Introduction to Kayaks & Canoes
There are literally millions of miles of water to paddle in the United States alone. “What are we doing this weekend?” will never be the same again.
The recreational options offered by canoeing and kayaking are virtually endless. While the technology surrounding canoes and kayaks is constantly changing, the sport of canoeing and kayaking remains much the same as it was even thirty years ago.
Regardless of which approach you take to canoeing and kayaking, make sure you enjoy yourself. Paddling is about the excitement and adventure associated with exploring the areas around you. Even if you enjoy paddling the most ferocious whitewater, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Who knows, you might see a bald eagle overhead or a moose by the river bank.
Any sport that puts you in moving water has its hazards. Pay close attention to the safety suggestions offered in this guide and make sure you are prepared for every possible paddling scenario.
Canoeing & Kayaking
Canoes and kayaks are both a type of boat used without the power of a motor or sail. There is a little bit of a gray line between canoes and kayaks. However, for the purposes of this guide, canoeing and kayaking are differentiated by paddling techniques and equipment.
Throughout American history alone, the canoe and the kayak have provided transportation, athletic activity, and recreational opportunity. There will always be a place for these boats in the American culture. In fact, both canoes and kayaks are believed to hold their origins in ancient North American history.
The canoe of today is surprisingly similar to the canoe of a thousand years ago. The design principles and paddling techniques remain very much the same. All that changes are the materials used to build each boat. While technology will continue to improve, the structure and purpose of the ancient canoe will no doubt carry on in even the most modern canoe.
Today, kayaks are far more popular than canoes. Their weight, maneuverability, and efficiency makes the kayak a ideal for even the novice paddler. The kayak was designed to function well in less than ideal conditions. Even though modern kayaks are used less for arctic hunting and more for recreation, the features found in the original kayaks translate well into the modern kayak.
Types of Canoes & Kayaks
Think of a place to paddle and chances are there is a canoe or kayak designed just for you. From fishing to paddling waterfalls, there are hundreds of varieties of canoes and kayaks. Rather than list them all, here are a few key distinguishing features and a list of the top three types of canoes and kayaks.
• Whitewater: involves taking a kayak or canoe down rapids.
• Sea: involves taking kayaks or canoes out on to the ocean or other open water.
• Recreational: designed for the casual paddler interested in fishing, photography, or a peaceful paddle on a lake or flatwater stream. They presently make up the largest segment of canoe and kayak sales. Less expensive materials live polyethylene and fewer options keep these boats inexpensive (USD 300-580). They do not perform as well in the sea.
Canoes and kayaks are made from many different materials. Some construction methods are traditional while others are at the forefront of technology. Pick the construction that best suits your needs. For example, a wooden canoe is better suited to bird watching than a noisy aluminum canoe.
Strip-Built constructed by gluing together strips of wood over a building jig consisting of station molds that define the shape of the hull.
Glued Plywood Lapstrake made by cutting planks to shape out of marine grade plywood. The planks are positioned on a building jig, and are glued together with epoxy at the laps along the length of the canoe.
There are Aluminum Canoes (which are much lighter and much stronger construction than wood), There are also newer composites of fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber these materials are light, strong, and maneuverable. ABS canoes have been known to pop back into their original shape with minimal creasing even after having been wrapped around a rock in strong river currents.
How To Choose A Canoe or Kayak
When you decide to buy a canoe or kayak, there are lots of things to take into account. These questions are reasonably simple and can be answered in order to best determine which canoe or kayak will be best suited to your needs.
1. Do you plan to canoe or kayak?
2. What types of trips are you planning to make?
The right boat will suit the needs of the trips you plan to make. If you are planning to fish on weekends, you will not need the durability and size of an expedition sized vessel. On the other hand, if you plan to paddle from beach to beach on the ocean, a vessel designed for flat river travel would be a bad idea.
3. How many people will travel in each vessel?
Solo canoes and kayaks are typically smaller and lighter than tandem or family vessels. A canoes can hold a family of four or five whereas a kayak will hold a maximum of two people.
Preparing To Buy A Boat
Once you determine your boat shopping criteria, you can begin to research the best boat for you. There are a few things to keep in mind as you begin shopping for your boat.
• Know your prices. Online research of manufacturers websites will give you a general idea of the cost of a good canoe or kayak. Chances are, if a deal seems to good to be true, there is something wrong with the boat.
• Ignore newspaper ads, these boats are generally junk. The same applies to handmade boats advertised in newspapers. Water sports are hazardous enough, why risk your life buying a less than perfect boat? Instead, find club sites or go to competitions to purchase well-loved, used boats.
• Be aware of defects. On canoes, if the keel is damaged or the canoe is out of round, do not buy the boat. On canoes and kayaks, look for cracks, breaks, damage parts, and delamination. Do not buy a boat that has any of these problems. Scratches and scrapes are okay, just be aware of their presence.
