Outfitter or livery offers boats and boards suited to the type of water and conditions you’ll experience on your trip.  Here is a quick rundown of the names and differences between the types of craft you may have an opportunity to experience:

Rafts.  These are craft produced with inflatable chambers and usually propelled using single-blade paddles.  They come in many sizes, but are most often used by outfitters to host up to twelve passengers.

Raft good for up to 11 people. Photo: NRS
Raft good for up to 11 people. Photo: NRS
4 person raft.  Photo: Jack's Plastic Welding
4 person raft. Photo: Jack’s Plastic Welding
Raft for 2-3 people. Photo: NRS
Raft for 2-3 people. Photo: NRS

Kayaks Sit-inside Kayaks. These boats ask you to sit with your legs and feet in front of you, and propel yourself with a paddle that has a blade at each end.The boat surrounds you up to your waist. The opening or ‘cockpit’ varies in shape and size: smaller cockpits keep splashes out, and large cockpit designs are easy to board and load with gear.

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Dagger Zydeco, courtesy of Confluence Watersports
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Swifty, courtesy of Confluence Watersports
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Wilderness Systems Zephyr – top, side view.
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Wilderness Systems photos courtesy of Confluence Watersports.
PPA SitonKayak Frenzy Yellow side
Ocean Kayak, side view. Photos: Johnson Outdoors
Ocean Kayak Frenzy, top view.
Ocean Kayak Frenzy, top view.

Sit-on-tops.This boat has a sculpted platform for sitting, with ‘scupper’ holes that drain water that splashes onto the deck. They require no getting in and out: you just hop on and off.

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MaverIK IK, courtesy of NRS.

Inflatable kayaks, also referred to as ‘IKs’ or ‘ducks’.   This craft employ long inflatable tubes that make each look like a rubber banana from the side: they are very stable and comfortable, and are propelled with kayak paddles.

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Packraft, courtesy of NRS.

Packrafts.  Inflatables shaped like miniature rafts that you sit in and propel with a kayak paddle. They are extremely light, yet durable.

IKs and packrafts have ‘sides’ to them, but are easy to board and are excellent options for paddlers with physical limitations.

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Outlaw, courtesy of NRS.

Catarafts.  Inflated craft identifiable by two pontoon tubes with cross-tubes that hold an aluminum frame with seat. You propel them with oars held by the frame.

Folding.  These frame and fabric craft are easy to store in small spaces and travel well to distant calm and open water destinations.

Canoes.  Sitting as you do in a chair, you propel yourself with a single-blade paddle.  Some canoes are set up for kneeling, as well.

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Mad River Reflection top and side view, courtesy of Confluence Watersports.
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Old Town Penobscot, courtesy of Johnson Outdoors.

Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs).  Standing on a surface that can be rigid or inflated, you propel yourself with a single-blade paddle.

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Czar XUP by NRS
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Jack’s Plastic Welding SUP


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Reel SUP, top and bottom view.
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Reel SUP photos courtesy of NRS

Dories. These wooden boats craft are designed to travel rapids, negotiate rolling ocean-sized wave, and carry sizeable stored loads. They are propelled using oars, rigged like rafts.

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Dory. Photo by Monty Pollack. courtesy of OARS
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Bellyak, photo courtesy of Cascade Outfitters

Bellyak®.  No paddle? No problem. This is a craft on which you lie on your stomach and propel with your hands and arms. They are responsive and offer a fun, high performance step up from floating in an innertube!

Kayaks, canoes, rafts and SUPs come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few generalizations that can give  you an idea of how yours will perform:

Length.  Longer boats will get you to your destination faster than shorter versions of the same model. The shorter version will be easier to turn, stop. On land, shorter versions of a given model are easier to carry and load.

Width. Wide models are more stable than narrow ones, making width an important factor if you will be loading and unloading gear, kids and pets. Narrow boats are easier to paddle, requiring less effort to reach out to take strokes, an important factor for petite paddlers.

Weight. Boats vary a great deal in this area due to several factors:

  • Design.  Canoes are simply comprised of a shell and thwarts to sit on, while sit-on-top kayaks are self-contained systems with air inside for flotation and scupper holes for self-draining
  • Size.  Longer and wider boats are heavier than short, narrow versions of the same model
  • Material.  Boats are produced from wood, fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, plastic that’s heated and formed to shape, and rubber fabric that’s welded and inflated. A 20 ft. canoe can weigh far less than 6 ft. long whitewater boats!

Rocker.  The upturned ends of some kayaks, canoes and rafts help them get over and around waves easily. If you are comparing two canoes of the same length, width and weight, go for more rocker if you plan to run Class II+ rivers, and go for low/no rocker if you plan to stick to black water and lakes.

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Mad River Reflection (top), courtesy of Confluence Watersports
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Mad River Reflection, courtesy of Confluence Watersports

Tandems – for Two. Many kayaks and canoes are designed for use by two people, and feature storage space for a day’s supplies or for camping gear and provisions. Tandem kayaks feature dry storage via a bulkhead inside and a secure lid on the deck for easy access. Inflatables love duos, too in the form of petite versions of traditional designs and duel tube hybrids that are extremely nimble and stable for rescues, training and whitewater. Tandem canoes and kayaks are designed to accommodate a child or pet in the center seat.

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Paddling with the kids, neighbors and Fido. Looking for a group adventure? If you are new or almost new to paddling, you have arrived at the place to look for a reputable outfitter who can provide rafts, multiple kayaks or canoes, or a combination of craft to suit the interest and capabilities of your group. If you have paddling experience to rely on, consider a canoe, raft or cataraft.

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Old Town Twin Heron, courtesy of Johnson Outdoors
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Discovery 158, photo courtesy of Johnson Outdoors

If you plan to bring small passengers along,  research the boat’s stated ‘carrying capacity’ and try getting in and out at the outfitter’s lot or on the shore or beach before carrying them away and loading them at or on the water.


AOAThis site is sponsored by America Outdoors Association.  AOA and PPA unified in 2012.  Outfitter and vendor memberships are available through AOA.

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