Canoeing in Florida: Potential And Prospects Abound

canoeing in Florida

I remember canoeing in Florida as a child. I remember loving every moment of it and grabbing at the opportunity whenever I could. I would spend hours just cruising around The Keys with my parents, jumping out, exploring the surrounding waters with my snorkel and goggles, and then climbing back into the kayak and carrying on with the adventure. Sometimes I’d even just play on the canoe in the pool at home with my imagination running wild.

Having recently gone out for a paddle in a canoe again as an adult, it’s easy to see why canoeing is not just an activity, but rather that it becomes a lifestyle. It’s not like I had anything stopping me from going out and enjoying renting a canoe for a day, or even investing in my own canoe, as I now plan to… I guess I just had different priorities as a young adult.

These days, I prefer to enjoy a full day out in the sun having fun in nature, more than a whole night out dancing followed by a day in, wasted on the couch. I specifically love water sports the most and recently found my way back to the water after a lengthy period of adventureless drought in my life.

What joy the water brings me! Whether I’m being pulled along by a kite, SUPing the flats, or learning how to wave ride with a canoe… the inner kid in me adores every aspect of playing in water. Even the parts where I’m getting thrown out of the canoe because the wave I caught turned the vessel and capsized it, dunking me upside down while I grabbed for all my gear as I churned beneath the water. There’s just something about water that leaves me feel lighter and at peace, no matter what has happened the rest of the day.

Canoeing in Florida as an adult is a next level adventure. What started off as a simply innocent and uncomplicated experience as a child has burst out into many choices to make as a grown up. It’s quite an education learning all the aspects to take into consideration before buying a canoe of my own. I mean, besides the different types of canoes that bring individual values to the various immersive experiences available, there’s also canoes for different genres of use.

All The Fun You Can Have Canoeing In Florida

When you think about the many ways canoes are used it really is pretty darn remarkable. You can canoe for exercise, recreation, sport, transport, and tourism. In the sporting realm alone there is canoe camping, canoe marathons, canoe racing, canoe polo, snowkayaking, playboating, surfkayaking, wildwater canoeing, whitewater canoeing (apparently they’re different), outrigger canoeing, and canoe fishing.

While I don’t see myself doing any of those sports competitively anytime soon, I think I’m more partial to being a weekend warrior for tourism, fun, and chilled time in nature. Nothing beats a day out in the water in some way with friends, some good food and good weather.

I love the idea of packing a bag for the weekend or a week, loading the canoe on the roof of my car, and heading off to the Everglades to explore America’s only sub-tropical wilderness. Or going on a destination trip to the Florida Keys to island hop and cruise the canoe through the mangroves, or anchoring the kayak somewhere spectacular so I can snorkel through reefs for days.

I may even take on some fishing if I’m overnighting at a camping spot and have a fire going. I love BBQing fish over a fire. I wrap it in foil and add garlic, butter and lemon, and it’s delish!

Also exciting, is that not far from home, in Sarasota, we have Shell Key Preserve, Longboat Key, and Siesta Key all within drivable ‘daycation’ distances for leisurely paddles and ‘me time’ in the bayous. These are all incredibly scenic areas that offer a plethora of value as far as natural abundance goes. Idyllic emerald and turquoise waters; and underwater wildlife for days including turtles, manatees, and dolphins. Who doesn’t love a regular dose of majestic creatures in their life? The therapeutic value from just being around them is profound. No wonder surfers and other ocean sport enthusiasts are always so happy!


Canoeing In Florida

Canoeing in Florida: The Culture

I’ve also learned canoeing is a great way to meet new people who share the same zest for life and activities. There are quite a few social paddle clubs and meet ups happening throughout Florida. Checking out events and calendars on social media while on the road and joining in on group adventures is always a great way to make new friends, and get locals’ perspectives… and maybe even learn about spots that are well-kept secrets.

At home, there’s the Sarasota Adventure group, the Outdoor Adventures for Women group, and even some adventure travel groups you can go on expeditions with. If you take on canoeing in Florida, you’ll have no shortage of places to go, people to meet, and waters to paddle.

As far as my favorite water to canoe in goes, so far? There are different things about each I couldn’t choose above the rest, making it an all around enjoyable hobby to take on. I love paddling through the flat water marshes and ticking off in my bird book which species I spot while I’m out, marveling at the nature of the plant life and its diversity, and enjoying a generally peaceful time with nature.

And then I love playing in some small waves while I begin my love affair with canoeing in Florida too. It’s such an awesome feeling heading into a wave and experiencing the sensation of the water lifting the vessel, and the canoe smashing through the front of the wave while you’re going in.

It’s even more fun when you’ve positioned yourself facing the beach and a wave arrives from behind. A nice medium-sized wave picks the vessel up and surges it forward faster, bringing out the “wooohooohoooo” in just about anyone! I can spend a few hours doing that before needing a break for lunch.

