The lure of the open water can be irresistible, and paddling through it in a kayak or canoe can be an act of freedom, tranquility, and pure joy. When one is confronted with the task of actually choosing a kayak or canoe from the immense variety of options available, however, the tranquility of the open water can quickly dry up, only to be replaced with a vast desert of confusion. This guide is intended to help the prospective kayaker or canoer take the first step off the shore of indecision and embark on a fun and rewarding paddling adventure.
Kayak or Canoe?
The first step in this adventure is to decide which kind of craft is appropriate for the needs of the paddler. The most obvious difference between kayaks and canoes is that, in a kayak, the paddler uses a double-bladed paddle, while in a canoe, the paddler uses a single-bladed paddle. Kayaks and canoes have individual advantages, and they fit different types of personalities and lifestyles. If a paddler doesn’t know right off the bat, it is a great idea to put a paddle in the water and try each craft out by renting. A paddler’s self-knowledge will also help in this decision. An easy-going, practical, flexible personality will probably be more drawn to the utilitarian, no-frills canoe. On the other hand, someone focused on performance, precision, and functionality may seek the sleek lines of a kayak.
The craft must also suit the type of use it is intended for. Canoes come in a variety of sizes, and some are big enough to carry a whole family, along with their gear. Canoes excel at carrying people, pets, and their gear to their destinations on calm water. They are not the most maneuverable craft, and they do have a tendency to fill with water when waves get high. However, for camping, fishing, and leisurely nature watching, they can’t be beat.
While kayaks also have many size options, cargo space is definitely more limited than in a canoe, and kayaks only come in solo or tandem models, so crew size is limited to one or two. Kayaks are fast, maneuverable, and can zip through rapids while keeping the paddler dry, fit, and exhilarated. However, they don’t offer much in the way of cargo space, and they may bring the paddler into much more intimate contact with the water than expected. In most kayaks, the paddler is truly sitting in, rather than on top of, the water.
Design Considerations for Kayaks and Canoes
Before launching into the specific features of kayaks and canoes, it is good for the buyer to become familiar with basic design considerations common to them both.
Turning vs. Tracking
Tracking refers to the ability of a watercraft to easily travel in a straight line. Good tracking ability comes at the cost of turning ability. Usually it is a boat’s keel that gives it the ability to track, though rudders and skegs are other components that can increase tracking.
There are two types of stability to look for in watercraft. Initial stability, or primary stability, refers to the boat’s tendency not to tip or rock while at rest. For activities such as fishing or nature watching, initial stability is of primary importance for a safe, comfortable experience. Final stability, or secondary stability, is the boat’s resistance to tipping while under way. For kayaking or canoeing at high speed and rough water, the paddler should look for a watercraft with good final stability. For beginners, initial stability is a more important consideration than final stability.
If the control and thrill of kayaks sounds like the most appealing option, the next step is to decide what type of kayak is most suitable. Kayaks can be divided into four basic use categories: recreational, light (or day) touring, touring (also known as sea kayaks), and whitewater. Within these four categories, kayaks can also be divided into "sit-in" or "sit-on-top" styles. These two styles cater to kayakers of differing paddling styles, skill levels, and degrees of comfortability with the craft.
Sit - on - top style kayaks are better for paddlers who don’t feel as comfortable being enclosed within a kayak. They are stable platforms for fishing, sunbathing, and nature viewing, and are almost always self-bailing. However, they are wider than sit-in kayaks due to the paddler’s higher center of gravity, and this comes at a cost of speed and maneuverability. Many techniques for controlling the kayak available in a sit-in variety are not possible in a sit-on-top version unless it has thigh straps to keep the body anchored in the kayak. Thigh straps can be purchased and added to a sit-on-top kayak, however, and many sit-on-top kayaks already have strap eyes to accommodate future thigh strap installation.
Sit - in style kayaks are more maneuverable, allow for more gear storage, and, when used correctly, tend to be drier than sit-on-top styles. The advantage of a sit-in style kayak is that it can act as an extension of the kayaker’s body. In effect, one "wears" a sit-in kayak as one would an article of clothing, with foot pegs providing the points of contact and control. For this reason, it is extremely important to find a kayak that has a cockpit that fits the kayaker well. An improper fit will translate to poor control of the craft. When the fit is right, however, a sit-in kayak can provide a truly graceful experience. A skirt prevents water from dripping off the paddle or washing into the cockpit, but there are occasions when water may find its way into the boat. In this event, a means of bailing such as a sponge, cloth, or scoop, is necessary.
While sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks are available in all of the basic categories of kayaks, the sit-on-top style is most commonly found on recreational kayaks, as recreational kayaks are designed to be more accessible to the casual kayak user.
Recreational kayaks are short and wide, measuring 9 to 12 feet long and 26 to 30 inches wide, and are the most appropriate choice for the beginning kayaker. They are not intended to stand up to rapids or large waves, and are best used in calm, protected water such as lakes, bays, inlets, and slow-moving streams. Their initial stability is high, and their cockpits are large and sometimes come equipped with high-backed seats for a more comfortable, supportive lounging experience. This comfort comes at a cost of control and ergonomic efficiency, however. With an intermediate sized keel, recreational kayaks are designed to track (move in a straight line) moderately well, and are likewise moderately easy to turn. They are best used for more passive activities such as fishing, birdwatching, or photography.
Light (or Day) Touring Kayaks
Light touring kayaks are longer and narrower than recreational kayaks, usually measuring 12 to 15 feet long and 23 to 26 inches wide. Like recreational kayaks, they are not designed for use in rough water, and are best for providing comfort and performance on large lakes and wide rivers. Their keel is more pronounced than those of recreational kayaks, allowing for better tracking, more final stability, and more efficient gliding.
Touring Kayaks (Sea Kayaks)
Touring kayaks, or sea kayaks, are longer and narrower than light touring kayaks, usually measuring 15 feet or longer, and 20 to 24 inches wide. They have the most pronounced keel of any class of kayak, and are designed for extremely efficient gliding so great distances can be covered quickly. They can be used for coastal kayaking, and their length gives them better final stability on rough waves than light touring kayaks, though this comes at the expense of primary stability. They usually come equipped with skegs, or retractable rudders, which allow better control in rough or windy conditions.
Whitewater kayaksare specially designed to maximize maneuverability and safety. They are typically the shortest class of kayak, measuring from five to 11 feet long and 20 to 26 inches wide. They have no keel and do not track in a straight line, making them challenging for beginners. This lack of tracking also makes them a challenge on calm water, as they tend to turn in circles rather than move forward. These kayaks excel in high velocity whitewater rivers and creeks, where tight maneuverability and responsiveness is most important. Safety equipment such as a helmet, PFD, and flotation bags are essential, and the price for these accessories should be accounted for.
The versatility, space, and comfort that canoes offer make them the sport utility vehicles of the lake or stream. They drag against wind and currents more than kayaks, but they offer higher weight carrying capacity and cargo room. Major types of canoes include sport canoes, recreational canoes, touring/tripping canoes, whitewater canoes, and cruising or racing canoes.
Sport canoes, or fishing canoes, are short, wide crafts designed primarily for fishing. They have a high initial stability that makes them excellent choices for calm waters, and they lack a keel, which allows them to turn easily. However, these flat-bottomed canoes can drift easily with the wind. Aftermarket keels are available for these canoes, and some sport canoes with added keels may be found on eBay. Buyers should be especially cautious when researching sport canoes with keels, however, as any modification of the original canoe could be a source of leaks.
Recreational canoes are similar to sport canoes, and, indeed, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. These canoes tend to be of intermediate length (14 to 16 feet), can come with or without a keel, and offer good initial stability.
Touring canoes are straight-tracking, keeled canoes. They are usually 16 to 18 feet long and have an arched or V-shaped hull that allows them to glide quickly over wind-blown lakes. Tripping canoes are a heavier variant of touring canoe with increased carrying capacity. They are typically used for long expeditions and can easily carry up to three passengers.
Whitewater canoes, also known as river canoes, are short, tough canoes made to stand up to the punishment that rocks and snags can inflict on a craft in a fast-moving river. They are very similar in size and construction to whitewater kayaks, but are designed for the paddler to kneel instead of sit.
Cruising or Racing Canoes
Cruising or racing canoes, also called sprint canoes, are designed for competitive racing on flat, calm water. They are very long (at least 18 feet) and have a very narrow beam, and, as a result, they have very poor initial stability. They are paddled by kneeling on one knee, and through the use of the J-stroke, which means that they are only paddled on one side.
