Canoe vs. Kayak – Which One Is Harder? (We Find Out)

People new to water sports might find it difficult to differentiate between canoeing and kayaking. Although they appear to be similar, they are in actuality quite different. Those who’re familiar with these water sports might find one activity more difficult than the other. So is canoeing harder than kayaking or visa versa? Let’s find out!

Canoeing is more difficult than kayaking due to the coordination and nuances of the various paddling strokes. Canoes are also much heavier than kayaks, requiring more physical exertion to paddle a canoe through the water. It is also harder to turn a bulky canoe while still maintaining forward momentum.

Determining the difficulty of learning canoeing vs. kayaking comes down to the methods required to propel and steer each vessel. Similarly, the stability of each vessel will reveal differences between the watercraft and a person’s ability to learn to captain either.

Today we’re going to do a canoe vs kayak comparison. We’ll discover the differences between the two watercraft, learn the paddling techniques used in both activities, and find out which one is harder to learn.

Canoeing or kayaking, which is harder?

Key Differences Between Canoeing and Kayaking

1.  Speed

A canoe is referred to as a “pickup truck” in the water sports world. Multiple passengers riding at once will hinder a canoes speed due to the bulk and additional weight.

A kayak, on the other hand, is considered a “sports car.” Kayaks can achieve higher speeds than canoes and hence are considered more exciting when it comes to water sports competitions. Kayaks are lightweight, generally carry fewer passengers (mostly just one), and have a lower profile, all of which leads to faster speeds in the water.

Takeaways (Canoe vs Kayak):

  • Canoes are big, heavy, bulky, and slow
  • Kayaks are lighter and faster

2.  Boat Design

Canoes have an open hull, allowing multiple passengers to be seated at once. The canoe’s design is perfect for calm water, and the open concept allows passengers to move freely in the boat. However, taking a canoe in rough water could cause a lot of water to enter and get collected in the bottom of the boat.

Kayaks have a closed deck and often have a spray skirt (where the passenger is seated). The rider gets packed in from all sides (except the top), making it impossible to move freely on the boat. However, the closed deck ensures minimal water collection in the ship, even in rough water, making a kayak better suited for challenging water conditions.

While all canoes are similar in body shape and design, there are many styles of kayaks available for different uses and each has a different hull design depending on the specific activity. These include:

  • Single kayak – A recreational kayak for a single passenger (most common)
  • Double kayak – Also known as a tandem kayak, these boats are designed to hold two passengers.
  • White water kayak – As the name implies, a whitewater kayak is designed to handle the rigors and maneuverability requirements of rough river waters (aka whitewater kayaking).
  • Sea kayak – An ocean kayak (sometimes referred to as a touring kayak) is narrower and longer than a regular kayak. It is less maneuverable, but will obtain higher speeds for cruising. Sea kayakers tend to paddle long distances.
  • Fishing kayak – Made for fishing, it is typically a wider kayak, that provides a more stable platform for the angler while kayak fishing.
  • Inflatable kayak – An inflatable kayak is just what is sounds like. They benefit occasional kayakers and take up less storage space than a standard kayak when deflated.

Takeaways (Canoes or Kayaks):

  • A recreational canoe can have multiple passengers, are designed for calm waters, and are much more stable.
  • Standard kayaks typically have a single passenger and can handle rough or calm waters depending on the design and activity.

3.  Paddle

A canoe paddle has the blade on only one side of the pole/rod. Single bladed paddles are perfect since the passenger is seated slightly higher, making it more comfortable for the rider to use a single blade paddle. A single paddle perfectly blends with the technique used to propel a typical canoe.

Different canoe paddles laying on a wooden dock.

Kayak paddles, on the other hand, have blades on both ends of the pole. It’s because the rider is seated lower in a kayak than in a canoe. The rider can’t move as freely, so a double-bladed paddle comes in handy to move a kayak forward. In this respect, riding a kayak becomes harder since it requires a lot of energy and stamina, but learning to use two bladed-paddles is very easy.

In case if you’re wondering, why don’t we simply use a kayak paddle in a canoe? A canoe is much broader than a kayak. So using a twin-blade paddle wouldn’t work since you can’t use the kayak paddling technique to paddle a canoe.

Takeaways: (Canoe vs Kayak)

  • Canoe paddles have a single blade
  • Kayaks have a double bladed paddle design

Sitting Positions In A Canoe & Kayak

A canoe rider can either sit or kneel. When in a sitting position, the buttocks are on the seat, and knees are placed against the boat’s rim’s top edge. To kneel, the passenger has to move forward and get closer to the front of the boat. Then one has to wedge the knees against the sides of the boat to maintain stability.

