Canoe vs. kayak paddling

Hi, I have only ever kayaked. Nothing to big, I have a perception keowee, a 10 foot cruiser, and I’ve done a little sit on tops in the ocean. Not much though.

Now this summer I want to go on a trip. I want to take my 30 pound dog.

This leads me to select a canoe. I’ve never paddling one though. It seems to me it would get mighty uncomfortable, especially for long periods of time. I may be wrong but the two points that lead me to this conclusion are:

You sit or kneel, there’s no backrest like the kayak seat.

You alternate sides compared to the kayak which seems to have a nicer rhythm.

Now I’mno expert but is this true? Thanks.

this is true
you are no expert :slight_smile:

As I’ve never paddled a kayak, and never will; I’m no expert either :wink:

Just couldn’t resist.

Backrests and all that

– Last Updated: Apr-24-08 5:11 PM EST –

Understandable that you'd have this tendency in the kayaks you mention, but if you are actually relying on a backrest for ongoing support you aren't really paddling a kayak correctly anyway. If you were sitting more erect and rotating thru your stroke in the kayak as is desirable, you'd also be a lot closer to what you need to do in a canoe.

As to switching - you should invest in a little help on paddling a canoe. I am not there myself, but most of the people who paddle canoes in our after work group do relatively little switching. They use strokes that make it possible to keep the boat going straight while just paddling on one side.

Also, some canoes have some nice systems to make the kneeling more comfortable or allow modified positions. The canoe folks here can comment more on that.

No it is not true
I paddle them both, and I love them both.

I can sit in a canoe and paddle it all day long and I can sit a kayak and paddle it all day long.

I don’t use the back rest in my kayak and I don’t use one in a canoe.

I personally think that paddling each one becomes second nature and the boat responds to your thoughts which magically become transferred to your paddle strokes, but only after years of experience.



I’m no expert either, and…
… I didn’t even “stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night”, but I’ll take a stab at this.

In regard to “You sit or kneel, there’s no backrest like the kayak seat.”:

Yes, you either sit or kneel. Some folks who sit actually do install a backrest. There are lots of special seats made just for this purpose. Strap it to the canoe seat and off you go. If you kneel, you will never need, nor even want, a backrest. It depends on the person, but I find kneeling to be a lot more comfortable than sitting.

Actually, most people find canoes to be more comfortable, because you are not limited to a single paddling position. You can kneel, and you can rest your knees by alternately putting one leg forward, then the other. When kneeling, your body is naturally centered over your hips with no tendency to slouch, which is very relaxing. You can sit. And of course, you can adjust your position from right to left of center as well, which can be the variety that adds to your overall comfort, as well as making the boat behave better in certain situations.

In regard to “You alternate sides compared to the kayak which seems to have a nicer rhythm.”:

Well, I was once a pretty highly skilled percussionist, but my sense of rhythm, though pretty darned good, just isn’t of the caliber needed for me to make a career in music. Maybe that’s why I paddle a canoe instead of a kayak - not enough rhythm.

Actually, if you know how to paddle a canoe, you normally do NOT switch sides, except to give your muscles a rest. The canoe can be made to do just about any maneuver ever devised by paddling only on one side. Good paddlers who DO switch sides are doing so to maximize speed and efficiency. It’s a method the racers and long-distance trippers tend to do called “sit and switch”. Bad paddlers who switch sides are doing so for no particular reason other than that they haven’t learned what a canoe paddle is actually “for”.

So, in case it isn’t already obvious, being comfortable paddling a canoe all by yourself isn’t a goal that can be achieved overnight. Unlike a rec or touring kayak, you can’t just get in and do a passable job of making the boat go from Point A to Point B. It takes lots of practice to learn to do it “reasonably well”, and a lifetime to learn to do it “better”.

for the time and practice compromised
it is possible to paddle a canoe with a double bladed paddle… You are missing all the nuances of a single blade, but it will get you and your dog going.

And some pack canoes are shallow enough to sit on the bottom and paddle with a double blade…just like kayaking with the deck off…Easier to portage. And the dog does not have to fit in a hatch.

For max enjoyment find yourself a dedicated solo or a small tandem that you can paddle facing backward from the bow seat.

I threw out my yak…have 17 canoes. Sometimes I (gasp) double blade in some situations…but I like the single blade…for me all on one side.

Enjoy your new journey of discovery!

I know a lot of paddlers put a lot of emphasis on technique and form, but many of them I have paddled with are more interested in getting from point A to point B rather than the journey itself.

I own and paddle both a canoe and kayaks. I like using my kayak paddle in my canoe, but then again I’m not in any rush. I have a seat that attaches to my canoe chair not only for my back but also for my but!

hmm, and I’m about to go canoeing, and I didn’t even realize you can paddle it from one side. sheesh!


Yes and no

– Last Updated: Apr-25-08 7:49 AM EST –

A canoe can be paddled from one side. But I find as guideboatguy says above, that it takes a more skilled stroke to make a canoe behave nicely than what a paddler can get away with in an entry level kayak to get from point A to point B. So you may not find that you can paddle on just one side yet. (I know I can't.)

