Have you ever been in a canoe or a kayak? You might be able to tell the difference between a canoe and a kayak by looking at them, but aren’t they basically the same type of boat? What’s the difference between the two?

In general, kayaks are considered to be a type of canoe. The recreational activity of “canoeing” can often refer to paddling either a canoe or a kayak. Kayak enthusiasts, though, will usually refer to paddling a kayak as “kayaking.”

Both canoes and kayaks are lightweight boats that can be used on lakes and rivers. They are also both powered by humans using paddles. They can both be used for various recreational activities, such as fishing, and they can both travel in shallow water.

Exactly when a canoe should be called a kayak is not always clear, although there are some basic differences in design and how they’re usually used. For example, paddlers usually sit on a seat or kneel in a canoe, whereas kayakers are usually seated on the bottom of the boat with their legs stretched out in front of them.

The paddles used in canoes and kayaks are usually different, too. Paddlers tend to use single-bladed paddles in canoes and double-bladed paddles in kayaks.

Canoes also tend to have an open deck. This means that the inside of the boat is open and uncovered. Kayaks, on the other hand, are usually closed-decked. This means that the inside of the kayak is enclosed and surrounds the paddler.

Canoes and kayaks have different purposes, too. Canoes tend to be like the sport-utility vehicles of the recreational boating world. They can carry more people and supplies, making them ideal for families to use for leisurely paddles around calm lakes.

Kayaks, on the other hand, are more like sports cars. They can carry fewer passengers and supplies. Their sleek designs tend to make them faster and better for use in competitive water sports, such as racing and slipping through whitewater rapids.

In general, kayaks are designed to be faster and more agile than canoes. In the hands of a professional paddler, most canoes can be made to travel as fast as comparable kayaks. Overall, though, kayaks are known for faster speeds, while canoes are known for greater stability and roominess.

These types of boats have been around for thousands of years. In fact, the first canoes were simply hollowed-out trees. Kayaks were developed by the Inuit peoples of the Arctic specifically for fishing and hunting.

8 Join the Discussion

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  1. I go kayaking all the time. I LOVE IT. Last time I went canoeing, my grandpa tipped over it before we got anywhere, so my grandpa, my friend, Steven, and I went inside and watched Narnia.
    I think tomorrow’s WONDER will be about race car driving!!!

    • What a WILD adventure, Emily! We are so happy you get to kayak frequently- must be quite a fun water sport! We’re glad you’ve been able to try using a canoe– but we know you’re not the only one who has experienced tipping over a canoe. At least you had a great movie to enjoy while you dried off that day! Thanks for sharing your AWESOME comment with us– we LOVE hearing from you! Great guessing! :)

  2. I’ve never seen a kayak or a canoe. But I did ride a real ship around New York, and I drove a real boat with my friend. If I ever had a boat I could play with it all day. :)

    • We’re SUPER glad you learned about canoes and kayaks today, Carlos! Your boat rides sound like a ton of FUN! What an AWESOME experience to be out on the water with the wind in your hair! We WONDER if you were the captain or the skipper? Have a SUPER day! :)

    • We bet you can use your WONDERful imagination to take a canoe ride in your mind, Abby! We sure hope you can travel around in a canoe in the future, too! Have a SUPER weekend! :)

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us, Shaikh! Boats like canoes and kayaks can be purchased at your local sporting goods store or in online stores! In many cities, there are also kayak and canoe rental companies. We encourage you to do some extra digging online to find where you can get a boat! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s the difference between canoes and kayaks?
  • Are canoes faster than kayaks?
  • How were the first canoes made?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to paddle? It’s time to get off the couch and hit the water. Ask a friend or family member to help you plan an exciting adventure at a nearby lake or stream.

If you don’t have a canoe or a kayak, you can usually rent one at parks that have lakes or streams that are popular for canoeing and kayaking. You can usually also rent other items you may need, such as personal flotation devices.

If you want to get prepared for what your experience will be like, watch the videos below. They contain lots of tips for your first experience in a canoe or kayak:

Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Kayaking the Rapids video to watch athletes braving dangerous rivers!

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