I’ve not been brave enough to try out whitewater or rapids just yet. I think I’ll need a while to feel comfortable and confident with my canoe control and that I know how to self rescue before I even think of trying more extreme waters such as Suwannee River, home of the biggest whitewater rapids in all of Florida.

But Which Kind Of Canoe To Buy When Canoeing In Florida?

Anyway, so now I need to decide what type of vessel I will invest in so I can live out my dreams to go canoeing in Florida! The choices are serious. The entire selection process can seem a little overwhelming when you don’t know what you’re doing just yet!

So many things to think about! Where will I be using it mostly while I’m learning? What kind of water will I be using it on? Will I be able to pick it up on my own? What is the weight capacity? Is there dry storage for me to keep my car keys? What is the lifespan of the vessel? Am I going to outgrow the canoe with regards to skill set as I get better, or will I be able to use it in more challenging water as I get better and more confident? This is what’s available on the market:

Creek Boats

These can be paddled on almost any body of water, and have a high volume. They’re designed to decrease the risk of the canoe going under water. The high volume ensures that even if the vessel does submerge, it pops back up straight away again. Creek boats increase the security aspects a newbie may worry about when they’re learning or aren’t that strong in the water yet.

Play Boats

These little ‘banana shaped” water buggies are intricately designed for surfing waves and doing tricks, and although wave riding a kayak excites me now, my skill set is not there yet and since they don’t perform well in more relaxed environments, I’ll need to choose a canoe with a bit more chill for now.

Downriver Boats

Downriver canoes/kayaks are nice and versatile. They’re the perfect level of a play boat and creek boat with a more balanced volume, which will give me control as I cruise through the Everglades, as well as a few basic playful features if I want to take it to the ocean on a ‘smaller’ day.


This is what it says it is. You sit on the top of the vessel, not ‘inside’, so there’s no cockpit. Sit-on-tops are also the type you can find at Vanhunks Boarding. Great for sunning them legs while I’m at my adventures. ‘Sit-on-Tops’, as they loosely referred to, are the most common kind of canoe/kayak. It’s beginner friendly, easy to use and navigate, and they’re generally quite affordable in contrast with the more specialised vessels. So far, this seems like the obvious choice for my soon-to-be ‘weekend warrior’ status.

Shop our Sit-on-tops here

Inflatable Canoe

It’s not just inflatable SUPs that are available. Inflatable is a fantastic idea if roof racks aren’t a choice for some reason. I love inflatables. They’re just so easy to chuck in the trunk and take with you on long distance trips, and with today’s pump technology they’re up and on the water in no time with minimal exhaustion! If you’re still not ‘pumped’ on having to pump your SUP or canoe manually, there are motorised pumps to do the hard work for you. I enjoy a good pump session every now and then, so don’t mind the DIY version. Inflatable Canoe/Kayak has made it onto my list of potential choices.

Sit-in Canoe

These are often convenient when it comes to colder weather and water because you are protected from the elements. I’ll be warmer and drier, as well as being able to make use of the foot straps inside that allow the paddler to get more stable within the vessel and create a more efficient stroke. While canoeing in Florida however, I’m more interested in the sit-on-top option.

Fishing Canoe

A fishing canoe seems like another practical choice, despite not having fishing as my primary purpose. They come with a lot more storage and weight capacity. They’re also made to be more stable and you can stand up on them easier than a canoe built just for sitting.

I like the idea of standing and diving off to go snorkeling or hunting for crayfish in and amongst the Keys, and then having enough storage space to keep them before I feast on homemade Crayfish Thermidor. I’m drooling at the thought right now!

Shop Vanhunks Fishing Kayaks here

Tandem Canoes

It’s always great to have company on adventures, so I have been looking at getting a tandem canoe too. Often they come in two-plus-one formats where it’s two adults and a child, or two adults and an adventure-loving dog! Still, for now I think the single seater will be ok. If anyone joins me we can take turns swapping between the canoe and inflatable standup paddle board. All the toys and all the fun.

Shop Vanhunks Two-Plus-One Tandem Kayaks here

Modular Canoes

WHAT? I’d never heard of that, ever. I thought these were genius in design because they come apart for when you want to go out on your own on the day, and if you want to take someone with you the next day you just add a compartment to expand it. Seems like a clever idea, but for now, I’m still more sold on the sit-on-top.


Canoeing In Florida

Random tidbit!

When looking at the options, I did learn something interesting. I was shopping around for something I could use in the ocean and with the waves, and my initial thought was that I would need a white water canoe. It made sense since the impact on the vessel and the currents are high with both.

Oh, how wrong I was. To be clear, both vessels are respectively designed for certain circumstances and are different on a fundamental level. White water canoes are designed with maneuverability in mind, while sea canoes are built for speed and stability.

