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What Is The Difference Between Kayak And Canoe?

Difference of kayak and canoe

To a lot of people, the kayak and canoe are thought to be the same. But there are some big differences between a kayak and canoe.

In this article we will look at the difference between kayak and canoe and how to tell them apart.

But being mindful there are a hybrid of kayaks and canoe designs. Some characteristics are taken from one design and incorporated into another. A mixture can blur the lines between the two.

As well there are many sub categories of each type of kayak and canoe. As an example for a kayak, the types of kayaks are: Touring kayaks, whitewater kayaks, sit in recreational kayaks, fishing kayaks, inflatable kayaks and sit on top kayaks, etc.

Here is the main difference between kayak and canoe.


What is the difference between a kayak and canoe?



     Kayak (Sit In.)

A canoe normally has an open length from bow to stern. Or open cockpit. The kayak has a deck and has an enclosed cockpit.
You sit on a high seat, or kneel in a canoe. A kayaker sits low, with legs outstretched in front of them.


A canoe sits higher in the water and has higher sides, almost like a boat. A kayak sits very low in the water. A kayaker has a very low center of gravity in it.


A canoe may seat two or three people. The kayak is normally designed for one person.
Canoes can be more stable, because of their wider width. A kayak because of its lower profile and streamline design can go faster.


A canoe can carry more weight.


The shorter kayaks are lighter and are suitable for carrying on car roof racks.
Canoes are more open so water can spray in.


Some kayaks can have a spray skirt. Which stops the spray and water from coming in.


Canoes are heavier. Kayaks can generally turn quicker.
As you sit higher in a canoe, your vision is better. So it might be suited for fishing. For rougher waters the kayak is more suitable.


A canoe can be load and unloaded with gear quickly. If capsized, sit-inside kayaks can be rolled upright
A single bladed paddle or “T” handle is used. A double bladed paddle is used.


Difference between kayak canoe


With the above points, these are generalities. As an example, a lot of sit in kayaks are designed for one person, but you can buy tandem kayaks that seat two people.

Also with some of the designs, they may cross into each other.  But generally a canoe is more open and sits higher in the water.  A sit-in kayak is enclosed with a deck and uses a double bladed paddle.


Difference between canoe and kayak.


Different types of kayaks.

Here is some brief information on the different types of kayaks available and characteristics.

Touring kayaks are designed long. This helps them to track well in the water and can be paddled a long way. Also a skeg, or rudder helps tracking and steering, and can slice through choppy waters.

Whitewater kayaks are designed to turn quickly.

Folding kayaks are designed to be transported easily. These can be made out of plastic or a waterproof material.

A fishing kayak can have rod mounts. Some are wider and stable to suit the angler, turning and casting. Some fishing models are even stable enough to stand up on in calm waters. A lot of fishing kayaks, are sit on top kayaks.

Some fishing and touring kayaks have storage for the extra equipment.

Kayaks are generally for one person, although you get tandem sit inside kayaks and sit on top tandem kayaks.

A shorter kayak is lighter and easier to secure a kayak to roof racks for travel. Also the lighter weight is easier for one person to lift on top of the racks.

For rougher waters, the kayak is more suitable.

Early designed kayaks used seal skins to stretch over a skeleton frame. As the kayak sits low it was ideal for hunting along the shorelines for the Inuit people in the artic regions.

Also the lower profile kayak design was used by Special Forces soldiers during world war two, to do military operations around waterways.


Sit in kayak vs sit on top kayak. What is the difference?

Sit in kayak vs sit on top kayak


A sit in kayak has the kayaker is inside the cockpit and enclosed. You are protected more from the elements. However the kayak sits lower in the water.

A sit on top kayak the person is above the waterline and legs exposed to spray. You can re-enter the sit on top easily, and get out of them quickly.


Kayak vs sit on top kayak

Types of Canoes.

Racing canoes are more streamlined.

Recreational canoes are for general water activities and are suited for calmer waters.

Whitewater canoes can be maneuvered easily and are shorter.

A square stern canoe can fit an outboard motor.


More information on canoes.

A canoe is suitable for calmer water and activities like fishing. As you can move around a little bit more, cast, play and land the fish.

Canoes can be made from all types of materials, like aluminum, fiberglass and plastic.   Some handcrafted wooden canoes are beautifully made and have a strong following.

With a canoe you have a single bladed paddle with a “T” shaped design handle. You might have one person paddle on one side. The other person paddles, on the other side.

For larger canoes, you will need a boat trailer to transport it. As it will be too heavy to put on top of a car roof.

Canoes can sit more than one person, and can have two, three to four seats.

Early canoes were made by digging and burning out a log. Other primitive canoes were made by shaping and joining big pieces of tree bark together.


The difference between kayak and canoe, FAQ.

Is it easier to kayak or canoe?

A wider canoe will be more stable for general recreational use on the water.

However a kayak is quicker and easier to paddle. So it will depend on what you want to use it for. Such as fishing, touring or racing.


What is a closed decked kayak?

The top part of the sit in kayak. Which surrounds the cockpit.


What are the pros and cons of a sit on top kayak?

You are more exposed to the water spray and chop. You might get wet more.

Strong cold winds can be an issue with a sit on top kayak. With a sit in kayak you are protected more.

A lot of sit on top kayaks are very stable. You can enter and exit a sit on top easier and quicker.

Today the sit on top kayaks are one piece and are cheaper to produce. Also there are a greater number of designs that will suit different water sports and activities.

A sit on top kayak, may not travel as fast as a traditional sit in type kayak.


Why does my kayak have holes in the bottom?

In a sit on top kayak, the holes are called scupper holes.

The scupper holes help drain the water when the spray or water is splashed in.

If the water didn’t drain out, the kayak would get weighed down with the water and be harder to paddle.

Also with the weight of the water, the kayak would not ride the waves as easy and may tip easier, or get swamped.


Do scupper holes need to be plugged?

This will depend on where you are kayaking and the conditions.

For calm waters, you can plug the scupper holes up. (You should leave a couple of scupper holes open though. In places that you don’t get you wet.)

For using the kayak in choppy water and there is a chance of a lot of water getting in, the scupper holes are best left unplugged. So the water can drain out easier.

Scupper plugs should not be put in when using the kayak in the ocean. As there is more chance you will get spray and water in the cockpit.


Do kayaks flip easy?

A modern recreation kayak in calm water, is stable and hard to tip.

Some specialized kayaks can tip easier. Such as a sea kayak is designed to slice through waves bow on, but can be tippy side on.

For more information on safety in a kayak, click on – Kayak Fishing Safety Gear.

Conclusion. – The difference between kayak and canoe.

Fishing kayak

Both canoe and kayaks designs have positives and negatives.

There are a lot of different sub types and hybrid designs of kayaks and canoes.

One major difference between the sit in kayak and canoe is, the kayak is enclosed in. The canoe is open and sits higher on the water.

We hope you enjoyed the difference between kayak and canoe. Remember to always wear a life jacket, or PFD and stay safe around the water.


Additional ResourcesHow To Tie A Kayak To Roof Racks

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