on Selecting a Canoe or Kayak
So you want to buy a canoe or kayak but you don't know
which one is right for you. This is a common dilemma for many paddlers, especially if this
will be your first time buying a boat. There are so many different boats to choose from
and so many factors to consider that you may feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. Here
are a few tips to help you narrow down the choices.
1. What type of paddling will you be doing?
The right tool for the job makes a lot of sense. Canoes and kayaks have
evolved to a point that there are boats specific to just about every type of paddling. If
you know what type of paddling you will be doing, this can help you narrow your choices
down to a specific type of boat.
If you aren't sure how you will be using the boat or if you seek a boat
that is suitable for several different paddling situations, try to figure out how you will
be using the boat most often. There are many good general-purpose boats on the market, but
be aware that a general-purpose boat may do several things well but not be great at any
one type of paddling. Even among general-purpose boats, the more specific you can be about
how you will use the boat, the easier it will be to choose a boat most suitable for that
2. How big should the boat be?
Your physical dimensions will be another factor to consider. A boat
proportioned to your size will be more comfortable, easier to handle, and safer.
Obviously, bigger people need bigger boats and smaller people need smaller boats. Choosing
a boat too large or too small may have some drastic consequences. This is especially true
when choosing a kayak, but is also an important factor to consider when choosing a canoe.
Remember that comfort is very important. You will hopefully be spending many hours in your
boat, so be sure that you will be comfortable in it for several hours at a time.
Will you be paddling solo or tandem (with a partner)? Do you plan to
take children and/or a pet along with you? The answer to these questions will also play a
role in determining how big your boat will need to be.
How much gear you plan to take with you will also be a factor when considering how big
your boat should be. If you plan on paddling a lot of multi-day trips you will need a
bigger boat to haul all of you supplies and equipment. For day trips a smaller boat will
usually be much more useful and pleasant to paddle. Some people buy boats that are much
larger than they usually need because they want the option of being able to use the boat
for long trips. Consider buying a smaller boat if you will only occasionally be doing long
trips. You can always rent or borrow a bigger boat for those infrequent long trips. A
smaller boat will be easier to transport, easier to maneuver, more enjoyable to paddle,
and probably be less expensive. It all depends on what you will be using the boat for most
of the time.
3. What is your skill level and ability?
Just as a boat needs to fit you physically, a boat that fits your skill
level will also be safer and more enjoyable to paddle than one that doesn't. This is an
area where good judgment and honesty are important. A common tendency is to over estimate
your skill level. A boat that is too advanced for your skill level may be hard for you to
control or even keep upright. Obviously that would be very discouraging, take a lot of the
fun out of paddling, and could even be dangerous. Be honest with yourself. Buy a boat that
fits your abilities. It is OK to buy a boat that you can "grow into" as your
abilities grow. Just remember not to over do this strategy. You can always sell or
trade-in your boat for another as you become a more mature paddler.
4. How will you transport your boat to and from the water?
This may not be one of the things you consider when you think about
buying your first boat, but it should be. There are many different solutions to the
challenge of transporting canoes and/or kayaks. The solution that's right for you will
greatly depend on what particular vehicle you drive, what boat(s) you will be
transporting, how often you'll transport the boat(s), and how far you are likely to be
transporting the boat(s). I include the plurals here because you should also consider the
likelihood of transporting more than one boat at a time. Even if you never own more than
one boat at any given time you will surely discover a need to transport more than one at a
If using a roof rack or foam block to carry a boat on the top of your
vehicle is out of the question, you may want to consider a folding boat or an inflatable
one. These boats fold down into a relatively small size that can easily be transported and
stored just about anywhere. They are also a great choice if you plan to take your boat
with you on an airplane.
I won't go into any more detail about the decisions involved with transporting your boat,
since a whole book could be written on the subject, but remember to give the issue of
transporting your boat some consideration while choosing which boat is right for you.
5. Where will you store your boat when it is not in use?
Just like transporting your boat, where to store it while it is not in
use, is an important consideration when you are picking out the right boat for you. If you
live in an apartment or do not have access to a suitable storage space, a folding or
inflatable boat may be a good choice. If your boat will be exposed to sunlight or stored
in an unheated area, you will want to be sure to consider how those conditions will effect
your boat. Plastic boats are sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays and boats with wood
trim may need special attention to withstand large temperature changes.
