If you’re new to the world of watersports you may find it hard to differentiate between canoes and kayaks. They are similar vessels that are used to navigate rivers and lakes across the globe. However, they are rather different in appearance, size, and function.
So, what’s easier: kayaking or canoeing?
Canoeing is more difficult to get the hang of compared to kayaking, especially if you want to head out on the water alone. Canoes are heavier and more cumbersome than kayaks and they require a more advanced technique and a few different paddling strokes to control.
The methods used to navigate using these vessels are similar. Both are propelled using a hand-rowed paddle. However, canoes being far larger and wider than kayaks require different techniques and utilise single-bladed paddles rather than dual-bladed paddles.
The stability of a canoe and kayak differ too. Canoes are wider and longer than kayaks which makes them more stable in the water. So does that mean they’re easier to use than kayaks? No, not exactly. There are pros and cons to both hand-rowed vessels, canoes have stability on their side, kayaks have tracking and ease of paddling on their side.
In this read, we’ll be assessing both canoes and kayaks while looking at what features make them harder or easier for a beginner entering the watersports world…
What is a Canoe?
A canoe is a lightweight, long, and narrow vessel that’s usually pointed at both ends. It has an open top and is propelled forward by one or more seated rowers using single-bladed paddles.
It’s believed that the canoe was invented by the indiginous people of Canada. The vessel has been used for centuries by people to transport goods, navigate rivers between villages, and by explorers to enter wild untouched landscapes.
Nowadays, canoes are widely used for recreation and competitions. However, they are still used by tribes in the remote areas of the world as a means of travel.
Canoes are able to accommodate relatively large loads, especially when compared to other self-propelled vessels such as the kayak. This makes them a popular choice among explorers and recreational paddlers that need to navigate waters with plenty of provisions for multi-day expeditions.
The Pros & Cons of Learning to Canoe:
There are pros and cons of canoes that affect how easy they are for beginners to learn with. Ultimately, you need to weigh up these pros and cons to figure out whether canoeing is the best option for you.
The Pros of Canoeing:
- Canoes are fantastic for touring, they can accommodate a lot of gear
- Canoes are more comfortable for long-distance work as you can change your seating position in the boat regularly
- Canoes are very stable in the water thanks to their wide base and long length
- You’re less likely to get wet in a canoe
- Canoes are easier to get in and out of compared to kayaks
- Mastering advanced skills with a canoe is easy once you have the basics down
The Cons of Canoeing:
- Solo paddling in a canoe is difficult to say the least
- Canoes are heavy so paddlers tire quicker than those using a kayak
- Canoes are pretty slow, no matter how hard you push which can makes progress far slower too
- It can be hard to keep a canoe in a straight line for the beginner, especially if going solo
- Due to the single-bladed paddles, keeping in time with each other can be difficult if paddling as a pair or group
- They are large and cumbersome to transport and get in the water as a solo paddler
What is a Kayak?
A kayak is a small narrow watercraft that is also pointed at both ends. It’s typically used as a one-man vessel and is propelled using a double-bladed paddle. That being said, two-person kayaks are becoming more common in recent years.
Kayaks come in different shapes and sizes. The two common divisions are open-top and sit-in. Sit-in kayaks have a small cockpit that conceals your lower body, leaving your upper body exposed for paddling. Sit-on (or open-top) kayaks have a large deck where the kayaker sits exposed to elements.
It’s believed that the kayak was invented by the indiginous people of Arctic North America: the Inuit and Aleut tribes. They were constructed from all manor of natural materials including seal skin and whale bones. Originally, the kayak was used as a hunting vessel and the word “kayak” in Inuit means “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat”.
Now, kayaks are used for recreational activities and competitions. You’ll find all manner of different kayaks that are suited to different environments and paddling styles. Kayaks can be used in both salt and freshwater, used for fishing, whitewater navigation, long-distance touring, and casual paddling.
The Pros & Cons of Learning to Kayak:
There are pros and cons to kayaks that affect how easy they are for the beginner to learn with. You’ll need to weigh up these pros and cons to figure out whether the good points outweigh the bad. This will ultimately help you come to a decision whether you want to learn to kayak or would prefer to learn canoeing.
The Pros of Kayaking:
- Kayaking is extremely easy to master thanks to the central seating position and dual-bladed paddle
- Keeping a kayak tracking in a straight line is simple, even for the beginner
- Kayaks cut through the water well, making them far faster and more agile than canoes
- Paddling takes less energy compared to a canoe
- They are lightweight and easy for solo paddlers to transport
- Kayaking is a versatile sport, you can kayak almost anywhere with the right kind of vessel
The Cons of Kayaking:
- You’re limited to one seating position, this can make paddling long-distances uncomfortable
- It’s much harder to get in and out of a kayak compared to a canoe
- You’re more likely to get wet paddling in a kayak
- Kayaks are less stable than canoes, meaning they can be easier to capsize
- Mastering advanced techniques can take a little longer to learn
So, What’s Easier for the Beginner Then?
I would say kayaking is definitely easier for the solo beginner to learn.
Although kayaks are less stable than canoes, the central seating position makes it easy to maintain your balance. The duel-bladed paddle and narrow width of the vessel also make it far easier for one person to control.
When it comes to solo canoeing, you have to do a lot of moving around in the boat and a lot of work with a single paddle. This can be confusing for the beginner which could lead to a range of mistakes out on the water.
It’s pretty easy to learn the basics of canoeing and kayaking. Kayaking is quicker and easier to master and it’s the watersport I'd recommend to the person that wants to head out solo. Canoeing takes a little more time to learn the basics but once you have a few techniques down, it’s easy to master more complex manoeuvres.
The most difficult part of kayaking for the beginner is getting in and out of the vessel. You'll definitely get wet the first few times but it’ll become second nature after a while. It may be hard to get into a sit-in kayak for the beginner, but once they’re in the cockpit paddling really does come naturally.
It’s easier to get in and out of a canoe but paddling will come less naturally. It’ll definitely take quite a bit of practice before you’re paddling a canoe in a straight line on your own. Things are a little easier with two people because you can even out the power distribution from the paddles on either side but it does take a bit of coordination.
Overall, kayaking is definitely the easier sport to learn. But, which is easier shouldn’t be the main determining factor to which hobby you start. Ask yourself where, why, and how you want to enjoy your time on the water and adapt and learn how to use the vessel your heart desires…