Canoe & Kayak Brand Recommendations
Every year, a new canoe or kayak brand will launch. However, if these companies survive, they lack some of the construction and industry experience the industry leaders possess. The following brands are consistently well made, user friendly, and excellent for every experience level.
Each canoe brand offers a variety of canoes made from different materials, in different sizes and shapes. Among the five brands listed below, there is a canoe for every person.
• Old Town
• Mad River
There are well over fifty kayak brands on the market. However, not all of the brands make kayaks for multiple uses. The brands listed below offer a variety of kayaks made from a multitude of materials designed to suit different environments and techniques.
Keep in mind that nearly one of every three kayaks sold today is a sit-on-top (SOT), which is basically a paddleboard equipped with a seat.
Essential Paddling Equipment
As you begin your canoeing or kayaking adventures, there are several key pieces of equipment you will need in order to begin. The basic requirements for beginning canoeing and kayaking are similar. However, both sports have some key differences.
For both paddle sports, you will need the appropriate boat. See the descriptions above for the types of canoes and kayaks available as well as the construction materials you can choose from.
A paddle allows you to propel the boat through the water. When searching for the right paddle, take the following into consideration:
• The type of vessel
• The body of water you are to navigate
• Your size
A canoe paddle has a single blade at the end of a handled shaft. A kayak paddle has a blade on either end of the shaft.
Paddles are constructed from wood, aluminum, and synthetic materials. The strongest, most durable paddles are made from carbon fiber. The most flexible paddles are constructed from wood.
As a rule, a canoe paddle should measure from your toes to between your chin and your eyes. In general, solo paddles should be longer with a narrow blade.
Kayak paddles are slightly more difficult to fit. To determine the best paddle for you, follow these steps.
• Hold your arms straight out on either side of your torso.
• Bend your forearms up at a ninety degree angle.
• When you old a paddle in this position, the paddle blades should be within two grips of the blades.
Try a few out for size. If the paddle is too short, you will waste energy paddling. If the paddle is too long, your movements will lose control and your body will not be in the correct position resulting in potential injury.
Paddle costs will vary by material and size. If you are beginning, you don`t have to spend a fortune on a paddle. Make sure the paddle fits and is sufficiently durable for the type of paddling you expect to perform.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
A personal flotation device is an absolutely essential piece of equipment, regardless of which paddle sport you choose. The right PFD for you will depend on your size and the type of activity in which you will participate.
For canoeing and kayaking, look for a Type II or Type III PFD. Type II PFDs are ideal for moving water as they force the wearer to float on their back. Type III PFDs do not force the wearer to float on their back but they do allow the wearer to float in an upright position.
Within each type, PFDs are available with different levels of flotation. These levels include the typical 7lb, 11lb, 15 ½ lb, and 22lb weights. Your size and the type of water determine which level is best. The heavier, the higher the degree of flotation.
As with canoes and kayaks, there are a multitude of PFD manufacturers. However, a few brands are exceptional in their comfort and durability.
• Astral Buoyancy
The best PFD for you will have the following features:
• Fully adjustable shoulder straps and chest straps
• Comfortable arm openings and padding
Before buying a PFD, try several on. Keep in mind that you will be wearing your PFD for extended periods of time. If part of the PFD rubs or feels uncomfortable in the store, imagine what it will feel like after eight hours in salt water.
A helmet is the best way to protect your skull and brain from trauma if you are paddling in whitewater or fast moving water. A proper fitting helmet might save your life. Look for a helmet that covers the base of your skull. Finally, never buy a used helmet, no matter how good it looks.
A good helmet should cost around $100 dollars or more. Cheap helmets compromise your safety.
Hypothermia is common in paddlers who are inadequately dressed. Even if the air temperature is balmy, cool water temperatures can result in hypothermia within minutes. Proper dressing can prevent the likelihood of a swim resulting in hypothermia.
When choosing your clothing, keep the following in mind:
• Weather: Waterproof outer layers will protect you from the elements. The cooler the temperature, the more important these layers become. Look for Gore-Tex and other waterproof materials.
• Warmth: Cotton clothing is dangerous in water. Synthetic materials like fleece stay warm and dry quickly. While wool and down do not dry quickly, the do hold warmth when wet. Neoprene is another great layer for warmth.
• Core Temperature Maintenance: Moisture from exertion and splashes can cause your body temperature to rise or drop. Keep a wicking layer close to your body to prevent unwanted temperature changes. Silk and synthetic underlayers, particularly long underwear, keep your core temperature stable. Coolmax, Marmot, and Patagonia make excellent long underwear.
Other clothes to bring include:
• Hats serve as sun protection and keeps body heat in.
