Help Me Understand Kayaks versus Canoes

I am a Canadian who has been transplanted into Florida. I used to be an intermediate whitewater canoeist in Canada. I was also a canoe trip guide for several years in Canada on both lakes and rivers. I am trying to transition to outdoor water travel and mostly overnight tripping in Florida. I have questions about kayaks versus canoes.

In Florida, I notice the boat of choice is the kayak. Pictures of meetup groups show a ton of people using the shorter sit-in kayaks, rather than sit-on-top kayaks. I called a rental place and the only thing they rent out is kayaks, and most are sit-ins. Most rental places don’t even rent out canoes – they are all sit-in kayaks for the most part.

I have a few questions, even if you aren’t a Floridian…

  1. Why a sit-in kayak versus a sit-on? For me, the Sit-ons are better if you don’t care much about stability because they are easier to get into, and you normally have more room for gear.

  2. Why kayaks rather than canoes in Florida? And if you aren’t a Floridian, please give your opinion on solo kayaks versus solo canoes in general for river and lake travel…to me, the sit-on kayaks are more for fishing than tripping, and the sit-in kayaks are more for whitewater than canoes since they shed water. But I am not sure if I’m missing anything.

Any advice you can give is appreciated. Personally, I don’t see the point of a Kayak at all given the availability of lower weight, longer, and roomier solo canoes like the first one at the links below. But I am certainly open to information that changes my mind.

Here are a few I am considering, but not sure about which is best.
Solo 11 foot 9" canoe (lighter than most kayaks).

Sit-On Top Kayak with room for gear behind, and in front of paddler (I have short legs)

Sit-in Kayak (my least favorite given lack of room for gear).

By the way, even if you’re not in Florida, I do want your opinion, just tell me you’re not in Florida…:slight_smile:

Also, I want to add that canoes are generally easiser to portage give the middle gunwale you can use as a yoke. I know the solo canoe pictured above has a problem with its middle (no suitable gunwale for portaging) but I have a fix for that, so don’t worry about that part of it. Thoughts welcom on my questions below.

We generally don’t portage in Florida.

When we tote the boat we use a cart. There are 11,000 plus miles of rivers and streams in FLA. Many of em connect. And some 1800 miles of saltwater shores.

What part of Florida? Easier to show than tell.

don’t follow the ‘crowd’, paddle the craft you prefer, however,

if you plan on going out through the surf, paddling the ocean, and returning through the surf, I would suggest a kayak.

if, sticking to the rivers, springs, again, choose your favorite craft.
Not much portaging in FL (unless you’re a ‘Ultimate Florida Challenge’ Watertriber)

I started paddling in Minnesota, canoe country. The canoe is certainly the preferred craft in the BWCA.
Again, however. I recall the 1st time I brought my kayak up to the Boundary Waters. Smiling as I navigated down the rapids, watching the canoe portagers along the side. (I know, canoe’s can do rapids as well).

On types of kayaks, check out an article in California Kayaker Magazine on different types of kayaks. It can be found at Issue #10.

In many areas, sit on top rental kayaks are more common than sit inside for the reasons you said. Without training, if a sit inside flips, the rescue is to swim to shore, so hopefully these rentals are in places where that is possible. Sit no top paddlers are more exposed to the elements, but Florida probably is warm enough most of the year that it isn’t an issue.

If you aren’t doing surf and the winds aren’t too bad, paddle your canoe.

Not from FL. I was paddling there last week. Surf zone outings that were decidedly not friendly towards open cockpits.
It sounds like you love canoe paddling. And with any paddlesport, it’s just a matter of using sound judgement and matching paddlecraft and capabilities with what you enjoy.
Take a canoe and add a waterproof deck and bulkheads to rid the worry of swamping. You add weight, make access more difficult, and limit your seating position. Now eliminate freeboard and lower the deck for better performance in the wind. You’ve limited cargo capacity and you have to sit on the bottom. You now have a forced lower center of gravity, so you can exchange stability for efficiency in the hull. The point here is that it’s not better or worse, just compromising between preferences.
As you gain experience in a kayak, and begin making use of thighbracing, you start to understand the boat control that it affords. As conditions get rough, there isn’t much you can do to compensate for that. But as mainly a sea kayaker, there is no denying the pleasure of an open bench seat and a single blade in a canoe. Maneuvering with a single blade sure makes a double blade feel clumsy.

