What is the Difference Between a Canoe and a Kayak?

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Most people know that the canoe has been around for at least 8,000 years, but did you know that the kayak has been around for several millennia as well? Both can be used for the same reasons, including fishing, travel across lakes and rivers, and recreation, and they look a lot alike.

But there are actually several things that set one apart from the other. Today we are going to take a look at the difference between canoes and kayaks. Let’s get started.

Difference Between a Canoe and a Kayak


The main thing that canoes and kayaks have in common is the basic design. Both have wide frames, and the tops are open (consider the kayaks you sit on top of). But, canoes are much more heavy-duty in design, and they are made to carry a lot of gear. Also, they can hold more people than a kayak, which traditionally holds one to two people.

A kayak is a lot slimmer than a canoe, and it is usually shorter. Most canoes are up to 17 feet in length, and they have taller sides than kayaks. Canoes are also designed to sit higher on the water, and they have plenty of room for people to kneel on the slats or sit on the built-in benches.

Canoes have an open-top, while kayaks have a closed-top design. The most significant resemblance between the two is that there are sit-inside kayaks, but unlike a canoe, you sit in a cockpit-like space rather than in an open space.

Getting In

It is a lot easier to step into a canoe than getting into a kayak. Believe it or not, canoes are much less tippy than kayaks, and you can grab onto the sides of the canoe to hold yourself steady as you climb inside. This isn’t the case with a kayak.

It takes a bit of skill to get into a kayak. One leg has to slide into the cockpit, and at the same time, you will be trying to keep your balance and prevent the kayak from tipping before you even manage to get into it. Yes, you need balance to get into a canoe, but it takes a lot more balance to get into a kayak.

What is the Difference Between a Canoe and a Kayak


While canoes are very handy when fishing or camping, they are not nearly as comfortable as kayaks. Once you get positioned inside a kayak, you will be snug as a bug, and there are even some kayaks that have backrests.

Unfortunately, this type of comfort will not be found in a canoe, and unless you spend extra money on a luxury model, you will be lucky if there are even seats to sit on.


One of the most significant differences between canoes and kayaks is paddling. Canoes are much larger and heavier than kayaks, so it takes a lot more effort to paddle a canoe. In fact, it is normal to see at least two people paddling a canoe, whereas it only requires one person to paddle a kayak.

There are different types of paddles for canoes and kayaks. The paddles for a canoe are a lot shorter than those you would use for a kayak. Also, the shape is different. Canoe paddles have a knob at the top that looks like a “T,” and the bottom section is a blade.

One hand goes at the top and the other in the middle; the paddle is pushed downwards with both hands. This must be done on both sides at once to keep the canoe moving in a straight line, so you need to operate two oars or have another person help with the paddling, using alternate strokes, which can be challenging to synchronize.

It is a lot easier to paddle a kayak. There are two blades on a kayak paddle, and you just have to hold the paddle in the center with both hands. Your hands should be a couple of feet apart, and then you can easily dip the blades alternately to keep the kayak tracking straight.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Canoes and Kayaks

Both canoes and kayaks have several advantages and disadvantages. For instance, canoes are more stable and easier to enter than kayaks, and there is more room for your gear. You also can sit up higher on the water.

On the other hand, you are more exposed in a canoe, and you need to exert more energy to paddle.

Kayaks are more efficient than canoes, and you don’t need to exert as much energy for paddling. In addition, there is more protection from the elements because you sit inside a kayak, and there are dry areas for storing your gear.

Unfortunately, there is not as much space, and since you are sitting closer to the water, you are bound to get a lot wetter than you would in a canoe.

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