Difference Between Kayaks and Canoes

From a distance, you may mistake a kayak for a canoe and vice versa. There are a lot of undeniable similarities between the two, but that does not mean they are the same type of boat. Their differences are what makes one person love one over the other. One may be better suited to one person than the other. It may be more comfortable or easier for you to handle a kayak over a canoe. This is why you should learn the difference between a kayak and a canoe before you rush out to purchase one.

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Different Seat Positions

One of the major differences between canoes and kayaks is the way you sit inside of it. In a canoe, you will sit on a seat or kneel down on your knees. Kayaks typically have a seat that is low to the bottom of the boat or they sit on the floor. Their legs are often stretched out in front of them rather than the seated or kneeling position. With a canoe, you have a little more room on each side of you because of their wider width. Kayaks offer very little elbow room. This makes them more unstable, but able to slice through the water faster.

The Paddles You Use

When you think about a paddle, you will think of a single or a double paddle. This means that you have a paddle on only one end or both ends of the shaft. As a general rule, people will use the double paddle blades when they are on their kayak. The single is reserved for canoes. The reason for this is because a kayak is typically thought of as faster and the double ended paddles are much faster than switching the paddle from one side to the other. However, you may see a person in a canoe paddling with a double blade paddle or a kayaker using a single paddle.

 

Covered Vs Uncovered

Canoes are open from one end to the other. They do not offer a dry storage area and they do nothing to protect the rider from the elements.  However, you can sometimes find a canoe that has a deck covering on it, but this is not something that is standard for canoes. Kayaks, on the other hand, will typically have some area of it that is covered with splash protection of some kind, typically called a splash guard. This keeps the kayaker dry and enables them to be comfortable when out on the water during different types of weather.

Their Unique Purpose

A canoe is designed to be comfortable for a family or a group of people who want to venture out in the water on a weekend getaway. They offer stability that is unmatched by a kayak. The kayak is designed to be faster and enjoyed by a single person or perhaps two or three at most. The person on a kayak is willing to travel light. They will not carry a large cooler or a lot of gear, preferring to stay lightweight and quick. A canoe that isn’t filled with people will be filled with coolers, gear, and other items.

In both kayaks and canoes, you have different options when it comes to the things you do with it. Some kayaks are able to handle white waters and racing. Canoes are also able to be used in racing and rougher waters. It all depends on what you want to do with your canoe or kayak and the type of boat that you have available.

How to Swim in Whitewater

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Chances are good, you are not simply going to decide to go swimming in a dangerous whitewater rapids area, but if you are in a kayak and it suddenly flips over, will you be able to keep your head above water? It is important that you know at least a little bit about swimming in this type of environment, whether you plan to dive in or not. The reason being, there could come a time when you simply do not have a choice. It could be for any reason. Your kayak or canoe could flip, you could get a hole in your inflatable, or you could simply end up falling overboard. In all cases, learning how to swim in whitewater could be the key to self-rescue.

Stay Calm and Get Above Water

If your kayak flips over and you are in the water under it, it is important that you stay calm. Your biggest priority if you cannot get the boat to flip right side up is to get out from under the boat and then find your way to the water surface. This may sound easy to do, but it is not always simple. The reason is not hard to imagine; you go from a thrilling ride to under water, often with very little time to prepare. You may not have the time to take a big breath. Your life vest is designed to float on top of the water, so you will have help to get to the surface, but the faster you can get there, the better off you will be. Keep in mind also that in some situations, you are better off swimming away from your kayak to get to slightly calmer waters before you can get up for air.

Ride It Out

Once you are above water, you will want to quickly look around for your kayak. If it is within reach, great, you can hold on to it to help you stay above water. If it is not within reach, you should still be prepared to ride out the water. Floating along is the best way to handle it. At all costs, do not try to stand up in a whitewater area. If you do attempt it, you could risk injuring your ankle, foot, or leg because there are rocks under the water that you cannot see. If your foot happens to get caught by one of the rocks, you may have a difficult time getting your foot out it. This could cause you to break a bone and if the water is deep enough, make it virtually impossible for you to get fresh air.