The type of material a canoe or kayak is made from is one of the key factors determining its price and durability.
Aluminum and Aluminum Alloy
In use since the mid-20th century, aluminum has the advantage of durability at the cost of weight and noise. Aluminum alloys are lighter, thinner, and stronger than pure aluminum. If aluminum is punctured by a rock, it is difficult to repair, so usually aluminum craft are best suited to flat, calm water.
Fiberglass boats have been in use almost as long as aluminum, and their strength has increased in more recent years with the development of composite fiberglass incorporating modern materials such as carbon fiber. Fiberglass is lighter than aluminum and abrasion resistant. It is not very shock resistant, however, and severe impacts can cause it to crack. For this reason, basic fiberglass is best suited for use on flat water, while composite fiberglass is suitable for whitewater. Fiberglass is relatively easy to repair, however, and even severe damage can be restored to a like-new condition, so even repaired items should be considered, and may be available at a great price.
Polyethylene is a common plastic, and it can be seen every day in applications such as milk and soda bottles. It is one of the most inexpensive materials for watercraft, and is flexible, durable, and can "remember" its form after being flexed. Its major weakness is its softness. Polyethylene canoes and kayaks are easily scratched to the point of springing a leak. However, certain manufacturers such as Old Town Canoe use a layer of polyethylene foam sandwiched between two layers of polyethylene, which results in greater buoyancy and abrasion resistance.
Royalexis material consisting of several layers of ABS plastic and a ½-inch foam core. It balances high durability with moderate weight and price, and is one of the best materials for whitewater and high-impact use. As ABS plastic breaks down in sunlight, Royalex must have a protective vinyl coating, and the protection increases with the number of layers of ABS and vinyl incorporated into the composite. The vinyl can be scratched, allowing the plastic to degrade, but Royalex is still one of the most durable materials available for canoes and kayaks. Buyers should be cautious and inspect a used Royalex craft for deep scratches, as the ABS plastic could be compromised.
Kevlar, a composite material well known for its use in bulletproof vests, is the lightest material used for canoes and kayaks, but it is also the most expensive. It is found in the most high-end whitewater canoes and kayaks. When kevlar cracks, however, it is extremely difficult to repair, so take care to inspect the available pictures and discuss the item’s condition when buying a used kevlar craft.
Inflatable plastic canoes or kayaks may be the most commonly found on eBay, simply because of their light weight and the ability to compress and ship them. Surprisingly, some inflatable materials can be durable. Some inflatables are designed for the most intense whitewater, so check the item’s description to see what whitewater class rating the inflatable is rated for. Inflatables are easy to repair, and they are usually the most affordable material available.
How to find the right Kayaks or Canoes on eBay
As kayaks and canoes are large and heavy items, shipping costs are likely to be extreme, except in the case of inflatables. For most practical purposes, shopping should be done locally. An advanced search is the most efficient way to find a canoe or kayak in your area. To perform an advanced search, click on the link to the right of the search bar labeled "Advanced." Enter "Canoe," "Kayak," or a more specific search term mentioned in this guide in the keyword field.
Scroll down to the "show results" section of the page, and under "items near me," you’ll be able to enter your location so that only local results will be displayed.
It’s easiest to find what you need by using eBay’s categories to narrow your search results. Navigate through the following categories to eliminate irrelevant search results: Sporting Goods; Water Sports; Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting; Canoes or Kayaks.
As local items are not as commonly available, it may be helpful to create a saved search based on the above search terms. Once you’ve conducted a search, just click on the "save search" link near the top of your results. You’ll be prompted to name the search, and then click save. eBay will automatically send an email when an item fulfills the search requirements.
In the case of used canoes and kayaks, a picture tells a thousand words. Scrutinize the condition of the items you’re interested in, pay attention to the item’s description, and if something isn’t apparent, don’t hesitate to click the Ask a Question link under the seller’s profile. Damaged items should be accurately reflected in the item description.
Always check the seller’s feedback score, and make sure the item description and refund policy stated by the seller is satisfactory. eBay and PayPal provide multiple safeguards against fraud, and eBay Buyer Protection will cover the purchase price of an item plus original shipping if an item does not arrive or is different than described.