For those who want to feel more engaged and involved in the journey, and to feel the pull of the water as they glide atop it, you may be more interested in these boats that you paddle.

To many people, there might not seem like much difference between rowing, paddling, and kayaking. However, there’s a world of difference between the different types of boats you paddle and how, exactly, you operate them.

We’re going to take a closer look at three different kinds of boats you paddle: rowboats, canoes, and paddle boats. As well as the major differences between the three kinds of boats, we will look at when it’s best to use them.

Types of Paddle Boats


row boats

The first, and most noticeable difference, between rowing and paddling is that rowing pushes you backward, while paddling pushes you forwards. Operating the oars in a rowboat means you won’t be facing where you’re going, so having someone facing opposite the rowers and directing the boat is crucial. Traditional rowboats and inflatable pontoon boats both fall into this category.

The oars used in rowing are directly attached to the boat, sitting in oarlocks that hold them in place to make the most of the pushing and pulling motions. The rowers sit in seats and put their feet on footboards. The legs are actually the source of most of the power in a rowboat.

As you push with your feet, the seat moves, as do the oars. The arms are used to dip the oars in the water as the feet push. Because the average person’s legs are much stronger than their arms, the force that moves the oars back and forth is much stronger, and the boat is propelled much more.

What’s more, unlike the other two boats you paddle, you use two oars in rowboats: one on each side. They move back and forth at the same time as you push on the footboards. Physically, it’s much more demanding than a canoe or a paddle board.

When you want a rowboat: There are many types of rowboats, but most of them are very wide, so they don’t fit well into most canals and some rivers. For that reason, they’re best used on larger, open bodies of water.



Unlike rowboats, when you canoe, you face the front of the boat and use the paddles to push back, propelling you forward. Each rider in a canoe uses one single-bladed paddle, which is used to push back the water on either side of the canoe.

Understanding the precision of the push is important. If one person is paddling on one side in a canoe, it will simply rotate the boat in a circle. As a result, canoes are normally operated by a team of people (with 2-person, 4-person, and 8-person canoes being the standard sizes). Half the team paddles on one side, the other half paddles on the other side.

Canoeing is very easy to learn, and with a little teamwork, you can go far. However, it can be more physically taxing than expected because the paddlers are constantly working on one side of their body. What’s more, because they are smaller than rowboats, they capsize easily so learning canoe safety is a must.

When you want a canoe: Because of their small size and lightweight nature, canoes can help you traverse smaller rivers and canals with ease. Because they are best operated in teams of 2, 4, or 8, they make for a great family or group activity What’s more, they’re incredibly easy to learn to use and they can be easily transported on the top of a car.

Kayaks and SUPs


Kayaking and stand-up paddle boards are another type of paddle boat (see our best inflatable fishing kayak review), rafts, and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). The main difference between canoes and kayaks is the type of paddle used.

Canoers use one single-bladed paddle to push on one side of the boat. Kayakers, on the other hand, use a double-bladed paddle. There’s a blade on either side. One end is dipped into the water on one side of the boat and pushed before the other end is dipped into the water on the other side of the boat and pushed.

This creates a continuous motion of pushing a blade through the water on either side, propelling the boat forward. It’s much easier for one person to paddle a kayak than for one person to paddle a canoe, as a result, and most of the force is generated by movements in the torso rather than the arm.

When you want a kayak: For exploring any bodies of water by yourself, including smaller rivers and canals.

Depending on what kind of waters you want to traverse and the kind of experience you’re after, one of the three types of boats you paddle might be the best option, so make sure you choose the right boat for the right trip.