SameBoat Shorts: Canoe or Kayak or…?

Canoe or Kayak or…?

Which Boat is Best for You?

“What kind of boat is best?” That’s one of the first questions new paddlers ask, and if you’re still trying to make up your mind, you’ll want to take three minutes to read Tamia’s latest SameBoat Short.

by Tamia Nelson | December 12, 2017

Canoe or a kayak? Which is the better boat? That depends. It’s your call. What works for me may not work for you. What do you want? More to the point — what do you want a boat for? This should be an easy question to answer, but maybe you’re having trouble making up your mind. Need some help getting your thoughts together? OK. Here goes…

Most folks are really two people. One half of each of us is practical, pragmatic, and down‑to‑earth. Call this our “Brenna” Self. Brenna drives an old pickup truck. Wears baggy Walmart jeans. Drinks jug wine and Mountain Dew. And Brenna loves her canoe. Canoes are versatile. Canoes are just plain folks. In short, they’re pretty good boats anyplace where pretty good is good enough. Plus they let you move around. Brenna can sit or kneel — or stand, if the water’s not too hilly. Her choice. She likes that.

And that’s not all she likes. Brenna’s canoe is even easier to load than her pickup. She just carries her packs to the boat and drops them in. That’s it.* And if she has a couple more packs than she planned for? No sweat. She can always find a place for them, though if she’s going farther than Golden Pond, she’ll have to lift all those packs out of the boat now and then — not to mention carrying her canoe over any portages — and that won’t be much fun. Still, she can use a cart.

Ever wanted to take the whole family on a picnic? Sure you have. The good news? Most tandem canoes can easily accomodate two adults and two well‑behaved kids. There’s an obvious downside to any canoe, however. When the white horses are jumping, a canoe can swallow a lot of water in a very short time. Canoes are pushed around by the wind, too, especially if they’re lightly loaded and riding high. So on days when a rising wind is driving big waves down the lake, Brenna hands over to “Bryan,” everybody’s Other Self. Bryan drives a Mazda Miata. He wears skinny jeans with designer labels. Drinks only Beaujolais Nouveau and Brazilian mineral water. So it’s no surprise that Bryan is happiest in a kayak.

Kayaks are sleek and sexy. They’re the skinny jeans of watercraft. Comfort? No problem. Bryan’s kayak has the cushiest seat this side of a La‑Z‑Boy. Good thing, too. There’s no other choice in a kayak. You sit or swim. And if you want to bring the family along for the ride, you’re out of luck. There’s no room for any passenger bigger than a small dog. But at least Bryan doesn’t worry that the next wave will fill his boat to the gunwales.

That makes him very happy. Because once Bryan got his kayak, he wanted to go where the waves were really big. He thinks kayaking is like driving his Miata down a deserted country road in June, without a cop in sight. Except that he’s holding a double‑bladed paddle instead of a steering wheel. It gives him the precise control and split‑second response he needs to stay out of trouble. And that’s important, because with his butt planted a couple of inches below the waterline, Bryan can’t see very far ahead. Other folks can’t see him very well, either. Which is why he has to be extra alert whenever he runs the Sea‑Doo gauntlet on Gasoline Alley.

Of course, Bryan has to get into his kayak before he can play, and that’s not easy when waves are breaking on a steep foreshore, or when a campsite dock is six feet above the water. And on any trip longer than a weekend, he has to pack light and tight. Kayaks are sports cars, after all, not pickup trucks. No surprise there. But these downsides don’t bother Bryan. He’s having too much fun.

You get the point, I’m sure. You can be Bryan. Or Brenna. It’s your choice. Just decide what you want your boat to do and choose a boat that does it. And what if neither Bryan nor Brenna has the upper hand? Then you’ll probably end up with both a kayak and a canoe. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll opt for a sit‑on‑top. These popular platforms combine the practicality of a canoe with the sportiness of a kayak. That’s why they’re popular.

Canoe, kayak, or sit‑on‑top? They’re all good, so the choosing is less important than the doing. As Stevenson once reminded readers, “The great affair is to move.” ‘Nuff said?

* Well… Not quite. Brenna would be wise to lash her packs in place, so they’ll stay put if her canoe swamps or capsizes. But few canoeists bother — until they lose their tent and sleeping bag three days into a ten‑day trip, that is.

Read more: Canoe v. Kayak | Boats and Gear | SameBoat Shorts Collection

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