Canoe Vs. Rowboat; What’s The Difference?

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: November 21, 2022
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Rowboats and canoes are pretty similar, and differentiating them can be tasking. The main difference between a canoe and a rowboat is that a canoe is propelled using a paddle that you hold in your hand while a rowboat has oars connected to the boat used for propulsion.

Key Takeaways

  • A canoe is defined as a narrow and light boat where two people paddle the boat
  • There are four types of canoes available: recreational, whitewater, fishing, and racing
  • Rowboats are small watercraft and they can be used as a mode of transport, for recreation, or for sports
  • There are three types of rowboats available: dinghy or skiff, fines or flatwater shields, open water shield
  • In a canoe, canoeists sit facing toward the destination while in a rowboat, rower faces away from their destination

What Is A Canoe?

What Is A Canoe

A canoe is defined as a narrow and light boat traditionally made from wood or a tree trunk. It has pointed ends and no keel and is propelled using a paddle. One person can paddle a canoe alone, but most times, a canoe carries two people, and each person has a paddle to propel the boat.

When paddling a canoe, paddlers face the direction they are heading and are mostly seated or kneeling in the boat. Sometimes, canoes are used with sails and can also be customized to serve different specific purposes. 

Types Of Canoes

There are various types of canoes in the market today that are designed for different sports and activities. Below is a list of some of the most popular canoe types

1. Recreational Canoes

These are the majority and most popular types of canoes available today. They are mostly made of plastic or aluminum to make them rugged and durable. Their quality of construction enables them to withstand rough use.

2. Whitewater Canoes

These are canoes made for white water and river canoeing. They have a characteristic flat bottom that makes them easy to turn and handle the waves. Most whitewater canoes are designed to allow paddlers to paddle while in a kneeling position.

3. Fishing Canoes

Fishing canoes are designed with additional accessories that make them more convenient for anglers. They have rod holders, storage options for your catch and fishing gear, and other accessories you might need to enhance your fishing experience.

4. Racing Canoes

Racing canoes have a narrow design to make them extremely fast. They are made from fiberglass and Kevlar to ensure they are as light as possible. You can find a canoe for racing in whitewater or flatwater. These canoes require skill to maneuver since they are narrow and tip over easily.

What Is A Rowboat?

What Is A Rowboat

Rowboats are small watercrafts propelled by the use of oars that are mechanically connected to the boat using oarlocks. Oars are similar to paddles, but they are attached to the vessel in a rowboat, and each paddler uses a set of two oars to propel the boat.

To move or propel a rowboat, paddlers usually face the stern of the boat with their backs facing the direction they are heading to. Rowboats can be used as a mode of transport, for recreation, or for sports. Some rowboats can accommodate up to eight people, all rowing together to steer the vessel and win a race. There are three popular types of rowboats today

Types Of Rowboats

Types Of Rowboats

1. Dinghy or skiff

A skiff or a dinghy is a large rowboat characterized by its width and impeccable stability. It is an excellent vessel for those looking to enjoy a boat trip with family and friends. This rowboat is also the best for beginners because of its stability. Dinghies are also popular with anglers because their size allows them to accommodate a significant number of fish.

2. Fines or flatwater shields

These rowboats are primarily for professional rowers; they are flat and sharp, making them unstable for beginners. They are used for sports and recreational boating.

3. Open water shield

These are narrow and medium-sized rowboats faster than dinghies and suitable for flat water and oceans. The rowboats are ideal for experienced and average skilled persons since they are not as stable at high speeds.

Differences Between A Canoe And A Rowboat

The table below shows a side-by-side comparison of these vessels; by looking at the table, you will be able to tell the main differences between a canoe and a rowboat 

Canoe Rowboat 
Propelled using a paddle for each person, and each person holds it in their handsPropelled using a pair of oars attached to the boat
Canoeists sit facing toward the destinationRower faces away from their destination
More exhausting to paddle and steerThe oars have a fulcrum and are positioned in a way that makes them easy to paddle
Learning how to paddle takes time and is challengingRowing is easy to understand, and you can learn by yourself using a rowing machine
Canoes are mainly used for specialized water activities such as fishing or racingRowboats are primarily for recreational use or travel
Propelling a canoe is referred to as paddlingPropelling a rowboat is referred to as rowing
Paddlers use their core and torso to propel the canoeRowers mostly use their legs and arms to move through the water

Can You Row In A Canoe?

Yes, you can. However, you will need to set up your canoe for rowing by installing oar sockets and oarlocks. Get some quality oars that are compatible with your boat and get a seat positioned correctly for rowing. 

How To Set Up Your Canoe For Rowing

1. When Setting Up Your Canoe For Rowing, The First Step Is To Position A Seat Properly In The Vessel. 

Traditionally, canoes are designed with a higher seat position to allow the paddler to reach over the vessel’s side for smooth paddling. When setting up a canoe for rowing, you need to adjust the seats to a lower seat position at the boat’s center. This helps to lower the boat’s center of gravity and make the canoe more stable. Canoes come with a yoke used to carry the vessel; you need to remove it before installing the seat to ensure you stay comfortable. There are different types of rowing seats available in the market today; choose one that is compatible with your kayak and is in line with your preference.

2. Installing Sockets And Oarlock On Your Canoe

Oarlocks and sockets are the next things you need to install on your canoe. Experts recommend mounting oar sockets on the outside of the canoe about 9 inches from the boat’s centerline. Test the seat location before installing oar sockets to ensure they are appropriately placed.  To test if the sockets are well installed, float your canoe and sit on the seat. If the front is slightly higher than the rear, you got the installation right. If not, change the seat and locations accordingly.

3. Getting The Proper Oars For Your Canoe

The size of your canoe will determine the correct type of oar. However, for most canoes, rowers that are 6 feet long work quite well. We recommend getting broad-bladed spoon oars because they work better than flat-bladed ones. 


Canoes and rowboats are similar in many ways, but they also have noticeable differences, such as the propulsion technique and the paddler’s direction. Sometimes, you can convert a canoe into a rowboat for an enjoyable rowing adventure. We hope that this information was helpful to you and has helped you solve any questions you might be having.


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