Row vs Paddle

Brand new. Rented a 16’ Wilderness Kayak. First time ever in a kayak. Smitten…Life changing.

Motorboats have never scratched the itch.

Sailing is a flat out blast, but on my day off no wind or beautiful wind looking out window at work, you get the idea.

Then I tried a kayak…OMG I was on a natural high for two days.

I love the romance of rowboats. Sitting there with two oars putting your back into it…

My question to you all is this. Do rowboats cover as much ground as a kayak? If someone wanted to do the Maine Island Trail?

Thank you all…as I am typing this I am getting a pretty solid answer LOL

Peace and Respect

Tn Kelly

yes and no
Some rowing craft are faster than paddle craft and visa versa.


– Last Updated: Sep-14-14 6:28 PM EST –

Depends on the rowboat, the kayak, the load, and sea conditions to name a few variables.

Edit, Oops, meant to post to the OP. SA disease?

unless you have a portable rowboat
such as a guideboat you will have to learn how to moor allowing for 12-15 foot tides on the Maine Island Trail.

there are several methods.

Speed is not the only wrinkle. You might contact the Wooden Boat School folks in Brooklin. I am sure they have had students who have made a seaworthy “pulling craft”…inbetween a dinghy and a shell.

Rowing can be faster
Most sea kayaks can be faster than most row boats, but row boats designed for speed can be faster than most kayaks.

The row boat built for speed won’t be able to haul much, needs constant attention on the oars to keep from tipping over, and you are always looking at where you have been, not where you are going.

Except for the looking back part, these are pretty much generalizations. IMO, facing forward in the kayak is much more pleasant than taking occasional glances over your shoulder to see where your rowboat is going. Additionally, the sea kayak is generally more sea worthy, has a lower wind profile, and can be rolled upright in the event of capsize (try that in a row boat).

One reason rowing can be faster is that you really use all your major muscle groups, especially in a sliding seat rig. Legs, back, shoulders and arms get worked. To me, it’s much more of a total work out than kayaking.

Both are fun.


Take a look at the 90 miler results
On “Macs Livery” and it will give you a good idea.

Then once again, it depends on the engine in each.

For a row boat to keep up with a good sea kayak it will take a powerful rower in a good guide boat

Jack L

My experience
I find my Guideboat has similar performance to my Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 plastic sea kayak.

For what you wish to do I think you need something that allows you to recover from a capsize. One possibility is

There are always exceptions
But being practical, why not just go with what can get er done–a really good sea kayak. Now the task is to find the right one.

To do the Maine Island Trail…
Much of it involves crossing our into pretty open water, and a few of the spots require fortuitous timing as well to make it a safe trip. There are reasons it is usually done in a sea kayak which is designed to allow the paddler to recover from a capsize and protect the gear.

Though it is not common, I have seen people do major parts of the trail in canoes. A pair of them stayed at the campsite on Ames Cove a few years ago when we were there in our rental. They had horrid weather for most of that trip - high winds, torrential rains. The canoes were each rigged with sails as I recall and the paddlers were damned good.

I don’t know where that link is, but they posted a blog about that trip. I’d suggest you knock around search engines looking for canoes doing the Maine Island Trail in the last several years. You should read up on their experiences to assess whether you would be happy trying this in an open boat.

My competition single scull was faster,
but with a delicate build, poor maneuverability, and poor provision for storage, it was no wilderness tripper.

But there are Adirondack and similar rowing craft that are excellent for some kinds of wilderness travel.

It’s been said
already, but I’ll add my $.02. Seems like you tried a kayak and loved it. Not sure that a pair of oars is going to satisfy in the same way, but it may.

Some things to consider:


  • can generally navigate areas a row boat cannot (both narrower and often has a shallower draft)
  • are more responsive and less likely to swamp in rough conditions
  • are likely (as a class of boat) to be faster and more seaworthy in surf and waves during entries and exits

    Row Boats:
  • generally more stable and wider (racing sculls or some of the Aire cats are exceptions and the Aire - or Aire-like cats look like a lot of fun to paddle, but I’ve never tried one)
  • will be better exercise, if that is the goal, since the entire torso+legs are required for each pull
  • are (generally) more difficult to transport to and from the launch
  • perhaps better for watching harbor seals and sea lions since they tend to sneak up behind kayakers :slight_smile:

    It matters little which you choose, since you will be outdoors and on the water, interacting with nature, and returning to the sea. As Melville says:

    “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”


Its sometimes done
An open water rowing boat can’t be compared to a canoe. But the Maine Island Trail was conceived as a Canoe Trail… Long before kayaks were around. The old timers always used canoes. Yes they also had a strong mentoring system so the paddlers learned the area and acquired sea sense (something that is often missing these days)

We do use open skiffs for MITA monitor runs and cleanups.

And I do use a pack canoe for MITA trips…one coming up! If I had access to a speedy rowing craft I would be more than willing to try that as it would be a new experience for me

A well designed pulling boat
can be as fast as most sea kayaks. I once owned a 16 foot replica of a New York Whitehall that was built by Shew & Burnham in South Bristol, Maine. It was too heavy to car top and so required a trailer to transport. With eight foot spruce oars it was a fast boat but not good for exploring tight waterways and required constant twisting of the neck to see where I was headed. After I had a chance to paddle one of Bart Hauthaway’s Rob Roy double-paddle canoes at Mystic Seaport I immediately bought my first sea kayak and sold the Whitehall. That was 23 years and ten kayaks ago.

