So You Ask: What Is The Difference Between A Kayak And A Canoe?

Best options and Reviews

If you’d been into paddling once, you might have confused a canoe for a kayak or the other way around. For those who haven’t seen one, knowing what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe could be a tricky game. But the fact is it just takes some knowledge about the physical features to know which is which.

Both of these boats could be used for recreational or professional activities. The Olympic games could be a good start for those who don’t have a single idea how each vessel works. But one thing is for sure: these two will give you a unique water adventure.

So what’s the sense of setting an identifier? You should know that there are limitations to each of these floaters. It offers different levels of dexterity either for beginners and professionals alike. Also, the activities you can do in a kayak or canoe varies widely.

The build of the boat

It’s easy to spot a kayak or a canoe based on its build. The top of a canoe is open and there are wooden beams that serve as the seats of the passengers. This is rarely padded as there’s a high chance of it getting douched with water.

A kayak, on the other hand, comes with a variety of styles but the cockpit is usually covered and has sealed storage compartments. The sit-inside type is one of the most popular, as it requires the paddler to slide inside unlike the canoe where the paddler/s would have to sit on the wood beams.

When it comes to the size, there’s no specific measurement as to which one is bigger. Canoes can be wider but it can also be as narrow as a typical kayak depending on how many passengers it could house. It’s also elongated and wider at the midpoint to accommodate the paddler.

What is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? One prominent feature of a canoe that will set it apart from a kayak is its wider and sharper stern. It cuts through water really well but it depends on the technique, which I’ll discuss later if it can be at par with that of a kayak.

When on water, a kayak sits lower in the water compared to a canoe that has taller sides. Some gears used on these boats are also varying. Most kayaks will need a skirt spray to avoid the water from flooding the inside of the boat. Canoes, on the other hand, needs less of this as well as other flotation devices. Those who use canoes only require basic life vests.

Paddle structure

Another obvious physical feature that differentiates a canoe and a kayak is the paddle. Those for kayaks are double-bladed while those for canoes are single-bladed. Both vessels can come with one or more paddles depending on the passengers that it can accommodate.

Although canoe paddles could also have parts made from aluminum, it’s usually carved from wood. The structure of the blades between these two vessels also looks different. Canoe paddles have wider and geometrical blades compared to kayaks. Still, knowing what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe in terms of paddles might depend on the size of the vessel.

Canoes can have double paddles attached to a shaft that has to be feathered. This is a bit straining for a solo paddler, as this requires more effort to bring the blade back to the water. Whether this would give better speed, some factors may affect the tracking but it’s safe to say that double paddles give a canoe an advantage. However, the disadvantage here is that paddles that have to be feathered can be the cause of tendonitis.

On the other hand, kayak paddles have its advantage. Double blades in one rod mean easier maneuvering.

But the question is this: Can you interchange paddles between the two boats? Yes, you can. But keep in mind that the tracking could be different than what you got used to. Canoe paddles could be heavier and it might strain your hands if you’re used to light kayak paddles alone.

What is the difference between a kayak and a canoe: Paddling and Riding

When using kayaks, the paddlers have to seat and spread their legs on top of or inside the cockpit. The surfaces are also contoured to give the passenger a better footing without slipping on the kayak. There are also thigh and knee braces used in kayaks as the paddlers would have to use these parts of their bodies to maneuver the boat.

Canoe riders, on the other hand, can either sit on the wooden beams perpendicular to the sides of the boat or kneel on the cockpit. Kneeling on the canoe will give better strength and paddling especially if the passenger is riding for a competition.

what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe

In terms of paddling, the canoe could be the most tiresome as the passenger has to alternate on the sides of the boat. However, there’s a technique called ‘J’ stroke that allows the rider to paddle in a straight line with minimal alternating motions on the other side.

This isn’t applicable to kayaks as the double-bladed paddle is made or the alternating movement. Still, it’s less straining compared to the basic paddling technique for a canoe. So what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? You already got the idea.

If we’re going to assess it on the stability aspect, canoes are way stable as it has a bigger build, thus more buoyancy. Kayaks are also good trackers given the necessary skills to avoid it from capsizing during extreme conditions.


Just like kayaks, canoes can be a recreational, whitewater, or racing boats. However, it’s rare for canoes to be used on touring because of its open-cockpit style that’s prone to wetness. It also doesn’t have self-bailing holes to ward off the water. You have to manually scoop it out of the vessel to avoid it from wetting your belongings or sinking the boat.

