While they are both small water crafts that can be used for fun, travel or fishing, canoes and kayaks are relatively distinct and feature some key differences.
Nevertheless, both are effective in roughly similar circumstances and both offer a good way to access water on a budget.
Compare & Contrast
Open Vs. Closed Deck
The primary design difference between canoes and kayaks is the deck: sit-inside kayaks have a deck, while canoes do not. Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a deck in the same way that sit-inside models do, as they don’t have a central cavity at all.
Sit-on-top kayaks are more akin to heavily sculpted paddleboards than canoes or sit-inside kayaks.
Single Vs. Double Paddles
Kayaks are typically designed to be propelled with a double-bladed paddle, while canoes are designed for a single-bladed paddle.
You’ll keep a kayak paddle in front of you with your hands about shoulder-width apart then use an alternating stroke that doesn’t require you to shift your grip on the paddle.
By contrast, when alternating between sides with a single bladed canoe paddle, you’ll need to adjust your grip with each stroke. Although this is initially somewhat challenging to employ, it becomes rather easy with practice.
Sitting Low Vs. Sitting High
When piloting a kayak, you usually sit on a very low seat, lean back against the backrest and paddle or pedal. On the other hand, you typically kneel or sit on a raised seat to operate a canoe. Hence, the rider is closer to the surface of the water in a kayak than a canoe.
However, a few modern kayaks – particularly fishing-oriented models – feature adjustable seats which can be raised several inches off the deck giving the angler a slightly elevated position.
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Additionally, some kayaks are stable enough that the angler can comfortably stand while fishing. This is not ordinarily possible in a canoe.
Because they lack a deck, canoes are lighter than kayaks of the same length. However, there are a number of light-weight materials used to make kayaks which allows some of them to rival canoes in weight.
Anglers often outfit their kayaks with several accessories which also contributes to the weight of the craft.
Canoes are constructed in a no-frills manner. They consist of a hull, a few benches and – if you’re lucky – a couple of rope cleats.
By contrast, kayaks – even recreational models – typically feature sculpted, ergonomic seating, paddle rests, a variety of storage options and even cup holders.
Sea kayaks may not have as many bells and whistles as smaller, fishing-oriented kayaks do, but they still have more creature comforts regarding seating and ergonomics than canoes do.
While most modern kayaks that are designed for anglers feature several water-tight storage compartments and wells, most canoes can carry more equipment than similarly sized kayaks can.
Therefore, anglers who are planning to bring extra gear may be better served by a canoe.
You can invert a canoe and place it directly on top of your car’s roof rack but you need to purchase a special mounting bracket to make most roof racks capable of securely holding a kayak.
However, short kayaks are easier to rest right-side up in a pickup truck bed while a canoe needs to lie on its side.
You can fall out of any boat and drown, but sit-inside kayaks may trap your legs inside should you roll upside down in the water. This isn’t a problem with canoes or sit-on-top kayaks as you’ll separate from the craft easily upon flipping.
Kayaks offer more ways to keep your gear securely attached to the craft which provides additional safety benefits should your boat capsize.
It is also important to realize that canoes may easily fill with water in the case of a mishap which can make retrieval difficult.
Sit-inside kayaks may fill with water too but sit-on-top kayaks feature self-draining ports that help eliminate this problem.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about the materials used in kayak and canoe construction. But most canoes are built out of laminated wood while most kayaks are made from plastic, fiberglass or Kevlar.
Because kayaks are made from a greater variety of materials, you can enjoy greater flexibility in terms of cost, weight, and performance when trying to find the perfect craft for you.
In general, canoes are better for all-around family fun but kayaks are the best choice for serious anglers.
While you can pack several duffle bags and a family-sized cooler into a large canoe, even a small fishing kayak will contain enough space for a couple of rods and enough tackle to last you for days. Premium models will also hold live wells, bait wells and sonar packages.