Amost everything has been said

– Last Updated: Sep-15-14 12:24 PM EST –

I can add a few comments though. I've been on a number of trips using my Adirondack guide-boat where many of the other paddlers were in sea kayaks or touring kayaks. I was able to keep up with any of them. One of these trips was straight into a tremendous headwind that often raised thick clouds of sand off the river sandbars high above the treetops (supposedly we had 45 mph sustained winds across a huge area on that day, but I imagine that the wind we experienced at ground level was less).

The usual complaint about the need to twist your head to see where you are going when rowing doesn't bother me much. On a downstream trip on a river with many islands, you will actually see a lot more interesting features when looking back the way you came, as well as forward, than if facing forward and only looking forward.

For coastal conditions like you describe, a sea kayak would provide a big advantage in terms of safety compared to something like an Adirondack guide-boat, and also when when launching/landing in surf. Rowboats that are really well-suited to such ocean conditions most likely aren't very portable. However, in any open-water conditions suitable for a canoe, a guide-boat with a single person on board will usually be more capable.

When I look at videos of the Everglades Challenge I do not see pulling boats but see Kayaks galore.

I do agree that the Kayak might be what I need to focus on.

I am looking at Pygmy Osprey or Arctic Tern. Would prefer plans only. But I see the benifits of a kit. Plans only allow to purchase materials as money is available…

Are there other Sea Kayak kits/plans I should be investigating?

Peace and respect

Tn Kelly

that might be due to some other factors
Including the fact that the Everglades Challenge is a race.

The other is tradition… Maine has a loong boatbuilding heritage including seaworthy rowing craft.

Yes there are rowboats designed specifically for the Maine Island Trail.

I am aware of the history

– Last Updated: Sep-15-14 2:39 PM EST –

I am also very respectful of trying to get around Pemaquid or through Mosquito with bad timing. If someone is a newer or more average paddler in terms of ocean time, which is the case here, a sea kayak can provide a little head room for inexperience.

Where are you at on skills?

– Last Updated: Sep-15-14 2:55 PM EST –

If I get this right, you are talking about maybe a solo trip in offshore ocean and a chilly one at that. Paddling in water that is in the upper 50's or maybe has gotten to a balmy 62 degrees means that you have less time to solve problems on the water than in Florida in the summer.

If you have started working towards a roll and have a very solid brace, have practiced on-water recoveries for when that doesn't work and started on basic work to understand the effects of weather very well, investing the time to build a boat is a great idea. You would know from paddling time exactly what features are likely to be most important to you for your plans. You would also understand what boat hull characteristics will best suit you for along trip in at times challenging conditions.

If all of this is new to you, it might be a better idea to get a basic decent plastic sea kayak used and spend time of skills work in pool sessions over the winter. Right now is a decent time - rental fleets are turning over their boats.

I don't think the idea of the right kind of rowboat is a bad idea. I am concerned that you are starting from a point of extremely limited experience. In that case an approach that gets you more in the way of open water skills rather than shop time might be a better way to start. A used plastic sea kayak can gets you into the skills part fairly quickly.

Leisure/recreational paddling
Aye, I do believe that I was not very clear in my questions. I appologize for that. I am still gathering my thoughts and trying to wrap my head around this new (new to me) sport.

I will say that 99.9% of the time I would use my Kayak to put in the water on a whim, paddle for an hour or two and go home. I live within 5 minutes from a boat ramp. I live within 30 minutes from 9 boat ramps on 2 bodies of water in east Tennessee. Most of the time I will be alone but my wife will have her own if she should want to join me.

I have started to build wooden boats as a hobby.

I do have plans on weekend camping occasionally in the spring and fall. A few years from now I would like to do the Everglades Challenge. Not as a race, but just to say I have done that, like a bucket list item.

Like the Honda Goldwing, I am not sure if I need a complete touring monstrous capacity tall geared machine to tool around locally every day. But I dont want a dog that I have to muscle around either.

I would like a Calm kayak that I can paddle around and commune with nature with. A kayak I can grow with.

I do know that one Kayak can not do everything one thing the best. I am looking for a solid fun everyday all around kayak.

Peace and Respect

Tn Kelly

if you look at the boats in the EC
there are all kinds. It’s really up to you what you would like better

Your passion seems to be woodcraft too so something you can get good plans for a build is important.

I don’t know of any plans for a wooden sea canoe like I have but they may well exist. The Sea Wind by Kruger and other boats like it (like my Monarch) do well.

I use the Mad River Monarch regularly in the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Maine. While it is a canoe its partially decked and is deep to shed waves very well. MITA camping in it is a breeze too as it takes big packs. I can also sleep in it. It is a rather specialized canoe and one of its fine relatives the Sea Wind is probably one of the best and safest sea craft around. You can see and read a bit about what is possible here.

Moving around and chsnging positions over long distances is possible and adjusting the seat from kayak on the floor to more of a canoe height is possible…on the fly too!

Just to let you know of all the possibilities.