Kayaks are preferred by those who are into riding the rapids as it sticks to the body, especially the sit-inside type. When water accumulates, there’s a handy spray skirt to keep the vessel from sinking. It offers a better shield against the waves and it will not be washed out easily. Like what most kayakers would describe it, the vessel is like the sports car of paddling. What is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? Kayaks are sprinters!

Canoes can also be used in racing but it requires a high level of skill to fight off the waves without filling the cockpit with water or being thrown away from it. Many times, this is used for a laidback purpose like family bonding by the lake, fishing, or transporting bigger things. It’s also a handy ride for a big group as it can carry more individuals than the kayak.

Speed and tracking

It might be obvious already but kayaks are simply made to be agile and fast-trackers. This is due to the fact that paddlers use it for long trips like crossing an ocean border or staying afloat while fishing. Although a canoe can also do this, there’s an undeniable slow down on speed if used by a typical passenger. It takes one professional paddler for a canoe to gain the same tracking of a kayak.

Most kayaks are slimmer, and with the right hull design, it can cut through water faster than other types. But the trick comes in the size. The longer the vessel is, the faster it can track on water. If we’re going to pit a 12 feet long kayak with a 16 feet canoe with passengers of the same dexterity level, the canoe might have the edge. There’s a formula for this if you’re thinking about what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe in terms of speed.

A fat canoe and a slim kayak can actually have the same tracking. The key here, if you want to increase speed, is to go for the slim build as it has fewer surfaces that will get wet and acquire friction.

The beginner’s choice

A kayak fan would likely say that kayaking is the best for beginners the same with how canoe paddlers would brag about their boat. Both of the vessels have varying skill levels that you can discover. If you’re into over-packing your stuff for a day in the lake, a canoe will be your best choice. Kayaks are for those who want ease of paddling and speed.

You see, choosing one on your first water adventure depends on the activities you want to do and the paddling you can work on. It’s fun to have your family in a canoe during a quiet afternoon but it’s also exciting to ride the rapids with a kayak.

There’s nothing to lose in choosing any of these rides. Just be specific about your goals though! You can do this by knowing what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe.


what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe


-A kayak is a sprinter. It cuts through water fast and you can use it comfortably given that you get the right structure.

-There are many kayaking techniques compared to that of canoeing.

-Kayaks are light that you can drag it alone back to the shore on into the water.

-It’s easy to maneuver a kayak during strong currents.

-Your stuff is safe from the water if you have a built-in and sealed compartment. However, it’s a different story if you capsize.

-You can bring another person with you using a tandem kayak. Kayaking is not always a solo sport!

Nays. . . 

-Tandem kayaking might pose directional issues especially if you don’t agree about a certain technique or destination.

-Kayaking won’t always leave you dry after a trip.

-Spray skirts and tons of gears could be daunting for a solo and beginner kayaker.

-Kayaks are more prone to tipping in comparison with canoes.

- What is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? Kayaks sit low in the water.


what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe


-You can carry a whole lot of gears and stuff with a canoe. But be mindful of the placement to avoid the vessel from having balance issues.

-Canoes are more stable and it’s impossible to capsize during a calm weather.

-This vessel has a large room to move within unlike kayaks where you have to keep your legs straight in front.

-It’s easier to master canoeing than kayaking.

-It sits higher in the water and the sides are higher which makes it safe against wetness.

-A canoe can accommodate more people.

-It’s easier get in and out of canoe compared to a kayak.

-If you’re into enjoying nature, a canoe is better as you can stand up and take a good view of the surroundings.

Lows. . . 

-Canoes are heavy and it takes so much strength to lift it back to shore.

-You have to achieve a certain paddling skill to be at par with the speed of a kayak.

-Having paddles that need to be feathered is a challenge if you’re alone.

-Single paddling, on the other hand, could also be difficult, as you have to alternate on the sides with extra effort than the double bladed ones.

-Using a canoe in the ocean and bigger bodies of water is difficult than using it in a river or lake.

-Maneuvering a canoe is difficult, especially for beginners.

-Canoes don’t have self-bailing holes and it can sink when a large amount of water enters the cockpit.

So what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe? These points I gave here would be enough to set the difference. Just set your paddling goals and you’re golden. Is there anything you want to add? Ping me below in the comment section and we’ll discuss it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Me
You know water sports - you know me! My life is all about it. Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Fishing, Snorkeling and so much more. I love to share my passion and knowledge with all of you. 
Table of Contents
Primary Item (H2)