This hits on one of my personal whatevers - I think that entry-level kayaks can be much more dangerous than canoes because they are so good at giving someone the illusion of great competence. A really responsive solo canoe, or having a canoe in wind or current tends to immediately thrash any inflated sense of talent.

canoes more comfy
Since I have a fleet of both, I vote that canoes are more comfy overall. Ability to change positions, the leg angle etc. They are just more comfy. There are many choices for backrests for canoes. Purist will scoff, but we comfortable paddlers with backrests or additional seats appreciate, respect, but ignore their concerns.

I use a full sized boat seat that was intended to replace pedistal seats on a bass boat. Nice thick foam padding and back rest. I just set in on top of the web seats of the canoe. I can quickly push it off the web seat and into the bottom of the canoe to kneel through rapids or other difficult maneuvers like ducking under strainers.

The double bladed canoe paddle will make your paddling transition from kayaks effortless. Single bladed paddles can easily be mastered so that switching sides is only necessary when muscles get tired or strong manipulation of craft is required. If you see someone switching sides with a single blade every couple of strokes, you are watching a rookie or the terminally unskilled.

2 person kayak?

– Last Updated: Apr-25-08 11:28 AM EST –

Since you're a recreational kayak paddler you can consider a two person (large open cockpit) kayak for you and your dog. They make them without compartments and have one large open area for two. This would be more in touch with your experience of using the kayak paddle and wouldn't demand a new skill set.

Like this one:

Improving your kayaking
If you get into canoeing, you will find that once you get somewhat proficient in paddling the canoe where you want to go, especially using the paddle only on one side, that paddling your kayak will become easier. Nothing teaches valuable lessons on the subtleties of blade placement, angles, stroke variances etc. like a canoe, and they can all be applied to your kayak. At least that is what I’ve found.

You’ll probably find that you don’t need a back rest, but as pointed out here, there are several available. I used one for a 90-mile trip last summer and while I usually didn’t lean back into it, it was nice to have it there when I did.

Bigger learning curve in canoes, and all canoes are different (as are kayaks), but you’ll find it rewarding.


This is an interesting discussion. I just got into the sport last week buying a 13’ OT Predator sport canoe for flyfishing and recreational paddling on small rivers. Since I’ve never paddled seriously, I’d like to learn using a wide, lighweight kayak paddle(260CM) as it seems more efficient. Am I wrong in my thinking here? I prefer to learn just one method and stick to it…Suggestions? Thanks.

not bigger but certainly different
I agree with Celia that since it is so easy for beginners to go from A to B they can get in trouble really fast without knowing it…

A new canoeist simply will find getting from A to B a lot harder.

However while the learning curve is fast and steep at the onset for kayakers, it takes a long time to master all and become an “expert”…partly because kayakers go in such variable conditions.

Canoeists if they can struggle past the hard beginning part find that becoming more advanced becomes easier and easier once the nuances of the single blade are found.

From a Newby

– Last Updated: Apr-29-08 9:54 AM EST –

I'm three weeks and about 5 trips into canoe paddling so thought you might like a newcomers perspective. I really struggled in the wind in my tandem canoe until I got the advice to switch to bow seat, paddle facing the stern, and at some weight to the front for trim. I studied all the advice on strokes, primarily the J-stroke and am now finding I can pretty much just paddle on one side until my arms get sore, then switch. I'm doing most of my paddling on slow moving rivers. I don't think anyone has asked yet but are you going to be on open water, ocean, and marsh? If so, that might affect my decision as I find open water with wind much harder to handle in a canoe. That said, I am encouraged that after about 3 weeks, I'm "getting it" and becoming comfortable. It's certainly not as easy as it looks though... Good luck.

After several open water adventures
I make sure I stay close to shore on lakes. All you need is to be caught late in the evening far from shore when the wind picks up – or better yet caught out in a squall – and you’ll be a believer in staying close to shore. On a tandem canoe paddled solo, unless loaded down, it would be very difficult to control your direction in wind and waves. Several times when tripping with my wife, I had my eighteen foot loaded canoe blown sideways to the wind and got very close to broaching. One minute everything was going great and the next we were struggling to wrest control of the canoe back from the wind.

I like to use a bent-shaft paddle and the sit-and-switch paddling method for ninety percent of my paddling. I save the straight-shaft paddle for fast moving water. You can’t do eddy turns etc. with a bent shaft.

Watch where you stay close to shore
sometimes it is NOT wise.

For example steep cliffed lakes may generate reflecting waves…too close to shore and you have waves coming at you from two directions .

Clapotis is dangerous too and points should be steered clear of in wind.

If your boat even hints at broaching fix the situation by lining up the stern with the wind early in the hint. Never ever wait till you get close to right angles in the wind.

Get going early and you will be more likely to avoid wind problems. People that sleep in are inviting wind trouble.