Kayaks paddling with canoes

Large lakes
which often have ocean conditions.

sometimes its hard to find the right
paddling partners for a given stretch of water. I don’t know you, your friends, or much about ocean like conditions, but we should all listen to that little voice inside us. If you’re having reservations then consider your options. You could find a stretch of water that is more compatible for the group or get a new group to complete what you want to do. You owe it to your paddling buddies to be honest. Tell them your concerns. You could purpose a compromise by: limiting open water time/crossings, renting better suited craft,or trying a shakedown trip. Its bad karma to go against your little voice.Only do what you’re comfortable with when it comes to others safety. It is okay to lie about the takeout. Its always “just around the bend” or “a little further.” Everybody expects that.

Mixed marriages …

… may work sometimes.

my experience
I paddle all the time with kayakers – I in my fast solo canoe. I can usually go faster than most of them. There is one guy who is always faster than I am, but he is faster than all the other kayakers, too. Only once, going through Hell Gate against really strong winds, did kayakers have to turn back and make sure I was all right (I was fine, just “slightly delayed”).

On the other hand, there are things I won’t do. I prefer edges to crossings; I choose my crossings for minimum risk and minimum distance, when sometimes the more skilled kayakers will intentionally choose the longer, rougher crossing. Having decks and bulkheads and rigging can make up for a lot of missing skill; it’s hard to outfit a non-whitewater canoe for an ocean-style crossing.

Overall, I would say that, for a wide range of moderate conditions, a solo canoeist can paddle with a kayaker, if both have experience in similar conditions and both are willing to put up with minor inconveniences related to the choice of craft. As conditions worsen, the canoeist’s skills and judgement need to improve much faster than the kayaker’s. And there comes a point where you just have to have a deck and bulkheads (in a sea canoe, possibly – nothing magic about a kayak’s seating position).

Finally, I wouldn’t go on a risky trip with people I hadn’t paddled with before, regardless of what kind of boat they liked. If rescues were at all likely, I would want to practice rescues with them. You would find out more by paddling with these people, gradually ramping up the risk and difficulty, than you will by armchair reasoning. If they are sensible and the risk is too much for them, they will bow out and save you the difficult decision.


Your comments are very, very helpful.

Can you tell me what makes for a safe yet fast canoe? Width, length, and hull shape? I don’t know anything about canoes.

I’m not at all a fast kayaker and I take pains to avoid rough water. My route decisions are very similar to your own. My concern is the times when the conditions go beyond moderate. I think you answered this when you said, “As conditions worsen, the canoeist’s skills and judgement need to improve much faster than the kayaker’s. And there comes a point where you just have to have a deck and bulkheads.”

That’s my sense also—that my intermediate kayaking skills and closed craft will get me through conditions that will overwhelm a canoe.

I’ve decided that I will tour with these canoeists. Your comments help me foresee what could transpire. I’m going to suggest a lake that has quite a few islands for shelter and a quick return to the launch. Maybe car camping with day trips would be a good way to start.

Thanks very much to everyone who contributed input on this. Very much appreciated.

Do your friends use float bags?
(in their canoes) It really, really makes a diff in handling on-water issues.

Design does play a part
in canoe seakindliness. A fat tandem of a tub with no secondary stability is not what you want in chop or waves.

I run Superior in a RapidFire. It IS a canoe, but paddled from the more stable low seated position that is in a kayak. Its hull shape bobs over waves and the shouldered tumble home deflects side waves to break down and not in. I do use a spray skirt (full) but mostly to make the hull shape more wind resistant. RF is about 23.5 inches wide at the waterline and 15 feet long. Its a canoe. Note its dimensions are not unlike many sea kayaks. (Some kayaks are 17 feet lonng but a foot or more of the length is not usually in the water)

On the Gulf of Mexico which I am going on tomorrow I am using a Curtis Nomad, a general all purpose solo canoe that is over 15 feet long. Again its no tub but I do have a standard canoe seat.

The skill set is more important…way more important than the equipment. On open water the canoeist must be able to get stable and kneel. NO sitting on a high seat in those conditions. They have to have the savvy to keep the head in bounds of the rails. The seamanship really only comes with time… knowing how weather will change without a forecast given to you, and knowing how to handle various wind directions. Canoes are more sensitive to wind, and the paddler(s) really MUST know how to ferry, and deal with stern quartering winds.

