kayak or canoeing

What’s the difference between canoeing and kayaking?

Is it a kayak or a canoe? Both use paddles and both get you up and down the water, but just what is the difference between canoeing and kayaking? We take a look at the great canoe vs kayak debate…

Tell us simply what the difference is between canoeing and kayaking
The quick answer is that the paddle and the position of the paddler marks the difference between canoeing and kayaking.

Go on then, tell us more…
Well, in a canoe the paddler is kneeling or sitting on a bench and the paddle is single bladed. In a kayak the paddler is generally seated, with legs outstretched and the the paddle is double bladed.

So is that it?
No. That’s just the easy way to tell the difference between a canoe and a kayak. After that, it’s all about paddle technique, where you’re using your vessel and the pros and cons of both types of boat.

canoe and kayak paddles

Canoes and kayaks have different types of paddles

OK let’s have the rundown on paddling techniques
If you’re in canoe you’ll have a single blade paddle with a ’T’ shaped handle at the top. One had holds this ’T’, with the other holding the shaft half way down. You make strokes in the water to propel yourself forward by plunging the blade into the water and pulling back. You then alternate left and right hand side of the canoe.

Kayakers have a longer paddle, which has two blades. You hold the paddle with both hands shoulder-width apart in the middle of the shaft and dip the right and then the left side into the water to make the paddle stroke. You’ll notice the blades on the paddle are mounted at 90 degrees to each other, so a slight twisting movement is needed as you alternate sides.

kayak paddle

The double-bladed kayak paddle

What about the differences in where you can use a canoe or a kayak?
There’s one important difference between the way a canoe and a kayak is designed that determines where you can use both vessels. A canoe is generally open top with higher sides, whilst a kayak is closed in. Indeed, kayakers sort of look ‘sealed in’ to the kayak when they have a spraydeck fitted around them, which makes the opening of the kayak watertight.

Although you do see canoes on white water, kayaks are generally the best choice of vessel for riding rapids and white water (in an open canoe the water would just overflow into the canoe). It also means kayakers can do those famous ‘eskimo roll’ moves where they ‘capsize’ and right themselves using their hips and the paddle.

Canoes, meanwhile, are great for calmer waters such as rivers, inland lakes and the like. And of course, kayaks can be paddled here too! But again, the key to be able to tell if it’s a canoe or kayak is the paddle. One blade for a canoe, two blades for a kayak.

river canoeing

A leisurely canoe safari along a gentle river

Is kayaking an Olympic sport?
Yes – and so is canoeing. Sprint and Salom events for both canoe and kayak are the most well-known of the Olympic paddle sports events. There’s also marathon, freestyle, wildwater, canoe polo, ocean racing and paraolympic canoeing too. Some are solo or paired events, whilst the dragon boat racing is a whole team of paddlers gunning it along the water!

white water kayaking

Competitive kayaking on white water rapids

Where can beginners go to learn kayaking or canoeing?
There are paddle centres around the UK offering kayaking and/or canoeing lessons. Some are very much at a leisurely pace with canoeing and kayak tours along gently flowing rivers, combining paddling with sightseeing. We’re talking canoeing past Hampton Court Palace, along the Thames at Windsor or around the famous Eel Pie island in Twickenham.

It’s worth noting that the British Canoe Association (BCU) oversees both canoeing and kayaking in the UK and is also the body that accredits canoe and kayak centres. You should make sure that the centre you’re interested in is a BCU accredited centre with BCU qualified instructors too. The centres featured on our Intotheblue.co.uk canoe and kayak page are all BCU accredited.

So now you know what the difference is between canoeing and kayaking, it’s time to get out on the water and get paddling, be it in a canoe or a kayak. It’s a great sport out in the fresh air and can be as adrenaline-fuelled, or as chilled out as you like!


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