There are advantages and disadvantages to open canoes versus decked boats, whether the latter are canoes (C1s) or kayaks. And the distinction between canoes and kayaks can become rather blurred.

While canoes are typically thought of as open-top hulls that are paddled from a sitting or kneeling posture using a single-bladed paddle, there are exceptions. Some pack canoes have a very low sheer line and are designed to be paddled from a very low seated position, often with double-bladed paddles. And there are partially decked canoes that are nearly as sea worthy as kayaks.

As for kayaks, I do not agree that sit-on-tops necessarily have more room for gear than sit-in kayaks (SINKS). Some SINKS have a lot of cargo storage area, but it is often less immediately accessible and harder to load or unload gear in and out of than sit-on top boats.

For very rough conditions in which sizable waves are expected, a decked boat or sit-on-top kayak offers advantages over an open boat in that they do not fill up with water. SINKs usually position the paddler lower and offer more protection against the elements than sit-on-tops. But sit-on-tops are easier to get on and off and if they capsize it is possible for most paddlers to right them and climb back on board. SINKs paddled with a spray skirt can be rolled back upright and usually present less windage than sit-on-top kayaks and much less than a canoe, which is an advantage in adverse winds.

Canoes can be paddled in some pretty nasty conditions and can be rolled back upright by skilled paddlers, but unlike a decked boat, they will contain water after being rolled up which is an obvious disadvantage.

In inland, relatively protected waterways canoes have some clear potential advantages, especially for tripping. They are much easier to load and unload than kayaks. They are easier to enter and exit than SINKs. They are easier to portage, if that becomes necessary. For river tripping in which the gear need only be loaded and unloaded once per day, kayaks are not too bad. For north woods type tripping in which multiple portages per day might be required, as well as lift overs over beaver dams or log jams, I personally would want nothing to do with a kayak.

It is true that kayaks have become more popular relative to canoes in most parts of the US, and especially relative to Canada. Kayaks are quite suitable for day trips, catch less wind, and are generally easier to learn to paddle at the beginning level than canoes are. In a kayak, all the strokes are symmetrical side-to-side, a strong brace is available on both sides, a higher stroke cadence can usually be maintained, and no steering, correction, or cross-strokes are required to make the boat go straight.

Have you noticed that everybody in Florida drives Toyota Prisus cars. That’s cause we all like to save money on gas. That’s the only cars they have to rent in the whole state. Oh……. BS………

It is a personal choice. You paddle a canoe or kayak it is your choice. If you are picking boats like the ones in the links you provided they paddle a lot alike. I suggest you paddle the canoe it is what you know better. But what canoe. If you did white water then short with plenty of rocker, some air bags and likely a saddle. But if you did trip guiding with a portage I bet the boat was long, way less rocker and carried a lot , had neither float bags or a saddle. If you raced ……………well that’s another kind of canoe.

I cover Tampa to Jacksonville to Destin most of the time with trips outside of that area from time to time. Most rentals carry sit on tops, SOT, recreational sit in kayaks, paddle boards and canoes. Very few carry sea kayaks. I don’t know what part of Florida you landed in. But you pick the boat for what you intend to paddle.

Most Meet Up groups in Florida are “drifters” many are admittedly in it for meeting people and doing many things. So the kayaks aren’t very specialized. For more specialized boats and meet up groups look at clubs that use Meet Up for scheduling. Look at ………………….

