Drift Boat vs Canoe. Cost, Capacity, Use and Convenience

Drift boat vs Canoe

When it comes to cruising on inland bodies of water there are no more iconic watercraft that the drift boat and the canoe. Each of these vessels has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you want to know which one is a better fit for you then you’ve come to the right place. Get ready for a battle of boats with the drift boat vs the canoe!

A drift boat is a rowboat that is specifically designed for river running in turbulent waters with up to class IV rapids. It has a shallow draft, is very responsive and is an excellent fishing vessel though it usually requires an oarsman for the angler. A canoe also has a shallow draft but is smaller though it is better suited to other boating activities such as camping. Canoes are propelled and steered by a single bladed paddle and are excellent for fishing, transportation and recreational boating.

Drift boat or canoe, what’s the difference?

Although you will often see a drift boat and a canoe in the same waters they are very different boats with very different uses.

If you are unsure which boat is better suited to then you are lucky because the information in this article should help you to decide today.


Well, because the drift boat and the canoe are such different boats that it will be easy to see which one is better suited to your specific boating needs.

Drift boat design and uses

The drift boat is a natural evolution of the dory boat that was used in bays and coastal areas as a fishing vessel.

Although the dory boat was used in ocean water its flat bottom hull made it very unstable in choppy water and fairly dangerous to be in. The dory boat was launched from a mother-ship and used to fish the surrounding area before being hauled back onboard the bigger ship for the journey back to shore.

As the dory boat was used off the coast of the USA it was not surprising that some Oregon fishermen started to adapt the boat for use on the turbulent McKenzie and Rogue rivers. Eventually the dory boat evolved into the modern drift boat which has many of the same characteristics that made it suitable for ocean waters but with hull modifications that make it perfect for river running.

The drift boat is a rowboat, though it can be fitted with a motor under very specific conditions and with very strict observance to motor size, its design make much more suitable for manual propulsion. Learning to handle a drift boat with a motor mounted on it is a skill that takes time to acquire.

Drift boats really excel as a freshwater fishing vessel.

Drift boat fishing is different from most other types of fishing as the boat is moved continually upstream while the angler fishes downstream from the bow of the boat. The oarsman will not just continually row the boat upstream but he/she will change the orientation of the boat to allow the angler better access to feeding fish.

Although you can row solely and anchor a drift boat to fish from it, most drift boat fishing is done in the aforementioned manner with an oarsman because it results in a much bigger catch.

Although drift boats are excellent fishing vessels they are also a lot of fun.

A drift boat is very responsive to the slightest touch from the oarsman, which it needs to be in order to avoid boulders and other obstacles when it is riding rapids.

It may seem odd to take an expensive boat, that is usually made of wood or fiberglass, and row it through class IV rapids but that is exactly what a drift boat was designed to do.

It is not unusual to see a drift boat navigating the same type of turbulent waters as whitewater kayaks and river rafts.

These boats can easily handle both whitewater and rapids so if you want some whitewater excitement, and want to do it in style, pick a drift boat.

On the negative side drift boats are super expensive, though you can build them much cheaper yourself, the price tag for one of these boats is hefty. An average sized wooden drift boat can cost up to $24,000.

A drift boat is also a downstream watercraft. When you take the boat on whitewater and through rapids the only way to get the boat back upstream is to trailer it and drive it there.

Fishing from a drift boat (video)

River running on drift boat (video)

Canoe design and uses

Canoes come in different types and styles. There are so many different variations in the hull design of a canoe that they are too numerous to cover in this article. If you need a better understanding of the different types of canoe available read this article.

Although there are different variations of canoes, with hull modifications that make each type more suited to specific uses and environments, let me just say that the canoe has changed very little since its ancient ancestor was used by Native Americans in the very same American lakes, rivers and even ocean waters that modern Americans use it in today.

Canoes are excellent adventure boats. Although there are alternatives available there is nothing like travelling down rivers that you don’t know in a canoe. In my opinion it is travelling with style.

A canoeist uses a single bladed paddle to both propel and steer the canoe. Like a drift boat a canoe can be fitted with a motor but, also like a drift boat, there are restrictions on how you can do this. Neither boat has been designed for motorized propulsion and fitting an engine to either should be done with caution.

Canoes are excellent watercraft for boat camping because they can easily accommodate gear, supplies and passengers. Canoes have great weight capacity and plenty of space. In fact, freighter canoes can carry up to 3 tons though it is unlikely you will be using one of those.

Both single person and 2 person canoes are designed for portaging. This means you can easily avoid hazardous waters and/or access multiple waterways by simply lifting the canoe out of the water and carrying it from one body of water to another one. Obviously this is not an option with a drift boat.

Canoes are also perfect for fishing as this is the very activity that they were initially designed to be used for. Although there is no deck space for livewells or appropriate places to put rod holders etc., these boats can be used in an old-school traditional way that has worked perfectly well for thousands of years (as you will see in the video below).

Canoes can also handle whitewater very well and many people will take the boat in rapids. But as you can see it is much more than a river running boat.

Canoes are considerably cheaper than drift boats with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars for small single-person boats to about $3,000 for a high quality large one.

Camping trip in canoe (video)

Fishing on a 2-person canoe (video)

Canoeing whitewater rapids in Scotland (video)


Although both the drift boat and the canoe can be used in similar marine environments they are very different boats.

A drift boat is rowed by oars. A canoe is paddled with a single bladed paddle. Both boats can be fitted with motors but with restrictions.; these boats are not designed for motorized propulsion.

A drift boat is an downstream vessel that must be loaded on a trailer and towed back upstream over land.

A canoe can be lifted out of the water and carried to avoid obstacles or to be taken to a different body of water.

The drift boat has one basic design. Canoes come in different designs with hull modifications to make each boat type better suited to specific environments.

Drift boats are larger vessels and considerably more expensive than canoes.

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