On a river trip I really see no difference between canoe and kayak. I use a canoe since I sometimes portage and carry gear some half dozen times a day…and when there are kayaks along on those trips, the kayakers lose badly.

Please do not feel free to dump excess gear that won’t fit in your kayak in the canoe…Then you really can overload them. They are just as sensitive to loads as yaks are. Its not always true that canoeists carry more. On some of my trips of two weeks everything including food comes to 50 lbs. I have done myself in on river trips by helping yakkers by carrying their three Coleman two burner stoves up front where there was room and wildly screwing up the trim of the canoe and hence the performance.

There are kayakers who have poor technique and hence go slower than faster better trained yakkers. Same for canoeists. Its true that the learning curve to get better with canoe can be daunting to some. Its up to your canoe companions how well they have trained. If they are arm paddlers, they probably will have trouble keeping up.

Also think about who is capable of doing the rescues. My kayaking friends at AMC did not want me to paddle the Gulf of Maine with them as they said I could not keep up. A two hour paddle of 12 miles had me out in front the whole time. Now the real reason they confided in me was that they as kayakers were familiar with rescuing kayakers, but had no idea how to deal with an upset canoe. So we all worked on that technique. and found that boat over boat workes fine with the kayak underneath and then the heel hook for an assisted reentry once the canoe is empty with the sunny side up.

I suspect that that too is your real concern, and its legit

Do your “friends” know
You posted this here ???


The first rule of safety for any boating excursion hinges on whether you trust the skills and judgement of your fellow paddlers. If yes, go with them. If no, the decision is really easy. The only difficult call is whether you are unsure of their abilities. In that case, you should probably start with a smaller excursion to assess their judgement and skills.

There is no reason that canoes and kayaks cannot intermingle. We’ve done this before and because the canoes can hold so much gear, they can be a joy to paddle with as long as the personalities don’t clash.

There are conditions that can overwhelm equipment and or paddler ability, regardless of the type of craft. Well outfitted canoes have been used in class 5 water and there is no reason the craft itself should be considered inferior to a kayak (though you won’t find these old knees in a canoe) :).


Sorry I have no time for trolls
What is your point?

No requirement to kneel in a canoe.
Most can be equipped with foot braces and the seats lowered to achieve acceptable stability and control while seated.

I was wondering about that myself
Thanks for the reminder. If they have them I’ll feel a lot better.

All very helpful information.

About dumping the excess gear in the canoe, my concern is the opposite. I travel very light with backpacking equipment and like to spend my time enjoying the scenery, not fiddling with large mounds of gear and 4-man tents that don’t fit on a backcountry site. But I can try to be flexible about that.

Yes, rescue is my primary concern. I do not have the ability to rescue a canoeist in the water. But like any human being I would try to assist. That would put both of us in danger in bad conditions.

My answer was to Waterbird
Read through his posts, and see how he treats his “friends” that paddle canoes.

He is the novice. Not them!

And no, I am not a troll. Waterbird knows that


You can rescue a canoist
from a kayak - at least, once you have spent a little time working on it. This is an incorrect assumption from lack of working with mixed craft.

If you have not learned or practiced this, you probably should not try tricky passages with canoes. Even if the swimmer knows how you ought to do it, you might still have to be the one executing.

Have had this experience
It is a common experience for kayakers to be joined by relatively unskilled canoeists and find they are significantly slower. We have some canoeists who can smoke many of the kayakers in our local bunch, as well as some (like me) who have some time to go before their stroke is good enough not to be in the slowest group. Many highly skilled canoeists, in my experience, paddle with other canoeists of similar skill more often than kayaks, at least on flat water. WW is a different story.

The question is not the experience but what impact it has on planning a trip. I have been on a number of short, evening type paddles where canoeists arrived with no float bags and no concept of how to handle a capsize except to swim to shore. This is not a plan in the middle of a larger lake. As to speed, there are desired routes where a minimum distance has to be made in a day to get to the next campsite, especially if it is a reservation situation.

