The Basics of Canoes and Kayaks

Canoeing is a wonderful way of getting outside and keeping fit which can be particularly peaceful if you know where to paddle. With thousands of miles of canals and rivers to explore, as well as picturesque lakes in national parks such as the Lake District, canoeists and kayakers are spoilt for choice – providing you have the correct licences of course.

But what about if you’re new to canoeing and are looking to take the plunge by buying your first craft? When you’re first starting, seek out a local canoe or kayak club in your local area, many will run taster sessions on local waterways or even in leisure centre swimming pools to give you an idea of what the experience feels like.

Research is key when it comes to buying a canoe, so here’s a few hints and tips for when you’re buying a canoe or kayak:

Kayak? Canoe? What’s The Difference?

There are many different types of canoe and kayak; each will be suited to a different type of paddler. So whether you’re looking to leisurely cruise down rivers or take it up as a competitive sport you’ll need to think about what kind of canoe is suitable for you, and this can depend on what kind of rider you want to be.

Canoes and kayaks are essentially open-topped vessels for travelling on the water, but there are a number of designs depending on what you want to use them for:


Canoes are large, open-topped vessels which were once used by hunting parties in Native American and Inuit cultures, and allow you the chance to travel with luggage or with spare equipment.

You paddle a canoe using a single paddle, as opposed to a dual-blade paddle which is used by kayakers. Canoes allow for a gentle paddling pace that allows you to cover a large distance at a leisurely pace, ideal for combined camping trips.

Wooden Or Modern?

Canoes traditionally used to be constructed from wood, but over the years more modern materials such as fibreglass, polycarbonate and even aluminium have been used to make canoes that can be used for a variety of reasons, and are usually used by those who offer tours and wilderness cruises.

There is, however, still a demand for traditional wooden canoes, and there are companies which can build-to-order if you prefer the feel of a more traditional wooden canoe to a kayak or modern canoe.

Modern canoes are used nowadays for anything from fishing trips to guided tours on rivers, particularly in the United States and Canada, but they can also be used for combining camping excursions with travelling by a river to make for an interesting holiday in the wild.


Kayaks are smaller vessels designed for a single person, although there are many different types available depending on the type of rider you want to be. Usually constructed from durable plastic, kayaks have a variety of uses to suit all kinds of users – from beginners to sports kayakers.

Unlike a canoe, kayaks are powered using a double-bladed paddle, which allows for quicker changes of direction – ideal if you’re looking to get into racing or white-water kayaking.

General purpose kayak

General purpose kayaks are ideal for beginners and those who are looking to buy their first craft. They can be a good starting point to get the feeling when you’re learning how to kayak.

Usually constructed from lightweight plastic, kayaks are designed to be transported easily and can be ideal for those who are new to the hobby.

Sit-on-top kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks are as their name suggests, and as such are more portable than a regular all-purpose kayak, so can fit on a roof rack easily. Sit-ons can be ideal for beginners because they’re easier to initially get on board, as well as being a cheaper alternative to a standard kayak.

If you’re looking at taking up kayaking as a hobby, it can be worth starting out with a sit-on-top kayak to get used to being on the water, finding your paddling rhythm and practising what to do should you fall off.

Touring kayak

Touring kayaks are designed to carry not just a rider but their luggage as well, making them ideal vessels for those who like to combine camping with canoeing. Many vessels will have storage compartments at the front and rear to store (and keep dry) small bags for clothing, food and camping equipment.

Sea kayak

Compared to a touring kayak, sea kayaks are longer and more streamlined to cut through the waves and surf near shores and on inland rivers. Much like a touring kayak they also have storage for additional equipment and camping supplies, making them ideal for those who like island-hopping.

White-water kayak

In contrast, a white-water or sports kayak is short in length to help with manoeuvrability and are usually made of thicker material to withstand rough choppy waters. These tough and durable kayaks usually have reinforced hulls and additional padding around the rider to keep them better protected from the rough waters.


Safety is essential when you’re on the water, so it’s important to make sure that you have the right safety gear before you set about getting afloat. Ensure that you have a lifejacket and a wetsuit before you take to the water.

Also ensure that you keep a spare set of warm and dry clothes for when you have finished to stay warm, dry and lessen your chances of catching a cold after a day on the water.

Insuring Your Craft

Having just spent a lot rather on a vessel, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected against theft or accidental damage, so look into adding it to your existing home insurance policy, or there are specialist canoe insurance brokers who can help to insure your new vessel.

Research is key when it comes to buying a canoe or kayak, so by taking the time to look around and finding a vessel that suits your type of use – whether for recreation or competition – you could ensure that you not only get the best from it but that your vessel will last a while before you have to replace or upgrade.