Is Kayak A Boat? Beginners Guide To Kayaking

Is Kayak A Boat? Beginners Guide To Kayaking

A kayak is a type of watercraft that is used to travel across bodies of water, including lakes and rivers. However, what makes kayaks unique?

What sets kayaks apart from other watercraft? Is kayak a type of boat, and if it is, what makes a boat a kayak?

Kayaks are becoming increasingly more popular, so much so that kayaking is now considered a sport. It’s even in the Olympics!

There are many types of kayaks, including fishing kayaks, touring kayaks, and inflatable kayaks. However, there are a few things that make a kayak unique, regardless of the type of kayak it is.

The short version: Yes, kayaks are boats, but not all boats are kayaks. Kayaks are similar to canoes, but there are some crucial differences, such as the type of paddle used.

Read on to learn more about kayaking!

Kayaks vs Boats: What Makes Kayaking Special?

Is Kayak a Boat?

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Yes. A kayak is a type of boat that can travel on water.

There are many types of boats, including fishing boats, yachts, sailing boats, and many others.

Some boats are powered by motors that allow you to relax, while others are powered by the wind. Sailboats, for example, feature sails that utilize wind power to travel.

Then there are human-powered boats, which require a human to paddle or use a pedal system to move the boat. Kayaks fall into this category.

Most kayaks are powered by paddling. When you buy a kayak, it will often come with paddles.

Some kayaks, though, feature pedal systems, which are typically foot-controlled. That allows kayakers to use their foot strength to drive the boat forward, reducing fatigue and requiring less energy overall.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a boat is defined as “a small vessel for travel on water.” According to that definition, a kayak is definitely a boat, as it is a small vessel for traveling on water.

Also, the Merriam-Webster dictionary states that a kayak is “a light narrow boat that has both ends tapered to a point, is propelled by a double-bladed paddle, and often has a closed top.”

Therefore, a kayak can certainly be considered a boat.

What Makes a Boat a Kayak?

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While all kayaks are boats, not all boats are kayaks – the majority are not. So, what makes a boat a kayak?

Kayaks have a very specific design. A kayak will be long and narrow, narrowing and tapering off at the ends into pointy tips. Actual length can vary – some kayaks are just six feet long, while others can be 15 feet or longer.

Kayaks may seat one or more people. The cockpit may be open or closed – sit-on-top kayaks do not have a closed cockpit.

What makes a boat a kayak, therefore, is usually its design. The actual material that a kayak is made of doesn’t matter, because kayaks can be made from so many materials.

Most kayaks are made of plastic nowadays – rotomolded plastic, in particular, but also thermoformed plastic. However, fiberglass and wooden kayaks also exist, and there are even transparent kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and foldable kayaks.

Is a Kayak Considered a Boat in Florida?

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We know that kayaks are considered boats, but what about the legalities of it? Do you need to register a kayak as a boat in Florida?

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, you would not need to register most kayaks as boats in Florida.

Specifically, the law states that “all vessels, with the exception of non-motor-powered vessels less than 16 feet in length, non-motor-powered canoes, kayaks, racing shells or rowing sculls, regardless of length, must be registered through your local Tax Collector’s Office.”

In other words, while you typically have to register your boats, you don’t have to register kayaks or canoes. There is an exception – if you have a motor-powered kayak (which isn’t really that common), you would have to register it.

However, while you don’t need to register your kayak as a boat, that doesn’t mean that it’s a free for all. There are still certain laws that you must follow when operating a kayak in Florida.

Also Read: Tandem Kayak vs Canoe

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Here are some laws that still apply when kayaking in Florida:

  • It is illegal to operate any vessel in Florida while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For this purpose, you are considered being under the influence of alcohol if your alcohol level on a blood or breath test is above 0.8. Officers may subject you to a test if they suspect you have been drinking.
  • However, if you are under 21, you must not have an alcohol breath level of .02 or higher while operating a kayak, as it is a violation of the law.
  • You must wear a personal flotation device when kayaking in Florida.

For more boating regulations that concern kayakers in Florida, see the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission site.

Kayaks vs Canoes: Similar, But Different

Can You Call a Canoe a Boat?

