Any long-time sea kayakers made switch to canoes?

…or not a switch necessarily but, started canoeing after lots of years and experience with kayaks. I’ve been kayaking (sea) for 35 years or so. For several reasons, I am considering taking up canoeing in the next few years. I love the lightness of the Hornbeck boats and they seem to be paddled similarly to a kayak. I might be moving somewhere with lots of canoe-able waters. I like the open-ness of the canoe…it just seems easier in some ways (especially as I get older). I’d like to be able to sleep in the boat (done it a few times in a kayak but not exactly comfy). Anyway, wondering how others found the transition. Is it difficult to get used to? I would assume the speed is a bit less and I would not want to use for big open water trips but that’s OK. What are your thoughts?


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We take canoes when we go out with the canoe club cause we spend too much time waiting for the stragglers when we paddle the sea kayaks.

the nice thing is you have more room to move the old bones around.


I moved from Canoes when I lived in MN to both when I was on the east coast and had easy access to rivers and LIS. Now in california lakes and rivers dont exist so im 98% kayak (surfski) so went the opposite way as you.

Personally I do not like paddling a canoe with a double blade. Corrective strokes are hard and awkward. (some will say “you dont need corrective stroke because of the balanced paddling”. IMO thats wrong. One side is naturally stronger than the other, wind, current, waves, avoiding things, all mean you do need corrective strokes)
I understand pack canoes are designed to be paddled double, but still, I dislike it as soon as the weather is not 100% perfect. Also there is a grace to the single blade that a double cannot match in my book.

I prefer open boats. SINKs dont really interest me. Both canoes and surfskis are easy to move around in and definitely offer more freedom of movement.

‘chilling’ in a canoe is more enjoyable. No one ever swooned their significant other in a kayak, but there is a strong legacy of ‘courting canoes’. (Edit, I seem to remember Willowleaf or Celia actually did try to woo a man, but forget if she was in a canoe or yak, so there are some exceptions) If Im floating down a lazy river or trying to haul a lot of crap, I would choose a canoe 100% of the time. When I want to go fast or chase waves (often the largest waves I can possibly find), then its kayak all the way.

I suppose you could sleep in a canoe easier, yes. Kinda a strange criteria to consider. When/where would you do this?

Anyways, yes, making the switch will be relatively easy, particularly if you want to double blade. Corrective strokes are similar to an un-skeg’d kayak. The stability profile is different, but still plenty stable. You’d make the transition just fine I would guess.

I’ve just started into canoes. Specifically drawn to adding them because of their ability to pack a load for hunting camp.
I believe there is a lot more to learn paddling a canoe solo. Lots of different strokes to use and they can make a big difference in control in varying situations, but like I said. I’m just getting going.
I do like my canoes though. Especially my We-no-nah Prism. Now I just need to spend the time learning them better.

I’m not very familiar with the different categories of canoes but I take it from your comments that a Hornbeck is in the category of pack canoes. One question I have is whether or not there is something about a Pack canoe’s design that obligates you to propel it with a double-bladed paddle or can you opt for a more traditional canoe style.

re: sleeping. I can imagine scenarios where I might do an overnight and want to have the option of sleeping in the boat (e.g., if I can’t find a good campsite - like in a marsh or something) but a more frequent occurrence would be just wanting to be prone during a break, probably sipping coffee, staring at the sky and having the option of dozing off for a bit during a break. I really enjoy taking a long coffee break halfway or more through a long kayak outing, but am never as comfortable as I would like.

My friend Dennis, an expert sea kayaker (and a former Canadian national champion downriver kayak racer) is in his mid 70’s but mainly made the switch to solo canoes a few years ago so his aging beloved pup could more easily join him. That noble companion has passed but he is raising a new one now. Dennis seems to have embraced the canoe with gusto and has become a pretty good freestyler on top of it.

Per the question about pack canoes: with those, as opposed to a regular solo canoe, you sit deep inside the hull, closer to the waterline, like you would in a kayak. I believe this makes it more difficult to use a canoe paddle than a kayak paddle when sitting in the hull. But kneeling in a pack brings you up higher so a single blade should work. No doubt you will get better advice on that from others.