Swim to Safety

Wait until you are clear of the rapids or close enough to a shoreline or a rescue boat before you attempt to truly swim. At this time, you will have to aim yourself at safety because the current will most likely try to take you further downstream. When you are being rescued by a boat, it is also important to stay calm. Don’t grab at the boat or attempt to bring the rescue boat down with you. Doing so could easily mean you both end up in the water and that is not what anyone needs to see happen during a rescue.

Kayaking Explained

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Almost all water activities nowadays feature motorized equipment. One of the few non-motorized activities remaining is kayaking. The kayak was traditionally used for marine mammal hunting in the Arctic regions, around 4000 years ago. When motorized equipment took over the hunting, the activity evolved into recreational use, with more modern and precise designs and materials.

Description

Simply put, kayaking is the use of non-motorized, specialized boats across various waterways. The water displacement is done using handheld and operated paddles. The design and form of the boat depend on the intended function. Typical functions of kayaking include recreation, fishing, racing, or touring along rivers, lakes, surf zones, and whitewater. The activity is both enjoyed for beginners and experienced paddlers, as the skill set required depends on the pursued nature and state of the water body.

Types of Kayaks

The most common kayaks used are the whitewater, surf, and sea kayaks. The only common element between the three is that all are used on water. Whitewater kayaks are optimized for maneuverability and are often used for fast moving water and rapids. For this reason, they tend to be shorter and more rounded for easier rolling. Sea kayaks, on the other hand, are designed for speed and stability, and thus feature flatter hulls, are much longer for more distance per stroke.

For those up for riding waves and surfs, the ideal option is the surf kayak. The primary features include hardened edges and a flat bottom, as well as fin clusters to catch and ride the waves put. Simply put, the surf kayak is like a surfboard you sit in. Under surf kayaks, there are two categories. The first is the International Class that is finless and work best in areas with small swells. The High Performance surf kayak, on the other hand, features a cluster of fins to allow for smooth cutting of high waves and swells.

Fishing kayaks are the rarest of the batch. They, however, offer a cheaper and low maintenance alternative for fishing boats. For stability, the fishing kayaks feature wide berths and outriggers to increase surface area for stability and attachments such as fishing poles. Fishing kayaks offer the widest allowance for customization, attachments, and improvements.

Kayak Materials

The first kayak materials were made from stretched animal skin over a whalebone skeleton. Over the years, manufacturers and scientists have come up with modern materials that allow for durability and functionality. Common materials in use today include rotomolded plastic, metal, wood, fabrics, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and inflatable materials such as 34 guage PVC. The material to pursue depends on your budget, and the required qualities such as strength, flexibility, durability, and storage requirements.

Equipment

The general kayaking equipment includes the boat itself and a paddle. The boat has a covered deck and a close fitting sitting area. The second crucial equipment is the paddles. Kayakers use double-bladed paddles for better maneuverability and displacement. To reduce air resistance when paddling, the ideal paddles should have offset blades. The degree of offset is referred to as feathering. The exact paddle to pursue depends on the kayaking type, fitness level and paddler height.

In addition, the unpredictability of nature, in this case, the water and weather warrants a number of safety equipment. The standard items include a flotation device, buoyancy aid, helmet, communication aid, and the appropriate water clothing. Additional equipment depends on the intended use and includes fishing poles, camera equipment, and such.

People across all fitness and experience levels can enjoy kayaking. First-time kayakers can have an enjoyable treat out in the flat and calm water while experienced kayakers often prefer the thrill of whitewater and rapids. With the right equipment and of course adherence to kayaking best practices, you are in for a memorable trip.

Choosing a Kayak Paddle

Other than the kayak itself, the paddle is the next crucial equipment. The choice of paddle determines the exertion, speed and ease of steering and by extension the state of your body. The following are chief considerations and tips when choosing your kayak paddle.

