General Question

gunther's avatar

Which is better for navigating shallow, narrow streams: a canoe or a kayak?

Asked by gunther (169points) March 8th, 2015

I don’t have any experience with either canoeing or kayaking, but there are some (calm) streams and rivers in my area that I’d like to explore. So I’m wondering which would be better for maneuvering in narrow and shallow water. A canoe or a kayak?

(I know someone is going to recommend that I rent each before I purchasing one or the other, but by the time I rent a canoe for an hour and then a kayak for an hour, that’s already 25% of the cost for just buying one used from Craigslist. I’m very excited about this and I’m sure it’s better for me to buy used first instead of renting something first. I’ll probably end up buying both a canoe and a kayak eventually, but I’d rather get the one that’s better for shallow water first. )

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10 Answers

jerv's avatar

Canoes tend to be a bit more flat-bottomed. While you may think that’d help in shallow water it actually doesn’t. In order to control a canoe with any real degree of directional stability, you pretty much need to have two people in it, and that added weight will push the boat down into the water enough to reduce/negate the shallow draft advantage of a flatter bottom.

Kayaks do better at the whole turning thing, and since they can be easily controlled by one person, they don’t have a terribly deep draft despite the hull being a little more V-shaped. Also, kayaks tend to be considerably narrower.

If you wind up ever carrying (or even lifting) the boat, a kayak is a bit easier there as well.

What are canoes good for then? Well, they can carry more stuff, so if you plan on camping your way down a river, the canoe is a bit better. Kayaks generally have no cargo capacity to speak of, and those that can carry stuff are limited to about a couple of small backpacks while a canoe can carry considerably more.

janbb's avatar

A kayak is much more maneuverable.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I figure unless you are going long distances or plan to camp a kayak that you can handle easily is best. Like telephoto lenses, guns, (and male members) longer is supposedly better. But if it is a PIA to handle, you will not use it. You will likely get more use out of a shorter, lighter kayak that can fit inside your car or can be easily tied to the roof rack.

wildpotato's avatar

For flatwater, you might consider a solo canoe. They can be just as manuverable as kayaks – it’s all a matter of the boat’s shape and beam. Some kayaks wallow like pigs and some shoot through the water; the same is true of canoes.

This is from Placid Boatworks:
“Solo canoes designed for use with double-blade paddles were popular during the first blossom of recreational canoeing at the turn of the century. The double-blade paddler almost doubles the single-blade user’s stroke-per-minute rate and increases speed. Double-blades allow smaller paddlers to keep up with, and even outrun, skilled single-blade users. Beginning paddlers can easily drive a canoe or kayak in a straight line with a double-blade paddle.

The difference between double-blade canoes and kayaks is deck and weight. The choice between the two should be made according to the water paddled. Fresh water, especially here in the Adirondacks and in places like the Boundary Waters, often requires portages and open topped canoes are lighter than decked boats. They are also easier to load with gear, and easier to enter. High sides keep waves out, and on fresh water, a windward shore can usually be found for protection from storms.

Kayaks are designed for open water where portaging is not a factor. As hull weight is unimportant, kayaks are decked to stay dry. They require spray skirts, complex entry and egress procedures and special skills, such as the ability to perform an Eskimo roll.”

You should also take a look at sit-on-top kayaks, since they combine many of the best features of canoes and kayaks and are great for lake and slow river paddling. But if your rivers are fast and curvy, you’ll need to lean into turns and will want higher sides than sit-on-tops offer.

You don’t have to do it by renting, but absolutely try before you buy. The best and cheapest way to do that is to attend a boat day, where a local shop brings a bunch of their boats out to a lake for people to try. Boat days are usually in the spring, and there is zero pressure to buy – many people will come out just for fun, or to try paddleboarding for a lark. And many shops will be happy to take you and the boats you’re looking at to the nearest water for a spin, any day of the year – though there is some pressure to buy in this situation.

Disclaimer: I am a flatwater kayaker who wishes she bought a canoe instead. I love calm rivers best, which always require a portage or two – and portaging is such a bitch, even with my little 25 lb ‘yak.

kritiper's avatar

Kayaks are shorter and more maneuverable in small streams.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

A kayak for sure but not your typical one. I’d get one of the ride on top ones made specifically for fishing. I floated trout streams in a small solo canoe for years and now I use one of the “ride on top” fishing kayaks, much, much better. Storage was no problem, there was plenty of room for the same camping gear I use backpacking along with fishing gear. It’s even got a wheel on the back so you can lug it around by yourself easily. I did a couple of overnight trips on it with no problem.

gunther's avatar

Ok, kayak it is! Like I said, I’ll probably end up with both eventually. It was only a few weeks ago that first noticed a rental place on a local river and started looking into it and realized that I this is something I could actually be doing… and this river turns into a creek that goes through the back end of a county park where I love to go walking but never imagined I could explore by boat… and now every day I think about paddling around down there… and man oh man… I’m gonna buy a kayak! :) Thanks everyone!

dappled_leaves's avatar

Be sure to get some sort of training before you launch yourself into your stream – it’s dangerous to be trapped under a kayak. You don’t want to be forced to learn how to get out of that situation when you’re alone in the middle of nowhere.

rojo's avatar

Did anyone mention that you need to have AND WEAR a good PFD (life jacket)?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Also can you swim? And use the PFD.

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