Survive on the Water: 3 Essential Watercraft

If the roads are out or overcrowded, the best way to make it to a safe position may be by water.

In the first part of this series, we discussed the planning and guidelines for setting up a water escape. In this article, we’ll discuss different types of watercraft as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The body of water you are traveling on will often dictate the type of craft that best suits your escape plan.

Perhaps the most versatile of paddle powered watercraft; canoes offer speed, of cargo capacity and the ability to carry two or more people. In the right hands, canoes can travel anything from open waters to high rapids. Because of their high sides, canoes can be difficult to paddle in high winds.

Canoes come in different sizes and in different materials. Aluminum canoes are light, durable, and in many cases the most inexpensive option. However, they can be difficult to repair when damaged. Kevlar and other woven canoes offer lighter weight, and allow repairs for minor damage with patching kits. The lighter weight often comes at a higher price. Avoid wood canoes; they are very heavy and can be quite expensive.

While canoes are versatile, there is a steep learning curve to effective paddling. The paddlers in the front and back both need to be proficient with paddling on each side and the paddler in the stern must be able to effectively perform the proper strokes to steer the canoe. Paddling a canoe in rapids is also difficult and requires plenty of skill, training and communication between the paddlers.


Kayaks can be less expensive than canoes, and are also more intuitive to operate. Kayaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes that dictate what kind of water they can handle.  Although versatile, Kayaks do require practice especially when it comes to escaping and recovering a capsized boat.

White water kayaks can handle harsh rivers with an experienced paddler at the helm. The downside is that many do not come with separate storage compartments for equipment. They can also be difficult to handle on open water because their design is meant for navigating around obstacles in fast moving water.

Touring kayaks are long boats that are at home on open water. Despite their size, they can handle light rapids on large, open rivers. Most touring kayaks have two separate cargo compartments that can store a large amount of gear. Many touring kayaks have rudders that can assist in steering on open water.

Crossover kayaks are shorter than a touring kayak, but offer more cargo capacity than a white water boat.

Open top kayaks are easy to get in and out of and can also handle a variety of conditions. However, they offer limited cargo space. Some will have a set of tie downs or an exposed compartment for lashing down equipment.

Packrafts are a versatile option if your trip involves long portages. Packrafts are relatively cheap and much lighter than inflatable kayaks and can be packed down and carried over land as their name suggests. However, their lighter weight comes at the expense of strength. Packrafts are not mean to be run through heavy rapids with exposed rocks and sharp features.


For large bodies of water, a sailboat can be the optimal choice for transporting people and supplies. However, effectively handling a sailboat in changing weather conditions requires years and even decades of experience. Wrong moves can leave you sunk or asunder. Plus, if you’re traveling in a group, those people will need to be familiar with operating a boat and the skills that are associated with being a proficient sailor.