet, unless paddling in whitewater.

7. Easier to get in and out of a canoe.

8. Perfect for family excursions. You can bring your kids and dogs.


1. Larger, heavier and more difficult to transport.

2. Canoeing skills are somewhat difficult to learn and master, especially for a solo paddler.

3. A canoe takes in more water and makes you really wet when paddling on whitewater.

4. Requires more effort to drive at top speed; the single-bladed paddle is less efficient than a double-bladed paddle.

Pros and cons of a kayak


1. You can easily and quickly learn and master basic kayaking skills.

2. Kayaks move faster with less effort compared to canoes.

3. Kayaks are lighter, easier to transport and more maneuverable than canoes.

4. There is greater variety in kayaking disciplines than in canoeing.

5. Kayaks handle whitewater far better than canoes; you will be drier too.

6. Double-bladed paddles used in kayaking are more efficient than single-bladed canoeing paddles.

7. A kayak allows you to be closer to and feel more connected with the water than a canoe.


1. More advanced kayaking techniques require a lot of time to learn and master.

2. Double-bladed paddles are heavier and more exhausting than single-bladed paddles.

3. It is often very scary moving from flatwater to whitewater kayaking.

4. You will really be wet when you come from most of your kayaking sessions.

5. For learners and improvers, using spray skirts is often very scary.

So which one should you get for your paddling trip, a canoe or a kayak? That really depends on your skill level, the nature of your trip, where you plan to paddle, expected comfort level, the boat style you like and the activities you intend to undertake. If you would like to take one or two people with you, carry as much stuff as necessary or adjust your paddling position frequently during the trip, a canoe is ideal for you. But if you want to move at a breathtaking speed, feel closer to the water and cover a longer distance, a kayak would suit you best.

Want a great boat for your excursion? Why not get a stable, comfortable, safe and affordable one from Captain Mike’ Kayak Academy. Check out some of our finest boats by visiting the “Captain Mike’ Kayak Academy” site.



Recommended Posts