Feathering

Kayakers primarily use the double blade paddle, with the single blade more often used for canoeing. The parallel double blade offers the primary advantage of more displacement, ease of steering and less effort input. However, it harbours the major disadvantage of the blade is susceptibility to air resistance, thus requiring more exertion. This often leads to repetitive stress injury and carpal tunnel syndrome. The ideal solution is to invest in offset blades to reduce the effects of air resistance.

Feathering refers to the degree of offset between the two blades. While the lower blade is in the water, the other blade is designed to cut through the air. The typical angles range from 15 to 90 degrees. A paddle feathered to 60 degrees though offering excellent resistance to windage, tends to be stressful on the wrists and joints. However, for rough conditions such as rapids and sharp turns, experts recommend the 30 to 45 degrees feathering. Fortunately, paddles that feature adjustable degrees to fit the situation exist.

Length

The standard rule of thumb is that the wider the kayak, the longer the paddles should be. Typical kayaks, depending on intended function, range from 19 to 30 inches in width. Recreational kayaks are generally short and wider, and in this case, the size of paddle depends on the length and strictly adheres to the stated rule of thumb.

For touring or performance kayaking, other factors such as paddler height and torso measurements factor in. Heavier and taller paddlers do better with longer paddles and wider blades for better efficient body and weight shifting while smaller paddlers should pursue small and medium size paddles. In case of doubt, consult a professional, or refer to the standard kayak width table on the exact measurements.

Level of fitness

The paddler’s fitness level is significant in paddle selection. A high fitness level, of course, means ease of paddling, more horsepower, and the ability to displace more water per stroke. Athletic paddlers can manage to handle shorter paddles with large surface area blade with ease. The same would lead to repetitive stress injuries on less fit paddlers.

Excursion Nature and Length

The nature of your excursion determines the amount and duration of your exertion on the paddling. The right choice of paddle significantly reduces the effort required, and chances of injury. Slow moving water, such as lakes and constant-depth rivers, require less exertion than the rapids. Touring and recreational paddles do suffice for the calm waters while performance grade types work for rapids and fast-moving water.

Material

The paddle material determines the weight and functionality. Shallow water bodies often feature submerged rocks and gravel and thus require a durable and handy material such as injection-moulded and reinforced plastic such as nylon and polypropylene. Deep and calm waters, with no rocks or gravel, require light fibreglass or carbon composite blades. Light material significantly reduces chances of fatigue for long excursions.

Paddling style

There are two primary types of paddling techniques, high and low angle. High angle paddlers tend to use more angles on the stroke; the strokes are perpendicular to the water, with a high vertical shaft movement. Athletic paddlers prefer this style for the fast moving water, high-speed races and rapids. To get the most out of the paddling style, use shorter paddles with wide blade paddles.

Low angle paddlers, on the other hand, keep the paddle shaft horizontal, almost parallel to the water surface. Low angle paddling works best for leisurely cruising and recreational excursions. Medium to long paddles with thinner blades are more efficient for this functions.

The above highlights the primary considerations when choosing a kayak paddle. For the best results, however, try out different paddle sizes and types before committing your finances. Fortunately, most retailers allow no-obligation testing. Also, seek professional assistance from the experts.

Simplified Boat Sizing

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Some time back ANorAK published an article by Udo Beier proposing a method by which a kayak buyer could ascertain the proper size boat based upon total volume. My response suggested some problems with Udo’s method and initiated a stimulating and worthwhile correspondence between us. While we disagreed on the method we agreed that something might prove useful. Most builders and designers skirt the issue or pull the figures out of a hat.

I had developed a method for canoe owners Canoesport Journal published many years ago (Volume 3, Number 1). It lacked the virtue of simplicity and the industry ignored it thus proving that you can lead a canoe manufacturer to knowledge but you cannot make him think. (My apologies to Dorothy Parker). I was skeptical that a simplified method one was possible but Udo had tweaked my interest.

Any formula had to fairly represent the performance and handling characteristics of a wide range of boats. To establish the performance limits I used a range of +/- 5%. In other words, the limiting range for load would be that which caused an increase or decrease in resistance of 5%. I applied the same limits to handling (For simplicity, only upright turning radius and tracking were evaluated).

