Canoe vs. Kayak for Your Family (Key Differences & Uses)


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Boats can be a huge amount of fun for you and your family. On the surface, kayaks and canoes seem very similar. But the differences can be huge depending on how you and your family intend to use them. So, let’s explore canoe vs. kayak for a family.

As a general rule, a canoe is a better choice for a family than a kayak. This is because canoes are much more stable than kayaks, and you can have more than one person in the boat at a time. You can also get inflatable canoes that are very easy to store and transport.

Although canoes are great, they are not perfect for all families.

And maybe one kayak per family member is better in certain situations? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of canoes and kayaks and have a look at what applications they are best suited for.

In the end, I will talk about the different types of canoes and kayaks, so you can choose which one to buy.

Overview of canoes

Canoes are boats that have bench-like seats in them. They are not like the tight car seats you get in a kayak. Canoes are the best choice for families with children.

Canoes are designed primarily for calm waters. They are less nimble than kayaks and are much larger. Canoes have a wide base; therefore, they are more stable on the water. They are quite long too. This means you have better tracking.

Tracking is the ability of a boat to move in a straight line. The longer the boat, the better the tracking.

A canoe paddle is different from a kayak paddle. Canoe paddles are single-bladed and short. They are designed to be used on one side of the boat.

There are different types of canoes, and I will talk about them towards the end of this article. Good canoes can be expensive; however, you can get inflatable canoes that are quite affordable and easy to use.

Overall, canoes have a less steep learning curve than kayaks, and it takes less time to become comfortable on them.

In addition to that, the wide base of a canoe means they have a higher load capacity and are more suitable for long distances.

Most canoes have an open deck. Open canoes are good because if they capsize (and you will capsize one day!), they won’t be full of water. It is easier to drain the water out of an open canoe.

Canoes have a slightly less natural seating position than a kayak.

Overview of kayaks

Kayaks are the better option if you are going to be paddling in moving water. The bottom of a kayak is much narrower than a canoe. Therefore, it is less stable. However, the benefit of a thin base is that you have a higher top speed. This is because there is less water resistance.

I will talk about the different types of kayaks at the end of this article. Kayaks are different from canoes because you use a double paddle. Double-bladed paddles allow you to paddle on both sides of the boat.

The problem is that all that rotating can cause pain in your lower back.

Kayaks usually only have one seat; however, they can have two. Therefore, you won’t be able to fit all your family members in a single kayak.

A great thing about kayaks is that they move at a higher speed. Inflatable kayaks are available on the market, too, if you are looking for a budget, easy-to-store option.

Perhaps the most fun activity to do on a kayak is kayak camping. This is where you travel for longer distances on the kayak and set up a camp in the wild. Then you rest up, get back on your kayak, and continue in the morning.

You won’t be able to carry much gear on a narrow kayak, and you may have to travel through rough water. So, it is really interesting and eventful!

The shape of a kayak and the design of a kayak paddle makes it much easier to paddle in a straight line. Kayaks are suitable for almost all bodies of water that are legal for you to go.

However, if you have young children or older family members, they may struggle to remain stable and balanced in the kayak.

Is it easier to use a canoe or kayak?

It is easier to use a canoe rather than a kayak if you are a family. This is because canoes have bench seats. Therefore, they are quite wide. So, if you need to sit side-by-side with young children to supervise them and keep them safe, you can do that.

This is not an option in a kayak. So, canoes are the better choice for that. In addition to this, the boat’s sides are much steeper on a canoe. So, you are less likely to get water into the cockpit of the boat with a canoe.

This can save you a lot of soggy bottoms and feet, and you can enjoy your day in dry clothes. Traveling long distances is much more fun on a canoe trip than in a kayak. This is because, in a canoe, you are not required to sit in the same position for hours on end.

You can stretch your legs, twist, and even stand up. So, canoes are the clear winner for comfort too.

Even though kayaks have a less natural seating position, they do have more comfortable seats. A kayak seat hugs your body and supports your spine. However, you can install a kayak seat into a canoe if you wish.