The kayak rider sits on the seat with the legs straight out to the front inside the hull (known as a sit inside kayak). A kayaker sits much lower to the water, and closer to the boat’s hull, requiring mostly arm strength to paddle.

Canoe vs Kayak (Speed, Weight, Price)

BasisCanoeKayak
Average expected speed3 mph3.5 mph to 5.5 mph
Average weight– Plastic canoe: 50 lbs
– Fiberglass 2-person canoe: 60 lbs
– Aluminum canoe: 70 lbs
– Recreational kayak: 35 lbs
– Tandem kayak: 65 lbs
– Fishing kayak: 120 lbs
Average price (approx.)Used: $300 to $500 New: $650 to $1,500Used: starting from $100 New: starting from $200

Canoeing And Kayaking- Pros And Cons

Is canoeing harder than kayaking or vice versa? The pros and cons of both these watersports will help us to figure out which is more difficult.

Canoeing Pros & Cons

Canoeing is an ideal choice if you’re looking forward to a trip out on the water with your friends or family, especially if kids and/or pets are coming along for the ride.

Advantages of Canoes

  • Canoes are best suited for longer rides. It’s because they offer comfort while riding since you can change your position anytime you want.
  • There’s plenty of storage space in a canoe. You can carry anything you like as long as you’re within the vessel’s weight requirements.
  • These boats are less likely to collapse or capsize (but only in calm water) due to their incredible stability.
  • Fishing is easier in canoes. Even standing up in a canoe involves fewer risks.
  • Advancing from basic canoeing to advanced skills is very easy. Let’s just say that mastering canoeing skill isn’t a big deal. Well, for calm waters anyway.
  • You won’t easily get wet in a canoe.

Disadvantages of Canoes

  • Paddling a canoe solo is more difficult than a kayak.
  • Canoes are much heavier, so paddling can become tiring after a while, depending on your stamina.
  • Almost impossible to achieve high speed.
  • Some novices have trouble tracking a canoe in a straight line, usually due to paddling techniques.
  • When paddling with multiple people, it can be difficult to get everyone to paddle on the same rhythm.

Kayaking Pros and Cons

Advantages of Kayaks

  • Kayaking is easy to master. Kayaks are fast, agile, and meant for speed.
  • The light-weight and compact design require less energy to row.
  • Kayaks are easy for one person to carry/transport, unlike canoes.

Disadvantages of Kayaks

  • The seating position is limited to a single position, so you can get stiff easier than in a canoe.
  • There’s no way you’re coming out dry after a kayaking session. Even though the water won’t collect in the boat, you’ll still get wet.
  • You can quickly capsize or roll in a kayak. The boat’s design is such that even the slightest instability can cause it to turn upside down.

Kayaks can turn on a dime. This can make maintaining the desired direction or tracking in a kayak easier than compared to a canoe. Some kayaks even have an external rudder that you operate with your feet, and this makes directional changes even easier.

Canoeing & Kayaking Techniques For Beginners

There are a few basic canoeing and kayaking techniques a beginner ought to know before getting started. Complex or challenging to learn practices can indicate a water sport’s difficulty. Hence, this may help determine which one is harder- canoeing or kayaking.

Important Canoeing Techniques

As a novice canoer, it’s a good idea to learn some basic paddling techniques before you hit the water. These common paddle strokes will have you canoeing like a pro in no time!

1.    Cross Forward Stroke

The Cross Forward canoe stroke is the most basic stroke in canoeing, and the one that most people think of when they think about paddling a canoe. The cross forward stroke provides the forward momentum necessary to move the boat through the water, and keeps the canoe on a relatively straightforward path.

Explanation:

The Cross Forward stroke starts by placing your paddle into the water on either side of the canoe and performing a pulling motion towards the rear of the boat. This will begin to propel the canoe forward.

After performing two or three strokes on one side of the canoe, you will notice that the craft will begin to turn in one direction or the other. At this point, you will have to raise your paddle out of the water and cross it to the other side of the canoe.

Here’s how to do the Cross Forward stroke in a canoe.

Paddling a few strokes on the opposite side will begin to turn your canoe back in the opposite direction. From this point on, you will need to continuously switch the paddle from side to side as you continue paddling.

If you have two or more paddlers in the canoe, you can each perform the forward stroke on opposite sides of the canoe at the same time, and this will help to eliminate the need to cross the paddle from side to side as frequently.