Since publishing the article for Canoesport Journal my database of kayaks and canoes has grown considerably and the possibility of finding a correlation between basic dimensions and proper displacement was more likely. The analysis revealed that most recreational kayaks performed within the limits at fatness ratios between 1.0 and 1.5 regardless of other dimensions. This simplified matters significantly since only the waterline length (easily measured on the water) and displacement determined the fatness ratio. Keep in mind I was not trying to find the best possible boat but only to find an efficient displacement range for a boat of specific dimensions.

To further simplify matters a graph (Figure 1) was created. One need only locate the boat’s waterline length and read the displacement range above it. Those using the more efficient metric system will have no trouble making the conversion.

You might ask at this point, What about windage, or dry ride? How does the formula address those factors? The answer is that it does not and no simple formula can. Windage and dryness have no absolute relationship to volume. A high volume boat with short ends can have less windage than a low volume boat with high traditional ends. Equally, a low volume boat with properly flared topsides can be drier than a high volume boat with vertical sides or poorly shaped forward sections. Often when people argue that a low volume boat has less windage than such and such a high volume boat the comparison is incomplete and the boat appearing to have higher windage simply has a less controllable under body or excessively long overhangs.

Keep in mind that there is no “point” where efficiency and handling suddenly turn rotten with a change in load and picking a cut off is necessarily arbitrary. Another problem with this simplified displacement calculation arises from its inability to account for personal preference, prejudice, unusual hull shapes. Fortunately the first two take care of themselves and the last will have to wait for a better world. Furthermore, not everyone will agree with my arbitrary range for “best performance”. I used KAPER, and CAKE two programs I developed for performance and controllability evaluations and they reflect my prejudices and opinions. Those of you who do trust such programs can and probably will ignore the results. Those of you who prefer different programs can do your own calculations. On the other hand, those who are frustrated by the inability of the kayak industry to provide meaningful information about boats might find the method useful.

In any case, I found it a worthwhile exercise and thank Udo for prodding me into addressing the matter when my mind was already made up.

Note: Displacement in pounds and length in feet.

It’s all about Rudders

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If the Inuit had possessed the materials and technology to make them, would they have used rudders on their kayaks? It’s not an earth shaking question but interesting given the debate among modern paddlers over the topic. On the one side are arrayed “experts” and traditionalists. Staunchly anti rudder, they contend that paddling skills and proper boat design make rudders superfluous if not burdensome. On the other are modernists who see no harm in making use of modern technology if it makes paddling more accessible to less skilled paddlers if not easier for everyone. Who then, is right?

Before discussing the merits or shortcomings of rudders we must understand how boats turn. The drawing shows a boat executing a 180o turn. Note that it is turning “around” its center of gravity. In other words, boats rotate. The sweeping arc of the turn is a product of the boat’s momentum working in combination with dynamic forces causing the rotation. When the boat is traveling straight ahead, all forces are balanced about the centerline and act to retard the boat’s motion (this is called drag). Once a turn is initiated, the forces become unbalanced with greater force acting at the bow on the outside of the turn. , The Center of Gravity (CG), obeying Newton’s Laws of motion, resists any change in direction and the force at the bow initiates a rotation around the boat’s CG. The stern, as a consequence, becomes the end of a marine crack-the-whip. From this we can see that anything that increases the force at the bow or moves it further forward relative to the center of gravity will increase the rate of turning while anything that reverses that process slows turning. We can also see that any additional forces, whether through paddle action, rudder, wind, waves or alteration of the hull’s shape through heeling or trim alterations will affect the turn. How the boat responds to these forces is the boat’s “controllability”.

Naval architects consider this a serious business since a 400 meter long ship running amok in a harbor can be cause for expensive litigation and it should come as no surprise that the topic has been studied in depth and at great expense. We are fortunate that most of what has been learned can be applied to kayaks despite the differences in scale and economics.

