How to choose the right canoe or kayak

July 29, 2015

For a boating experience with a difference, nothing beats canoeing and kayaking. From creeks and rivers to the open sea, these sturdy craft are the perfect way to experience the outdoors. The first step is choosing the perfect vessel — here are some tips to get you started.

How to choose the right canoe or kayak

Choosing the right vessel

With so many styles available, making the right choice of craft can be difficult. The main consideration for beginners is to choose a canoe or kayak suited to the type of paddling they want to do.

  • Surf and sea kayaks can handle waves like an outrigger; regular kayaks and white-water canoes wend their way through seemingly unnavigable rapids; and two-person canoes can be piled with camping gear for a month-long expedition into wilderness areas.
  • A large canoe able to take a family and gear on an extended camping trip, or two experienced paddlers down a river of moderate rapids, would be inappropriate to use on a wild, white-water river.
  • A good way to start is to rent a canoe or kayak and learn to paddle on placid water. Once the basic skills are mastered, an informed decision can be made about which type of craft to buy.

Understanding your vessel

  • A canoe has an open top and needs two paddles. Models with flat bottoms, flat keel lines, strong ­tumble-home, gradually tapering hulls and moderate peaks are best for general cruising and camping. Round-bottom hulls with less tumble-home, more rocker in the keel line and low peaks are best for white water.
  • Kayaks have a closed top and are lighter, faster and more manoeuvrable than a canoe; more basic skills are needed to control a kayak.
  • As with canoes, hull design influences handling, and the principles outlined above apply to kayaks.

What are canoes and kayaks made of?

  • Canoes and kayaks are manufactured of lightweight ­materials, most commonly fibreglass, kevlar, carbon fibre or plastic.
  • Some plastic designs, if dented or bent, have the ability to return to their original shape by themselves; other plastic types are repaired with the application of heat.
  • Whatever you choose, learn how to make simple repairs, and always carry a repair kit.
  • If you buy second-hand, you may come across timber and canvas, or aluminium models.
  • Always have a pre-purchase paddle before buying.

Canoe shapes you should know

  • Bottom roundness refers to the curvature of the hull's underside. Standard profiles are rounded, V-shaped and flat. Flatness adds stability; round and V-shaped bottoms are faster and more manoeuvrable.
  • Tumble-home is the inward curve of the sides of the hull. Tumble-home adds strength to the canoe and makes paddling easier, but waves can slop over the gunwales­ more readily.
  • Peaks are the top points of a canoe's bow and stern. High peaks make the boat look more graceful but susceptible to buffeting by strong winds.
  • Keels are ridges along hull bottoms. A prominent keel helps the canoe steer straight but decreases manoeuvrability and increases the tendency of the boat to be caught in cross-currents.The keel line is the profile of the keel viewed lengthwise from the side. A boat with a flat keel line is easier to paddle­ in a straight line in cross-winds and cross- currents,­ but a rocker keel (an upswept keel line) makes for quicker turning.
  • Hull taper describes the shape of the hull seen from above. A canoe with a gradually tapered hull can carry more weight. A sharply tapered hull is easier to paddle and is faster in the water.

Selecting a paddle

  • A recreational canoe paddle should reach to your chin.
  • For a kayak ­paddle, hold the paddle in front of you, one blade on the ground. When standing with your arm stretched, your fingers should just curl over the top of the blade.

Finding the right vessel is the first step to a unique (and safe!) boating experience. Consider these tips before making a purchase to get the most out of your canoe or kayak.

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