Other things to consider:
6. The Hull Shape and Design:
Some paddlers like to pore over all of the technical data for a boat
and analyze how it will perform based on the data. This can be very helpful when making
direct comparisons between very similar boats, or when you are trying to weed out those
that do not fit your specific criteria. Be careful about making your decision based on the
data. It takes years of experience and a firm understanding of what the data means to do
this type of an analysis accurately. A boat that looks one way on paper may perform a
different way when you actually paddle it. It is also important to remember that
manufactures may try to gain an edge on the competition by fudging their data a little.
For the purpose of this document we will look at the three most basic
dimensions of a boat's hull, the length, width (or beam), and rocker. By carefully
examining these three dimensions, and how they are combined, we can safely make some
generalizations about a boat before we ever paddle it. Again, be cautious not to let these
generalizations influence your choice too much.
A. Length: Tracking & Speed vs. Turning
If we are looking at the data for two boats with the same width and
rocker, the longer boat will usually be faster and track better (paddle in a straight line
more easily) than a similar boat that is shorter. The trade off is that the longer boat
will probably not turn or maneuver as easily as the shorter boat. The longer boat will
also be a little heavier if they are both made with the same material and construction
method. Remember that longer is not necessarily better, it all depends on what you want
the boat to do.
B. Width (Beam): Stability vs. Speed
Again, comparing two boats with the same length and rocker, the
narrower boat will probably be a little faster than the wider boat. Here the trade off is
stability. A very narrow boat may feel tippy and hard to keep upright, especially to an
inexperienced paddler. A wider boat will usually feel more stable.
Remember that where the boat is wide can make a big difference in how easy it is to
paddle. This is especially true in a solo boat because the paddler will typically sit near
the middle of the boat, which is usually its widest point. If the boat is too wide it may
be difficult to paddle because you are forced to reach out farther on either side to place
your paddle in the water.
C. Rocker: Tracking vs. Turning
Rocker is how much the bow and stern of the boat are tipped up, sort of
like a banana. Between two boats of similar length and width, the boat with more rocker
will usually turn more easily, but it will be harder to paddle in a straight line. The
amount of rocker a boat has relative to its length can tell you a lot about how easily to
will turn and track. The shorter a boat is and the more rocker it has the easier it will
be to turn and the harder it will to paddle straight. Of course the longer a boat is and
the less rocker it has the harder it will be to turn and the better it will track.
7. Construction Material:
The material that a boat is made of will play a big role in determining
the weight, durability, and cost of the boat. There are many different materials used in
the construction of canoes and kayaks, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Try
to decide what factors will influence your purchase most (weight, durability, ease of
maintenance and repairs, cost ). Once you have prioritized these factors it will be much
easier to select the construction material that is right for you. Here is a link to a good
overview of materials from Rutabaga: Canoe Materials
A few pros and cons of popular materials:
Fiberglass: relatively easy to repair, quiet, rigid, less expensive than
kevlar, scratches easily, not as durable as plastic or aluminum, and not as light as
Aluminum: strong, durable and low maintenance, not harmed by UV rays,
loud, sticks on rocks.
Plastic: strong, durable, impact resistant, flexible, low maintenance,
heavier than some other materials, may be harmed by UV rays.
Kevlar: light weight, strong, not very durable on rocks or hard surfaces,
This is in no way a complete discussion of materials or construction
methods. These are just a few generalities pointing out the strengths and weakness of
these materials. Remember that the thickness of these materials will vary from one boat
model and/or builder to another, which will effect the boats strength, weight, and
durability. Some of these materials are used in combination with each other or with other
materials, creating a plethora of different material combinations and characteristics. Do
your homework, learn as much as you can about a boats construction method and material,
then choose wisely. Here is a link to a good overview of materials from Rutabaga: Canoe Materials
8. Used vs. New?:
If you are comfortable buying a used boat you can usually save some
money. If you are on a limited budget buying a used boat can get you a better boat, or get
you a boat and the accessories you need for the price of a new boat alone. It is not
unusual to buy a used boat for half of its original price. Another advantage of buying
used is that if you do buy a used boat at a fair price, you should be able to sell the
boat and get most if not all of your money back. Used boats will depreciate much less than
new boats. Good used boats can be hard to find, especially if you are looking for a
specific model. There are a few down sides to buying a used boat. Used boats are usually
sold "as is", with little or no return policy, and no warranty. That means once
you buy the boat it is yours, period. The seller will not give you your money back if you
decide that you do not like the boat for some reason.
