Spending time relaxing and quietly sitting in a canoe that’s resting in the middle of a beautiful, shimmering lake is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Or, is it a kayak? Are they the same thing?
When I first started really getting into the technicalities of camping, hiking, and all kinds of outdoor activities, I would use the two terms interchangeably.
However, it wasn’t until a good friend of mine, who happens to be a full-time whitewater rafter, told me that they are actually two different things.
So is it a canoe or kayak? Today we’re going to go through five differences between a canoe and a kayak, looking at their origin all the way to they are designed and what they are used for.
Differences Between A Canoe And A Kayak
For this article, I’ll be dividing the differences into five main points: origin, the paddles, shape and size, movement and sitting position, and the uses!
Almost everything has an origin story, but most origin stories are difficult to pinpoint the exact time it was discovered. This is no different for both the canoe and the kayak.
It is believed that the canoe was made thousands of years ago. In fact, archaeologists discovered remains of a canoe sitting alongside ancient ruins dated to be about 8,000 years old!
In terms of its name, the word “canoe” comes from the word “kenu,” which means “dugout.” It is named this way because of how canoes were made.
Way back then, the canoe was an important means of transportation, trade, and exploration. They were used to move cargo around and to get people from place to place.
Early canoes were made from a large tree trunk that was then hollowed out and shaped. Nowadays, some canoes are still made this way, but companies have developed alternative methods of making a canoe.
On the other hand, it is said that the kayak was developed from a Siberian boat called the “umiak.” Siberian hunters made the umiak out of wooden frames that were tied together with either sinew or plant chords.
Umiaks were slightly larger than the kayaks of today, and they were used for open-sea transportation of cargo or people and were also used for whale hunting.
As the years went by, the kayak was made as a smaller and lighter version of the umiak for the purposes of hunting seals. In the Inuit language, the word “kayak” means “hunter’s boat.”
During those times, the kayak was made from a wooden frame wrapped and covered in sealskin to keep it watertight and to protect it from the freezing waters of the Antarctic.
Nowadays, kayaks are made with all kinds of materials, leaving its hunting days behind and retiring for recreational use instead.
One of the simplest differences between a canoe and a kayak are the paddles used. Generally, canoes use single-bladed paddles, whereas kayaks use double-bladed paddles like in the picture below:
The reason why kayaks use a double-bladed kayak is that riders are seated low and close to the water. A single-bladed paddle won’t provide enough propulsion for the kayak to move forward.
Since a kayak needs to move quickly, a single blade won’t be enough.
It would also be very difficult for riders of a kayak to move their body position left to right constantly and as quickly as possible just to get the boat to move. The kayak will end up wobbling left and right instead of moving forward.
If you don’t believe me, try using a single-bladed paddle on a kayak! It will give you a rigid arm workout, that’s for sure!
#3: Shape And Size
One of the differences you may notice between the canoe and the kayak is the actual shape of the boat. While at first glance they may appear similar, if you take a moment to look carefully, you’ll actually see some distinctive differences.
Canoes have an open deck that kind of looks like those paper boats you fold when as a kid.
Father and son canoeing on Emerald lake
An “open deck” simply means the boat isn’t covered, unlike in a kayak, you’ll notice that the top part and the inside of the boat is completely closed and surrounds, or kind of “wraps” the rider.
In terms of capacity, a kayak is meant to carry 1 person only, although some recreational kayaks can hold 2 people. A canoe, on the other hand, can hold more people since it is larger than a kayak.
#4: Movement And Sitting Position
The shape of these two boats relates to the sitting position. Since the canoe is more spacious, people can choose to sit or kneel while they are inside. Canoes will also typically have wooden planks that a person can sit on.
In a traditional kayak, the person is usually seated on the bottom of the boat with legs stretched forward. But now, modern kayaks have integrated a seat into the design, but the legs still remain outstretched forward.
Because of how it is shaped and how people are positioned while inside the boat, kayaks will be faster and agiler compared to canoes.
Apart from the original purpose of the canoe and kayak, these boats can be used for a variety of different things.
Canoes are relatively bigger than kayaks so they can carry more supplies, making them a popular choice as a sport-utility vehicle meant for transporting or towing other small water vehicles.
Canoes are also ideal for family use and paddling out along calm bodies of water. During our lazy days, my family loves to rent a canoe and paddle out in the middle of a lake where my husband and sons will then start to fish.
Conversely, kayaks are smaller and lighter. They are also very sleek in their design, allowing them to move a lot faster than canoes. This is why kayaks are often used for water sports such as racing and whitewater kayaking.
Ride That Canoe…or Kayak!
The truth is, canoes and kayaks are really different. People just don’t really notice because the terms are often used interchangeably. Hopefully, now you’ve learned something new and can explain it better to people if they are confused.
As a recap, canoes are generally larger, more stable, can carry heavy cargo and accommodate more people. Kayaks are smaller, lightweight, agile, and are used for a lot of popular water sports.
No matter what type of water adventure you’re looking for – a calm ride to the middle of a river or a fast-paced glide along rushing rapids, the canoe and the kayak will have you floating as long as you use them the right way!