Canoe or kayak for Florida Keys

We will be heading to Florida in May. Ft. Desoto Campground first for 4 nights., John Pennekamp State park for 4 nights, then Bahia Honda State Park for 9 nights. Trying to decide between taking our two solo canoes (old river Packs) or our Kayaks (Dagger sit on top Torrents). The kayaks are hard to keep straight on flat water as they have a flat bottom, but easier to get into and out of while in the water. Which would you recommend taking for the places we will be staying. Thanks for any advice, as we have never been to any of these placed. Our canoe/kayak experience is on mild whitewater rivers, such as the Hiwassee River in Tennessee.

We winter in the Florida Keys

– Last Updated: Apr-03-14 4:44 PM EST –

and just came from Fort Desoto.
We take our two sea kayaks and our tandem canoe, but at the places you mentioned, (John Pennekamp and Bahia Honda) we just use our kayaks.
Your pak canoes would be fine for the canals at Pennekamp, but that is all. At All of those places.
At Fort Desoto, either would be ok on the sheltered side as long as there is no wind.

We have some nice trips, (such as "Trail of Tears" at Pennekamp) we can send you the details for if your interested.

Jack L

you might look at leeboards for canoes
Something similar might work on the yak. At the very simplest, go buy a 3’ long 6" wide piece of 1/8" aluminum. Lay it flat on the back of your kayak near the stern at a point where you can easily lash it in tight with the ends hanging off the sides. Bend down the extra and you have stabilizing fins. They would be a pain for constant general use since they would not retract easily; not sure I would actually do the simple thing I just described but you hopefully understand the concept and if you look at the canoe ones you will see all sorts of ideas for making them retractable. You may even find an out of the box solution if you don’t mind spending a little money.

also about paddling
It is more work, but you can keep a whitewater boat tracking reasonably well. You have to stay in motion; lots of lower power strokes in rapid succession are better than trying to power through with strong stokes that wear you out. Treat the wind like current and ferry across it; don’t keep trying to point your bow like a gunsight.


– Last Updated: Apr-03-14 6:44 PM EST –

Open, traditional canoes generally don't do flatwater Atlantic or Gulf waters too well, because those tend to be a bit corrugated even when mostly calm, the boats tend to run higher CGs, lay flat to the water surface and rock a lot, and are open-topped. Open inshore waters may be calm enough, but there are the usual Florida breezes to consider if they're not protected, blowing your canoe about. It can be countered of course, but constant adjustments can be tedious and detract from an enjoyable excursion.

And a decently tracking boat is to be desired just as much, which sounds like it obviates your flat-bottomed SOTs, which might be just as if perhaps even more problematic on some of the Keys open waters. But they -and the canoe -might be OK on the paddling trails at Pennekamp as previously noted.

Choosing either one or the other of your choices probably imposes limitations on your potential paddling in the Keys. Is there any possibility of renting some kayaks, at least for a couple-three-four excursions where you can more easily appreciate the wonder and beauty of 'the American Caribbean' on some of the glorious tween island open waters of the Atlantic, the Gulf, and Florida Bay as well as shoreline and trails paddling you might do with your SOTs or canoe.

Do indeed read Jack's fine accounts of their many (MANY!) trips. They'll show you all the great things you might be able to do in our wonderful back yard south of the more famous, more neon,and MUCH more hectic South Beach...!

Whatever happens, here' to a great time as you come down to the Keys and


-Frank in Miami

I am kind of split
having canoed in the Gulf in a solo canoe many times.

Neither of your craft are ideal but the Pack may keep a line better in waves. If you can fashion a spray cover for them so much the better. If you have experience whacking a Pack back in line, so much the better.

SOTs are great for jumping off and on of course but only you know if their lack of tracking is going to be a problem in the wind.

I’d pick whatever feels most suitable to you with the idea that if it doesn’t work…rent. Surely there are some rental places that way, Jack?