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Yes, you can call a canoe a boat, just like you can call a kayak a boat under the definition I provided above. In fact, canoes tend to be heavier and bigger than kayaks, so even if you think that boats are supposed to be bigger than kayaks, you could consider a canoe a boat.

However, that doesn’t mean that a canoe is considered a boat under the law – at least not fully. In Florida, for example, you don’t need to register your canoe as a boat unless it is powered by a motor.

What Makes a Boat a Canoe?

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Canoes are similar to kayaks, but there are differences. What makes a boat a canoe is typically its shape.

Like kayaks, canoes are long and narrow, and they taper off at the ends. However, they tend to be bigger than kayaks – canoes are wider, longer, and heavier.

The main differences between kayaks and canoes are two. Most kayaks, except for sit on top kayaks, have covered cockpits, while canoes have open cockpits.

Another major difference between canoes and kayaks is that canoes feature single-bladed paddles, while kayaks usually have double-bladed paddles. Therefore, paddling the two vessels requires different techniques and skills.

Canoes can be differentiated from kayaks by their wider frames and open cockpits. Another difference is that canoes tend to have benches for seats, while kayaks often have comfortable seats with backrests.

Are All Kayaks Canoes?

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Technically, a kayak is simply a type of canoe. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a kayak is “a light narrow canoe with a covering over the top.”

Meanwhile, according to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, a kayak is “a light canoe in which the part where you sit is covered over.”

So, yes, all kayaks are canoes. However, not all canoes are kayaks, as a kayak is simply a version of a canoe that has a covered cockpit.

Sit-on-top kayaks, though, don’t have covered cockpits.

Is a Canoe or Kayak Better?

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That depends on your preferences. Kayaks tend to be smaller, lighter, and easier to carry.

Canoes, on the other hand, are wider and bigger. While transporting them is a bit more difficult, it also means they can hold more people and weight.

Canoes tend to be more stable than kayaks, which also means that getting in and out is easier. Another thing that makes getting in and out easy is the open design of the canoe; kayaks, which have enclosed cockpits, are a bit harder to get into.

Since canoes are heavier, they are also a bit harder to paddle. You’ll need to use up more energy compared to paddling a kayak.

Kayaks are easier to maneuver because they are lighter. In addition, when sitting in a closed cockpit, you can use your knees to control the kayak as well – a lot of people feel like they become one with the kayak.

Many people prefer the open design of canoes, as it allows them to move around freely. You can even kneel on the floor of the canoe while paddling if it gives you more stability and control.

However, kayaks are usually a bit more comfortable, as the seats often have breathable mesh backrests and are adjustable. However, you are usually limited to sitting in just one spot.

Common Kayak FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we see from our readers who are new to kayaking.

Is Kayak a Boat or a Raft?

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A kayak is a boat, not a raft. To understand why that is, we have to understand the difference between a boat and a raft.

We already defined a boat above, but what is a raft? Here are two definitions of a raft according to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries:

  1. “A flat structure made of pieces of wood tied together and used as a boat or floating platform.”
  2. “A small boat made of rubber or plastic that is filled with air.”

According to the first definition, a kayak is definitely not a raft. However, even inflatable kayaks are different from inflatable rafts.

Inflatable rafts usually have a more rectangular shape; they don’t narrow towards the ends like kayaks. Rafts are also, by definition, flat.

Is Kayak a Boat or a Ship?

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A kayak is a boat, not a ship. A boat is a broader, more generic term that encompasses all different kinds of watercraft, including smaller ones.

However, a ship typically refers to larger watercraft that are made to transport passengers, cargo, other watercraft, or airplanes. Ships typically have multiple sails or engines due to their size.

Ships are also usually seafaring. People use them to travel across open waters – oceans – instead of lakes and rivers.

While sea kayaks do exist, nobody is taking a kayak from North America to Europe, for example, to transport people or cargo. That’s what ships are for.

Merriam-Webster defines a ship as “a large seagoing vessel.”

Is Kayak & Canoe a Boat?