  1. Florida Sea Kayak Meet Up — FSK-Me…………
  2. Seminole Canoe and Kayak Club……… (note private but yyou should be able to see the first photo. 90 year old club with many canoes and kayaks
  3. Kayak St Augustine………… , note look at the photo album it is mostly sit on top kayaks. Any of the sit in kayak you see will likely be recreational. Greg has been running this group a long time. He likes to introduce new people to kayaking.
  4. Florida Sport Paddling Club (FSOC) ……. , Long standing club with many serious paddlers…that also own canoes but paddle a lot of seakayaks.
  5. Simply Laidback Adventurers, Campers and Kayakers (SLACKERS)……,.… largely a long time running recreational group of kayakers that do other tings.

In April we go with the canoe club to Okefenokee on a three day trip. We’ll take the old Grumman or the Mad River. It’s easier to pack. Can be slept in if necessary and we can take a bigger cooler. That trip is with other canoes. So our boats to match the bunch.

This weekend we take the two sea kayaks to paddle the Rainbow River and Crystal River, Kings Bay. We are leading a group so we’ll likely just do a down leg on the Rainbow river 8 miles to the boat ramp next to the restaurant. If we were going without we’d use the 17 ft sea kayaks and paddle up the river and back, 16 miles to make lunch more satisfying. There is a 1 to 2 mph current that is not a problem if you paddle your sea kayak at 4 mph. The boats in your links above are typical 2 mph boats. Although we know a couple of farmers from Ocala that paddle a 10ft sit in, rec boat a good 3.5 mph average with the group on a 10 to 12 mile trip with river current.

Last weekend we took the sea kayaks out to the gulf at Fort Desoto and did some open water work in the waves. Although I did take my solo canoe there and do some “open” water paddling it was only for instruction and was only in the 1 ft waves of the bay. But my solo is 15 ft long and 28" wide. Which will likely make it more kayak like in paddling and speeds. Your solo canoe above is 11 ft and 32 " wide.

For a kick we often take the dog in the fishing kayak. Dog is 80#. (getting old and fat) He rides good in the fishing kayak. Wife often takes him. She paddles the 12 ft fishing kayak, SOT, with the dog in the back compartment. She removes the bungee. The 12ft SoT with the dog she expects a 3 to 3.5 mph average on a “workout” pace for an hour. In the 17ft sea kayaks that speed would be at an all day cruise pace.

I’m gong to screw you all up !
I am a six month resident of Florida, and paddle almost every day
When I am in my kayak (18 foot sea kayak) I like that the best.
When I am in my canoe, I like that the best
And lastly; what you didn’t mention; When I am on my paddleboard I like that the best

Isn’t the water in Florida warm enough you can just swim? Boats are only needed way up here in the frozen north. Well, not when it’s frozen… but that’s another story entirely.

@Sparky961 said:
Isn’t the water in Florida warm enough you can just swim? Boats are only needed way up here in the frozen north. Well, not when it’s frozen… but that’s another story entirely.

Well is 55 degrees warm? Or perhaps 72 degrees warm? Depends upon the water and location you select.

PSS…In a sit in kayak with the skirt installed you do not sun burn the inside of your leg. In a canoe I burn those areas every time I’m not wearing hydroskins. The sit in kayak is warmer than a canoe. Of course it depends upon what you wear. But the skirt keeps the south end covered and warms up the trunk with the tunnel.

Canayak…None of this applies to the links you showed. All are exposed. You can get a half skirt for the “sit in” but it is too big a cockpit for a real skirt.

The Rainbow River between headsprings and Swampys is hardly 8 miles each way
Its 4.7 and we did it round trip in 2.5 hours for a total of 9.4 miles
Two solo canoee
last week
But not two bathtubs
one solo is 15 feet and 28 inches wide the other 15 and 26 inches
The Disco would be more work

@Overstreet said:
We generally don’t portage in Florida.

When we tote the boat we use a cart. There are 11,000 plus miles of rivers and streams in FLA. Many of em connect. And some 1800 miles of saltwater shores.

What part of Florida? Easier to show than tell.

