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Canoe vs Rowboat: What’s The Difference?

The similarities in canoes and rowboats make it challenging for new boat enthusiasts to understand the minor but critical differences.

They include design, rowing technique, sitting position while rowing, and others.

Read on for detailed information on what makes canoes and rowboats different and what this means for you while out in the waters.

What is a Canoe?

It is a lightweight water vessel mainly propelled by one or two people kneeling or seated.

A canoe is long and narrow with an open top and two pointed ends.

Traditionally, canoes are made from tree trunks through a cutting and burning process to get the right shape.

They are flexible and can also be used with sails.

Canoeing is one of the most popular water sports the outdoor community engages in.

Canoes meant for sports have raised seats where the canoeist sits with their legs at an approximately 90-degree angle.

These are paddled using a single paddle by one or several occupants.

While rowing, the canoeist(s) face the direction, they are moving.

canoe on shore

Types of Canoes

Canoes can be customized to serve a specific purpose.

The following is a list of the most popular types of canoes you can choose from for sports and other activities:

1. Whitewater Canoes

Whitewater canoes are mainly made for river paddling and white water.

They have flatter bottoms than most canoes, making them easier to turn, adversely affecting your ability to paddle straight.

The seats used in a whitewater canoe are designed to allow you to paddle in a kneeling position.

2. Racing Canoes

Racing canoes are either used in slalom (whitewater) or flatwater canoe racing.

They are made using light materials such as Kevlar and fiberglass.

If you are a beginner canoeist, you are likely to tip over a racing canoe due to its narrow size.

3. Recreational Canoes

They are the most common types of canoes made using plastic or aluminum with no frills.

Recreational canoes are solid and durable, enabling them to withstand damage even in harsh conditions like rough outdoor weather.

4. Fishing Canoes

A fishing canoe is slightly different from other canoes due to some additional features essential for fishing.

It is attached with rod holders and other accessories you may need.

What is a Rowboat?

A rowboat may look almost similar to a canoe, but instead, the occupants use oars to propel through the water.

A rowboat can be used by one or several people, each with a set of two oars attached through a pivot point on the vessel, which acts as a lever.

When rowing a boat, the occupant faces the stern with the back towards the destination.

People paddle to get out and have fun, participate in sports activities, and as an effective way to exercise.

Some unique racing rowboats are fitted with a movable seat to help the occupant to use their maximum power in each stroke.

It can have one up to eight people working in unison to win a race.

rowboat at sunset

Types of Rowboats

Rowboats are placed into different categories according to their uses.

They can be used for recreation, transport, or sports.

Below are the most popular type of rowboats:

1. Skiff

Also referred to as a dinghy, a skiff is a typical rowboat adored for its stability.

It is large and wide and highly recommended for families, friends, and beginners looking to go on a boat trip.

Skiffs are popular among fishermen due to their size, which can accommodate a significant number of fish.

2. Open Water Shield

They are mid-sized boats that can be used in the ocean but mainly suitable for still waters.

Open water shield rowboats are narrower than skiffs allowing them to travel at much higher speeds.

However, they are not very stable at extremely high speeds.

3. Flat Water Shield

Also referred to as fines, flat water shield rowboats are mainly used by professional rowers in sporting and recreational activities.

They are sharp and flat and not recommended for beginners.

Differences between a Canoe and a Rowboat

A canoe is a type of boat, while a rowboat is a vessel propelled forward using oars.

The two types of water vessels differ in the following significant ways:

Propelling Technique

The techniques used to propel each of the two vessels differs significantly.

When rowing a canoe, the individual uses one paddle and is expected to sit facing away from the destination.

Some people also use both sails and paddles on a canoe.

However, the occupant in a rowboat faces the direction they are traveling in and uses two oars to propel the boat.

Paddling Power

The paddling only requires your upper body’s strength when using a canoe since you only use a one-bladed paddle.

Therefore, you can switch sides on the boat to avoid exerting too much pressure and strain on one side.

A rowboat demands the users to push using more legs and arm power than that of the body.

Row Time

Did you know that most people can row a rowboat longer than you can paddle a canoe?

The positioning of the oars using a fulcrum are much easier to use than a single paddle.

Leg muscles also tend to strengthen with time and become powerful enough for you to row continuously for long hours.

Most rowboats are fitted with adjustable seats to make your experience even more convenient.

These help you to move your back and forward to apply more power to your rowing strokes.


Learning how to paddle a canoe professionally is quite challenging and requires you to train through several sessions in open waters with the help of a trainer.

For rowing, you can prepare yourself using a rowing machine even at home. 

Canoe or Rowboat: Which is the Best?

Overall, the similarities between rowboats and canoes are many.

However, the easily noticeable difference between them is the propelling technique of the vessel and the direction the occupant faces while at it.

Canoes and rowboats are both popular for pleasure and competitions such as racing.

Rowboats are recommended for exercising since they involve the arms, legs, and several parts of the body.

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