I’ve been using SINKs for nearly 20 years but bought a 13’ solo (Curtis Lady Bug with a canted seat) two years ago. My thinking was that it might be more forgiving on my aging joints sometimes to have a boat easier to climb into and with more flexible options in paddling position. Had been mostly paddling it with a 230 cm Bending Branches wood kayak paddle with long narrow blades, but only because my technique with the 52" single blade I got sucked and I was unable to keep it tracking straight with that.

BUT, I just got some great instruction last weekend at the Western PA Solo Canoe Rendezvous and now know what I need to work on and how to avoid overdriving it. As soon as this stinking heat wave eases a little I hope to get out and practice before I forget those lessons.

MClmes: It was me who shared my “wooing” misadventure (though it was more a gesture of supportive friendship for a buddy having some rough times than a romantic overture.) We had been adventuring in sea kayaks but he had a yen for the classic canoe-like Adirondack boats (had helped build some at the Wooden Boat Shop that used to be in Norwalk, CT) and that fit perfectly with the cadence of Edward Lear’s classic poem “The Owl and the Pussycat” which I riffed on and illustrated. Adirondack boats are rowed, rather than paddled, as you can see from the pussycat’s paw position.

I do have a pack canoe I got maybe 3-4 years ago and love it but haven’t “switched”. It was the first composite boat I purchased but it’s a niche item. I never take it out when it’s windy or on big water as between the light weight, high freeboard and open top you are asking for trouble in wind and waves. On the other hand it’s a fantastic solution to all the small lakes and rivers near my house.

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It depends on whether you are talking about a pack canoe, paddled double blade with a low seat, or a traditional canoe paddled kneeling and single blade.

Learning to paddle single bladed correctly is a stroke that frankly my wrists don’t seem to much like at this point in my life. Plus there is the matter of a somewhat higher center of gravity even kneeling, and pressure on the tops of your feet and knees which my joints also like less than when I was younger. So while I can get a single bladed canoe around now unless the wind is up some, as I could in my younger days, I am not by any means a “good” canoeist in one. I can do rescues in one equipped with float bags and generally can make it back to where I started. I don’t try to guarantee much more than that in a single blade canoe.

But the pack canoes are a very easy transition for kayakers, like a kayak they frankly don’t require a lot of skill to get moving in some fashion because double blade is easier than single blade. And you can get them in nice light, easy to car top, models. And the seated position is similar, low center of gravity…

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Paddled canoes since 1963 and got a rec kayak in 1988 and quickly obtained a sea kayak after finding out rec kayaks and Long Island Sound crossings are not a good idea. Got a pack canoe in 2006. I still use all of them.

The classic Hornbecks are too wide to use a single blade in. Some of the newer designs are narrower at the gunwales so a single blade is very useful. I use a short 46 inch Fox Worx bent shaft in my RapidFire in the mangrove tunnels of the Everglades or in alder choked streams where double blades are most useful for snagging trees. I do think Hornbeck is now building with shouldered tumblehome to aid in single blading… Look for a tuck near the gunwales.

I do take my Rapid Fire ( a pack canoe) out on big lakes and gulfs. Superior and Mexico. I use a spray deck in those areas.

If single blading is hurting Celia take some lessons. A good J stroke doesn’t have to hurt unless there is some underlying condition. As in double blading a single blade is best played with gentle handling like a violin…

Kayaks canoes and pack canoes can be propelled either single or double blade. When sea kayaking my spare paddle is always a single…( that is the way I was mentored) and in a canoe my spare is always a double.

The classic J stroke correction requires a fair degree of ulnar deviation at the grip hand wrist joint which can be a problem for some, especially those with prior injuries limiting range of motion or significant arthritis. But you can go faster just paddling “hit and switch” and changing paddling sides every few strokes to keep the canoe going where you want. This is best done with a bent shaft paddle on the shorter side which makes it easier to clear the gunwales as you swing the paddle across.

You will get a little drip off the paddle switching but much less in my experience that you get off the shaft of a double-bladed paddle.

