Canoes have been around for millennia – small, light boats, pointed at both ends that are usually propelled with a paddle. Beyond these basics, there is a plethora of shapes, sizes, proportions, construction materials and means of propulsion. Canoes, be they wooden dugouts or ocean-going outriggers, are used around the globe by a phenomenal number of people. For the majority of users, they are primarily a means of transporting goods and people, rather than a leisure or sporting craft.

Canoes in the modern, sporting sense are usually constructed from polyethylene, fibreglass and other synthetic materials or composites of fibreglass, kevlar and carbon fibre. A canoe may seat between one and four paddlers, who face in the direction of travel. Confusingly, the gamut of vessels is often referred to by the term “canoes”, but there are in fact two types:

  • Kayak – A vessel with a closed top, except for a cockpit in which the paddler sits. Propelled using a two-blade paddle (i.e. a paddle with a blade at each end);
  • Canoe – An open boat, propelled by a single-bladed paddle, in which the paddler may sit or kneel.

Canoeing simply means paddling one of these vessels. In the UK, the term canoeing is a catch-all which refers to all forms of canoe sport, whether involving true open canoes or kayaks. In recent years, however, the word paddlesports has become more widely used to avoid this somewhat confusing terminology. Regarded as something of a fringe sport, canoeing is in fact phenomenally popular. According to the British Canoeing Union, it is the UK’s biggest participant watersport and can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages in a variety of environments, from swimming pools to rivers, lakes and the open ocean.