I am an “advanced beginner” in canoeing. I have a Novacraft Pal tandem that I use for canoe camping almost all the time - especially in late fall and winter - and a Wenonah Argosy solo that I use only in small rivers.

The Argosy has sucky primary stability which I need - I’m almost 60 - so I ALWAYS kneel to maximize stability and control. I am wondering about replacing it with a long kayak for touring on big water.

Having no experience with kayaks, I wonder what

stability would be like in a 18’ - 20’ touring kayak

when compared to a skinny solo canoe.

I do intend to try a rental kayak in the spring.

Any comments/advice appreciated!

No one can answer that for you
I paddle both canoes and kayaks, and from my experience with friends and other paddlers is some can jump right in any boat that they want to and paddle away, while others find that same boat too twitchy for their liking.

Your best bet is to rent a 17 or eighteen footer and try it, or find someone who will let you try theirs.

My guess is if you posted where you live, someone would let you demo their 18 footer.

I have quite a few years on you and started with a short fat rec. kayak, and then slowly progressed to a long skinny one. Now I will paddle any boat that I get in, but when I first started kayaking, many were way to twitchy for me.

jack L

Lots of Variation

– Last Updated: Dec-29-10 8:50 AM EST –

Some kayaks are very stable and some aren't. When you go to demos tell the staff what you're looking for. They'll steer you away from the tippy ones.

If you're an old dog ready to learn new tricks you could learn to brace and scull. You can be very comfortable in more tippy boats if you do.

And good morning, Jack! I'm on vacation this week. Lovin' it.

A few things…

– Last Updated: Dec-30-10 8:15 AM EST –

First, while you can find 18 to 20 ft kayaks I doubt you want one. Kayak Sport has them this long. But they are huge volume boats for major expedition needs. Unless you plan on circumnavigating Greenland, you will be looking shorter.

17 ft and some inches is usually considered an expedition length boat, that is can haul gear for a good week's worth or so of camping. But you may want to look hard at the about 16 ft length, usually 16 ft and some inches. These boats still have plenty of capacity for a weekend, or more depending on your camping habits, and are easier to haul around.

You will likely have to buy some new bags for camping in a kayak, since you'll need smaller sized bags to go thru the hatches than you have to think about with a canoe. If you have a big tent, you'll maybe need to pack the poles separately from the tent itself for the same reason. But all of this can be handled.

Stability is something you can essentially buy in choosing a kayak. There are more forgiving and less forgiving boats, you want to find one that is more forgiving. This does NOT remove the need to learn to re-enter from the water to handle an unplanned capsize, but you can find boats that'll make that a less likely event. The good news is it is usually much easier to get back into a fully rigged kayak with perimeter lines etc from flat water than a canoe, unless you are talking a canoe with good sized float bags. In dimensional water, waves or lots of wind or current, you gotta get a roll if you want to re-enter on the water. But I am not sure that's an environment you are paddling in.

You indicate big water, but not what that means to you. For some it means waves/ocean, for others it means larger inland lakes that can nonetheless be pretty flat.

All that said, because you are seated in a kayak, you feel the wiggles a bit more. You'll need to learn that some movement is OK, is not a start to a capsize. The best thing you can do is find a paddling group or a club and get into these boats to find out for yourself. Rental kayaks are often overly conservative re stability, and in some places it can be difficult to get one that is fully outfitted like you'd want for solo paddling. (at least 2 sealed bulkheads and perimeter rigging)

The biggest thing that you may have a difficult time acclimating to is the seated position, and relative lack of movement compared to what you have in a canoe. What seem to be unimportant differences in cockpits and seat from looking at them on land can become huge after a couple of hours in the boat. As an example, all I had to do to change one of my boats from a guaranteed backache at 2.5 hours into an all day comfortable boat was to flatten out the seat angle a bit by cutting out half an inch of foam under the forward edge. Small change physically, major results, so you will have to spend time in a boat to find out if it fits you happily.

You may be able to find winter pool sessions around you. Learning all of this in a 80 degree water is a lot easier than in cold spring water outside. They'd likely put you into whitewater kayaks, but it'd still be a start. Where are you exactly?

Your question is almost like asking if riding a road bike will be more challenging than riding a mountain bike. If you are comfortable kneeling in your canoe and using just one blade, I can assure you that sitting in a kayak and using two blades will be even more comfortable. The key is staying balanced.

good luck

Try it and see
The lower center of gravity in a kayak can actually make them feel more stable than a canoe. Unless you are paddling a whitewater canoe (with pedestal, straps and footpegs) you also have more contact with the boat in a kayak, which affords more control over heeling (leaning) the boat. The double-bladed paddle also affords a good brace on both sides of the craft, unlike a canoe, which is a big factor.

On the other side of the coin, many touring kayaks are considerably narrower than the typical solo canoe, often only a couple inches wider than your hips. This is much narrower than all but extreme solo marathon racing canoes, and the narrow beam at water line can make the boat feel a lot more tender.

In this type of boat, stability becomes a more dynamic process, requiring continual paddler input. You need to utilize your contact points with the boat, and your paddle if necessary, to maintain your body mass centered above your hips and learn to allow the boat to rock under you as waves pass. This sounds like a lot of work, but pretty much becomes instinctive after a brief time for most folks.

Of course, you don’t have to buy such a narrow kayak either.

“Stable” kayaks
There are a number of decent kayaks in the 16’ to 18’ range that have higher primary stability. Many of them are about 24" wide at the cockkpit. The Current Designs Solstice GT is such a boat, for example, but there are lots of others. Boats that are 21" wide at the cockpit will generally feel more tippy until you get used to it. Then you will come to realize that the narrower boats are actually more stable in some circumstances than wider boats. So my advice, for now, is to try sea kayaks in the 16’ to 18’ range that are 24" wide at the cockpit.

Even if it seemed stable, the Argosy
would not be a solo boat for “touring on big water.” Are you happy with what the Argosy does do for you? I’m 68 and kneel almost all the time, but there are ways to set up a “narrow” canoe so that it is usefully stable when paddled sitting. Let me know if you want to keep it, or want to move on to touring kayaks. Canoes excel when portages are necessary. Kayaks are great for open water.

Stability is highly personal
Perhaps this helps…multiple factors involved.

Influences on Stability in a Kayak

  1. Water conditions
  2. Boat shape
  3. Boat loading
  4. Skill of the paddler
  5. The paddle
  6. Wind

Sea legs … er, hips …
I’ve always felt comfortable, stability wise, in kayaks, and wondered about why, when others starting out sometimes say they felt so unstable, even sometimes rolled right over unintentionally.

I used to canoe a bit as a kid, kneeling and sitting, and learned that a canoe is quite stable, even when the “deck” (imaginary line) is not level. Remember going out in Sebego lake in Maine in some fairly big waves, having a blast “canoe surfing”. You only tipped over if you fought the roll; relax the hips and go with it, and the canoe behave like a long, narrow destroyer in high seas.

Grew up on boats on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, so I developed “sea legs” early in life. Kinda the same idea as the canoe: loose hips, go with the roll.

Kayaks are the same. Loose hips, go with the roll. The deck does not need to be level, even while at rest. Many are just as stable on angle at rest.

Some folks starting out are nervous, especially if they are not used to small boats, and want to keep that deck level at all times. Twitches get more pronounced, like a pendulum, until over compensation takes them too far, and over they go. Or they spend the whole time nervously twitching.

Your experience in canoes will probably mean an easy transition to kayaks. The same principles apply. And more so then even canoes, Sea kayaks are designed to be leaned over quite a bit.