Raft vs Canoe. Cost, Capacity, Use & Convenience

raft vs canoe

It is not unusual to see a raft and a canoe in the same waters but these boats are very different. Each vessel has a completely different hull design and is usually used for very different things. In this battle of the boats article we look at the raft vs the canoe.

Raft vs Canoe. A Breakdown

What is the difference between a raft and a canoe?

A raft and canoe will many times be seen in similar waters but they are very different boats.

A canoe is a utility vessel suited to fishing as well as camping and river use while a raft is better suited to river running.

A raft is more damage-resistant and resilient than a canoe.

Both boats can be used in whitewater but some precautions must be taken with a canoe beforehand.

Canoe vs raft. Understanding which boat is a better fit for you

You are likely to see both rafts and canoes in the same waters. It is not unusual to see a raft and canoe both battling whitewater in the same river.

However, these two watercraft have very different hull designs and must be handled very differently.

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two boats, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, so you can tell which boat is a better fit for you and your needs.

Raft Uses, Hull Construction And Cost

Rafts are great river boats that can be used for river running or just general recreational use such as boat camping and day trips on the river.

Rafts are propelled with a single bladed paddle, in the same way a canoe is. However most rafts are paddled by more than one person, though solo rafts do exist, and are in use, it is more common to see a group of people river rafting than a single person.

A raft is designed to take some serious abuse.

You can bounce off obstacles all day long in a raft and the vessel will show very little signs of the collisions. A canoe would not be as fortunate.

As we mentioned in a previous battle of the boats article, drift boat vs raft, paddlers on a raft will go to great lengths to avoid obstacles while riding rapids but this is more for the safety of the paddlers than to protect the integrity of the boat.

Where a wooden canoe (or even a Kevlar canoe) would sustain some damage at best and break apart at worst when it collides with boulders or obstacles, a raft will just bounce off them.

In the worst case cases such a collision would result in one or more paddlers being ejected from the raft or even broken.

Now this doesn’t mean for a second that a raft is indestructible by any means.

Although a lot more resilient than most boats, a modern raft can sink just like any other boat if it is seriously damaged or it takes on too much water.

But, having said that, rafts are much more capable of surviving collisions while river running than most other boats. It is much more likely that a raft will capsize rather than sink.

If you would like to know more about both modern traditional rafts and their uses read our article about it here.

3 Common materials used for constructing modern rafts

Modern rafts are usually made from one of the following materials:

  • Hypalon.
  • Urethane.
  • PVC.

These materials are all cheap and fairly sturdy though it is unlikely a whitewater raft will made from PVC because it just isn’t tough enough.


Urethane is the most hard-wearing material that is used in the construction of rafts.

A raft made from urethane will slip effortlessly over submerged objects and take some serious abuse when bounced off boulders. Urethane is very resilient and very durable.

Unfortunately though, urethane is expensive, difficult to roll and hard to field repair.


Hypalon is a tough material.

Rafts made from hypalon are easy to roll and very easy to repair in the field if they get damaged while out on the water.

This material is durable and will last a long time. However it does have some drawbacks.

Hypalon is expensive. What’s more rafts made from it are glued together rather than being welded and the glue can weaken over time and start to lose its strength and integrity.

This material is much more abrasion-resistant and puncture-resistant than PVC, but not as much as urethane.


PVC is very inexpensive and can be found on many cheap recreational rafts.

Whitewater rafts will not be made from PVC because this material is unable to withstand the type of abuse a whitewater raft is put through.

Advantages of the raft

  • Excellent river runner.
  • Can take some serious abuse (unlike a canoe).
  • Great for boat camping and day excursions.
  • Almost maintenance-free.

Disadvantages of the raft

  • Not as stylish as a canoe.
  • Usually requires more than one paddler unless you use a very small raft.
  • Not suitable for mounting an outboard motor.

Typical costs of modern rafts

Whitewater rafts are fairly affordable. Recreational rafts, not capable of rapid riding, are very cheap.

Due to mass production and cheaper manufacturing materials, in addition to the easier production systems that are employed in the manufacturing process, a modern whitewater raft will usually cost between $500 and $5,000.

Differences in costs are usually dependent on the  size of the raft, the material used in its construction and the quality of its build.

Whitewater rafting in New York (video)

Below is a video of whitewater rafting in Adirondack, New York.

Raft river running (video)

Canoe Uses, Construction And Cost

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.