I’m mostly a sea kayaker, but picked up a solo canoe I think over a year ago already, and then a tandem canoe. We were out canoeing the past two weekends. I have found that boat balance is universal. Relaxing into secondary stability in a canoe, although happening from a different position(s), feels quite natural.
I’ve long been big on developing blade angle control with my sea kayak paddle. The single blade feels very natural to me. I would think blade angle control would come much easier with a canoe paddle than a kayak paddle because of the canoe paddle grip on one end vs a continuous shaft and second blade flailing up above, which feels quite awkward in comparison to the canoe paddle in my experience. I really enjoy the single blade.
It’s just a different, fun, satisfying paddling experience for me. It doesn’t satisfy everything I enjoy about sea kayaking. But I’m finding that this feeling could go both ways.

I have taken lessons. I have broken my left wrist, full colly (sp"?) fracture w/ what the docs all agreed was a remarkable level of recovery for managing to still get the rotation needed to play the violin.

My right wrist is showing more arthritis than in my younger days, they reluctantly use it for the DEXA scans because the left wrist that was broken is far harder to see.

There are things that are normal in a string player after enough decades that are an automatic underlying condition. For violin and viola players also a long term relationship with chiropractors and massage for neck and shoulders.

Pblanc calls it correctly, after a time the rotation becomes an issue. I am not going to give away what facility I do have there to do a Jstroke.

I happily do sit and switch, but the reality is that is slower than a good Jstroke.

No, done correctly switching sides is the fastest way to propel a canoe in anything other than heavy duty whitewater. All marathon canoe racers paddle sit and switch. If it wasn’t the fastest way to go they would do something else. Gene Jensen and Tom Estes proved this to the canoe racing world back in 1949.

But you have to become proficient with the switches.

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Not really “switched” but perhaps “boat-fluid”.
I started with kayaks, any type. Sea kayak first (day play and expeditions) followed by surfski, whitewater (creek, play, DR race), flatwater sprint. Did that for awhile and then had two multi-day trips in canoes, one was flatwater in fast tandems and the other trip was class III whitewater. Came home and excitedly told my wife that “we have to get a canoe!”.
No more WW kayaking, but in our current fleet we have three sea kayaks and five canoes. The canoes include a multi-use solo, a WW tripping canoe, WW play tandem, and his and hers WW solo canoes.
And the old joke works here, that of “why do I have 5 canoes? Because I sold one”. If I could have the funds and space I’d be adding a light tandem flatwater (the one I sold was too heavy), a solo outrigger, and maybe a fast flatwater solo.

We don’t kayak nearly as much compared to just 5 years ago. Partly due to losing paddling partners (we’re all getting older, and an amazing number of old paddling partners who used to paddle class IV/V, or go rock gardening, are now paddling SUP’s, or wasting time playing disc golf). But the major reason for doing more canoeing is age and overuse.

Unless I spend an appropriate amount of time building up specific strength, I’m no longer able to tolerate the sitting position in kayaks for very long. Yet I can get “off the couch” and paddle a canoe for hours on end. Doesn’t matter if I sit 'n switch or kneel, paddling a canoe doesn’t bother my lower back.

I would agree that there’s a possibility of wrist irritation from doing a lot of J-stroke, but also think it is just a statistical possibility. Getting hit by lighting as example. As a retired instructor, I do think that proper mechanics for paddling technique is actually not common, and improper mechanics are one cause of overuse injuries - can’t tell you how many experienced solo WW canoeist I’ve paddled with complain of soreness in the posterior shoulder, and I just want to tell them to re-learn how to move (rotate the torso, don’t let the elbow go past the sideline of the body!).

My opinion is that a pack canoe, sitting in the hull and using a double blade paddler won’t give you the options you seek when compared to kayaking - that’s just a kayak without a closed deck. Using a canoe with an elevated seat, you can sit or kneel. You can shift your weight to one gunwale, you can sit somewhat oblique towards your paddling side…in other words, lots of comfortable options.