White water canoes make ‘rolling’ easy and don’t give the paddler as much contact with the water, so it’s easier to navigate through the aggressive water flow. I am certain I’m not ready for that! The sea canoe has a flatter hull which assists with stability against the ocean waves. With sea canoes, you get more distance with each paddle stroke.

I still feel like a sit-on-top is the best option for me as I start out on my adventure canoeing in Florida.

Regulations For Canoeing In Florida

Other points to take into account include regulation items to ensure I’m safe as a bug in a rug while out having fun. The US Coast Guard has set the regulations in place that all vessels under navigation must adhere to. 

  • Rule 25d states that a vessel under oars may exhibit lighting required by sailing vessels, and if not, then you should have an electric torch or lighted lantern with a white light that can be put up and on in enough time to stop a collision from happening. This includes SUPs too if you’re going out on a sunset or sunrise mission. Electric torch added to the shopping list. Check.
  • A properly fitting Personal Floatation Device (PFD) that is Coast Guard-approved, and in serviceable condition must be available onboard a recreational vessel for each person and kids under 13 must wear them. They must be readily available and accessible and not in an out-of-reach location or in packaging.


Essential Items For Canoeing In Florida

Paddle Leash

One thing I do think I need is a paddle leash. When I came toppling out of the canoe I was using the other day, I had to think quick while under the water. It all happened really fast and while I was under the water, I had to make sure I didn’t pop up under the capsized kayak, and still grab for my cap, my sunglasses, the canoe, and the paddle. It was a lot to pull off in the moment, and I had to sacrifice my sunglasses. If I had a paddle leash, I would probably have been able to catch my glasses because the leash connects the paddle to the vessel. A paddle leash is especially useful when there is a strong current so the paddle doesn’t get lost.

Comfortable Seat

Next, I did notice that the seat I was in on the canoe I trying out was super comfy. On a long day of paddling, I’m going to need something that doesn’t affect my back in a negative way especially since I plan to spend hours on end paddling through amazing spots! A cushy seat with a backrest is definitely on my shopping list. Check.

The Right Paddle

I hear another important item to take into account is the paddle. Having the right sized paddle can make all the difference while you’re out on the water. If my paddle is too short, I could end up hitting the canoe with each stroke, and if it’s too long, it’s going to become uncomfortable for my shoulders and cause my vessel to zigzag instead of navigate a straight course, which takes much more energy.

This will just leave me pooped and not able to make the most of my excursion. The recommended length of the paddle is determined by the size of the canoe, so with the width being 32” and me being 5’6″, the paddle length I need is 240cm.

As a beginner, I also won’t need anything high performance. I could get away with a touring paddle, and as I get more into it, I can decide if I want a lighter paddle. Lighter paddles are easier on our joints so as i get older, I will probably want something that’s going to be conducive to my old lady body carrying on playing and not putting me in a rocking chair before my heart is ready to retire.

Pack The Basics For Canoeing In Florida

Lastly, but not least, I must always remember to pack a hat, drinking water, and sun block. I’m never too confident to hang out in the sun without factor 50 sun block, even though I have a Mediterranean complexion. I don’t want to be looking like I’m 80 when I’m 40 because sun damage!

Hats add protection for your face, but I also like that they throw shade and make it easier on our eyes to actually see all the cool stuff around us, versus squinting against the sun with your eyes half closed if you’ve stashed your sunglasses to avoid loosing them again!

Seriously though, I must remember to pack drinking water and snacks too. Just because I’m going to be surrounded and immersed in water, doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to drink the water. Dehydration is a thing when you’re out in the elements exerting your body all day.

In Closing

Clearly, what was taken for granted as a simple yet straightforward delight as a child has a lot to it, and a lot to take into consideration as an adult. While starting out, taking up canoeing in Florida doesn’t have to be a series of big decision-making processes.

It’s as simple as trying out some friends’ vessels, or renting various ones and seeing how enjoyable they are before reaching the point that I’m skilled enough to start to know what I’m enjoying about the sport and which direction I want to head in.

From there, investing in something with unique performance attributes and making adult choices about what water I’ll be enjoying the most while canoeing in Florida (what shape or length canoe is needed, or all the gadgets I’m going to pimp my ‘yak with) will all come slowly over time. Small, steady steps in front of each other lead to a whole journey.

As a last word of encouragement for myself, it’s important to remember to move and learn at my own pace. Everyone has a different learning curve, and everyone’s strengths lay in different areas. No one person is the same, so I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Making canoeing in Florida my own, in my own way, and always remembering why I started. I’ll always be able to get back to my roots and access the inner child and the adventure lover. Doing things for ‘joy’ and ‘fun’, ensures I’ll never run out of spark for the sport.