My personal take at this point in my life is to dawdle as needed rather than worry about speed, so if it were me speed would not be the issue. But if someone plans an overly ambitious trip and ends up trying to make land in the dark, or overestimates their ability to manage the situation if a wind comes up - these are real problems. I can do a rescue with a canoe, I can do some towing. But if it is handling unprepared paddlers in the canoe(s) in a very difficult situation one of me just doesn’t go all that far. Things could get nasty.

If someone has not had experience with better skilled canoeists, or practiced kayak/canoe rescues, it is understandable that they would have some concerns about how to manage a longer trip.

No, not I
I’m well aware of my limitations related to age and anatomical functioning. In rough water I would be useless for rescuing another person whether canoe or kayak.

To be honest
I have no idea who you are or what’s on your mind, but that’s okay. Carry on.

After reading your post it struck me that a trip should probably be planned around the less skilled paddler and the least seaworthy craft. And then you paddle at the speed of the slowest person. I guess I can live with that. Or if I can’t I’ll find that out on the first trip. I’m willing to try.

I have to say again that I am a low-key paddler, not a rough-water speed demon. I just want everyone to be safe.

safe yet fast canoe
Two clarifications to my earlier post, and then an answer to Waterbird’s question.

I am fairly fast among solo canoeists. It is true that, with a canoe and a kayak of about the same length and about the same stability (given the difference in seat height), and assuming that both paddlers are giving the same effort, the kayak will usually be faster.

Your decision to paddle with someone depends more on their skills and judgement than on their boat, but the boat does matter. I disagree with those who said that an open canoe can handle everything a kayak can handle. If steep, four-foot waves are dumping onto the bow of your boat, you need a deck, not a fabric cover (and a strong deck, too – not every kayak is strongly built).

As to what makes a safe yet fast canoe:

It sounds like speed isn’t a huge issue, so I recommend a boat between 28 and 31 inches wide for most people. A 32-inch-wide solo is probably for big guys. Under 27 inches is getting into race-boat territory. A wider boat (probably a tandem paddled solo) usually gives the wind a lot of surface area to push against.

Length doesn’t matter much. I would prefer not to go below 14 feet, except for a small and skilled paddler, but you would be surprised what a good 13-footer can handle.

No opinion on depth. Probably any boat chosen for an ambitious trip by an experienced canoeist will have a good depth. Deeper means more windage but also more dryness.

I wouldn’t take a flat-bottomed boat on a high-risk trip, but as to the differences among non-flat bottoms (shallow V’s, elliptical arches, and so on), no opinion.

No educated opinion on the sit-vs-kneel question. I kneel in rough water, but I have a boat made for kneeling. I have seen sitting canoeists take some impressive waves.

If you find out what model of boat your friends are paddling, you can post the model name here and get a gazillion opinions about it.

Flotation is important. I mean good-quality float bags secured with a “cage” of cord, not just cord through the grommet holes (which like to rip out at the worst possible moment). A pump is very useful, because…

Rescues can be done basically like a boat-over-boat rescue in a kayak. (Get perpendicular to one end of the capsized boat. Turn it upside down, then lift your end so water flows out and away from you. Flip it upright.) Because of the open top, the final flip scoops up some water that a decked boat doesn’t get, so you end up with more water in the boat, unless you have a second person who can lift that end.

A few canoeists can roll a canoe. I cannot. That’s one of the reasons I avoid high-risk paddling.

Don’t assume that practice with rescues on flat water gets you ready to do rescues on bouncy water. Even holding on to the capsized boat can be a challenge.

I don’t know what you mean by “ocean conditions,” since the ocean can hand you some really horrendous conditions, and of course it depends very much on the weather conditions on the day you paddle. Some conditions will overwhelm an open boat regardless of the paddler’s skill, and some (worse) conditions will overwhelm any kayak. Basically, I recommend you practice and paddle together, and then you assume that moderate conditions will present only slightly more risk to a canoeist than to a kayaker; heavy weather significantly disadvantages the canoeist.

You mentioned you are concerned about wind, which is valid. But some of us canoeists eat wind like it’s donuts. Just depends on the paddler.

Good luck with your decisions, and happy paddling!