As for speed, you might be surprised. A reasonably efficient solo canoe can be propelled fairly close in speed to a touring kayak when using the J-stroke. If using a bent shaft paddle and sit 'n switch, the difference can be come very small or negligible. I also think that the majority of kayakers don’t have very efficient stroke mechanics (a good forward stroke isn’t intuitive), and in comparison the bent shaft canoe paddle is a very efficient and economical stroke and easier to learn.

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That is encouraging. When the BCU decided that all kayakers should also get a good canoe stroke - a decision which not surprisingly hurt them and they eventually had to abandon - I was fairly regularly informed by one expert or another than the Jstroke was faster.

I am more than happy to accept your take.

The biggest reason I do not canoe a lot these days is that a lot of my paddling is either solo on the ocean or with groups where my kayaks are far better platforms if I need to do a rescue. My canoe is an ultralight and I am loathe to add the weight of float bags that would make it more functional for rescues. It is fun for easy ponds though where I just want to get a float and not have a lot of prep.

Success in marathon racing is largely a result of a high stroke cadence and being able to maintain a high cadence over distance. So the paddle excursion of the forward stroke is kept much shorter than the forward stroke used by many recreational paddlers. The stroke ends before the paddle face passes behind the hip. That also makes the travel required for the recovery phase shorter and faster.

Most recreational paddlers using a J stroke will allow the paddle face to travel well behind the hip. The further back toward the stern the paddle face goes the less outward pressure is required for the correction phase. But allowing the paddle to drift that far back takes time and lengthens the recovery greatly reducing stroke cadence.

It is possible to do a “short” J stroke with a quick outward hook that occurs between the knee and the hip but it is not as relaxing to do so, or a pitch stroke in which no outward hook occurs but the paddle face is angled during the stroke to provide correction. But any “hook” or angling of the paddle face will reduce the effectiveness of the stroke for forward propulsion.

Before Gene Jensen and Tom Estes came along marathon racers used J strokes or pitch strokes to keep their boats going in a dead straight heading and eschewed any technique that caused the orientation of the canoe to waver from side to side as occurs paddling hit and switch. Until the boys from Minnesota came along and blew them out of the water.

I switch between canoe and kayak all the time. When by myself its kayak. When with others, mostly canoe. Also switch to a pontoon boat starting this time of year, will pick up paddling again when the weather cools.

Spot on analysis.

Although most of my paddlesport racing career was in kayak, I also did some marathon canoe races and a handful of outrigger canoe racing.

The efficiency of the bent shaft canoe paddle design and mechanics of use go beyond racing.

The majority of my canoe seat time in the last couple of decades has been multi-day trips on whitewater rivers. We always take bent shaft paddles, and in the slow or fast water sections between the major rapids that is what we use. The gain in cruising speed in relation to muscular strain just can’t be beat!

For multi-day trips in flatwater when there is miles to cover, being forced to use long straight canoe paddles is a form of wearing a hair shirt.

I was just about to post a thread about canoes vs. seakayaks when I saw this thread.
I’ve done multiday trips on Lake Powell twice. Once with a Swift seakayak and once with a Wenonah Voyageur canoe, with lowered seat, that I paddled with a kayak paddle. Both trips were a long time ago and I’ve forgotten some of my impressions.
I do remember feeling that the canoe was slower, which is natural, since the canoe is wider.
I encountered some big waves, generated by house boats, but nothing like you might find on open ocean. Wind was a bigger factor with the canoe too.
I spent time bailing out the canoe, even though I made a plywood top for over my legs.
I managed to get all my gear in the seakayak, but I remember it was a really, really tight squeeze.
Obviously I had a much easier time packing the canoe. I holds more and takes a lot less time to pack and unpack.
I think, in most situations, a canoe is easier to get in and out of.
I’m worried about getting trapped, if the seakayak flips. Not a problem with the canoe.
I’m trying to remember which I thought was more comfortable. I’ve been assuming the canoe was, because you are sitting higher and have room to move around, but I’m not sure I didn’t miss the back support of the seakayak. You can put a back on a canoe seat, but I haven’t.
I’m ordering another performance canoe, that I also intend to paddle with a kayak paddle.
I think, for me, a canoe is a better choice, but it depends on where you are using it.