The Different Types of Kayaks and Canoes – Beginner’s Guide

Buying a kayak for the first time can be quite an intimidating process. While you can learn how to kayak with almost any type of kayak, your intended use is of great importance.

Choosing a kayak is similar to picking a canoe. Both kayaks and canoes move through bodies of water using a paddle. They are a bit different, though. A kayak uses a double-bladed paddle, which allows you to move faster and easier through the water.

The type of kayak you’re going to choose will depend on the activity you wish to do. Are you going to paddle your kayak on a lake or on the river? Each kayak has a specific use, which is why they have different shapes and sizes.

Choosing the Right Kayak

creek boatCreek Boats:

Creek boats are normally high-volume kayaks with their volume being equal around the actual cockpit. For that reason, the ones with large decks don’t allow either end of the boat to submerge easily with the entire boat designed to resurface rapidly. The tips of these boats are often stubby which helps avoid vertical pins. These boats usually have slight edges along the bottom of the kayak.

The chines (where the sidewall meets the bottom of the hull) provide solid carving control for tighter turns and maneuvers. Creek boats come in various lengths and selection will depend on the exact creek you plan to kayak on. Creek boats do tend to be longer than river boats or recreational boats.

play boat

Play Boats:

Play boats are generally used for surfing waves and enjoying freestyle tricks, but have much less volume in the front and back of the decks. This makes them not suitable at all for river kayaking if you don’t have the necessary experience.

Their deck is squashed, which lets the kayaker have the ends sink underwater and perform special play moves. The volume is centered in the cockpit, allowing for more stability. In today’s market, play boats have a planing hull which is flat and lets the kayak plane to the surface of the body of water (when picking up speed).

With this type of boat, the boat may spin around a central point. That is what makes flat spins possible. Also, chines can be used to create a drag, so that any paddler can intentionally prepare for a specific move.

river boatRiver Boats:

River boats are ones that can be categorized as something between high volume creekers and low volume play boats. The main intention when using this boat is to cruise down the river in a comfortable manner, while still being able to make some essential play moves. River boats in actuality will have mid to high volume bow decks that move water quickly.

Their decks will also be mid to high volume. These boats are usually a little bit longer than the design of today’s freestyle boats. The added length increases the tracking ability of the kayak and allows it to move better in a straight line.

Choosing the Type of Kayak

Whitewater Kayaks – This is the ultimate kayaking experience which involves fast waters. Takes places on a whitewater river. Whitewater kayaking can mean a normal moving river, to an extremely fast body of water. These kayaks don’t track (go in a straight line) so they are very maneuverable. The tight cockpit is designed to keep you on deck, even if water conditions are brutal.

Sit On Top Kayaks – Easy to use kayaks that will give you a great overall tan. Very stable for a fishing trip. Nearly all sit on top kayaks are self bailing which means that any water that comes over the deck of the kayak will automatically drain itself out. They are normally extra wide which makes them slower. They are a little harder to handle and don’t allow the paddler too much movement control.

Sit In Kayaks – These types of kayaks allow for more storage. Sit in kayaks are more dry (due to their rather efficient hull design), therefore allowing for an extended paddling season. They have a fitted cockpit (the area where you sit) which allows for more control with your body than sit on kayaks allow. Sit in based kayaks have a raised lip that allow the skirt (or spray deck) block water from entering the kayak.

Recreational Kayaks – Appeals most to kayaking beginners. The hull’s shape is small for rec kayaks, yet they have a large cockpit. These types of kayaks are ideal for lakes, calm rivers, ponds, flat water, and creeks. Do not take these out on whitewater. Recreational kayaks are great for fishing, hunting, or even taking pictures. Typically, such kayaks have great stability.

Touring Kayaks – Great for tracking (going straight) and are comfortable for long trips. Touring kayaks are ideal for lakes, wide rivers, some inlets, and flat water.

Sea Kayaks – Perfect for paddling in the open ocean. Sea kayaks are normally very low, as to avoid the wind. Usually longer than 15ft, sea kayaks have a relatively small cockpit. Some sea kayaks will have rudders or skegs to make up for waves or windy conditions.

Surf Kayaks – If you want to try a new type of surfing, this is for you. Normally these are small and easy to maneuver.

Tandem Kayaks – Great if you want to paddle with a friend or with family members. Safe for all ages and very ideal for recreational use. Resistant to tipping, these kayaks have safety in mind. Tandem kayaks are great to use on ponds, lakes, or flat rivers.

Folding Kayaks – Most of these kayaks have a thin fabric over a light frame made from wood. A descendant of the original Inuit kayak. Modern ones are made from wood, aluminum, and plastic.

Inflatable Kayaks – Usually made from heavy duty vinyl, these kayaks are very sturdy. Usually weigh less than 40 lbs so really easy to carry.

Kayaks for Kids – Sit on top kayaks are usually the best for children. However, some sit in models like the Heron Jr. are ideal.