For instance, lowering the Block Coefficient (This is the ratio of the volume of the boat divided by the volume of a block having the same length, beam, and draft as the boat) improves course stability (called tracking by paddlers) as does increasing the ratio of length to beam. Reducing deadwood aft reduces course stability and trimming down by the stern improves it. Increasing deadwood forward resists initiating a turn but accelerates the turn once it begins. “U” shaped sections at either end increase maneuverability and “V” shapes decrease it. Moving the longitudinal center of buoyancy aft increases the rate of turn once initiated and moving it forward has the opposite effect. There is more but it should be obvious that controllability is a product of complex interactions between many hull characteristics. The mix producing exactly the boat that you like is the “designer’s art”.

If we give the matter a little thought we will recognize that the same boat can

present an infinitely variable shape to the water with a corresponding effect on handling. Heeling the boat during a turn will shift the center of buoyancy as well as alter the profiles forward and aft. The same effect can be achieved by shifting the load. Waves, of course, are constantly altering the underwater shape. Any change can be positive or negative depending upon circumstances. For instance, some paddlers use heel to make small course corrections without altering their stroke but a novice might find the effect unnerving as the boat shoots off in the wrong direction from an inadvertent heel. Designers, of course, can, by changes to the hull shape, make the boat more or less sensitive to heel.

Notice that nothing has been said about rudders. This is because the rudder is added after the hull is designed even on ships where the rudder is the most important component in steering. For kayaks, where the paddle is a much more effective means of controlling direction, the rudder is far less important. Kayaks, therefore, are not normally designed around the presence or absence of a rudder and designers make every effort to design controllability into the hull shape. (Canoes a good example of a paddle powered craft always designed for good controllability without a rudder.) Ideally a kayak should be suitably controllable without a rudder. So, why do some sea kayaks have rudders? Because rudders can provide subtle corrections to unbalanced forces due to waves, wind and currents, and trim variations as well as providing an additional method of primary control. In short, rudders are an added convenience. Mind you, a rudder can be used to make a poor design perform acceptably but it does not follow that all kayaks with rudders are poor designs. Note the word “subtle”. Novices may make excessive use of their rudders but most paddlers soon learn that the paddle is much more effective at gross course corrections. Once this lesson is learned the rudder graduates to the role of “trim tab” that, when properly set, permits relaxing straight ahead paddling even in extreme conditions. Perhaps the perceived problem with rudders stems from the name. “Rudder” does imply gross corrections but, as any sailor knows, most rudder function compensates for small variations in wind and seas. Perhaps we should abandon the word “rudder” and adopt “trim tab” as being more descriptive for kayaks.

All is not perfect with rudders as anyone who has depended upon them to turn the boat on the crest of a following wave has probably discovered. They only work when there is motion relative to the water and, when they have nothing to do, they are a definite hindrance. The added weight in the stern increases pitching and the blade increases drag. Concern for the rudder when beaching or launching from surf takes a bit of the fun out of those activities. Moreover, many rudders are simple flat aluminum plates mounted in loose wobbly rudder heads. The combination reduces sensitivity and promotes stall which further reduces effectiveness while increasing drag. No wonder so many “experts” are offended by a rudder’s presence. Most are poorly designed and engineered and get worse with poor maintenance. In this sense they are a bit like people.
Part of our problem in the rudder and kayak business may stem from a tendency to assume that all kayak paddlers have (or should have) similar goals and aspirations. earlier I mentioned that designers could design boats to be more or less sensitive to changes in trim of heel. When you are up to your neck in a breaking wave it is sometimes difficult to keep your head an lean the right direction while you brace. In such circumstances the less ambitious paddler will prefer a boat that is less, not more sensitive. We may all be created equal, but we are all created different.

The issue, then, is not whether rudders are good or bad but whether they contribute or detract from your personal paddling experience. The trick for every paddler is to find the right boat (with or without a rudder) and seek out what peace there is in a world of turmoil. Here’s a good article to check out about rudders and skegs http://www.neckykayaks.com/live_it/features/the_great_rudder_skeg_debate/.