Show search form

Buying a canoe

One of the biggest choices you’ll make as you progress into our wonderful sport is deciding on your first canoe or kayak. Doing so has become more difficult over time, as the number of paddlesport disciplines has increased and boats have become more specialised.

The purchase of a canoe or kayak represents a significant investment so making the wrong choice could be a costly error. To help you find your dream boat, we’ve put together a few pointers to guide you through the process of buying a canoe or kayak and ensure you pick out your perfect paddling purchase.

Expand Types of Canoe and Kayak

Which Type is Best For You?

When buying a canoe or kayak you need to ask yourself a few questions such as: what do you want the boat for and what do you want to get from your paddling? What kind of paddling do you do most of, and where? What is your current skill level and do you see that changing in the future? What are your aspirations and your paddling goals? Do you want a solo boat or a tandem? Add this to your height and weight and you should have started to build up a reasonable picture of the type of boat you’re looking for.


Rushing into buying a canoe or kayak can lead to making a costly error, but an hour or two surfing the net can provide a whole stack of info on which boats fit your criteria. Retailers’ websites often have the different types of boat listed together, making it easy to compare specifications and features. You can also track down the manufacturers’ brochures either from your local retailer or by calling them directly. Again this will allow you to check out the models that fit your bill and compare specs and features.


Canoe shops have a professional vested interest in putting you in the right canoe or kayak. Happy paddlers, after all, come back to buy more gear. Most staff members are passionate about paddling and will want to make sure they give you the best advice, especially if you are buying a canoe or kayak for the first time.

A look at canoe and kayak websites will usually reveal some useful reviews from people who have tried and tested different boats. It’s worth considering, however, that all recommendations, including those in magazines and websites, are subjective – just because someone else loved/hated a particular canoe or kayak, doesn’t mean you will. So take advice with a pinch of salt.


A canoe is an open vessel derived from the craft used by early Native American hunters. You can still buy canoes made from traditional materials like cedar wood and birch bark. Modern canoes are usually made from plastic or composite materials. A canoe can come in all sorts of sizes, but an average canoe is usually 15 or 16 ft long. Canoes are propelled with a single bladed paddle.


Descended from the hunting boats of the Inuit people, you sit in a kayak and use a double bladed paddle. As with a canoe, a kayak can come in all different sizes from long, narrow racing boats to tiny freestyle boats.

Sit-on-Top Kayak

As the name suggests SOTs are made from a solid piece of moulded plastic with air inside for buoyancy. They are fantastic to learn on, as they are very easy to use and there’s no fear of feeling enclosed.

Touring Kayak

Touring kayaks are designed for days spent cruising the waterways, from coastal estuaries to your local river or lake. They are very stable and of moderate length to give them both forward speed and manoeuvrability. Many will have storage hatches to keep your packed lunch, flask, camera and binoculars in.

Sea Kayak

Sea kayaks are designed to cover distance at sea while carrying plenty of gear. Available in both plastic and composite versions, a sea kayak will usually have bulkheads and hatches for stowing your gear.

General Purpose Kayak

A general-purpose kayak is perfect for beginners or intermediate paddlers who want to get a variety of uses from their kayak. A good general-purpose boat, as the name suggests, is a jack-of-all-trades. It won’t outperform a specialist kayak for any of the particular disciplines, but will give you a good all-round kayaking experience. General-purpose kayaks are ideal first boats for beginners, as they give you chance to try a little of everything and the boat will perform well enough to give you a good idea of whether you want to pursue a particular discipline.

Whitewater Kayak

Whitewater kayaks come in a range of shapes, from mega-short freestyle boats, to longer river running boats, built for speed and safety, and everything in between. Whitewater boats have bulkhead footrests, backrests, hip pads and thigh braces – all often adjustable – and will also sport safety features such as grab loops and central foam pillars.

Inflatable Kayak

A great option for those with limited storage space or wanting to transport their boat easily. These also provide an inexpensive option for those wanting to get into paddlesport. Don’t forget that the same safety and licensing rules apply to these as other boats.

Stand Up Paddleboard

SUP’s are ever increasing in popularity and offer a very different way of taking to the water. The paddler stands or kneels on the board and propels it with a single blade. SUP’s can be solid or inflatable. They are great for those who would rather be on their feet than sitting.

Expand New or Second Hand?

New or Second Hand?

Apart from being shiny and new, and probably the latest design, the main benefit of purchasing a brand new canoe or kayak is that it will come with a manufacturer’s guarantee and the after-sale back up and service that a good retailer will provide. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a brand new boat, it’s certainly worth considering a second-hand canoe or kayak and there are some great bargains to be had. Remember though, that it’s no good buying a boat just because it’s dirt cheap if it doesn’t do the job you want it to.

Most paddling websites have a ‘for sale’ section. You may also be able to pick up a canoe or kayak from auction sites like eBay. It’s generally not a good idea to buy a boat unseen, especially if it’s a model you’ve never tried, and you should still try to get it out on some water for a demo. A plastic canoe or kayak will be tough and you shouldn’t be put off by scratches from usual use, but do give the boat a thorough check, especially under the seat, around and under the cockpit and both the bow and stern areas, just in case. Check the outfitting and bolts on the canoe or kayak too.

If you do decide to go down the new boat route, it’s best to start by taking your wish list to your local retailer and talking through your selections with a member of staff. Explain the reasons behind your choices and ask plenty of questions – they may well have some advice or suggestions you haven’t yet considered. Have a good look at the boats, sit in them: you may find that you knock one or two off the list at this stage without even getting them wet.

Expand Symposiums, Shows and Come-and-Try-It-Days

Symposiums, Shows and Come-and-Try-It-Days

There are a host of these events that take place all over the UK and they can be excellent places to meet like-minded paddlers and discuss boats and ideas. Many retailers now run specific demo-day events where canoe and kayak manufacturers turn up with complete demo fleets and are on hand to offer help and advice on the right canoe for you.

It’s really important to try before you buy as twenty minutes on the water will tell you more about whether a canoe or kayak is right for you than any website, forum or brochure ever will. Most good dealers have fleets of demos and access to water and some may even allow you to try stock boats, if they don’t have a demo of a particular model. If you’re buying a tandem or family canoe or kayak then make sure you take along your paddling partner, children or whoever will be joining you.

Expand Your New Canoe or Kayak

Your New Canoe or Kayak

Once your shiny new canoe or kayak is strapped to the roof rack, there are a few things left to do before you get paddling. Take the time to fill in the warranty card and return it. You’d be amazed how many people just rip it up and chuck it in the bin. Don't forget insurance if you need it too... Towergate insurance offer fantastic deals on boat insurance for all types of crafts. 

It’s also a good idea to spend a few minutes making sure any bolts and fittings are done up nice and tight. If your new toy has an adjustable seat and fittings, you’ll probably want to spend a bit of time experimenting to get it all set up just right for you. The one thing left to do now is enjoy your purchase!

Now that you're ready to set out in your new boat why not try a Go Canoeing Guided Tour or Canoe Trail. Head to our interactive Canoe Near You map to find what is happening near you.