On the other hand, buying a boat from a reputable dealer has several
important advantages. A reputable boat dealer will usually allow you to paddle boats
before you buy. If it is not possible for you to paddle a boat before you buy it, the
dealer may allow you to return the boat in like new condition for a refund of all or most
of the purchase price. Dealers will often take your old boat as a trade-in on the purchase
of a new boat. Ask the dealer about their return policy
before you buy a boat. You usually get a warranty from the manufacturer
when you purchase a new boat, but be sure to check the limits of the warranty before you
buy. Remember that you are going to pay more for a boat from a dealer because of all these
advantages. You also need to remember that a new boat will depreciate tremendously as soon
as you purchase it, because it is now a used boat.
A third option is to look for dealers that sell used boats. This
situation has many of the advantages of buying new, but will save you some money. A used
boat will typically cost a little more from a dealer, but you may have the advantage of a
return policy. Some dealers may also offer "Blems", Seconds, Discontinued
Models, Special Purchases, Package Deals, or Sales. These can be great opportunities to
save money on new or like new boats.
If you are purchasing a boat for the first time, you will also need
some accessories. You will need to allow for the cost of accessories in your budget. A PFD
( Personal Floatation Device), and a paddle will be the bare minimum that you will need.
If you are buying a kayak you may also need a spray skirt. Remember that fit is just as
important (if not more so) with accessories as it is with your boat. Make sure that your
PFD fits you properly and that it will be comfortable enough to wear all day long. The
same goes for your paddle and spray skirt. A good dealer can help you find and properly
fit the accessories that you will need.
Good used accessories are even harder to find than used boats. Most
paddlers will never part with good used equipment. Be cautious when purchasing a used PFD.
Good used equipment can be found and will usually save you some money, but if it does not
fit you it is of no good use to you.
Make your own decision. It's up to you!
Choosing which boat is right for you is a very personal decision and
one that only you are qualified to make. No one else can tell you which boat is right for
you, no matter how much knowledge or experience they have. You are the person who will be
bearing the consequences of which boat you choose, so accept personal responsibility for
Many times you will receive conflicting advice depending on whom you
talk to. This may seem to further confuse and complicate the issue, but remember that
there may be many different answers to the question of what boat is right for you. There's
no such thing as the perfect boat. Choosing a boat is a series of compromises.
Each factor that you consider will have a trade-off. For example: A longer boat will
usually be faster and have better tracking (easier to paddle in a straight line), but will
not turn or maneuver as easily as a shorter boat. Even choosing a color may have some pros
and cons. The compromises that you decide on will determine which boat is right for you.
It is wise however to seek expert advice, along with input from fellow paddlers whose
opinions you trust. Listen with an open mind, consider what other people tell you,
and then make your own decision.
Always paddle a boat before you buy it.
Even though you have considered all of the factors, listened to all of
the advice, and picked the boat that seems to satisfy all of your needs, it doesn't mean
much if you don't like the way it paddles. You'd be surprised how often your first choice
is not the boat you go home with. Be sure to pay special attention to the seat(s). If you
plan to paddle with your dog, spouse and/or children in the boat with you; then take them
along to test paddle the boat with you if possible.
Join a paddling club.
Joining a local paddling club can be one of the best investments that
you will ever make. Paddling clubs offer you the opportunity to network with other
paddlers, learn new skills, paddle new places, exchange information, and make new friends.
You can learn a lot from other paddlers, which could save you lots of time and money. Many
clubs offer clinics and/or pool sessions to hone your paddling skills. Paddling with a
club solves the car shuttle problem that the independent paddler faces and offers the
safety of having other paddlers along on the trip.
Take a paddling class (get some
There is no better or faster way to learn than from a professional
instructor. You may also get to paddle a variety of different boat during the class and
make direct comparisions between those boats. Most of the time when you test paddle a boat
you only paddle the boat for a very short time. During a class you usually have a chance
to paddle the boat for several hours and determine whether or not you like the boat and
how it performs under a veriety of circumstances or conditions. It is also a chance to get
some great input and advice from other paddlers and the instructors.
11. Other Resources:
Helping Your Advisor - a PDF
file for documenting vital information, which any one advising you will need.
document is highly recommended and should be used with the information
have found here. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print this
If you don't already have a copy "click here"
to get one free.
& Kayak Magazine
Canoe Association - Paddler's Guide ( Tip for Buying a Canoe / Kayak )
We-no-nah Canoe - How to Choose the best canoe - Maximize
your canoeing enjoyment
Click on "Library" after entering the We-no-nah web site.
Old Town Canoe -
Choosing your canoe.
Old Town Canoe -
Choosing your kayak.
Rutabaga - How to Choose a Canoe
( some questions to ask yourself )
GORP - How to Choose a
Used Canoes & Kayaks:
Paddlesport Message Board's Gear Exchange
Associations Gear Exchange
Canoe Etc. - Morton, IL