You’ve got two solo canoes? If you both go swimming its possible to get back in by lying on your back swinging a foot in and locking it under a thwart then rolling in. The second person holds the opposite side down so you don’t bring the craft on top of yourself. Then the boat borne person reciprocates by bringing second boat aside and holding the gunwale down next to him/her while other boater reenters.

If you are in wind and swimming… your canoe will undoubtedly get away from you faster than your kayak. Remember painter lines… no matter which craft

And do look at Jack Ls trips… You are bound for fun.

Wind issues…
can you take your boats to a local lake and see what you prefer on a windy day?

You’re looking at mostly shallow open water, and the month of May is usually pretty benign for major weather. The cold fronts will be gone, and summer temps will have arrived, but the summer afternoon thunderstorms may not yet have appeared. Morning paddles will be a good bet for least wind and avoiding the overhead sun.

Hope this helps!


Torrents are not in need of stabilizing
fins. They are very, very stable. They are also rather slow, and their only asset for open water paddling is that they are fairly easy to reboard.

And for that matter, what canoe or kayak on the market has ever been in need of stabilizing?

Stabilizing comes from boat designer competence, and from paddler competence.

Sounds like bac backwards stroking.
Florida keys are not the place to learn cab forward paddling. Googling for Bob Foote’s text and videos might help.

Are you from the moon, or are you just trying to make like it?

Florida Bay Outfitters

– Last Updated: Apr-04-14 9:01 AM EST –

in Key Largo less then a mile from Pennekamp rents kayaks.
They rent SOT's and canoes, at Pennekamp but if you rent from them, the cost is high, and you have to stay within the limits of the park
If the OP is at Bahia Honda, there is a rental place right there in the state park.
There are also rental outfits In Marathon and on Big Pine Key that rent for $25 per day

jack L

The OP said
"The kayaks are hard to keep straight "

do snide remarks make people smart
where you come from? They definitely do not here on Earth. Now we both look stupid…

Oops almost forgot:
You also can rent right at Fort DeSoto. they have a neat canoe trail on the sheltered side.

Don’t try to paddle across to Egmont Key unless you are experienced in crossing shipping channels, strong tides, and possible landings in breakers.

jack L

Thanks for all of the tips. Hadn’t thought of wind being an issue as we have never been there, but apparently it is. We may end up renting, that is definitely an option. Was just wondering if it was worth it to try to take what we have. I know that neither is ideal. Thanks again for all of your help!

I’ve tried several times with you, and
so far it hasn’t helped.

Most of us who have been on here a long, long time have checked our own knowledge against that of others. Like the aluminum gunwale and cold crack thing. Anything is possible, but some things are really, really unlikely.

And so you thought that the boats needed
to be changed. It’s like crossover ww kayaks, the designers thought they needed skegs for cruising. Experienced ww kayakers kind of like the skegs, they do use them, but this kayaker doesn’t need them. It’s paddling technique. Higher angle, more forward, less pulling through, the latter being something you suggested, as I recall.

If there’s something SOTs need like they need another hole in the bottom, it’s more stuff sticking out from the hull. Especially in mangroves.

I might rent down there, but if you
feel more comfortable taking your own boats, then what you need to do is adjust your paddling routes to what you have. I might choose the Torrents because once the double blade gets one going, it will track adequately. I can’t see how OT Packs would track any better, they’re almost more of a toy than a canoe. But if you find access to marked mangrove trails and an occasional beach, you won’t have to make up a Torrent of excuses not to Pack yourselves out onto open water.

We were just down in the Big Bend area of FL, and there was plenty to do in semi-protected, unspoiled waters that could be done in Torrents or Packs.

Torrent. Is that a play on To Rent?

oh, you are that person
I did get rather upset when my knowledge about something that happened to me personally was questioned by someone who went on and on with theories and no first hand knowledge.

Fla. keys
Bring the kayak. My wife and I have been down there twice. It seems the wind is always blowing. You will be fighting the wind constantly in the canoe.

There is a book describing in detail many different kayak trails throughout the keys. I highly recommend it.

Its probably contributed to by JackL
He spends so much time paddling there. Not for profit.