Whether they're used for physical exercise or fun, kayaks and canoes are ideal for paddling along a small creek or taking short excursions down larger rivers. Some hardy, experienced kayakers even use them to travel the Great Lakes or larger waterways as Native Americans once did.
Canoes and kayaks use different paddles, and each offers different advantages and disadvantages. For example, canoes are notoriously unstable, and can tip over fairly easily. While a round-bottom canoe is less likely to capsize, it is more likely to tip at one side and allow water in. In comparison, a flat-bottom canoe offers greater stability - to a point. After this point, sometimes called the "tilt threshold," the canoe will capsize easily.
Usually, a canoe is piloted by one person who is kneeling in the boat's hull or sitting on a support. A single-bladed paddle is used. Most canoes are open at the top. Coleman canoes and Wenonah canoes are well-known quality brands.
Typically, canoes are larger than kayaks. Kayaks usually have a covered deck on top. Most are designed for single riders. The rider is positioned in a hole situated at the middle of the kayak. He or she uses one double-bladed paddle. Kayaks are usually more stable than canoes. Old Town kayaks and Perception kayaks are popular examples of quality watercraft.
Whitewater rafting is another popular sport, and requires a durable, well-balanced raft, especially for safely navigating larger rapids. These can also be used for fun, to float down a calm waterway. Rafts are steered by only a single-bladed paddle, and float along on top of the water.
In addition to determining what type of watercraft best suits them, adventurers will need to decide whether to purchase a boat made of synthetic or natural materials. Each one has different advantages and disadvantages.
Canoes were first made from wood. Today, however, many people prefer canoes made from aluminum or fiberglass instead. These materials are strong and offer added support for traversing a river, but are lightweight enough to carry easily when necessary. Some people even prefer to make their own antique or craftsman canoes using narrow wood strips or by stretching canvas over wooden frames.
In comparison, kayaks were once made from animal skins that were tightly stretched across wooden frames. Antique kayaks made with these designs are available. These, however, can be fairly expensive.
Most kayaks made today are constructed from lightweight, inexpensive plastic that is very durable. Those that are sold for use in whitewater rafting usually are built with very sturdy plastic that is highly resistant to shattering on impact.
Rafts are the most inexpensive of these light watercrafts. Usually manufactured with PVC plastic, an inflatable raft is designed to be somewhat puncture resistant. Carrying along a patch kit, though, is advisable; water debris or sharp stones can still slice the material.
What's necessary: Extra Accessories
Before launching that canoe or raft, travelers should have a few necessary accessories on board their craft so they don't get stuck. First, sunscreen is an essential. Even persons with darker skin tones are much more susceptible to sunburn on water.
Sunglasses help protect the eyes from UV rays, and make it easier to see, and hats keep the sound from pounding on a traveler's head. Dress smartly, and wear clothes that fit comfortably and dry quickly.
Even though boaters are surrounded by water, carrying drinkable water is essential. Rafting or kayaking is strenuous exercise, and boaters can become dehydrated easily. Take along plenty of water for each crew member.
Don't forget a paddle. Kayakers use double-bladed padd les. Canoe and raft pilots use single-bladed paddles. And even kayakers or canoe owners, as well as rafters, may want to invest in a patch kit. Of course, an extra roll of duct tape is always handy, too, for those smaller leaks.
Perhaps the most important accessory, though, is a personal flotation device, or PFD. These are designed to prevent drowning. While the Coast Guard requires all watercrafts to carry class III PFD's for all passengers, most experts recommend the use of a PFD while using any lightweight watercraft, including canoes, kayaks, and rafts.
Don't underestimate safety; more than three-fourths of all deaths that occur during canoe or kayaking adventures involved a person who did not wear a PFD. Don't take that chance, or leave your friends with the guilt. Not wearing a PFD does not make you look cool, it makes you unsafe.
Follow boating safety rules and guidelines while traveling on the water. Travel in groups, or at least advise someone of your departure and return. Carry a light source and GPS emergency beacon or cell phone for emergency assistance. And always wear a personal flotation device.