Paddle strokes with a kayak are more natural than with a canoe. This is because you simply swing your hands in a figure of 8 motion. You don’t have to paddle one side, then switch to the other like with a canoe.

It is easier to paddle for longer periods of time in a canoe. But the canoe is more practical in terms of comfort and storage space since it has an open cockpit.

Is it easier to transport a canoe or kayak?

It is easier to transport a kayak instead of a canoe. This is because kayaks are smaller and lighter than canoes, and they are also thinner. Therefore, you can fit a kayak to the roof of your car quite easily. Some canoes are too large for this.

You may require a trailer to tow your canoe to the water body where you intend to use it. The weight and portability of your boat depend on the material it is made of. For example, aluminum canoes are going to be heavier than carbon fiber kayaks.

And inflatable kayaks and canoes are going to be much more portable and easier to store than non-inflatable boats.

Getting an inflatable boat is the best way to go, in my opinion, especially if you are only going to use the boat a couple of times a year.

And don’t forget, you are also going to have to transport the paddles. Canoes and kayaks use different types of paddles. Canoe paddles are about half the length of a kayak paddle; therefore, they are easier to transport.

Luckily, kayaks are lightweight; often as little as 25 lbs.

So the good news is kayaks can even be transported on the roof of a pop-up camper which can typically support up to 300 lbs.

Are canoes or kayaks safer?

Canoes are safer than kayaks since they are less likely to capsize. One of the main differences between canoes and kayaks is the surface area of the base of the boat. Canoes are much wider, so they are less likely to flip over.

If a canoe flips over, it is easier to get out of than a kayak. This is because canoes have open tops. The last thing you want is to be stuck underneath a boat in open water.

Most kayaks have sit-inside designs. Sit inside kayaks also come with spray skirts. This is a stretchy piece of fabric that covers your body and attaches to the kayak. It stops water from going inside the kayak.

This can make it incredibly difficult to get out of a capsized kayak, especially in fast-moving water.

Therefore, boats with sit-on-top designs are much safer. You can get sit-on-top kayaks, but you constantly feel like you are going to roll off. This is because sit-on-top kayaks don’t have high walls like the side of canoe-style boats.

Are canoes or kayaks more fun?

Kayaks are more fun than canoes, as they are more maneuverable and can be used in a wider variety of settings. Kayaks have a closed cockpit, and you sit deep inside the kayak. This makes it easier to get more power in your paddle strokes.

Kayaks can be used for long-haul trips too, however, you won’t be able to carry much equipment. One of the major differences between kayaks and canoes is the handling of the boats. Kayaks are super easy to move in any direction.

The difference in agility between a kayak and a canoe is the difference between a mountain bike and a van. Kayaks are super maneuverable.

A kayak will allow you to explore fast-moving water, tight caves, and other places a canoe would not allow. However, if you are not confident in the water and are afraid of falling in, you will enjoy a canoe more.

This is simply because some families would rather have a boat that is easy to use than a boat that is capable of exploring places they don’t wish to go to.

Kayaks are great for short trips, and a single paddler would enjoy a kayak more than a canoe. This is because you can paddle on both sides of the boat without having to constantly rotate your body and drop water into the cockpit from your paddle.

The single-bladed paddle of a canoe can be difficult for a single person to use. You can get different types of kayaks. Perhaps the most fun type of kayak is the whitewater kayak. These are super maneuverable and durable. They are hard to master though.

They are not exactly suitable for the whole family either. Now let’s have a look at whether your family should get a canoe or a kayak.

What type of kayak is best for a family?

Let’s have a closer look at the different categories of kayaks on the market and understand their key differences. Different styles of kayaks have different purposes.

Recreational kayaks

Recreational kayaks are very common. They are wider and shorter than most other kayaks. This makes them more stable. Recreational kayaks are designed for casual use. You are supposed to use recreational kayaks on flatwater, which is not moving fast. So, they are great for lakes.

Recreational kayaks won’t cut it for fast-moving rivers though. Recreational kayaks are easy to use for most people.

