We want you to be as happy as possible with your boat purchase and with that goal in mind, we've created this guide. When you know more, you can better guide yourself and us as we try to help. This guide is just a starting point but maybe it will help you ask better questions and get better answers. We figure that an informed shopper is more likely to become a happy customer. Look over our essays, maybe something here will help you better understand how a well chosen canoe or kayak can add quality to your life. Isn't that what it is actually all about?
If you know you want to get out on the water and paddle your own boat but aren't sure how to decide between canoe or kayak, we hope this section will help you appreciate both the similarities and the differences. Please remember that they are more similar to each other than each is to other boats. In both cases, you slip into natural time when you get into them and take off with paddle in hand. You engage your body, boat and paddle with the elements of wind, current, and water as soon as you leave shore. Both canoe and kayak are intimate, and you control them as extensions of your body. The differences between them can be described in relatively neutral terms despite the fact that this is seldom done. People can easily identify strongly with one type of boat or the other and the position can be taken as a point of honor and even sadly, occasionally with insult. We say if honor exists within this activity let's be pleased we are paddlers rather than making a big deal between the double or single blade. Much of the joy of paddling kayak or canoe comes from the feel of the water and that wonderful appreciation of fluid motion that can come to you through your boat as you move across the surface whether spinning, carving, or gliding along.
Canoes were developed where wood was readily available. Although the Canadian canoe is the one most people think of when the term is used, there are many other forms used around the world. The light, birch bark canoe was used across the North where lakes and rivers are separated by carries. Large sea-going canoes were used on the Northwest Coast and in Polynesia. Dugout canoes were common in our South and South America for river travel. Because of the wide variation in styles it is hard to make a definitive statement about the qualities of the canoe that are distinct from other craft. They are paddled standing, kneeling, and sitting, solo, tandem, or with large crews. They were paddled on inland waters and the open sea. In some cultures, sea-going canoes had outriggers to improve their seaworthiness for ocean trips.
Kayaks were primarily a product of the cold northern seas where wood was scarce and skins had to be stretched to form a waterproof shell. Kayaks were paddled kneeling or sitting, solo, tandem, and (rarely) as triples. Kayaks were not as widespread as the canoe and its variations. The kayak was worn as much as ridden and the enclosed nature of the boat kept cold freezing waters away from the paddler. The canoe is most frequently paddled with a single "stick" and the kayak with a double bladed variation although the peoples of the Bering Sea often paddled kayaks using a single blade. The choice of paddle is often the quality most distinguishing one boat form from the other. It is more difficult to control a boat with the single blade of the canoe paddle than with the double blade. Use of the kayak paddle is almost intuitive. It is relatively easy to figure out the cause and effect relationships between paddle stroke and boat movement. The growing popularity of kayaking is no doubt related to their ease of use. Kayaks are the most seaworthy of small craft, being capable of entering rapids and large sea waves with equal aplomb. If this is so, why would someone want to canoe? The canoe is more transportable than the kayak. It is easier to carry, easier to load and unload with gear, and easier to enter and exit. The canoe offers an open feeling and allows the paddler to move around. The difficulty in learning to control a canoe using the single blade has a positive side to some simply because it can be challenging. It can be remarkably maneuverable due to the ease of passing the blade beneath the boat and rotating the paddle 360 degrees in the hands. A kayak would be more maneuverable with a canoe paddle.
Finally, there can be an aesthetic difference between paddling each of the boats. More often than not, you sit lower in the kayak and this makes some people feel closer and better connected to the water. Many canoeists prefer the better view offered by a higher position and the control offered by legs closer to the vertical stance we are most accustomed to.
In the end, it is undeniable that the best paddlers do both and that skill from one discipline can make you an even better paddler in the other.