If you’re new to paddling and are trying to decide between buying a canoe or a kayak, you might be wondering which of them is more stable. For beginners, one of the biggest worries is flipping the boat over, which can lead to an unpleasant swim or worse, losing some gear if everything isn’t secured.
So which is easier to flip, a canoe or a kayak? It doesn’t matter if you paddle a sleek sea kayak or an extra-wide fishing model, kayaks are much more likely to flip over compared to canoes.
It’s important to understand the factors that make a canoe or kayak tippy so you can find the right one to suit your paddling needs. Below I’ll explain just what goes into a kayak or canoe’s hull design that affects their performance characteristics.
Which is Easier to Flip: Canoe or Kayak
Kayaks are designed for different purposes than avoiding being flipped, with canoes emphasizing stability over speed and maneuverability. More of a canoe’s hull sits below the waterline and thus the hull is more resistant to coming out of the water and putting you underneath it.
Overall canoes are more stable, but you can still find kayaks that are less likely to capsize than a narrow and speedy canoe. Sometimes a little
The Physics of Flipping a Kayak or a Canoe
The greater stability of canoes over kayaks is primarily due to hull shape. Kayaks are designed to be as fast as possible, and that’s true even with the wider recreational models.
The bow and stern of a kayak curve out of the water, referred to as the rocker, to make turning the boat easier; with less hull surface area touching the water, there is less resistance to turning (and to flipping over).
Canoes don’t have much rocker, and when they’re loaded down, more the hull is more submerged than when a kayak is fully weighted.
Hull Shape and How To Choose the Right One for You
Let’s start by assuming you don’t want your canoe or kayak to flip over. You’d think that would be a given, but many kayakers prize their ability to roll over with ease. When you’re starting out though, you’ll want a boat that is fairly resistant to flipping over, and the most important feature to look for with stability is hull shape.
Both kayaks and canoes come in a variety of hull shapes including flat, round, and V-shaped.
Flat hulls are the most stable design for both types of boats; they resist tipping to either side, though they’re more likely to capsize once you’ve rolled it past the point of no return. They are said to have good primary stability (resisting side to side movement), but poor secondary stability (going past the point of no return).
Round hulls are the exact opposite, bobbing to the sides with ease (which allows for tighter turns) but they don’t have the point of no return that flat bottom boats do.
The V-shape is essentially a compromise between the two, providing excellent tracking and maneuverability, but falling somewhere between flat and round hulls when it comes to stability.
Paddlers that are just getting into the sport should get a flat bottom hull on their canoe or kayak. This will make learning a lot easier, and you can upgrade to a more aggressively shaped boat when you’re ready for it.
What to Do If a Kayak or Canoe Flips
Even if you do everything right and buy a boat with rock-solid stability, you’re bound to flip over a few times. It doesn’t need to be a disaster though.
Prepare first by securing things
The first step towards making this unfortunate event less painful is to ensure everything is tied down. If you’re paddling a sit-on-top kayak, this is already a given, since gear can slide off the deck with the slightest wave when not secured.
Sit-inside kayaks and canoes are a different story though since most paddlers assume they won’t be taking an unintentional swim.
The easiest method for keeping things secure is to put them inside a dry bag or storage box. They’ll stay dry and you can tie a rope from the bag or box to your seat or a piece of the hull. If it’s gear that doesn’t need to stay dry, an ordinary camping stuff sack will do.
How to Get Back in a Kayak or Canoe After it’s Flipped Over
Now that you’ve ensured that all your gear doesn’t go floating downstream or towards the bottom of a lake, you need to get the boat right side up. With a sit on top kayak there won’t be any water inside the boat, so grab onto the side of the cockpit and push down to flip it over.
Canoes and sit-inside kayaks aren’t so easy though, as the motion of rolling it over will at least partially fill the cockpit with water. The simplest method for removing all that water is one you can do by yourself.
Start by rolling the boat over, then with the canoe or kayak turned right side up, gently tilt the cockpit to one side to let the water drain out next to you. This isn’t actually that effective with a kayak, but you should get enough out that it can be paddled to shore and drained properly.
You can also carry a bilge pump like this one to suck the water out, but this can be a time-consuming task if there’s a lot in there.
Since canoes have an open top and are usually paddled by two people, there’s one more option. While the canoe is flipped over, swim underneath it with your paddling partner and position yourselves at the bow and stern.
Both of you can then push on one side until there’s a gap between the rim of the hull and waterline (there will be some surface tension with the water). Then quickly push to the same side to roll the boat over without getting any water trapped in the hull.
If you want to know more on this subject, click here to read my guide on how to get back into a kayak from the water.