Is a Kayak a Type of Boat ?

If you’re reading this, most probably you’ve heard of kayaks and seen some – maybe at the Olympics games– but their super tiny and slim look has confused you; you may wonder whether they just resemble boats or are they indeed considered boats.


Kayak is a type of boat – small, slim, and lightweight, and looks like a canoe but with different paddles and rower’s position. It’s meant for one person and is propelled by a two-bladed paddle. Since it’s mainly used in aquatic sports and races, a kayak counts as a sports watercraft.


Keep reading to learn more about kayaks and their characteristics. I’ll explain why kayaks count as boats and what their different types are. You’ll also learn the differences between kayaks and canoes – so you’ll never mistake them again.

Why Kayaks Are Considered Boats

Kayaks may be small and don’t require registration, but they’re legally considered boats and subject to federal, state, and local safety equipment and operation regulations.


According to the US Coast Guard, kayaks classify as ‘vessels,’ including “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” So, the ‘no vessel zone’ applies to kayaks, too.


These zones include:


  • Commercial ports, military ports, or petroleum facilities
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Military installations
  • Bridge towers
  • Refinery docks
  • Anchored Vessels


However, kayak classification and the applicable regulations may differ according to the states. For example, kayaks don’t fall under the boat’s class in some states if they’re paddle-propelled or smaller than a specific size.


But if your kayak is motorized or has a sail, it may be considered a boat and subject to boat laws and regulations. So, it’s always important to double-check your state’s website to see what rules apply to your vessel.


Additionally, there are some navigational rules that all kayakers should follow, and the most important one is to avoid a collision. They should also follow some rules regarding lighting.

What Is a Kayak?

A kayak is a small and slim boat, originally used by indigenous people of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, such as the Eskimos, dating back to thousands of years ago. It was invented for hunting and fishing for seals, whales, and caribou in the sea.


Eskimos made kayaks using animals’ skin stretched over a lightweight structure made of wood or whale bones. They also used whale fat to make their kayaks waterproof. Such kayaks were perfect for maneuvering in tight spaces or silently moving on the water without prey noticing their presence.


Today, different types of kayaks are available, and each serves particular goals. Some are suitable for hunting, some for sports, and some for fun and sightseeing. Generally, kayaks fall into two main categories:


  • Flatwater
  • Whitewater kayaks


Both types have their own subcategories. Let’s take a look at them.

Flatwater Kayaks Are Mainly Used for Recreational Purposes

Flatwater kayaks include recreational, sit-on-top, inflatable, touring, and pedaling kayaks.


While the cockpit of the recreational kayaks is closed, it’s pretty large. Such kayaks are short and easy to store or carry around, but they’re not as fast as longer ones.


The sit-on-top kayaks are wider, and their cockpit isn’t closed. Although they’re nice for fishing because of the easy access to gears, you can easily get wet inside them.


Inflatable Flatwater kayaks are relatively stable, light, and portable but also quite slow compared to other hardshell kayaks. However, you can enjoy riding them safely in calm waters, and if you keep them well-maintained, you can use an inflatable kayak for about 5 to 10 years.


As mentioned above, touring kayaks are longer, narrower, and hence faster. They also have a small cockpit with thigh braces. Such kayaks are expensive and usually used for long trips on open waters of bays, lakes, and oceans.


The last item on the list is pedaling kayaks. This type of Flatwater kayak has paddles for propelling it back and forth; hence it’s excellent for fishing adventures.

Whitewater Kayaks Are Great for Rough Waters

The whitewater kayak is designed for rough waters of rivers with difficult rapids. This category of kayaks includes:


  • River Runners
  • Playboats
  • Old School
  • Creek boats
  • Inflatable (Duckies)


River runners are long enough to offer some tracking for flat waters of rivers and short enough to successfully go through tight turns of waterways. This type of kayak is pretty large and has enough space for storing the gears and supplies for a few days.


Playboats, on the other hand, are quite short and only accommodate one person. However, one thing that most kayakers forget is that they’re not for running down a river; they’re designed for going to a spot and staying or playing there on the waves, not more.


Initially made in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Old School kayaks are fairly long and commonly seen on the used sites. While they’re cheap, they’re not so comfortable and have small cockpits.


Inflatable whitewater kayaks (or Duckies) are wide, stable, and also spacious. Although they’re super comfortable and great in almost all types of water, they don’t work well in rivers with tight turns.

Kayaks vs. Canoes

Kayaks and canoes are very similar, to the point that many people use them interchangeably. However, they’re not the same thing and have some differences.


Canoes are open-deck, allowing the paddler to kneel or sit inside of it – some canoes have small benches – and propel the boat using a single-bladed paddle.


On the other hand, kayaks have closed decks with a small hole (cockpit) where the rower sits inside, and they stretch out their legs in front of themselves. The kayaker propels the boat using a double-bladed paddle.


Many people assume that kayaks are just for fun and sports, so boating rules don’t apply. But it’s not right, and kayaks are vessels like boats that may need to be registered and licensed. However, the applicable rules and regulations vary from state to state, and you’ve got to check the state regulation websites.

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