• Gloves keep hands warm and prevent injuries to the hand.
• Shoes and socks bare feet are targets for rusty cans, glass, and sharp rocks. The best shoes will have rubber soles for grip on wet surfaces. Choose shoes that are easy to get out of in an emergency. Teva, Keen, Merrel, and Chaco are all excellent water shoe brands.
Unless you are planning to travel a short distance or are on a small lake, keep a map of your area and a compass in a waterproof bag or box.
It doesn`t matter how much fun you had on the water if you don`t make it back to shore. Keep the following on hand to deal with any emergency that may occur on your adventures.
• Food and water are essential, regardless of the length of your trip. Dehydration and fatigue can result in fatal accidents.
• First-aid kit
• Whistle or emergency signal
• Rescue throw rope
• Sponge and bailer
• Float plan leave a copy with a family member or friend and any authorities in your area.
Record your adventure with a camera and a notebook. You never know when you will need to record your finds. Other great items to have around are binoculars and local wildlife guidebooks.
Transporting Your Canoe or Kayak
You need to get your vehicle to and from your destination. Don`t put your boat on top of an unprepared vehicle. If your vehicle does not have factory racks, purchase a rack system that is compatible with your vehicle. Thule makes excellent racks that can be customized to fit any vehicle and hold any type of equipment.
Before you head off into the wild, practice loading and unloading your boat onto your rack. Secure each boat with individual ties. If the boat extends beyond the roof of the vehicle, secure the bow and stern to the front and back of the vehicle.
When traveling, check the tightness of the ties every time you stop your vehicle and adjust as necessary.
Where To Learn
There are several schools that offer canoeing and kayaking lessons. If there are no locations in your area, ask your local pools for permission to practice.
You can also practice in a shallow lake or pond until you are familiar with the techniques you need to stay safe. If you do decide to teach yourself to paddle, make sure there is someone present in case you have an emergency.
Most canoe/kayak clubs offer introductory instruction in recreational boats.
The best resource for lessons is your local college`s outdoor program. Even if these classes are not open to the public, the staff will have recommendations for places in your area where you can learn to paddle.
Outing clubs often host paddling trips that are open to all experience levels and modes of transportation. This is an excellent way to learn from others in an outdoor setting.
How To Paddle
Canoes and kayaks have a reputation for instability, but this is not true if they are handled properly. For example, the occupants need to keep their center of gravity as low as possible. Canoes and kayaks can navigate swift-moving water with careful scouting of rapids.
When two people occupy a canoe or kayak, they paddle on opposite sides. For example, the person in the bow might hold the paddle on the port side. The sternman would paddle to starboard. Paddle strokes take place simultaneously but on opposite sides.
Canoe Paddle Strokes
There are many different strokes but the seven listed below will help you turn in almost every direction. You can add strokes as you master the basics.
Paddle strokes are important to learn if the canoe is to move through the water in a safe and effective manner. Categorizing strokes make learning them easier. After the strokes are mastered, they can be combined or modified so that maneuvers are accomplished in an efficient, effective, and skillful manner. Here are the primary strokes:
The cruising stroke or forward stroke is the easiest stroke and is considered to be the foundation of all other strokes. The paddle blade is brought forward along the side of the canoe, dipped into the water, and drawn back.
The back stroke is essentially the same movement as the forward stroke, but done in reverse. The back face of the blade is used in this case. This stroke is used to make the canoe go backward or stop the canoe.
The J-stroke is so named because, when done on the port side, it resembles the letter J. It begins like a standard stroke, but towards the end the paddle is rotated and pushed away from the canoe with the power face of the paddle remaining the same throughout the stroke. This conveniently counteracts the natural tendency of the canoe to steer away from the side of the paddle.
The pitch stroke is the preferred stroke to go straight with a good traveling speed, because this stroke tries to correct the yaw caused by the forward stroke almost on the same moment that it starts, where other correction strokes do this after the forward stroke, when there already is considerable yaw.
The pry stroke begins with the paddle inserted vertically into the water, with the power face outward, and the shaft braced against the side of the gunwhale. A gentle prying motion is applied, forcing the canoe in the opposite direction of the paddling side.
The draw stroke exerts a force opposite to that of the pry. The paddle is inserted vertically in the water at arm`s length from the gunwhale, with the power face toward the canoe, and is then pulled inward to the paddler`s hip.
Follow these rules and guidelines to stay safe and healthy while on the water.
• If you get hurt, do not panic.
• Stay hydrated.
• Dress appropriately.
• Pay attention to your surroundings. Weather, dams, rocks and strainers (trees and debris blocking your path through the water) all pose threats to your safety.
• Learn to read water and scout any unknown rapids.
• Learn First Aid
• Don`t travel alone.
• Wear a PFD at all times. Wear a helmet if you are paddling whitewater.