Canoe or Kayak - What's right for me?
This may be the first fundamental decision you will have to make when entering the wonderful world of paddlesports. No matter what the choice, and in some cases it may not be a choice but rather a combination of the two, the right decision will lead you to an enjoyable experience that will benefit you physically, mentally, and contribute to the well being of the whole family.
Canoe or Kayak?
This is not a matter of which is best, but rather which boat best suits your needs. Take a few moments and ask yourself a few basic questions:
What do I intend to do with the boat?
I.e. Day paddle, expedition paddling, cottage boat, fishing, recreation.
How will I use it?
I.e. Cottage use, multiple destinations.
What are my needs?
I.e. Accommodate family, lots of gear, speed, stability.
What types of water do I want to use the boat in?
I.e. Small flat-water lakes, large open lakes, small rivers.
How much do I want to carry (capacity)?
I.e. Large family, weekend tripping, extended tripping.
Let's examine this issue further by exploring some basic questions:
Who is going paddling? Will you be going alone? Or taking along a partner? Are you taking the family? Are there young children? Are you bringing along the family dog? Are the persons involved in the plus size range?
A canoe can fit a number of people including those who are too young to paddle. A kayak is generally limited to one or two people and usually all of the crew members are an active part of the propulsion system.
If you are going alone, a kayak may be an ideal choice. A kayak is easier to handle on the water solo than a canoe.
When paddling a kayak without a skirt on, you tend to get water drops from the paddle onto your lap. However, with a skirt you will be kept dry from your chest down.
When paddling a canoe, you may not get the water drops from the paddle, but you will be fully exposed to the elements.
If you are bringing the family along, including infants, a canoe is likely the right choice. If the kids are a little older, then a pair of tandem kayaks, with an adult and child in each boat may be a good solution. If the kids are teens, a solo kayak may appeal to their desire for a bit of independence and freedom.
If you are bringing along the family's furry four-legged friend, this will affect your decision. A Labrador retriever will not fit in a kayak but a smaller dog may. Canoes are more versatile for bringing along the pets.
What are you bringing along with you? What amount of equipment do you intend to bring? What do the participants expect to bring along to keep them satisfied and entertained throughout the trip? What does your trip involve doing?
If you usually pack a lot of gear to go camping, likely you will need a canoe to carry it all. For instance, if you like to pack a gas BBQ grill, folding chairs, a large tent, and lots of snack food and beverages, then a kayak will not do. You will need a canoe, or maybe even a naval landing barge that fits the kitchen sink too. A canoe lends itself to carrying more cargo than a kayak.
If you like the more back to nature, low impact style of camping, then a sea kayak is a good choice. A sea kayak can carry a reasonable amount of cargo but nothing bulky or over sized. You will be able to take it further and faster with less effort than a canoe.
How far are you traveling? Are there any Portages? When it comes to portaging a canoe or a kayak, there are two very different styles involved. Canoes are easier to portage as the weight is equally disturbed on your shoulders. However, getting the canoe to your shoulders can be a challenge for some. Proper technique is involved. When portaging a kayak, it’s a process of using your body to roll the kayak up to your shoulder. The problem with this is that when portaging longer distances all the weight is on one shoulder, which will tire you out more quickly.
Where do you intend to go paddling and how far?
Both types of boats, canoe or kayak, are fun to enjoy for a short day trip or paddle around the lake. If you intend to paddle along small waterways or calm lakes, a canoe is certainly suitable. But, if you intend to travel long, straight-line distances, paddle on open big water, or need to move quickly, a sea kayak is designed for just that style of paddling. Sea kayaks can take on rough water. A canoe will swamp in waters where a sea kayak will thrive. However, a sea kayak can be less maneuverable in tight confines.
When will you be going paddling?
In the colder seasons, both canoeist and kayakers need to dress accordingly. Kayakers will get water drops from the paddle and require a skirt to keep them warm and dry. A canoeist doesn’t have to worry about having a waterproof outer shell.
Colder seasons mean campers tend to need more equipment, therefore a canoe may be more desirable. That being said, experienced sea kayakers have made week long trips through very wet and cold conditions, using their knowledge and expertise.
Why are you getting into paddle sports? Why do you need a boat?
If you are looking to go out for a lazy paddle around a small lake or to go fishing with a friend, a canoe may be the best choice. If you are looking for freedom and independence or want to travel long straight-line distances, a sea kayak will fit your needs. Either boat will give you a fitness work out and will expose you to nature and the outdoors.
How do you want to travel? How far? How fast? How much equipment are you bringing? How comfortable are you with getting wet?
Sea kayaks are an excellent means to travel long distances quickly. Canoes are a little slower but can fit more equipment. Sea kayaks can handle open waters and big waves, but you will get some spray in your face. Canoes can carry more gear, but you will need to stay close to shore and avoid big open water.
No one boat can do it all, at least not very well. So you need to match the qualities and capabilities of the style of boat to your needs and purposes.
Canoes are a multi-purpose vessel. A medium sized canoe can fit 1, 2 or 3 people. You can use it for a recreational family outings, including a picnic. It can be used for overnight excursions and camping. You can easily load it with a reasonable amount of equipment. A canoe can be used for touring or fishing. A novice can easily hop into a canoe on a clear day and enjoy a paddle around a calm lake.
A canoe does present challenges if you intend to be paddling solo, covering long distances, or in rough water. In such a case, a sea kayak may be a more suitable choice.
Sea kayaks are purpose built to fit a crew of one or two, so family outings with small children or non-paddlers are more of a challenge. Space for storage is also more limited than on a canoe. Kayaks are generally faster than a canoe and are therefore often a good choice for touring. Solo paddling in a kayak does not present the same skill challenge as in a canoe. In fact, it's a breeze! Sea kayaks are easier to handle and less tiring in windy conditions. Yet some of the more advanced models will require the paddler to learn certain skills such as the roll over recovery.
Other special kayak designs are made specifically for beginners and recreation. Others are purpose-built for fishing. These are often sit-on-top models or have large cockpit openings and can usually be enjoyed by novices paddling around a calm lake on a clear day.
Both kayaks and canoes are safe. Yet it is recommended that newcomers seek instruction for both safety and to learn the skills necessary to enjoy real satisfaction in the sport.
Kayaks are beautiful sleek boats. They fit like a glove. That look appeals to the adventurous and independent spirit of many paddlers.