Advantage(s):

The main advantage to the cross forward stroke is that it is the easiest canoe stroke to learn, and is enough to know to get you out having fun on the water.

2.    J Stroke

The J stroke comes in handy to keep rowing straightforward. This trick is similar to the forward stroke but more convenient as you don’t have to keep crossing the paddle from side to side.

Explanation:

For the J stroke to work, start paddling from the left-hand side. Keep the blade 90 degrees to the side of the boat, and paddle-like you would typically in a forward stroke.

At the point where the blade crosses your body, turn your grip slightly so that by the end of the stroke your thumb is pointing down toward the bow of the boat.

While turning your thumb downwards, allow the paddle to rotate in your lower hand by slightly loosening your grip. Brace your lower hand on the edge of the canoe and push the paddle out a bit at the end of your stroke.

See the J Stroke in action.

Note: Just when you’re about to move the paddle outwards, the blade (at that time) must be parallel to your boat.

If you want to perform a J stroke from the right-hand side, simply switch sides and move the paddle outwards again at the end of the stroke (this time, it’ll be towards the right).

Advantage(s):

The key benefit here is that you don’t have to paddle on both sides of the boat in order to keep the craft moving forward in a straight line. You can keep moving straight by paddling from just one side of the canoe.

This works for a single canoer or can be used by multiple rowers to maintain forward momentum in a desired direction.

3.    Cross Draw Stroke (aka Cross Bow Draw Stroke)

When having two or more paddlers, the front canoe paddler can perform what’s called a cross draw stroke. It’s performed on the opposite side of the canoe from the back paddler. Let’s learn this with the help of an example.

Explanation:

Suppose you’re paddling on the left side, and now you want to turn the boat to the right. All you have to do is withdraw your paddle from the left side (the side on which you were just paddling).

See the Cross Bow Draw stroke in action.

Reverse grip and then draw the paddle on the canoe’s opposite side, i.e., the right side. The paddle MUST be as vertical as possible, and the blade must be parallel to the canoe’s side surface. Draw the paddle about 1 to 1.5 feet under the water. This will cause the canoe to turn sharply.

Advantage(s):

With this technique’s help, you can either keep moving in a  straightforward direction or turn. The key benefit of this stroke is to reduce paddling efforts. While turning (say on the right side), there’s no need to paddle at all. All you have to do is maintain the paddle in the said position to turn your boat.

4.    Stern Pry Stroke

It’s best to perform the stern pry stroke when seated in the middle of the boat. The stroke works to move in the opposite direction of the paddling side. For instance, if you’re paddling on the left side and want to move your boat in the opposite direction (right side), then a stern pry stroke is helpful. But be cautious. You’ll have a short amount of time to perform this stroke. Let’s understand it with an example.

Explanation:

Suppose you’re paddling on the left side and want to move the boat to the right side. All you have to do is paddle enough on the left side to attain enough speed. Then, lift your paddle, staying on the left side. Keep the paddle blade parallel to the canoe’s side, and bring the blade as close to the surface as possible.

You can tilt the paddle slightly inclined outwards for better results. Now, paddle the blade farther away to the left-hand side (away from the boat).

https://youtu.be/0ANHezCD0gQ
See how a single canoer turns using the Stern Pry Stroke in action.

Note that the blade will be parallel to the boat’s surface towards the end of the stroke. Once the blade is far away from the ship, it’ll start moving towards the right-hand side. Then withdraw the paddle from the water, again quickly put it under the water (parallel to the boat with the same grip), and finally paddle away from the boat.

Advantage(s):

The key benefit of this paddle stroke is that you can quickly turn to either side. This way, turning to the left or the right side won’t require a long U-turn. Additionally, it saves time and effort when rowing a canoe. Hence helpful in conserving energy.

Important Kayaking Techniques

The following kayaking techniques are helpful strokes to know for beginners before getting started with kayaking.

1.    Reverse Sweep Stroke

The reverse sweep stroke technique comes in handy when you need to turn the kayak in a completely different direction. For instance, if you’re heading in one direction, and you want to completely turn around to head in the opposite direction. When performed correctly in a stationary position, it’ll look like a 360 degrees car drift. Let’s go through the explanation below for a better understanding.

Explanation:

Assume the paddler is starting from a stationary position. To perform a reverse sweep stroke, use your paddle blade and turn your chest and shoulders to the back from, from whichever side your paddling on.

Remember to keep your arms stretched straight. Dip the blade into the water (with the same grip), and push the paddle towards the front of the kayak. You’ll notice that the boat starts to rotate (on the X-axis).

