Hey everyone, if you have ever thought of getting a canoe or a kayak, you will most likely then start weighing the differences between the two, and which you should get.

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Difference between a canoe and a kayak

The cock pit – Canoes are often referred to as ‘open’ with sides that come high out of the water.

Kayaks on the other hand are known as ‘closed’ with a cockpit for the paddler to sit in. They sit much lower in the water than canoes, to prevent water coming into the kayak through the cockpit, spray skirts are often worn by the paddler.

The seat – Canoes usually have a bench-like seat to sit on so that the paddler is raised up from the boat floor. Most canoes have two seats, and sometimes three. Some canoeists prefer to kneel on the floor. This position is often adopted in challenging conditions or to generate more power behind their paddle strokes.

Kayakers sit in a seat that is usually molded to the bottom of the kayak, with their legs out in front of them. Kayakers use their knees to brace against the sides of the kayak and advanced paddlers will use this to their advantage when paddling.

The paddles – Canoes are paddled with a single paddle (not an oar!), which can be used on either side of the canoe. Paddlers can adopt what is known as a ‘J’ stroke which allows them to paddle in a straight line without having to swap sides all the time.

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Kayakers use a double paddle which has a paddle ‘blade’ on both ends. They will paddle on alternate sides to drive the kayak forwards.


Types of canoes are Recreational Canoes, Whitewater Canoes, Racing Canoes.

Types of kayaks are Recreational Kayaks, Whitewater Kayaks, Touring and Sea Kayaks, Sit on top Kayaks, Inflatable Kayaks, Racing Kayaks.


Kayaks can be traced back over 4,000 years when they were first built by the Native people in the Arctic regions of North America. Crafted using either carved driftwood or whalebone, the kayaks then had animal skins stretched over the shell and were made waterproof by sealing them with whale or caribou fat.

Inuit people primarily used the kayaks for hunting, but they also built larger kayaks to transport families as well as goods. The enclosed design of the kayak is likely to have been because of the icy environment in which the Inuits lived.

The closed design of the kayaks meant the paddlers and their belongings would have stayed dry, and therefore warm, while they were out on the water hunting for food, clothing and fuel.

The design of the kayak also made it more convenient for maneuvering through the icy water and it meant the kayaks made very little disturbance as they moved, which allowed for a more successful hunting trip.

Canoes have been used for thousands of years, with the oldest boat ever discovered being a wooden dugout canoe that was found in Pesse, in the Netherlands in 1955 and has been dated to be 10,000 years old.

However, it’s not just in Europe that evidence of canoes has been found. The oldest boat ever discovered in Africa was also a canoe, the Dunfana Canoe, which was found in Nigeria in 1987 and is said to be 8,000 years old. Not only that, there has also been an 8,000-year-old canoe discovered in Kuahuqiao, in China.

All these ancient canoes were dugout canoes; trees and logs were hollowed out with axes to create a buoyant vessel. By the time the Europeans encountered the Native Americans, the design had changed.

Native Americans were building their canoes using wooden frames and birch bark, sealed together with tree resin.

Like kayaks, canoes were used to transport goods and people. It is thought that the first canoes in North America were used by the native people of the Caribbean to get from island to island.

The main difference between a canoe and kayak

So, the main difference between a kayak and a canoe that you will notice is the appearance. Canoes tend to be larger than kayaks, which may make them more difficult to transport if you don’t live near the water.

Kayaks are designed to be portable (there’s even inflatable) and there are many different styles of kayak, compared to a canoe. If you’re looking to get involved in different sports, there is a lot more choice available for kayakers, as long as you have the right type of kayak.

If you’re trying to choose between the two, whether you opt for a kayak or a canoe is up to your personal preference. Each one has its own benefits, depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

Canoes are great for loading them up with lots of gear and heading out exploring or camping. You can carry more people, kids and dogs in your canoe than you can with most kayaks.

You also don’t need to learn as many technical skills to paddle a canoe as you would to paddle a kayak. Once you’ve got the hang of paddling a canoe, you’re pretty much set.

However, kayaks are a good choice if you’re planning on paddling in coastal waters or rough waters, as they can be easier to maneuver.

While there may not be one better than the other, the one that will be better for you will be the one that suits your lifestyle the best. Now you know the differences between the two, you’ll be able to make the right choice for you.

Which is more popular?

The kayak wins this one easy. Kayaks now outnumber canoes on almost every waterway. People who like to go alone find that a kayak is easier to paddle and control than a canoe. It takes some skill to paddle a canoe in a straight line, especially if you don’t have a partner.

We hope this helps you on your decision some, and really it just comes down to what you like more.

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