One of the most common questions that comes-up with new kayakers is – what is the difference between a kayak and a canoe?
Before talking about their differences, let’s look at their similarities. Both canoes and kayaks are lightweight boats, powered by paddles, and capable of traveling on lakes and rivers. Both kayaks and canoes can operate in very shallow water and can even have small motors attached to them. Both kayaks and canoes are great for fishing, with a canoe you can even have multiple people fishing from the same boat. So those are the similarities – now for the differences.
The best way to think about it is if you’d rather drive an SUV or a sports car. The SUV is big, can fit more people and gear, and gives you lots of space. It’s not the fastest car in the world but it’s big and dependable. Now let’s look at the sports car, it’s fast, handles well, but can only fit a maximum of two people. While you won’t have nearly as much space for yourself or your gear as an SUV, you’ll make up with it for style and speed.
See where we are going with this? Think of the canoe as the SUV of personal water crafts. A canoe is big, can be big enough to fit a family of four. You can’t take a canoe in rough ocean waters, and it’s definitely not going to far well in white water rapids. However on a nice calm later or larger river a canoe can offer a little slice of paradise. The kayak, on the other hand is the sports car, it’s more fun to paddle, can go faster, manuvers better – you can take it to the ocean or on a peaceful lake.
Below is a great video from expert village about getting started canoing and kayaking.
Canoe and Kayak History
It should come as no surprise that canoes and kayaks have evolved quite a bit over the years. Early canoes were often just hollowed-out trees or tree bark sewn together with tree roots. Kayaks were created by Inuit people who occupy the seas of the Artic and Northern Pacific. Unlike canoes early kayaks often had sealskin surrounding a wooden or bone skeleton. The word kayak actually means “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat.” Kayaks were invented to catch food and that may also be the reason why kayak fishing is still so popular today.
Kayaking has become a competitive sport thanks to white water kayaking. This sport has become so popular it is even included in the summer olympics. This has a lot to do with the fact that kayaks can navigate intense white water rapids better than just about anything. It’s an intense sport and very dangerous, and given the history of the kayak…not it’s original intended purpose.
Canoeing has remained a purely recreational sport. Nobody tends to go too fast or navigate quick-moving water on a canoe, it’s just not what it was built for. In World War 2 kayakers were used by special forces as a way to travel quietly on the water.