White water kayaks

White water is water that is moving fast. This causes all the bubbles and white foam you see. Therefore, whitewater kayaks are designed to be used in fast-moving rapids. These kayaks are highly maneuverable. However, they are hard to balance, and paddle in a straight line.

This is because whitewater kayaks are shorter in length to improve maneuverability. This is not the kayak you want for casual paddling on the lake. But they are great for adventurous and experienced kayakers.

Touring and sea kayaks

Touring kayaks are designed for Stillwater. Like what you get in a lake. However, they can also be used on light waves in the sea. Touring kayaks are quite long. This is because when touring in a kayak, you will be paddling in a straight line for most of the time.

The long length of a touring or sea kayak improves tracking. Another benefit of these kayaks is that they can hold more equipment. They will have a bungee cord on the top of the kayak where you can attach your bags and food.

Some even have compartments for storing things in, so you don’t have to put them on the surface of the boat.

Inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are inflatable, as the name suggests. They are designed for casual use on Stillwater. They are not durable enough to use in rocky places. When choosing an inflatable kayak, get one that can be pumped up with an air compressor.

Some of them only work with hand pumps and take more than 15 minutes to inflate!

Sit-on-top fishing kayaks

These are designed for still waters and casual use. A sit-on-top kayak does not have a hollowed-out body. This means if you capsize, you fall out. This is good if you are a beginner because you won’t get trapped below the water.

A fishing kayak simply has a seat on the top. It will also have a bungee cord for storing things like bait and equipment.

Racing kayaks

Racing kayaks are thin, long, and very lightweight. They are very unstable but have excellent tracking. There is no point in getting one of these unless you are racing. It is an expensive tool used to do a very specific job.

Solo kayaks and double-person kayaks

Solo kayaks are for solo paddlers. A double-person kayak is sometimes called a tandem kayak. Solo kayaks are great, but the benefit of a double-person kayak is that you can spend more time with a family member.

With a tandem kayak, you are going to have to improve your communication skills and work together.

Overall, it is down to personal preference when deciding which type of kayak to buy.

What type of canoe is best for a family?

Canoes vs. kayaks is a debate we have already covered. So let’s now have a look at the types of canoes available on the market. Canoes are a great choice if you want to have lots of family members on the same boat.

With a kayak, you will only have space for one or two people at a time. So you will need multiple kayaks for a large family. There are three main types of canoes.

Recreational canoes

These are the most common types of canoes. They are super comfortable and have a wide base. They are quite long too, as this improves the tracking of the boat. It also makes it easier to paddle in a straight line.

Recreational canoes are the most affordable, and they usually have seats in them. They will also have storage space inside of the boat. They are much better for long trips than a smaller kayak.

The most common type of recreational canoe is the Canadian canoe. You can also get inflatable canoes that are okay for simply paddling but not suitable for whitewater and rocky beaches.

Whitewater canoes

This is one of the rarest types of boats. Canoes are not designed for whitewater, but you can get canoes that are shorter in length and more durable if you are going to be paddling on fast-moving water.

White water canoes are usually tandem canoes that have space for more than one occupant in the boat.

Racing canoes

Racing canoes are not that common. They are expensive and have the same features and build as a racing kayak. They are long, lightweight, and thin. They are not suitable for a family.

Canoe vs. Kayak | What's the difference?

Conclusion

Watersports are a great way to have fun with your family and are one of the best things for boosting your confidence. There are many fantastic places to canoe and kayak all over North America, South America, and Europe.

If you want a maneuverable boat that you can use for a single person or two people, then get a kayak. Kayaks are harder to stabilize than canoes, but they are easier to paddle. Kayaks can be used on lakes, whitewater, the sea, and almost anywhere it is legal to be in the water.

Canoes, on the other hand, are more for leisurely paddling. They can accommodate lots of people, depending on the size. Canoes are much more stable, and you don’t have to be super athletic and well-coordinated to use one.

If you don’t want to travel with a large boat, you can consider getting an inflatable canoe or kayak. These are cheaper, and very easy to store and transport, but less durable.


Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay and Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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