The recreational flat bottom canoe is a pretty stable watercraft on calm water. However, to able to handle rougher waters a different style of canoe is needed with more rocker and better secondary stability. You can review the different canoe types available here.

Although some modern canoes are capable of being used in the ocean they will likely need outriggers attached to them to make suitable for rough water usage. If you intend to use a canoe in a river these modifications will be unnecessary and would actually be a hindrance rather than a help.

Canoes are built to be adventure boats. Although there are many river boat alternatives nothing really compares to the style you get from navigating a river in a canoe – at least in my humble opinion. Canoes just look great!

A canoeist uses a single bladed paddle to both propel and steer the canoe just like paddlers on raft.  However, on canoe a single paddler can usually handle the craft easily whereas a large raft usually requires two or more paddlers.

A canoe can be fitted with a small trolling motor but there are restrictions on the size of the motor you mount, as a canoe is not designed for motorized propulsion and will be difficult to handle if too powerful a motor is used on it.

Canoes are good river runners when they are set-up for the task though they do require a certain degree of skill from the paddler. Unlike a raft which will simply bounce off boulders a canoe will likely crack and may even sink from a hard collision.

A canoe is an excellent choice for boat camping because it can can easily accommodate gear, supplies and passengers, though in fairness so can a raft.

Both single-person and 2-person river running 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. This is something that is equally as possible with a modern raft.

Canoes are also very good for fishing as this was the main reason for the earliest canoes were built.

5 Common materials used in the construction of canoes

Canoes are made from a variety of materials.

Common materials used to build canoes include:

  • Wood.
  • Aluminum.
  • Plastic.
  • Fiberglass.
  • Kevlar.


Wooden canoes look awesome. If you want to travel in style, do it in a wooden canoe.

Unfortunately though, wooden canoes tend to be quite heavy making them unsuitable for portaging and somewhat slow on the water. They also require a lot of maintenance to protect the wood from rot.


Once considered the cutting-edge material for canoe construction, aluminum is now relegated to the lower ranks due to modern advances in construction materials.

Aluminum is tough and very durable though. However, when the boat gets dented, which is going to happen when river running, the aluminum will never return to its original shape. If the boat sustains more serious damage and you want it repaired you will also need to go to a specialist welder.

Aluminum canoes are heavy, very slow, and quite noisy as they enhance the sound of every water slap (though there are steps you can take to minimize the noise). They also mimic the temperature around them making them cold to the touch in the winter and hot in the summer.

If you intend to river run, or navigate very shallow waterways, then aluminum is not recommended as it sticks to rocks rather than sliding over them.


Polyethylene is more commonly seen in both sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks. It is a type of hard, durable plastic.

Canoes made from polyethylene are tough and cheap but they are also heavy and slow. Polyethylene is impact-resistant and easily slips over rocks without sticking.

Polyethylene canoes do not require much maintenance but they can get damaged when they are exposed to prolonged UV rays from the sun.


Fiberglass canoes are renowned for their speed and efficiency.

The stiffness of the material gives the canoe sharp entry and exit lines which provide high speed and superior handling.


Kevlar is the newest kid on the block when it comes to canoe construction materials.

Kevlar is light, in fact it’s 25% lighter than fiberglass, and is extremely tough and durable.

Nine times out of ten a Kevlar canoe will be superior to its closest rival.

Unfortunately Kevlar is expensive as thus, so are Kevlar canoes. They are also expensive to repair if they get damaged.

Advantages of the canoe

  • Excellent camping boat.
  • Stylish.
  • Easy to maneuver.
  • Can be handled solo or in pairs.
  • Can be fitted with a small trolling motor for help moving upstream.

Disadvantages of the canoe

  • Cannot take the same type of abuse as a raft.
  • More difficult to maneuver in whitewater and rapids (than a raft).

Typical costs of a modern canoe

Canoes are just as cheap as modern rafts with purchase costs ranging from a several hundred dollars, for small solo canoes, to about $3,000 for a high quality larger one.

Of course a freighter canoe is much more expensive though it is unlikely you will be using one of these as they are mostly purchased for commercial use.

Whitewater canoeing (video)

Canoe river running in rapids (video)

As you can see in the video below this canoeist has filled his canoe with flotation bags to ensure he can retrieve his boat should it be overturned in the rapids. This is something you don’t need to do in a raft.

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