Are you new to paddling? You must be trying hard to understand the difference between canoe and kayak, it will be a tough task and also quite confusing as both the terminology differs from one country to another.

In a canoe, the paddler has to kneel to use one single-bladed paddle and move the boat ahead.

In a kayak, the paddler uses double-bladed paddle and with their power pull its blade through the water to go ahead on the alternate sides.

A Canoe and a Kayak both are raced from the club to the Olympic level, with a little variation in their boat design as per the type of water & discipline –slalom, freestyle, sprint, canoe polo, marathon, Wildwater, para canoe, dragon boat, and ocean racing.

Possibly, you might want to know some major differences between canoe and kayak, so without wasting any time let us check the difference in detail.

Canoe vs Kayak

Open and Closed Design

Open and Closed Design

One biggest difference between both types is in its boats themselves. The canoes are a bit heavier and bigger, with the wide frame & open top —just like the rowboat —made to carry many passengers and gear. On the other hand, kayaks are sleeker and smaller boats made for recreational or speed purposes, like open-water paddling, river tours, or whitewater rapids.

There’re some different kinds of canoes, however, what you will see trolling over the lakes close to you is called the “recreational” style canoe. Normally it is 13 – 17 feet long, and canoes have the tall sides & sit higher on water compared to kayaks, and paddler sits on the benches and kneels on the slats running the beamwidth.

Whereas some kayaks are open-top —called as “sit-on-top” type—most of them are made with the closed cockpit, which means kayakers have to “sit inside” a craft with a kayak covering the legs. Essentially, when riding a canoe, you have to “wear” a kayak.

Seating Position

Seating Position

Canoes generally have the bench type of seat so that a paddler can be raised from its boat floor. Most of the canoes have got 2 seats or 3 seats and some prefer kneeling on the floor. Often this position is adopted in challenging conditions and creates more power behind the paddle strokes.

Kayakers have a seat that is molded at the kayak bottom, with the legs out. Kayakers mostly use their knees for bracing against the kayak sides & advanced paddlers can use it to their benefit when paddling.


Kayaks are made to be more agile and faster compared to canoes since they’re lighter and smaller. In hands of the professional paddler, many canoes are made to travel fast than kayaks. But, kayaks are popular for their faster speeds, whereas canoes are popular for higher stability & roominess. 


Canoe vs Kayak

Whereas a canoe will be a little more comfortable than the kayak, but the best tradeoff is in the paddling. Since canoes are heavier and bulkier, they will take more effort for padding, often needing two people. Generally, the learning curve to paddle a canoe will be steeper than for the kayak.

The kayak paddles have got a blade on their every end made for use by one single paddler, whereas canoe paddles are a bit shorter, with one single blade made to dip straight in the water and knob at the other end. Paddlers grip a canoe paddle with their one hand in the middle for the power and the other hand at their knob end of a paddle to get control. Both the person has to strokes alternatively to keep their canoe tracking straight.

Pros for Canoeing

  • A person can carry plenty of gear in one canoe
  • They’re perfect for longer expeditions because of their comfort & carrying capacity
  • Canoes are much stable than kayaks and tough to capsize
  • You may vary the sitting position and making it comfortable than kayaking –particularly for the long distances
  • You can even stand up
  • When you have mastered the skills, it becomes fast and simple than kayaking
  • You will get wet in a canoe unless paddling over whitewater
  • You get a good view than in a kayak
  • Portaging regularly on the trip is easier than doing it in a kayak –particularly if you’re carrying plenty of gear
  • One can even bring young children and pets out on the water
  • Canoes are simple to get in & out of

Cons for Canoeing

  • Big, heavy, and tough to transport
  • It’s initially tough to master the basic paddling skills –particularly a single paddler
  • Canoes take on a little more water than the kayaks when you are paddling on the whitewater
  • Single paddles are very less efficient than the double paddles
  • Takes a higher effort to paddle the canoe at the top speed than paddling a kayak at the top speed

Pros for Kayaking

  • Kayaks are easier faster to maneuver
  • Double-bladed paddles make powering and tracking the boat simpler 
  • Better stability and handling in the open water and waves
  • Kayaks are versatile, with the models made for various uses
  • Dry storage for the gear
  • Advanced safety methods—like an Eskimo roll —will right the tipped kayak
  • Simple to transport, particularly for folding and inflatable boats

Cons for Kayaking

  • Sitting close to the water means you are possible to get wet
  • Limited movement with the closed cockpit
  • Faster to learn its basics, but tough to learn the most advanced techniques
  • Not much stable than the canoe on the calm waters

Canoe or Kayak: Which One is Better?

Now you are aware of the difference between both canoe and kayak, the question is which one is the better option. Now it is not a question for an avid kayaker, because for them it’s an easy answer; kayaking is anytime better than both. And if you ask a fan of the canoe a similar question and they will likely say canoeing is better than kayaking. 

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