Watch how to do the Reverse Sweep Stroke.

Performing this stroke from one side will make you rotate in a full 360 degrees motion. Applying the reverse sweep stroke on the opposite side of the boat will cause you to turn 360 degrees in the opposite direction.

Advantage(s):

When you’re about to hit something, perform a reverse stroke (very quickly) to change your boat’s direction. Alternatively, if you feel like your vessel is about to capsize, perform a reverse sweep stroke to maintain the balance.

2.    Sweep Stroke

Turning your kayak is easy with the sweep stroke (just the opposite of the reverse sweep stroke). It’s less complicated than reverse sweep stroke. Let’s learn to perform it.

Explanation:

Dip your paddle’s blade in the water at the front-left or front-right of your kayak. When the blade is half under the water, push backward until your blade reaches the back of the kayak. Doing so in only one direction will make your kayak turn 360 degrees. This method helps in quickly changing the direction of your kayak.

Learn how to do the Sweep stroke in kayaking.

When performing the stroke (moving the blade to the back), make sure to perform a complete half-circle, keeping the paddle close to the surface of the kayak. It’s essential to have a good grip all the time and keep your arms stretched straight.

Advantage(s):

The Sweep stroke is a very easy way to change the direction of your kayak in one direction or another.

Common Techniques That Kayaking and Canoeing Share

Other than those discussed above, there are a few standard techniques applicable to both watersports. Learn these before taking either of the boats out.

1.  Forward Stroke

The forward stroke moves your boat forward, hence the name forward stroke. It’s performed from one side of the boat at a time. This stroke is best performed when seated in the canoe’s middle (with a kayak you’re already sitting in the middle).

See the Forward Stroke in a kayak.

To execute, place the blade in the water towards the front end of the craft (either on the left or the right side). The blade must be half under the water. Now move the blade backward and let it cross your body. Move it back as much as possible, at which point you’ll lift the paddle out of the water.

Reverse Movement

Similarly, to move your boat backward, perform the reverse of this stroke. Plant the blade in the water towards the back of the boat (either the left or the right side). Move the blade to the front, and voila!

2.  Draw Stroke

Whether canoeing or kayaking, a draw stroke is used to move your boat either left or right without turning. It’s essential when you want to dock your boat or reach something on the water surface. Here’s the explanation.

Suppose you want to move the boat to the left side. Keep the paddle vertical (the more straight the paddle, the more accurate the stroke is executed). Keep the blade far away from the boat’s surface and plant it in the water. Now pull the blade inwards toward yourself, making your boat move towards the left.

Watch how to perform the Draw Stroke.

Similarly, perform this stroke on the right side of the boat to move to the right.

Comparing Paddle Strokes (Canoes & Kayaks)

Let’s compare each stroke (discussed above) based on the execution complexity.

StrokeComplexity LevelReason
Cross Draw Stroke
(Canoe)
AverageThe stroke works when the boat has enough velocity. To achieve the required speed, you’ll have to paddle harder, hence increasing the execution complexity.
Stern Pry Stroke
(Canoe)
DifficultFirst, you’ll have a short amount of time to execute the stroke. Secondly, moving the boat in the opposite direction with this stroke’s help is easier said than done. There’s a slim chance of the ship moving in the expected direction.
J Stroke
(Canoe)
DifficultMaking the J letter is somewhat complicated. The real problem comes after the paddle crosses your body. Making a J letter after every stroke can be irritating.
Reverse Sweep Stroke
(Kayak)
AverageThis is an easy stroke to perform but you will need to perform it without thinking in case of danger. To make your body perform the stroke automatically when in danger, it’s imperative to practice this stroke hundreds or thousands of times.
Sweep Stroke
(Kayak)
AverageStroke execution isn’t tricky, but it requires a lot of energy and strength to make a half-circle with every stroke.
Forward Stroke
(Both)
Very easyNo special skills or anything else required. Not difficult at all to perform.
Draw Stroke
(Both)
Very easyDemands nothing exceptional.

Conclusion

We’ve covered several things to help determine if canoeing is more challenging than kayaking. The final comparison table makes it pretty clear that canoeing strokes can be harder to master and execute.

The kayaking strokes are easier to learn, allowing you to get started more quickly. Additionally, kayaks don’t require as much physical strength to get the boat moving in the water. For a stable, and safer kayaking experience, try kayaking on calm flat water.

Both canoeing and kayaking are a lot of fun! This guide has pointed out the differences between the two, and hopefully has helped you decide which of these watersports is the one for you!

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