Canoes and Kayaks have a lot in common, and for the most part I can look and say that is a Canoe and that is a Kayak. But I have been seeing some vessels that blur the line between them. It seems there is a newer category of canoe kayak hybrid.

Is there something that makes a Canoe stop being and Canoe? Where is the line between Canoe, Kayak and Hybrid?

Note: I don't know that the line can be defined, an answer explaining why the line is not definable is acceptable, if that is the case.

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    In some countries they use "canoe" as an umbrella term for both kayaking and canoeing.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


tl:dr; The difference between "a canoe" and "a kayak" is the seat.

For competition purposes the difference between canoeing and kayaking is how you propel the boat. This appears to be the factor that's causing you confusion.

There are various competitive classes of canoeing and kayaking, most of them have 3 parts to the name.

Discipline: Sprint, Slalom, Polo, Rodeo etc.

Those are fairly self explanatory and I won't go into them.

And you get a letter and a number e.g. K1 or C2.

  • The letter is whether it's canoe or kayak.
  • The number is the number of people in the boat.

C1 has 1 person canoeing, K4 has 4 people kayaking.

The only technical difference between a canoe and a kayak is how you paddle it:

A kayak is paddled seated, feet forward, with a double bladed paddle.

A canoe is paddled kneeling, one knee for sprint otherwise on both knees, with a single bladed paddle.

If you wish to convert your kayak into a canoe, you take out the seat and fit a saddle. Competition boats are usually harder to modify as they're fundamentally built to be one or the other, but white water boats with larger cockpits are easily swapped back and forth.

There is another classification that mostly used for recreational canoeing rather than for competition.

OC - Open Canoe

This covers your more familiar "Canadian" style canoes where 1-3 people can be seated on thwart seats with single blade paddles. On moving water shorter versions are often paddled from the competition style kneeling position for better control. It also covers "Hawaiian" style outrigger canoes which can be used competitively.


The general answer is: A canoe is a boat designed or refitted to be paddled with a one sided paddle, usually while sitting on either a raised bench or one or both of your knees. A kayak is a boat designed or refitted to be paddled with a two sided paddle, usually while sitting on a seat on the floor of the boat. They're approaches to using different muscle groups. The main power of a kayaker comes out of rotation of the upper body, while in canoeing there's more of a front to back movement involved.

The definition can be blurry, which is where we need to differentiate what kind of kayaking and canoeing we're talking about. In competitions and general sports paddling the paddle is the main defining feature. If you take a freestyle kayak, take out the seat and put in some foam knee supports instead you've converted it to a canoe, you're now eligible to compete in the c1 class instead of the k1 class. (The 1 is the number of people in the boat.) The hull shape and such are completely secondary, and canoes can have closed decks. The international canoe canoe federation describes it as follows:

Blockquote The difference is relatively simple; it’s related to athlete’s position in the boat and the type of paddle they use to propel the boat. In a kayak, the paddler is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle pulling the blade through the water on alternate sides to move forward. In a canoe, the paddler kneels and uses a single-bladed paddle to propel the boat forward.

Canoe-kayak difference

In other fields there can be exceptions to the rule, as in the case of this Alaskan paddler. The boat design is from a long line of designs known as kayaks, and it's entirely suited to being paddled with a kayak paddle, but it can also be paddled with a single paddle, while being seated on the floor of the boat like normal for a kayak, but while getting much of the paddle power from a front to back motion like normal for a canoe. This type of boat in short was designed to be usable in different ways. In the end the only real rule seems to be: Q What do you call a paddler using features of both kayaking and canoeing? A: Whatever they want.

  • +1 Hmm interesting, I recently asked this related question Can I use a Canoe Paddle with a Kayak? and your answer here compliments answers there and expands on the relationship. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 15:35
  • 2
    This seemed confusing at first and I was tempted to say it did not answer the question, as focus seemed to be on paddles. A boat doesn't change just because you hold a different object. Then I realized your intent was on the seat, not the paddle. Could you emphasize the seat more than the paddle in the first paragraph? Perhaps swap the order, such as "A canoe provides either a raised bench to sit on or requires sitting on one or both of your knees, and it is usually paddled with a one sided paddle. A kayak has a seat on the floor of the boat, and it is usually paddled with a two sided paddle."
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 17:40
  • 1
    I believe a key phrase should be inserted into your answer: "A canoe is designed to be paddled with a one sided paddle" ... "A kayak is designed to be paddled with a two sided paddle". The majority of canoes/kayaks are obviously one or the other. The boat doesn't actually change just because the paddler switches between single- and double-bladed paddles.
    – Martin F
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 19:45
  • 3
    And yet, however we try to define things, there's always this to confound us. outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/20080/11563
    – Martin F
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 19:48
  • 3
    The talk about competition in certain classes makes it sound like this answer is based on the definitions of an official competitive organization. If so, it would benefit to linking to the official rules you're basing on, or at the vary least a mention of which organization is making the call on the c1/k1 classes. (As there can sometimes be differences in opinions for different organizations.)
    – R.M.
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 23:02

A canoe is a boat designed to be best paddled with a canoe paddle, a kayak is a boat designed to be best paddled with a kayak paddle. You can propel a kayak with a canoe paddle, or vice versa, or fit either one with a sail, or a motor, or oars, or a pole, or throw a sea anchor as far as you can and reel it in—but as far as putting the name on the boat I’d say it’s which propulsion method (canoe style or kayak style) is the one for which the boat has been best designed.

The paddle and associated body position have implications for the boat design and give rise to the most visible distinguishing characteristics, principally the height of the sides of the boat and (closely related) whether the deck is covered or not, but also how slender / tapered the hull can be and still be stable.

A canoe paddler sits or kneels with their body’s torso relatively high and holds the paddle close to vertical. A kayak paddler sits low with a paddle at a much lower angle to the water (the exact angle may vary between long distance touring and racing/other extreme performance situations). What that posture means is a canoe can have high sides without interfering with the paddle stroke. What high sides means is that the craft can handle larger waves before it needs to be covered to keep water out. A kayak, with its low sides, is typically covered by a deck to keep the water out, and the paddler sits inside through a hole in the deck, often further sealed by a spray skirt, or in a well in the fully enclosed deck (“sit on top kayak”).

The paddler height has implications for the stability of the boat, and thus a kayak with its low-seated paddler can typically have much less width (either narrower at its widest point, or with pronounced “hips” and a fine bow and stern rather than being wide along most of its length).

Additionally, the two-bladed paddle makes it much easier to make instantaneous, intuitive “brace” strokes on either side of the boat to stay upright if tipped, making even further instability practical for most paddlers (achieving this with a canoe paddle—rapidly bringing the paddle across the boat as needed—requires more skill and dexterity). It’s also possible for a skilled paddler to paddle an even more narrow hull that cuts even more efficiently through wind and surf.

Low seat height, enclosed deck and ability to brace stroke on either side instantly make kayaks the more common choice for extreme whitewater although certainly whitewater canoes (typically fitted with flotation) do exist.

Lack of a fixed deck, tall sides and width that is maintained for much of the length of the hull make canoes the more common choice for conveniently hauling lots of heavy, bulky gear (/harvested game)

However, another side effect of the kayak paddle is many people find it a much shorter learning curve compared to a canoe in terms of learning to control the direction of the boat, especially as the seated position allows the feet to be used with a pedal-operated rudder. This has given rise to an enormous number of recreational and fishing kayaks, with wide hulls which are much more stable, although lacking some of the advantages of traditional kayak hulls for cutting through wind and waves.

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