Yes. Both kayaks and canoes are boats, although they are not ships. However, as we have seen, they may not be counted as boats for all legal purposes, so check the relevant laws in your state.

Can Non-Swimmers Kayak?

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Yes. Knowing how to swim is highly recommended for all kayakers, as it will keep you safer, but it is not a necessity.

You can definitely kayak without knowing how to swim. However, wearing a life jacket is a must.

Even if you do know how to swim, you should use a life jacket.

If you don’t know how to swim, I would also recommend sticking close to shore and not venturing into choppy waters.

Is Kayaking Difficult for Beginners?

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Kayaking can be difficult if it’s your first time. First of all, it requires a lot of energy.

When you paddle a kayak, you will be using a lot of muscles that you don’t usually use. If you go to the gym regularly, it will be a bit easier, but you can still expect to get tired out quickly.

As time goes on, your body will adjust.

Also, learning the proper paddling technique can take time, so stick to calm waters at first and slowly work your way up. Have an instructor give you a few lessons.

If you are renting a kayak from a rental agency, ask them if they can teach you how to kayak. You may be able to coordinate a personal lesson in advance, or they may even have guided group lessons for new kayakers.

Are Kayaks Considered Personal Watercraft?

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No. The term personal watercraft typically refers to jet skis and other jet-powered watercraft that are made for one person only.

While solo kayaks are also made for just one person, they don’t typically fall into the personal watercraft category.

According to Collins English Dictionary, the definition of personal watercraft in American English is’ “a jet-propelled boat or boats ridden like a motorcycle.” That refers to jet skis and other one-person watercraft that are powered by jets, not kayaks.

Personal watercraft often have their own laws that apply to them. For example, in Florida, you must be 14 years old to operate a personal watercraft (if you are a legal guardian of someone under 14 years old, it is illegal to let them operate a personal watercraft).

You must also be 18 years old to rent a personal watercraft. Florida law also states that from one half hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise, it is illegal to operate personal watercraft.

There are many types of jet skis, though. As we talk about in our types of jet skis article, there are performance jet skis, luxury jet skis, sport fishing jet skis, and many others!

If you’re wondering whether a jet ski is for you, check out our article on the pros and cons of jet boats. They are great for quickly maneuvering shallow waters, but they are expensive, use a lot of fuel, and are hard to maneuver when going slowly.

What Is the Best Cheap Kayak?

There are many amazing cheap kayaks that are perfect for beginners who are looking for a first kayak but don’t want to break the bank. I would recommend looking for an inflatable kayak or a rotomolded plastic kayak – both are surprisingly durable despite being cheap to manufacture.

We also have a list of the best kayaks for beginners and the best cheap fishing kayaks.

What Is the Best Kayak for the Money?

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There is no one answer to this question, as it depends on your preferences. Some people prefer inflatable kayaks, while others like the feel of wooden kayaks.

Some people like to use sit-on-top kayaks, while others find them uncomfortable.

It also depends on the type of activity you are interested in doing. There are tandem kayaks, fishing kayaks, touring kayaks, and many other kayak types.

If you plan on kayaking with the entire family, for example, check out our list of the best family kayaks.

What Is the Most Stable Kayak for Fishing?

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Check out our list of the 12 most stable kayaks for fishing. We recommend the RA220 from Brooklyn Kayak Company.

It has three waterproof hatches, so there is plenty of space for your fishing gear and tackle. And, as we talked about in our Brooklyn Kayak Company review, BKC kayaks tend to be stable and great for beginners – you can’t beat the price, either.

We also have a list of the best stable kayaks for general kayaking. At the top of the list is the Oru Kayak Inlet, a folding kayak that is easy to transport, perfect for beginners, and has enough space in the cockpit to store your fishing gear or other equipment.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion: Yes, kayaks are boats, but they are not rafts or personal watercraft. Also, a kayak is a type of canoe, but not all canoes are kayaks.

Kayaks are long and narrow and taper off at the ends. Compared to canoes, they tend to be smaller, and they also usually have closed cockpits, with the exception of sit on top kayaks.

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Is Kayak A Boat? Beginners Guide To Kayaking
Author: Peter SalisburyPete is the Owner of Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.