The kayak is a unique water vessel when compared with many other water vessels. The vessel that is closest to the kayak is the canoe and many times people confuse the two. The kayak is however most of the time a vessel designed for solo use. It is usually much shorter than the canoe which is often longer with a larger deck for carrying more people and more luggage.
The kayak is a water vessel that was invented by the Inuit people who live around Greenland, and the Northern parts of Canada. The Inuit people live in an environment that is usually covered in ice for most of the year. The Inuit hugely depend on the surrounding seas for fish and other marine prey creatures including whales and seals for food.
To be able to hunt for their food in the icy sea waters, the Inuit people had to construct water vessels that were; very easy to navigate – so as to quickly get into the best hunting positions when hunting, vessels that were able to access difficult water channels, vessels that would not intimidate the prey, and vessels that would provide the hunter with the least risks – especially the risk of drowning.
Swimming is not a common activity in the extreme northern hemisphere and many of the Eskimos who inhabit these lands do not know how to swim. This is because the waters around them would quickly kill anyone who attempted to swim in them. The icy cold temperature of the water quickly causes death through asphyxiation to anyone exposed to it. Apart from the cold temperatures of the water, the Eskimos would quickly drown in the water due to the heavy clothing that they usually wear.
As such, drowning is a major threat for Eskimos when they are out hunting. A capsized vessel was almost always a death sentence. The original kayak was however designed such that in the event of the kayak capsizing, the pilot could right the kayak using his body and escape from drowning.
To ensure these safety features, the original kayak was designed such that it was very light. The kayak was designed with a covered deck with a small opening where the pilot had his cockpit. Once sited in the cockpit, the pilot could fasten a water tight skirt around him that would not allow water into the deck of the kayak.
This design of the kayak is still present today and is referred to as the sit in kayak. This is because the pilot sits in the kayak with his lower body going into the deck and only his upper body being exposed.
Today these features have made the kayak a huge favorite for dangerous sailing sports especially sailing in rough waters such as in white water challenges.
There are however modern kayak designs that have been developed where the pilot sits on top of the kayak and his entire body is exposed. This type of kayak is widely preferred for recreational use mostly since it provides the kayaker with the freedom to move around in the kayak and enjoy the sun and breeze.