How to Tell the Difference Between a Kayak and a Canoe [Simple Answer]

Many people become confused between kayaks and canoes as both of them are lightweight, controlled using paddles as well as many other similarities. However, there are key unique differences between them. So what are these differences and how to differentiate between a kayak and a canoe?

Throughout this article, we will do our best to answer these questions, so you can easily tell the difference between a kayak and a canoe.

We will tell you 7 ways in which you can easily distinguish between a kayak and a canoe.

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The 7 Ways to Differentiate Between a Kayak and a Canoe

1. Letters and Numbers

This is the basic classification. The letter stands for whether it is a kayak or a canoe, where K is for Kayak, and C is for canoe. While the number stands for the number of people that can fit inside, for example, 1 means that this is a solo kayak or canoe, 2 means that 2 people can fit inside and so on. So if we have a C2, this means that it is a canoe for two people, while a K4 is a kayak for a four-people crew.

This is probably the easiest and most straightforward way of differentiating between both of them. As it does not require anything other than knowing that K is for kayak and C is for canoe and that the numbers indicate the number of people that can fit inside.

2. Design

Design is a great tell, and it is easy to differentiate between a kayak and a canoe using their design. Typical canoes always have an open deck, while kayaks mostly have a closed one. The deck is the upper part, and the difference is very clear as an open deck means that the top of the canoe is not covered. The paddler is fully exposed as his lower body is inside the canoe while his upper body is not covered by anything.

However, a closed deck means that the paddler’s lower body is covered by the deck, and sometimes a part called a spray skirt is added to cover a portion of the paddler’s upper body as well. So to simplify things, a paddler inside a typical canoe is not covered by anything as a typical canoe has an open deck, while a paddler inside a kayak is covered as it has a closed deck.

3. Uses and Purposes

There are differences in both their uses and purposes as kayaks are considered the high-end choice while canoes are the regular choice. Canoes are usually used by beginners and amateurs as they can mostly fit more people, more practical and slower than kayaks, which makes them much easier to handle.

On the other hand, kayaks are a lot faster than canoes and can carry fewer people. This makes them more suitable for more dangerous and more competitive waters.

4. Paddle

There is a major difference between a kayak’s paddle and a canoe’s paddle. That being that, kayak paddles are usually double-bladed while a canoe’s paddle is usually single-bladed. What do double-bladed and single-bladed paddle mean?

This means that a single-bladed paddle has a fin or blade on one side only while the other side has a grip while a double-bladed paddle has fins or blades on both sides and is grabbed from the middle.

This point ties into other points. As double-bladed paddles used in kayaks are harder to use but require less energy, which makes them perfect for kayak users as they usually more experienced. While single-bladed paddles used in canoes are perfect for canoe users, which are usually amateurs and new users, however, they require more energy as you constantly change sides and lift the paddle up and over the canoe.

5. Paddling Technique

This point is strongly tied to the previous one, as the difference between the type of paddle used will definitely lead to a difference in the technique used. As we said before, canoe paddlers use a single-bladed paddle which has a grip on the other side. This makes the process of canoeing and the techniques used very different from those used in kayaking as they use a double-bladed paddle, which is held from the middle.

So when using a single-bladed paddle, you hold the grip in one hand and alternate your strokes between each side by raising the paddle from one side to the other and pushing yourself forward. One hand holds the grip tightly while the other grasps the middle of the paddle to provide support.

When using a double-bladed paddle, you grip the paddle from the middle and push yourself forward by alternating between both sides. First, the right side and then the left side, the blades must be set at a 90 degree to each other. You must twist to maximize your pushing power.

6. Seating

In a canoe, you can sit in one of two ways, while in a kayak, you can only sit in one way. In a kayak, you can only sit down with your knees stretched out in front of you while your knees rest on a thigh brace. While in a canoe, you either sit or kneel when kneeling the paddler will position himself closer to the canoe’s front and wedge his knees against the canoe’s sides. While sitting the paddler, sits on a seat and puts his knees against the canoe’s top edge.

7. Weight

Canoes are heavier than kayaks. This is due to canoes having a wider stricture and wider hull than a kayak. Whenever they are in the water, a kayak usually flows while a canoe would have most of its surface area touching the water. This also leads to the difference in speed between both of them. As we said before, kayaks are much faster than canoes as they are much lighter.


Of course, it is vital that you know that your safety is of top priority, so here some safety measures to follow before using a kayak or a canoe:

  • Wear a life jacket
  • Always check the weather and make sure that it is suitable
  • Always know the water terrain that you will be traversing
  • Have a friend or family member with you, just in case
  • It is vital that you make sure that your kayak or canoe doesn’t have any hole or leak any water

Final Thoughts

Finally, it is safe to say that differentiating between a kayak and a canoe is not hard. You can use the basic classification of letters and numbers, check the weight, or even the paddles.

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