Am in Orlando…

Canayak, being in Orlando is not too helpful in advising you on a craft. You haven’t indicated where you want to paddle. You have the gamut of paddling locations and types available to you within reasonable reach of Orlando, ocean as well as swamps and rivers…

As people have indicated above, if you plan on ocean paddling and coming in thru surf, a canoe presents issues that are mitigated by a decent kayak. Meaning 12-14 ft with two sealed bulkheads if sit inside. Or longer for bigger water. If you want to stay in the many rivers and small lakes around you, given your past experience a canoe would likely be a better fit. As others have indicated there is not typically the kind of portaging in Florida as further north like in the Adirondacks.

I too am confused by your posit that a sit on top carries more gear than a sit inside. My best guess is that you have not gone to see a proper sea or touring kayak, two bulkheads as described, in person. Rental outfits put people into the bargiest kayaks they can find in order to reduce the likelihood of a beginner capsizing. That is not guidance for what someone would want to purchase and live with long term for themselves.

You are just over 2 hours away from Sweetwater Kayaks in St Petersburgh. Do yourself a favor and go see those folks, talk to them and even take a basic lesson in a sit inside sea kayak so you understand what people are saying here.

Then decide what to buy.

This is a sea kayak in a line that Sweetwater handles for ex -

You may want to check. on pack canoes
While you have to look for one as opposed to buying in WalMart or Dicks
we have a member here that regularly uses hers on her Wekiva SP volunteer river duties
A sea kayak isnt going to be as useful unless you go on the ocean Even for that on the Gulf side I use my 15 foot pack canoe

Remember liveries buy cheap and in quantity so as to keep costa down. That and the ubiquitous big box store availability of poly kayaks

SOTs are useful for fishing and I have seen a lot of foot powered ones
Its likely in the long run you have a bunch of different boats: the classic 16 foot Canadian canoe has the least use from what I see. Most people are bot out for two weeks except in the Glades
I would have been this week but the heat to me is horrid!

@Canayak said:

@Overstreet said:

What part of Florida? Easier to show than tell.

Am in Orlando…

Orlando is one of my least favorite cities. I don’t think I’ll be there anytime soon.

Greg at Adventures in Florida can hook you up with rentals canoe, seakayak and kayak. They have a meet up too. He has several trips throughout the state. His meet up site often paddles in Orlando. they do paddles in some of those lakes in the city.

Sweetwater Kayaks, as Celia said, is an excellent shop in St Petersberg. They recently moved to the new building across the street from a park on Tampa bay. With sea kayaks and canoes. Think high tech not big box entry level. But they do have consignments. They just held the Gulf Kayak Symposium which had a day devoted to solo canoes. In their shop directly in from the front door they have a very light weight model most like my solo canoe. Configuration balance etc.

Rock Springs Run…………the favorite of all Orlando-ites is pretty and normally crowded. The launch point has shuttles and rentals. This is water suitable for canoe or kayak. Note they rent canoes too. It can also be ……… well like Orlando…….crowded.

Wekiwa Springs State park…………the paddle contractor has several types of basic boats there. There have canoes and tandem kayaks as well as basic starter kayaks. They operate in the summer and get real crowded during the weekend. It is a place where you paddle straight and stop for the cross traffic of wayward divorce boats then sprint out of the way as they come back.

Lake Kissimmee state Park………….is where they train park paddle tour leaders………it has a lot of water to paddle…it also has a paddle conssessionair (sp) that rents canoes and kayaks. They might be open now. It will be less crowded than Wekiwa.

Canayak, maybe the best way to figure out why many prefer a sit inside kayak is to paddle a real good one–something like a Current Designs Prana, Stellar Intrepid, Valley Nordkapp, P&H Cetus, or my personal preference–the NC Expedition. If you’re interested in covering long distances and not having to worry much about conditions, a sea kayak is the boat.

However, don’t expect to be comfortable sitting in a sea kayak for extended periods the first time out. It can take a lot of paddling for your body to get accustomed to the boat and to get your paddling technique right. As for getting in and out of the boat, that too takes practice and maybe some instruction. When you get all the elements figured out, it’s very addictive.

In general and I know this will cause some comment, but a canoe is a pickup truck and a sea kayak is a sports car.