Is it a kayak or a canoe??

We all have opinions of what a kayak is, and what a canoe is. With Most Boats, its dead obvious. An Old Town Penobscot for example is without a doubt, no argument, a Canoe. It has all the attributes of a canoe. A… perception America 13 or Eclipse is no doubt a kayak. The pamlico 140 is definetley a kayak. you know what I mean, You couldnt call a QCC500 a canoe.

But what about these new Featherlite style “canoes”?? They look like canoes, only there only about 11’ long, they are narrower than most canoes, and you sit on the bottom of it with your legs streched out and paddle it with a double-bladed kayak paddle?? So, Kayak or Canoe?? I think of it as sort of a Cross-over, but was wondering what you guys think??

Not new at all
Small pack canoes and double-blade paddles were common in the late 1800s in the Adirondacks. The most famous builder was J. Henry Rushton.


According to Manley, “Rushton made his first boat for himself, another man insisted on having it; so he made more boats. First the local people, then the world made a beaten path to the door of his boatshop in the village of Canton”, New York (Manley, p.1). Made out of cedar planks of one-quarter to three-eighths inches thick, in lapstrake (aka clinker) fashion over oak ribs, Rushton’s boat weighed in at under thirty pounds. These early boats were meant to be rowed, but evolved into the American Traveling Canoe model used by three friends who embarked on a journey to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Described by one of the friends, “these boats were fourteen feet long, ten and a half inches deep, twenty-seven inches wide; decked over except a man-hole sixteen by about thirty-six inches, and weighing, with the mast and lug-sail, from fifty to fifty-six pounds. The paddle is eight feet long, bladed at each end, grasped in the middle, and drives the canoe by strokes alternating on each side. The traveler sits flat upon the boat’s floor, facing the bow. The canoe is not only a vehicle, but furnishes a dry and secure bed for sleeping at night, and, with its rubber apron, is a refuge from rain and storm”. They slept in these things!

This type of account spread Rushton’s fame, and in the 1880’s, he formed an association with one George Washington Sears, who wrote in the magazine, Forest and Stream, of his travels in Rushton canoes in New York’s Adirondack region, under the pen-name “Nessmuk”. Nessmuk was a small man, who asked Rushton to build him a small canoe of less than twenty-nine pounds. Rushton produced a boat of three-sixteenths of an inch cedar lapstrake planks, ten feet long by twenty-six inches beam, eight inches deep in the centre, “propelled by a light double paddle, with a one-fool power in the middle, (that) gets over the water like a scared loon”. These boats proved very popular, and led to the design and construction of his smallest and lightest boat, the “Sairy Gamp” (named after “Sairey”, the nickname for Sarah Gamp in Charles Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit).

The little craft became legendary through Nessmuk’s writing in Forest and Stream. Once, he reported on his trip up the Hudson River and into Central Park, where he found a nice place to camp. Unfortunately, camping was not allowed even back then, and just as he was cooking his supper, a policeman came along; Nessmuk spent the night in jail.

In any event, Rushton became known as the “champion builder of the go-light brotherhood. He helped to democratize the sport by supplying inexpensive canoes so light that the traveler could handle them easily on the carries without the services of a guide.” His Sairy Gamp had evolved into an eight and a half foot decked canoe with a twenty-three inch beam, at nine pounds, fifteen ounces. (ibid., p. 55). Eventually, the depression of the 1890s, the popularity of bicycling, and a scarce supply of good lumber turned his business into a less successful one. As the demand for even cheaper, mass-produced articles took place, cedar and canvas, then aluminum, and now fiberglass canoes became the norm, and Rushton’s little cedar boats became all but forgotten.

kayaks are specialized canoes
if its pointy on both ends its a canoe

Wow Awesome History Lesson
Angstrom that was a great post… thanks …my regards…jack

Yo P-140, call your baot a “Decked canoe” aka “Plastic Kruger”

This side of the pond
Canoe is the generic term. A kayak is a type of canoe.

how about Featherlite Kayaks?
I just paddled a Native Compass last week that only weighed 18 lbs with the seat out and since I was seated ON the floor and used a kayak paddle-to me it’s a kayak.But lighter than any kayak I’ve ever paddled! I want one! I can see these types are best for the calmest of waters mostly due to their length (I was in a 10 footer) but it was so cool to lift it with one hand and plop it in the lake. So I like your term-Featherlite Kayak!

A canoe is a canoe
When I first saw this post, considering the source, I didn’t reply. Since others have risen to the bait, I’ll join in.

The late Bart Hauthaway stated it simply: “if you don’t have to be able to roll it to proceed safely, it’s a canoe”.

Bart was a Olympic kayaker, Olympic kayak coach and builder of kayaks and canoes for many decades. He called his pack canoes and decked canoes (they look just like “rec kayaks”) canoes. Some say his decked canoes were the inspiration for “rec kayaks” but he (and a few others) started building them over a decade before “rec kayaks” was invented as a boating category.

Sit-on-the-bottom decked canoes, propelled by double paddles, have been around for over 150 years (McGregger) and pack canoe have been around for over 130 years (Rushton and others). See Angstrom’s fine post above. See also the post on “article on pack canoes” on this message board.

We all view things through our imperfect filters and paddlers who started paddling in the last 15 years don’t know much beyond what is presently in the shops. Go to the Adirondack Museum or Mystic Museum (pack canoes now in storage) to see hundred year old sit-on-bottom canoes, propelled by double blade paddles.

With the exception of the Bell pack canoe and now the Compass pack canoe, most builders of pack canoes are/were regional with few or no dealers. Curtis, Hemlock, Placid Boatworks, Hornbeck, Cal Tec, and the late Bart Hauthaway are/were small volume builders that build/built great canoes. Andy Wolf made pack canoes for a few years. I’m aware of Phoenix canoes but have never seen one and I’m sure there are more regional builders I’ve left off my list due to my not knowing about them.

It’s only semantics in one sense; no matter what someone calls it or what category it’s put in, the craft doesn’t change. Still, it bothers me that in this kayak centric time people call anything paddled with a double blade paddle (not a kayak paddle) a kayak.


if you wear it

– Last Updated: Aug-13-07 10:54 AM EST –

its a kayak.

If you just sit in it either on the seat or the bottom its a canoe.

Most rec boats were marketed when they first appeared in the 1980's as a cross between a kayak and a canoe.

And what ever the classification that your boat has both are fine!

If the person paddling it doesnt talk to you then you know its a kayak.

If they DO talk to you , then its a canoe.


Your definition, WINS, hands down! Way too funny!

Off the subject
a little bit ,but diddnt dagger used to make a high deck version of a WW kayak that you knelt in (C1)