Whether you’re facing choppy open water, braving rapids or just paddling around the dock, there’s a perfect kayak or canoe for you
Photo by Steve Umland
You’re all set for an extended paddling trip with your family. You’ve packed a cooler full of food, grabbed the sleeping bags and tent in case you decide to make it an overnight, and even brought along extra food for the dog.
Then you remember you own a one-seat kayak built for playing around the dock.
If only you had these tips to help you choose the right kayak or canoe for your cabin, you wouldn’t be stuck with a dog on your lap and your family gazing longingly at the water from the shore as you paddle away.
Kayaks and canoes made of plastic or polyethylene are the toughest and most UV, rock and weather–resistant. But if you pulled a composite craft (a very lightweight combination of fiberglass cloth, resin, and materials like kevlar and carbon) up on the rocks, you’d punch a hole in it. Thermoformed kayaks and canoes are not quite as fragile as composite, but are still too fragile for dragging.
If you have a boathouse with mechanical launch or a wheeled cart plus ramp to the water for launching you can store any kayak or canoe.
If you store your craft in a garage or under your deck, remember that it’s happiest stored off the ground on its side on wall mounted j-hooks or in slings that cradle the hull.
Ultraviolet rays from the sun age and fade all boats, so whatever your choice, keep your craft covered, inside or in the shade when it’s not in use.
If storage space is at a premium, an inflatable craft can be an excellent choice. Inflatables are available across the same performance categories and price ranges as those made of wood, plastic, or composite.
Generally, canoes are better suited to extended trips, as they have greater room for storage. Paddlers who spend the bulk of their time in ocean and river waters that are choppy or windy, however, tend to prefer kayaks.
But advancements in kayak and canoe design have further blurred the lines of distinction between the crafts. Here, then, are some important factors to consider when choosing the right craft for you.
If you only paddle out for picnics or play around the swim dock, either a canoe or a sit-on-top kayak will be fine. A sit-on-top kayak will get you wet, but in mild weather on calm waters, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If a canoe seems more your style, make sure it has ample storage space for the picnic baskets, the sunblock – and the dog.
If you want a kayak but plan on using it for full day or overnight outings in lake, ocean or river water that could be choppy, steer yourself toward a kayak that is fast and efficient, with enough storage to hold your gear. And choose a kayak with excellent secondary stability (secondary stability means that the boat won’t tip easily, whereas primary stability means that the boat merely feels stable).
You may also want to consider a kayak with a rudder or skeg for best tracking and steerability. If the water where you’re paddling is cold, make sure your kayak can accommodate a spray skirt, which will keep you dry inside your craft.
If you want to brave rough waters in a canoe, however, pay special attention to the hull. It will either be designed for the flat, open water most commonly found in a lake, or for the swift water of a fast moving river. Also, size matters: a bigger boat will go faster, but will be more cumbersome to launch and handle.